No Labels gathers allies in DC to start 2016 push

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers and strategists from both parties are gathering to outline a plan to save Social Security, add 25 million jobs and balance the federal budget.

Oh, and the delivery date for the bipartisan outside group's ambitious plans? No Labels says October 2015, right as the next presidential campaign starts to rev up.

The challenge is relevance for No Labels, which is led by a who's who of current and former lawmakers and some of the savviest strategists in both parties. The group began after the 2010 midterm elections, which gave rise to the anti-establishment tea party, with a goal of bridging the chasm between Republicans and Democrats.

A No Labels-backed Problem Solvers caucus formed on Capitol Hill and attracted close to 100 lawmakers. Their wins, so far, have been scarce.

"When there's this gridlock, there are no winners," said Rep. Peter Welch, a Vermont Democrat and a No Labels supporter. "Congress is broken and there's no silver bullet. ... It's a frustration for members. Red state or blue state, a lot of us would feel much better if we moved forward a bit."

Looking to boost bipartisanship — and No Labels' profile — more than 200 local, state and federal officials were visiting Washington for a summit featuring leaders from across the political spectrum. A reception Tuesday night at the British ambassador's residence attracted Vice President Joe Biden.

Wednesday's formal meeting is designed to be the starting point for what is billed as a "National Strategic Agenda," a policy platform that 2016 presidential hopefuls would have to address.

Former American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas and former Clinton White House chief of staff Mack McLarty were set to appear together on one panel. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican and tea party favorite, was to appear on another with Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

The finished platform is expected to be unveiled as President Barack Obama enters the twilight of his White House tenure and his successors are traipsing through early-nominating Iowa and New Hampshire.

The schedule suggests that tackling serious challenges facing the country is unlikely until at least 2017.

"We're going to be major players in New Hampshire and Iowa," said Bill Galston, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton and a No Labels co-founder. "Candidates are going to have to answer questions from the grass roots: Are you for this?"

What "this" is, however, is yet to be fully formed. Based on 90 town hall-style meetings in early nominating states, No Labels leaders have identified four popular if ambitious goals:

—Create 25 million new jobs over a decade.

—Secure Social Security and Medicare for another 75 years.

—Make the United States "energy secure" by 2024.

—Balance the federal budget by 2030.

"They're common-sense goals. But they're tough to do," said former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 and now serves as a No Labels co-chairman.

Added another No Labels co-chairman, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia: "In Washington lately, we spend all our time worried about elections. It doesn't leave much room for actual governing."


Follow Philip Elliott on Twitter:\_elliott

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