Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and former Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman are pushing to create a powerful caucus in Congress aimed at breaking down the partisan divide that prevents urgent problems from being solved.
The two former governors of West Virginia and Utah, respectively, will join today in unveiling a list of two dozen senators and representatives willing to cross party lines to meet once a month as way to help overcome the gridlock on Capitol Hill.
Dubbed "Problem Solvers," the caucus is expected to promote the ideas behind the national "No Labels" movement begun two years ago that seeks to replace the politics of party with cooperation from members from both sides working together.
"This is a whacky period," Huntsman said Monday on MSNBC's Morning Joe, referring to Republican efforts to redefine the party in the wake of 2012 election and renewed Democratic efforts to retake control of both chambers of Congress.
He and Manchin worry that the politics of elections will continue to dominate on Capitol Hill and that the nation's economy will suffer for it because nothing will get done to help business or individuals plan for the future.
"The greatest challenge the American economy has is the American Congress," said Manchin, who was also interviewed on "Morning Joe."
"What we're really interested in is making sure that whether Republican or Democrat, people in Congress actually start problem solving and getting the work of the American people done," added Huntsman. "Because it seems that Congress has given up on the American people, but the American people haven't given up on Congress. There's still a pretty optimistic bunch out there and they want results for the next generation."
"We've got the politics of left, we've got the politics of right, and we've forgotten the most important politics of all and that's the politics of problem solving for the American people," he said later.
Manchin agreed that while Congress's approval ratings are presently at their lowest point ever, there's still a chance that even a small group of lawmakers crossing party aisles just once a month to work on resolving important issues can play a big role in changing the way Congress does business. Like the national No Labels movement, which has attracted liberals, conservatives, independents and members of both parties, the intent of forming the caucus is simply to get members talking.
"When I came here I found things to be so divisive," he noted, adding that for the past two years Republicans and Democrats have not held a single bipartisan caucus meeting where all members meet to discuss issues away from their partisan floor debates.
"We don't even know each other," Manchin said at one point, referring to the fact that members no longer establish the kind of personal relationships it takes to negotiate compromises that help the country as a whole.
"I feel if my country does well, my state and people are going to do well," he said. "And I'm going to put my country above my party."
Manchin and Huntsman expanded on their idea of changing the way Congress operates in a Washington Post opinion piece published Monday, in which they said the country can't afford to wait for "a better system" to emerge to get things done.
"We need to . . . seek solutions now from the system and the leaders we already have," they wrote. "Businesses are not hiring, and investors are not investing as a direct result of the uncertainty created by Washington. Too many would-be workers are not working. The coming generations are being doomed to a worse standard of living than previous generations.
"Knowing that should light a fire under everybody in Washington. But it hasn’t," the two added. "The gridlock continues, most recently with the “fiscal cliff” fiasco, and the fight over the debt ceiling looms."
Huntsman said they hope to expand the "Problem Solver" Caucus to at least 75 members by the end of 2013. But for now, the caucus members include: Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.), and Reps. John Barrow (D-Ga.), Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), Janice Hahn (D-Calif.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Jim Himes (D-Conn.), Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.), Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa), Jim Moran (D-Va.), Reid Ribble (R-Wis.), Scott Rigell (R-Va.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.).
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