A group of over 70 members of Congress gathered in Capitol Hill on Thursday morning to introduce a set of nine bills as part of a sweeping 12-point plan to re-imagine Washington, and put an end to the intolerable political migraine that's gripped this city for years.
The plan: If you can't play nice and pass laws, we'll pass laws to make you play nice.
"What I'm pleased about is there are many Republicans hearing from their constituents the same thing that I hear from Vermonters," said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.). "And that is, 'Peter, why don't you get together and get something done?' So you've got rank and file members of Congress coming together and saying, 'You know what? This is a beginning.'"
The group sponsoring the event, No Labels, was started in January by former Utah Governor John Huntsman (R) and West Virginian Senator Joe Manchin (D), with 24 interested members of Congress. It has since grown to 81 members (37 Republicans, 43 Democrats, and one Independent), and hopes to surpass 100 by the end of the year. Over 70 appeared today at the north end of the Capitol before an excited crowd and sweltering sun, espousing such cheerable phrases as "end Washington gridlock," "rise above partisan politics," and "common sense solutions to common problems."
But behind the mostly unimaginative string of soundbites (each official got about 12 seconds with the mic) stands a fairly impressive plan, designed to dodge the most pervasive and complicated Washington poisons (campaign financing and gerrymandering), and tackle instead the little things. The proposed set of bills includes provisions to withhold pay to elected officials if Congress doesn't agree upon a budget, enact an up-or-down vote on presidential appointments within 90 days, replace the virtual filibuster with the physical one, empower a bipartisan majority to override a speaker or committee chair to bring a bill to the floor, and impose regular question time between members of Congress and the president.
The set also includes some pretty absurd provisions such as mandatory bipartisan social events for members of Congress, requiring members come to work, and bipartisan seating during official events — reminiscent more of exasperated third-grade teachers trying to make boys and girls play nice, than of a broad plan to fix a broken Congress.
But maybe we've hit that sweet spot in human history where friendship can (must?) be legislated. And that's cool. The representatives we elected can spend their time requiring the representatives we elected to work, and that's cool too. And maybe they can fix the pervasive and mind-numbing suckishness in Washington while bumping elbows and mixing purple in those closed-door bipartisan buddy sessions, which would be nice. But if nothing else it's another option, a little less nuclear, that might just make Congress functional again.