One possibility is that Congress will continue its present path. Members from both parties, some out of principal, others out of fear of antagonizing the base, will continue to cling to hardened ideological positions and refuse to compromise.
The result will be more gridlock and the failure to address the serious challenges that face us as a nation. This will lead to greater erosion of public confidence in our institutions of government and further disillusion.
The other possibility is that wiser heads from both parties will prevail. They will realize that in a divided Congress, the only way to get things done is for both parties to work together to develop bipartisan solutions to our many challenges.
By toning down the rhetoric, Congress can help to heal the partisan bitterness that is threatening to tear our country apart.
Those who see the need to tone down the political rhetoric and work together as partners have a base on which to build. A number of organizations have been founded to promote bipartisanship and cooperation.
One of the most prominent is No Labels. We are not calling on everyone to agree; spirited debate is the very essence of democracy. We are calling for debate to take place in a spirit of mutual respect, in which people can hear and learn from each other’s arguments.
We are not asking our representatives to compromise on principle. We are asking then to rise above their differences, realize that their opponents have legitimate needs that need to be addressed, and work together to achieve principled compromise in which no one gets everything they want but everyone gets most of what they need.
There are many members of Congress who do see the need to work together and want to achieve principled compromise.
The Problem Solvers Caucus, inspired by the No Labels movement, is a bipartisan group of 48 members of the House of Representatives, 24 from each party. They have developed a series of proposals on issues such as immigration, gun safety, infrastructure and tax reform.
While those proposals were not perfect and would not have solved all our problems, they were serious attempts to make real progress on these issues. Polls indicated that the clear majority of Americans support such compromises.
Unfortunately, none of those proposals even came to the floor. The problem was not lack of support, there is every indication that a majority of the members of Congress would have supported them had they been given the opportunity to do so.
The problem is that the current rules of the House of the Representatives effectively encourage the partisan warfare rather than the cooperative spirit represented by the Problem Solvers Caucus.
Those rules give the Speaker of the House the power to control the flow of legislation to the floor. Yet the Speaker can be held hostage by a small group of Representatives.
A single member of the House of Representatives can introduce “a motion to vacate the chair.” If a small faction of the Speaker’s party withholds its support, the Speaker can be voted out of office.
By threatening such a motion, a small minority can force the Speaker to prevent popular legislation from even reaching the floor for a vote.
The Problem Solvers Caucus has proposed the Break the Gridlock Package, a series of rules changes that will make it possible to ensure that bipartisan legislation with broad support can reach the floor for a vote.
While the importance of the rules of Congress may seem insignificant compared to concerns about gun violence, health care, immigration and jobs, the reality is that making progress on any of these issues may will depend on changing the rules of the House of Representatives.
While changing the way Congress operates and making it more effective would certainly help to improve the climate, real change will only come from the bottom up.
That is why No Labels is looking to expand its membership in Queens and elsewhere. We want to build a network of grassroots activists who will counter the loudest and angriest voices on both ends of the political spectrum with a dialogue of reason and respect.
We want to show those elected officials who are committed to working together to achieve principled compromise that they are not alone.
There are several ways in which people can become involved. They can visit nolabels.com to learn more about the organization and become members. They can sign up to become No Labels ambassadors, sharing news and information and bringing our message to others via our Facebook page. Or they can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is not enough to complain about the toxic political climate, it is up to us to change it.
Manny Behar is a resident of Forest Hills and member of the New York State Leadership Council for No Labels.