As a fairly new political activist, Frank Fauls isn't getting discouraged over the ongoing tangle in Congress over the so-called "fiscal cliff." The former real-estate agent from Olympia is part of a growing nonpartisan movement calling itself No Labels,and its goal is to goad Congress into working cooperatively.
The group has a few suggestions for Congress if it can't quit quibbling and get something done on the national debt and deficit problems. The so-called cliff is the roughly $600 billion in expiring Bush-era tax breaks and spending set to begin taking effect automatically at year's end.
One of the catchiest No Labels ideas -- and first on its "12 Ways to Make Congress Work" list -- is withholding pay from members of Congress if they fail to complete its budget and all spending bills on time each year.
Other ideas are more arcane, relating to the inner functioning of the body. For instance, one requires congressional confirmation votes on presidential appointments within 90 days, up or down, no exceptions. Among others: Set up a seating chart that intersperses Republicans and Democrats so they have to actually talk to each other as they come and go; make members work five-day weeks for at least three weeks a month, while letting them go home for a week to stay in touch with voters; if filibusters are to occur, require them to be real ones with real people standing and reading for hours.
Fauls, a former real-estate salesman who worked previously in the nuclear industry, says he knows it would be complicated to get the already beleaguered Congress to approve bills enforcing some of these changes, which the pay-cut provision would require. And he said No Labels has backing from only two Northwest members of Congress -- Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Rep. Denny Rehburg, R-Mont.
He's not seen progress with Washington's lawmakers. He said he contacted all candidates running for state and federal office in the last election cycle and got four replies -- including a call from outgoing state Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, who ran for secretary of state on a radical-centrist agenda.
"In the future I can say at least I tried to make a difference. I realize it is an uphill battle," Fauls said. Part of his challenge is that "the majority has become silent."
Fauls says he'd never been active with either political party but got involved as Washington state's citizen leader for No Labels because he was frustrated to see his government locking up as it did last year over the debt ceiling. In the several months he's been involved with No Labels, he says he's seen a real public interest in the movement.
In May, he said "we had approximately 100 members here in Washington. In September we had 1,300. Today we have just shy of 2,600. We've doubled in the last three and a half months."
Nationally the group counts 600,000, and Fauls said they plan a major "Make America Work" in New York City on Jan. 13-14 with more than 900 "citizen leaders" in the movement attending. He said a 500,000-member student-run group Junior State of America recently joined the No Labels coalition, as did the 2,000-member Consumer Electronics Association.
After House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said last week that President Obama and Republicans are far apart, Fauls was not losing hope that some kind of partial deal can be brokered before the Christmas holiday.
"My hope is always alive, even if at times like this, when the flame is only a flicker. I want to believe that this week's comments, from both sides of the aisle, are just more theatrical posturing," Fauls said in an email Friday. "However, with just 8 working days left for this Congress, I have come to believe that the best case scenario, will be some sort of compromise on the revenue side, with a promise to begin addressing the program cuts after the first of the year. If this is the case, I have some serious concerns as to how this will affect the markets and our credit rating."
No Labels is actually one of several groups that have formed out of frustration with the recent federal gridlock. Another organization that formed a Washington chapter recently was Fix the Debt. The Washington chapter is co-chaired by Democratic state Sen. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens, a political middle-of-the-roader who ran for Congress and lost in the primary earlier this year.
Time will tell if any of them can make a difference.
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