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No time like present to fix Washington

Feb. 19, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

"Stop fighting and start fixing." That, in a nutshell, is the watchword of a fairly recent political group called "No Labels," to which Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has been lending his efforts on the Senate floor and on the political talk show circuit.

A bluedog Democrat, focused on fiscal sanity and the conservative side of social issues, such as the pro-life cause, Manchin went to Washington with a determination to be a bridge between Democrats and Republicans. Or at least to promote dialogue.

Of late, Manchin has appeared on television paired with former Utah governor and 2012 presidential candidate Jon Huntsman and also with Sen. Mike Allen, R-Utah, to pitch the virtues of bipartisanship. Manchin and Huntsman, indeed, are the official No Labels co-leaders, as of Jan. 14, 2013.

All to the good as far as this columnist is concerned. Regular readers may recall that I ranked healing the partisan divide and getting the White House and congressional Republicans and Democrats working together as the No. 1 issue of the recent election cycle.

To right-wing Tea Party types and some on the far left fringe, "compromise" is the word that must never be uttered. Compromise, however, is the sum and substance of the political process. Without an allowance for give and take, bitter rancor and demonization of the opposition too often become the coin of the realm.

That can lead to such things as a willingness to let our country default on its debt obligations and risk plunging us back into recession. Or even a deeper dive into depression.

Such divisiveness explains in large part the American public's assigning the 2012 Congress a favorability rating that wavered between 13 and 19 percent.

No Labels was founded by, among others, Republican strategist Mark McKinnon and Democratic fundraiser Nancy Jackson, with a boost by CNN contributor and dedicated centrist John Avlon.

Speakers at its conferences have included New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a registered independent, former White House adviser David Gergen (who worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations), New York Times columnist David Brooks and MSNBC's Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough, a former GOP congressman from Florida.

Prominent among goals promoted by No Labels for the national political process are:

Bipartisan monthly meetings.

Filibuster reform (mostly to make it harder to filibuster and hold up legislation).

Requiring up or down votes on presidential appointments (which would mean that Republican senators would be unable to filibuster the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be Defense Secretary).

Bipartisan seating at all joint meetings or sessions of Congress, meaning each member should be seated next to at least one member of the other party.

Deny pay to Congress until a budget is passed.

When No Labels was launched two years ago, it was roundly mocked as "naive and patronizing."

Now it's being taken more to heart. As Manchin and Huntsman said in an op-ed piece they cowrote for The Washington Post: "It's time to start supporting our economy and stop subtracting from it. It's time to stop keeping score (in political battles) and take steps to start solving problems."

Just before President Obama delivered the State of the Union address one week ago, 40 members of Congress had taken to wearing the No Labels lapel pin. After that address, five more signed on. Manchin and Huntsman are constantly prodding others to join the cause.

It's a cause whose time has come. We should all wish No Labels well.

John Patrick Grace likes a line employed by John F. Kennedy while he was president: "Don't call me a liberal, don't call me a conservative; if you must call me something, call me a pragmatist." Grace is a book editor and publisher based in Huntington.

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