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Can setting bipartisan goals disrupt political dysfunction?

January 11, 2016 at 6:40 PM EDT
As the presidential campaigns compete hard to win over voters, the bipartisan group No Labels is trying to bring the parties together, rallying candidates around a policy agenda pledge focused on jobs, Social Security and Medicare, balancing the federal budget and energy security. Judy Woodruff talks to the group’s co-chairs, former Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Sen. Joe Lieberman.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And while the candidates jockey for position and try to win over voters, the bipartisan group called No Labels is still hammering away at its goal of bringing the parties together.

Today, they announced Republicans Ben Carson, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Rand Paul, and Donald Trump, and one Democrat, Martin O’Malley, have all signed a pledge to work toward the No Labels policy agenda, which calls for creating jobs, securing Social Security and Medicare, balancing the federal budget, and making the United States energy-secure.

A short time ago, I spoke with the group’s co-chairs, former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman.

Senator Lieberman, Governor Huntsman, thank you for joining us.

So, you have five Republicans and one Democrat who have signed this pledge. What exactly are they pledging to do, Governor Huntsman?

JON HUNTSMAN, Former Governor, Co-Chair, No Labels: Well, they are pledging to embrace a process for goal-setting and leadership in a bipartisan fashion, drawing from the elements of a national strategic agenda, which include four big policy categories, jobs, entitlements, energy, and a balanced budget.

And, essentially, every one of the six candidates, a very diverse group, I might add, they are stating that they will support the national strategic agenda, and, number two, they will sit down and meet with a bipartisan group of congressional leaders within 30 days of being elected to the presidency, and, third, to establish a goal of drawing from one of those big issue categories and leading out in a bipartisan fashion in delivering what the American people really are looking for.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Senator Lieberman, hearing this, aren’t these, though, the kind of general goals stated in a broad-brush way that just about anyone could agree to?

JOE LIEBERMAN, Former Senator, Co-Chair, No Labels: Well, that’s exactly the way we framed them, because we’re operating from the premise that we’re trying to disrupt the dysfunction in the Washington political system.

We’re trying to create some incentives for people to work together, and one of the best ways is to have people agree at least on commonly held goals. That’s the four policy areas. So, really, left, right, center, Democrat, Republican, should agree on the goals, and then for these presidential candidate to promise, if they get elected that, within the first 30 days in office, they will call members of Congress, both parties in, to begin negotiating to get something done on at least one of the goals.

Frankly, I’m surprised all that 15 of the current presidential candidates didn’t sign on to this. I’m grateful that the six did, but I’m puzzled that the other nine haven’t, and we’re going to continue to pursue them to make our case that it’s not asking much for them to pledge, promise to work together across party lines, which hasn’t happened very much in Washington lately.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Governor Huntsman, though, at the same time, isn’t it the case — the fact that candidates from different parties, say, a conservative Republican, is going to have a very different concept of what it means to secure Social Security and Medicare than is a liberal Democrat?

JON HUNTSMAN: And that, Judy, is the beauty of governing. And that’s what this process is so important.

That’s what I had to do as a governor of a state. You create a vision. You put forward ideas. You build bipartisan coalitions and you manage it through to fruition. It’s been a long time since we have put points on the board in terms of getting big, important things done for the American people.

I can remember in the ’80s, when Ronald Reagan did so with Speaker Tip O’Neill. They set a goal around Medicare, Social Security and tax reform. And I remember in the ’90s, when Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, then speaker of the House, they too set a goal. Differing widely from an ideological standpoint, they took two respectively different pathways to the end point, but you know what? They got there.

So, you have to set the goal first and expect that people on both sides are going to negotiate, compromise and ultimately figure out a way to get there. That’s all part of the process.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Senator Lieberman, you’re not underestimating how far apart these candidates, many of them are, on these fundamental questions?

JOE LIEBERMAN: In a sense, we are, through No Labels, in a very different way expressing the anger, the frustration that so many Americans feel about how the American government has gone off the track.

And it is being expressed by a lot of these candidates with anger as well. But, in the end, you got to be more than angry. You got to be willing, history tells us, to work with people in the other party to get something done. And we’re trying to create a vehicle for the voters to send that message loud and clear to the presidential candidates.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Governor Huntsman, finally, though, can you really hold these candidates accountable?

JON HUNTSMAN: The American people will do just that. I have no doubt.

The country is hungry for this kind of sense of bipartisan problem-solving. They’re turning out. And you better believe they’re turning out to the town hall meetings and will be right up until the primary, and they’re going to hold the candidates accountable, ultimately.

And that’s why creating the vehicle, which we have done through No Labels, is exactly what needs to be done. There is no other movement quite like it. We’re Republicans. We’re Democrats. We’re independents. We have different affiliations, but we all agree on the necessity of problem-solving in order to get the work of the American people done. And that’s what’s been missing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Governor Jon Huntsman, Senator Joe Lieberman, we thank you both.