I attended a meeting in Washington on Dec. 13 that marked the one-year anniversary of the founding of No Labels, an organization whose goal is to break gridlock, foster conversation and end to hyper-partisanship in government.

The main purpose of the Washington meeting was a press conference to introduce a 12-step action plan to make Congress work.

Nancy Jacobson, co-founder of the organization, said its goal is to bring people together to get Congress moving, not to start a third party.

More than 400 citizens of diverse political persuasions from across the country attended.

Introducing the 12-step action plan, one at a time, were Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, Dean Heller, R-Nev., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Reps. Bob Dold, R-Ill., Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, Tom Petri, R-Wis., Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., John Yarmuth, D-Ky., and Jared Polis, D-Colo., former Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., former Reps. Tom Davis, R-Va., and Bob Edgar, D-Pa., and former U.S. Comptroller General Dave Walker.

Only one of the steps would require that a bill be passed. Some could be done by changes in the rules that each new Congress votes to govern itself at the start of a new session. Others would require that the leadership make changes, and still others would require changes in the behavior of individual members.

It would be possible to accomplish all 12 steps by the start of the next Congress in January of 2013.

The most radical change would be “no budget, no pay for Congress.” If a budget is late, Congress will not be paid until it is approved. (After California made this change for its Legislature, the state’s budget finally was passed on time.) Heller, a Republican, and Man-chin, a Democrat, have introduced federal legislation addressing this step.

The remaining 11 steps are as follows:

* Presidential appointments for executive and judicial positions must receive an up or down vote within 90 days or the appointment would stand automatically.

* Tighten filibuster rules by requiring senators to take a bill to the floor and hold it through sustained debate if they want to halt action on it.

* Allowing a majority of representatives or senators to force legislation to the floor by signing a discharge petition whose signers would be kept secret until a majority has been reached. This step would serve to reduce pressure by party leaders on members who sign.

* For each four-week period, members of Congress should spend three weeks in Washington and one week in their district/state, with five full working days per week in Washington.

* Formation of Bipartisan Congressional Leadership Committee to meet each week to discuss the nation’s most pressing issues.

* A non-partisan leader, such as the Comptroller General, would deliver an annual fiscal update to a joint session of Congress.

* Bipartisan gatherings would be held every month in each chamber of Congress.

* Members would be restricted from signing partisan pledges that prevent them from reaching consensus on important issues.

* The president would meet with both the House and Senate monthly in a televised question-and-answer session.

* Mixed-partisan seating would be required in chamber gatherings and in committee meetings.

* No representative or senator would be allowed to conduct negative campaigning in another representative’s district or senator’s state. This step would serve to lessen acrimony in Congress. Positive campaigning for one’s party’s nominees would be allowed.

I was impressed by how desperate the senators and representatives were to end the gridlock and how grateful they were that someone was taking action.

I also was impressed by the diversity of the citizen attendees. They were of various ethnicities, races and ages, from college students to retirees. The majority had come from within a few hundred miles of Washington, but some came from farther afield. One man came from Colorado, a few from Florida, at least one from California, and I showed up from Maine.

Chiefs of staff of some of the legislators told us that contacting our senators or representatives through mass emailing is not very effective.

They do, however, appreciate and take seriously an individually written, thoughtfully composed email.

Snail mail is scrutinized in a postal center and therefore is very slow to arrive.

For success, pressure is needed from all of us. Nothing can be resolved by a gridlocked Congress.

Information about No Labels is available at www.nolabels.org.

Priscilla Markley of Winthrop is one of the members of Maine’s No Label organization.

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