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Sen. Dick Lugar’s loss on Tuesday to Richard Mourdock in the Indiana Republican Senate primary does not signify the death of problem-solving in Washington, as some pundits are suggesting. Here are five reasons it’s still alive and kicking:
1. Problem-solvers, not moderates: Too many people conflate problem-solving with squishy centrism or moderation. Few would describe Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and James Inhofe (R-OK) as moderates, but they are collaborating to push through a long overdue transportation spending bill. And Sens. Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) are working together to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Examples of bipartisan cooperation between committed Republicans and committed Democrats are not tough to find if you are willing to look.
While some problem-solvers are leaving the halls of Congress, fresh blood is on the way. For example, in Maine, former Gov. Angus King is running as an independent for retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe’s seat. King has pledged to be an independent voice for common sense in the Senate -- and recent polls show him well ahead of his competitors.
With a few good problem-solvers already in Congress, and a few more on the way, it’s not unrealistic to envision a voting bloc of proven problem-solvers emerging.
2. Reform momentum: The growing momentum of reform efforts like the No Labels-backed No Budget, No Pay Act, which would dock lawmakers pay if they don’t pass a budget and spending bills on time is proof that Congress is starting to heed the calls to fix itself. The bill now has 58 bipartisan co-sponsors in the House and Senate. In fact, the entire Iowa House delegation (three Democrats and two Republicans) has signed on in support. The bill already had a hearing in the Senate, and efforts are underway to convince Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA-03), chairman of the House Administration Committee, to hold a similar hearing in the House.
If the American people can get Congress to seriously consider legislation that will whack lawmakers in their pocketbooks, then there is hope for progress on other vital issues as well.
3. Polls don’t lie: The American people are increasingly turning away from hyper partisans on both sides as evidenced by Congress’ ten percent approval rating and the fact that 40 percent of Americans now self-identify as independents, an all-time high in modern American politics.
Lawmakers are good at reading polls and this pent-up frustration provides real incentive to start legislating, or risk getting booted out when they next face voters.
4. A looming fiscal cliff: Under current law, the Bush tax cuts, a 2-percent payroll tax holiday and extended unemployment compensation will all expire at the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013. Draconian spending cuts to defense and entitlements are also in store as a result of the failure of last year’s deficit-reduction Super Committee. Both parties agree that these big tax hikes and spending cuts are unacceptable for the economy and to the American people. That means Congress is unlikely to let it happen. One way or another, they will be forced to find agreement.
5. Changing incentives: The far ends of the ideological spectrum have long been the loudest voice in our politics. That’s starting to change. More than half a million Republicans, Democrats and independents have already joined in support of No Labels (www.NoLabels.org), a grassroots movement dedicated to moving America from the old politics of point-scoring to a new politics of problem-solving.
Politicians respond to incentives -- and the incentives are increasingly pointing towards solutions over sound-bites. No Labels is creating a counterweight that will provide grassroots support to those leaders willing to step up and reach across the aisle.
Mark McKinnon is a Co-Founder of No Labels, and served as senior adviser to former President George W. Bush.