Manchin group pushes for bipartisanship
Sen. Joe Manchin's bipartisan "No Labels" group is small in numbers right now, but he hopes members will have a big impact on a gridlocked Congress.
Earlier this month, "No Labels" announced Manchin, a Democrat, and former Utah Gov. John Huntsman, a Republican, would serve as co-chairmen of the 3-year-old organization.
Manchin and Huntsman spent the early part of their week stumping for the group, holding an event in New York on Sunday and speaking to West Virginia reporters in a telephone conference on Tuesday.
The duo emphasized No Labels does not have a specific political agenda, but exists solely to get Republicans and Democrats talking to one another and working past their differences.
"When you hear the president is talking to John Boehner, that's two people. If you have two people trying to decide for the rest of the 534 of us, it might not happen," Manchin said. "They're not doing too well on their own."
Manchin said he became frustrated and disillusioned by the level of partisanship he found when he arrived in the Senate in 2010.
He said in the past senators and representatives would meet in bi-partisan caucuses to work through their differences. Manchin said until he became involved with No Labels, there were some Republican lawmakers he had never spoken to.
He said now, if any bipartisan conversations occur on Capitol Hill, they usually are among congressional leaders: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid trying to strike a deal with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, or McConnell trying to forge an agreement with House Speaker John Boehner.
Manchin said the No Labels group currently has 25 members in Congress, split among Democrats and Republicans in the two houses. He hopes to increase membership to around 80 members by the end of the year.
Although those numbers do not seem large compared to the 100-member U.S. Senate and the 425-member House of Representatives, Manchin said even a tiny group of lawmakers can make waves.
A bill before the House must gain a simple 51 percent majority of 218 votes to be passed. In the Senate, a bill needs a supermajority of 60 votes to avoid being defeated by a filibuster.
"Twenty members of the Senate make a big difference. Fifteen make a big difference. Six make a big difference," Manchin said. "If you carve out a strong voice with responsible policies, you can make your voice heard."
Manchin said he would encourage other members of West Virginia's congressional delegation to join No Labels. He said he does not expect House and Senate leaders to join but believes they will be inclined to listen to the group's members.
Huntsman said before No Labels, there was never an "organizational backstop" to support lawmakers who chose to go against traditional party lines to compromise with their political opponents.
No Labels gives elected officials reinforcement to "do the right thing," he said.
Huntsman said dysfunction in Congress has made the rest of the nation dysfunctional. Investors are not investing and businesses are not hiring, mostly because they have little faith their elected officials will do anything to fix the economy.
"We're beginning to jeopardize our own future," he said. "I'm absolutely embarrassed by what we have today. The next generation deserves better."
He said the problem is not ideology because lawmakers always have brought their own values and beliefs to Washington.
"The problem is a lack of focus, a lack of culture in Congress that leads to problem solving," he said. "Problem solving must be seen as good politics."
Manchin will spend the rest of this week touring West Virginia.
On Tuesday afternoon, he met with local business and community leaders at Kanawha County's W. Kent Carper Justice and Public Safety Complex to discuss "fixing our nation's fiscal house," according to a press release.
On Wednesday, Manchin will visit Robert C. Byrd High School in Clarksburg to tour the school and talk with teachers, first responders and others about school safety.
Manchin will conclude his tour Friday at Marsh Fork Elementary in Raleigh County, where he will meet with students and teachers before heading to Concord University in Athens, where he'll speak with college administrators, faculty, students and veterans.