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Party labels block America's progress

By Evan Bayh, David Walker and Christine Todd Whitman, Special to CNN
Authors, left to right, Sen. Evan Bayh, David Walker and Christine Todd Whitman
Authors, left to right, Sen. Evan Bayh, David Walker and Christine Todd Whitman
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Co-authors: Deficit commission got virtually no support from its House members
  • They say extreme partisanship has made Congress beware of compromise
  • Authors are supporting a new advocacy group, "No Labels," which combats partisanship
  • They say: "In doing the people's business we will move not left, not right but forward"

Editor's note: Evan Bayh, a Democrat, is a United States Senator from Indiana. David Walker is the former Comptroller General of the United States. Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican, is a former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and a former governor of New Jersey. All three are founding leaders of No Labels, a new nonprofit advocacy group.

(CNN) -- The final vote on the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Commission's report serves as a concrete example of the disconnect between main street and Washington as well as the dysfunctional state of our current political system.

The Commission's report makes a clear and compelling case that the federal government faces large and growing structural deficits that must be addressed. In fact, the Commission's report was the third fiscal report in the past month alone to come to the same conclusion.

All three also noted that the size of the problem is so great that entitlement reforms, defense and other spending cuts, and additional revenues will be necessary in order to put our nation on a more prudent and sustainable fiscal path.

The American people have also expressed their concern with the country's fiscal state in public opinion polls and at the ballot box in the midterm elections. As a result, 5 of the 6 public members of the Commission and 5 of the 6 Senate members of the Commission voted for the report. They seemed to get the message from mainstream America and were willing to vote to have the report and its recommendations considered by Congress despite serious concerns regarding some of its recommendations.

Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Richard Durbin (D-Illinois) all deserve special recognition for voting for the report despite their own serious reservations. In addition, co-chairs Bowles and Simpson should be commended for their leadership. In fact, all members who voted "yes" should deserve recognition.

Despite the above, only one of six House members voted for the report.

No Labels to combat partisanship
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Unfortunately, the only one who had the courage to do so was Congressman John Spratt (D-South Carolina), current chairman of the House Budget Committee, who was defeated in the midterm elections.

The vote by the Commission's House members serves to demonstrate just how partisan and ideologically driven that legislative chamber has become. After years of gerrymandering and entrenchment of most incumbents, only about 70 seats in the House are really contested.

As a result, the political fringes of each party have an undue influence on how over 365 of the 435 seats are decided. And in recent years, these conditions have been felt to a greater extent in the Senate as more House members move to that body. The result is hyper partisanship and an ideological divide that results in stalemate in connection with large, known and growing problems that face our great nation. This stalemate must be broken if we expect our collective future to be better than our past.

All three of us are involved in a new nonpartisan political movement entitled No Labels (http://nolabels.org/), which officially launches Monday, December 13 in New York. We, and many other Republicans, Democrats and Independents, are coming together to build the majority middle and seek sensible solutions to the many key challenges that face our nation and its people, including our fiscal challenge.

We are committed to providing public support for those elected officials who seek solutions to our problems and who are willing to work across the political aisle and bridge the ideological divide to make progress. We are also committed to shining the light on those on the far right and far left who are part of the problem rather than part of the solution in order to hold them accountable.

We must recognize the reality that the path that we take over the next few years is likely to determine whether our collective future is better than our past. We believe that in doing the people's business we will move not left, not right but forward. The time to mobilize and make the first three words of the Constitution, "We the People," is now! Together we can achieve fiscal responsibility with social justice. We can also keep America great and the American Dream alive for future generations.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.