Time to Build Bonds of Trust and Get Back to the Bargaining Table | Commentary

Bipartisan No Labels Problem Solvers are meeting daily trade ideas about getting government working again

Posted October 11, 2013 at 1:47pm

Nearly every morning since the government has been shut down, several dozen of us have been getting together wherever we can find a space — most often in the cold, dark basement of a Tex-Mex restaurant on Capitol Hill.

We are Democratic members of Congress who are willing to work with Republicans, and Republican members who are willing to work with Democrats. We span the ideological spectrum and have a variety of views on the current fiscal crisis.

As President Barack Obama and the congressional leaders of our respective parties have remained at loggerheads, members of our group — the No Labels Problem Solvers, which includes more than 80 House and Senate members from both parties — have continued to do what we fervently believe in: come together and talk and work toward a solution.

For the past two weeks, we’ve been the largest bipartisan game in town.

At our daily meetings, we’ve brought in experts, such as Moody’s Chief Economist Mark Zandi, who briefed us on the consequences of default on our debt; and also politicians, such as Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat who spoke to us about the effect of the current showdown on states.

Mostly, we’ve batted about ideas for bringing the two sides together — from a repeal of the medical device tax as part of an agreement that would end the government shutdown to tackling our long-term debt and deficit issues and allowing flexibility on the sequester spending limits.

But what’s been most striking about our Problem Solvers gatherings is that, with a shared commitment to getting something done and with continued conversations, we’re building bonds of trust that we know will serve us well today and in the battles ahead. The more we meet and talk with each other, the more we get to know each other — and the more we trust each other.

That is no small thing. It’s the element that’s missing from our political culture today. Without it, as we’re seeing so starkly, we’ll continue to lurch from crisis to crisis, taking the American people with us to the edge of dangerous cliffs where we have no business being.

We’ve entered a period of great peril for our country and for our world. Interest rates are rising, while the stock market and consumer confidence are plunging. When we’re unable to keep our own government functioning, how can those around the globe look to us for leadership on the international stage?

The fundamental principle of No Labels, a group chaired by Jon Huntsman, former Utah governor and GOP presidential candidate, and Evan Bayh, former Democratic senator of Indiana, is that all our leaders have to work together to tackle our nation’s problems.

It’s an unwavering belief in roll-up-the-sleeves problem-solving that supersedes partisan agendas, scoring political points or assigning blame.

We know that if the unthinkable happens and the U.S. government defaults on its debt, there will be more than enough blame to go around.

Nearly 50 of us, dozens of No Labels Problem Solvers joined by other like-minded lawmakers, stood together on Capitol Hill Thursday — evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats — to call on our leaders to work together to solve this nation’s problems, much as we’re committed to doing.

It seems like a no-brainer. But in this brittle climate of accusations and distrust, it’s not. It takes courage to even commit to a simple tenet like working together.

We don’t consider this a Democratic position or a Republican position. We see it as an American position, a recognition that saving the country is more important than saving face.

We’ve seen how powerful across-the-aisle relationships can be. The No Labels Problem Solvers coalition formed at the start of this year and by the summer had produced a legislative package of nine bills, all of them with bipartisan backing, to make government work more efficiently. We hope it will be a road map to real reform.

In the meantime, this group will continue to get together every day until this crisis is resolved, to brainstorm and build bridges and do whatever we can do to try to find a pathway forward.

Like most of our colleagues, we came to Congress to try to fix problems and improve life for the people who sent us here. We didn’t come simply to fight.

We hope that soon we can gather where we used to meet — inside the Capitol, with doors open, lights on and leaders who are ready to work together for the common good.

Rep. Kurt Schrader is a Democrat from Oregon and Rep. Reid Ribble is a Republican from Wisconsin.