With eye on ending Hill gridlock, 81 lawmakers rally to back bipartisan bills

Eighty-one House and Senate lawmakers on Thursday pushed for a new bipartisan effort to pass nine relatively noncontroversial bills. 

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Most members of the coalition appeared together at a rally on Capitol Hill, expressing hope the package would become a down payment on ending the intense gridlock that has characterized the 113th Congress. 

Partisan bickering in the nation's capital on major issues — from the budget to guns to the farm bill to immigration — has contributed to some of the lowest poll ratings Congress has ever received.

Members of the group, which ranged from Tea Party stalwarts like Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) to liberals like Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), said they are just taking the first step to solving the nation’s big problems.

“It’s not the biggest issues of the day. It’s a way to build a little momentum,” Mulvaney said. “I don’t think this group will necessarily solve the budget problem or sequester, but if we solve it, it could be due to what we started here today.”

The group No Labels hosted the outdoor rally in the blazing heat on Capitol Hill Thursday. 

Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr.'s (D-Ga.) presentation was typical. "The solutions to the problems that our country faces are neither Democrat nor Republican, they are American solutions," he said.

The group had pushed a budget grand bargain in the last Congress but has set its sights lower this time around in the hope of building trust. 

A compromise budget resolution introduced by Reps. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), who was on hand Thursday, and former Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) was defeated on the House floor last year. The Cooper-LaTourette budget, which was based on the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles plan, failed on a 382-38 vote.

Members of the new coalition were introduced to Hollywood-style theme music, and each sweating lawmaker stood to give a short comment on the need for compromise. 

Some of the measures could see quicker action, although members have not yet sat down with House GOP leaders on scheduling floor time.

Mulvaney said the focus now is on increasing the number of co-sponsors first and going through the normal committee process. 

One bill that could move, co-sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.), would merge the health records of the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. A massive backlog in veterans' health claims has drawn the ire of both parties. 

Another bill aims to move to a two-year budgeting process. Lead sponsor Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) noted that it had already been adopted in a nonbinding way as part of the 2014 Senate Budget resolution.

The Senate this year passed a budget for the first time in four years, and a key reason for the infrequency has been the time-consuming vote-a-rama on the floor it entails, in which members try to force votes on politically compromising issues. 

Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) are co-sponsoring the two-year budget bill in the House. 

Other bills could face tougher hurdles. 

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) sponsored a bill that eliminates duplicate agencies and programs identified in 2013 by the Government Accountability Office, but appropriators in both Houses are unlikely to swallow it whole. 

Another bill enforces strategic sourcing so that separate divisions within a single federal agency do not make independent contracts for common items. 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Schrader are sponsoring a bill to stop assuming automatic year-to-year spending increases in agency budgets. 

Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) sponsored a bill to cut 50 percent of agency travel and replace it with video conferencing.

Another bill targets reducing energy waste in federal buildings by incentivizing private companies to identify energy savings.

The list of "Problem Solvers" from the House and Senate includes 43 Democrats, 37 Republicans and 1 Independent.