World Affairs Council Hilton Head

No Labels moved Mountains

22 Dec 2020 10:59 AM | Anonymous

As you may have heard, congressional leaders just announced an agreement on a new package of COVID-19 relief.  But you may not have heard that members of the House and Senate whom No Labels has aided and encouraged were principally responsible for this agreement.   

Here’s how they did it: Throughout the spring and summer and well into the fall, Democratic leaders in the House and Republican leaders in the Senate developed dueling legislative proposals.  Negotiations between these leaders broke down, as did talks between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.  It appeared increasingly likely that the 116th Congress would adjourn without delivering desperately needed assistance to unemployed Americans, struggling small businesses, health care providers, schools, and many others.

                Then rank-and-file members of the House and Senate took over.  In the House, the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus founded by No Labels years ago began to work on its own proposal, as did an informal bipartisan group of senators whom No Labels helped bring together more recently.  Remarkably, these legislators worked together across not only party lines but also across the deep institutional divide between the House and Senate.  Bicameral meetings organized by No Labels helped create the relationships that made these conversations possible, and then effective.

                These intense efforts, which took place over more than a month, produced agreements, first on a legislative framework and then on actual bills.  As they were publicly released, these agreements broke the logjam.  Other members of the House and Senate began to endorse them as the best way forward, and the leadership soon had little choice but to restart negotiations.  Although completing the deal took additional weeks, the final agreement reflected both the shape and the size of the proposal the bipartisan, bicameral group had offered.

                The new agreement announced today is a genuine compromise of a kind rarely seen in today’s Washington.  The bill spends much less money than Democrats wanted, and much more than Republicans wanted.  Its provisions expire later than Republicans wanted but sooner than Democrats preferred.   It does not include aid for states and localities, which most Democrats favor, and most Republicans oppose, or protections for businesses against COVID-19 lawsuits, where the opposite is the case.  And at the urging of the White House and senators on the left wing of the Democratic Party and the right wing of the Republican Party, it includes direct payments to all Americans, regardless of their circumstances.  

                The bill represents not only a victory for hard-pressed Americans but also a quiet revolution against ways of doing business that have dominated Washington for much too long.  Over the past generation, power has flowed away from committees and individual members of the House and Senate and towards the leaders.  Most important bills have been drafted by the leadership behind closed doors, and rank-and-file members often have no opportunity to offer amendments.  As leaders gave priority to maintaining party unity within their caucuses, the legislative process ground to a near halt.

                The COVID-19 bill is completely different from most recent legislation.  Its framework was drafted from below, not from above, by individual representatives and senators who gave priority to producing real solutions and who were willing to make compromises to reach vital agreements.  The relief bill elevated practicality above partisanship and purity by focusing on problems—such as unemployment, small business closures, and inadequate funding for school reopening and vaccine distribution—where a foundation of consensus existed on which legislative agreements could be built. 

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