A recent Gallup poll says the top problem for Americans is ‘dissatisfaction with government’. While that number is certainly driven up by the polarizing figure in the White House, recent history shows that for the past six years, Americans have been increasingly unhappy with the leadership and direction in Washington. Both gridlock and rising partisanship have contributed to Americans’ dissatisfaction with government, but there is another factor that often gets overlooked. Does Congress actually care about what we care about? A 2014 Princeton paper says no.
“The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy,” says Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page. Their study collected data on 1,779 policy issues over the course of many years and found economic elites and interest groups have a better shot at policy adoptions than average Americans. Though some researchers say the study’s results are vastly overstated, they generally agree with the premise of the study’s finding. Which means at least over the past couple decades the issues being discussed and voted on in Washington weren’t initiated from the heartlands or the coasts, they were likely birthed inside the beltway. Talk about dissatisfaction.
That’s not to say Americans don’t care about the issues Congress has taken up over the years, but we as Americans like to believe our elected officials represent us and the issues that are most important to us. Take the national debt for example. A monthly survey conducted by the Global Strategy Group found that 77% of Americans agreed the national debt should be one of the top three priorities for the president and congress. Yet, over the last two months, Congress has enacted policies that will exacerbate our debt problems.
Instead of thinking long-term, Congress tends to think in two year cycles that trigger instant, tangible results that can be brought home to share with his or her constituents. “I cut your taxes, I got funding for a new road, I created a new program.” But just like when you charge that brand new outfit or gadget to your credit card, the bill eventually comes due. Eventually there will be consequences for trillion dollar deficits.
Higher debt levels contribute to rising interest costs and price inflation, making it more difficult for Americans to afford housing and buy essential items like groceries. The Congressional Research Service says rising debt levels make our economy more susceptible to a recession, something many Americans haven’t forgotten about. Short term gains in the economy are bolstering Americans’ feeling about the economy, the highest since the great recession, but it won’t last for long if congress is not pushed off its current course.
We are borrowing about $0.42 for every dollar we spend, which means every dollar spent, $0.42 is stolen from future generations. “The problem of generational theft doesn’t grab day-to-day headlines like war and scandal but the issue will increasingly consume and dominate our political life and discussion. It’s an inescapable moral and mathematical crisis,” says former Senator Tom Coburn. “In 1967, 60 percent of federal receipts remained after mandatory and interest spending. Today, only 20 percent remain. In a decade, that number will approach zero. In other words, the boomers have locked up nearly all of the government’s resources, leaving the next generation with nothing.”
A unifying issue like the future of our economy can fill the void where politicians and special interests have placed their priorities ahead of ours. Coburn left the Senate in 2014 because he did not believe the changes that needed to be made would come from inside the beltway. That’s why he formed Pursuit, to tackle these tough issues by creating a unified group of Americans that congress could not ignore. Politicians have put themselves and special interest ahead of their constituents for far too long. The Pursuit movement is trying to reverse that.