Fixing Washington Should Be Top Priority For Obama

ByRyan Dahrouge

Tuesday night, the president laid out his agenda for the beginning of his second term, backed with a level of intensity that was once rare for the formerly no-drama Obama. Staring back at him was one of the most polarized federal legislatures in American history, meaning with the exception of immigration reform, a mention of which was met with uproarious and bipartisan applause fast movement on the president’s legislative priorities is far from likely.

This has become the accepted struggle of American politics: some are so concerned with doctrinal purity that the necessary duties of maintaining a nation are being severely neglected. Forget taking a second look at our bloated tax code, or that our infrastructure is deteriorating, or that we near government shutdowns yearly; the most alarming part is that no one’s even surprised by it anymore. Who’s shocked, then, that only 30% of millennials feel that their desire for a functional system is represented in government?  It is essential to the political future of the United States that its largest generation associates representation with the structure of its own government. It’s in this spirit that the Roosevelt Institute released Government By and For Millennial America.

Congress’s approval rating now hovers around 9% with an 85% non-approval rating. Congress, and by extension, the American political system, is ineffective and its own constituents don’t trust it to serve out even its most basic electoral duties, an opinion that has been well echoed in the markets. In April 2011, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the US credit rating for the first time in its history, stating, "the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened." The credit agency's history of sloppy credit rating prior to 2007 might have you taking this statement with a grain of salt, but the impression that the American political system is too partisan and convoluted in its protocol is well-evidenced.

Consider the facts: a rarity 50 years ago, the filibuster is used so prominently today that every bill essentially requires a 60-vote cloture; the 112th congress set the record for the lowest number of bills passed during its two year term since the 1940s, with many of the 219 bills they did pass purposed solely to name post offices and courthouses; on the state level, the ability of the state legislatures to gerrymander has allowed the number of swing districts to shrink by two-thirds in 20 years, leaving members of Congress with increasingly homogeneous constituents to appeal to and less incentive to compromise.

To say that the fundamental problem with American politics is its over-politicized nature is an oversimplified notion, albeit not a totally incorrect one. The structure that our political system has conformed to, one formed by our legislation just as much as our quality of civic involvement, encourages this ultra-partisan and self-interested behavior. What state legislator would avoid the opportunity to reshape their state’s districts if it would help them control the agenda for the next decade? How could a member of the Senate risk not using the filibuster when the tool is so loosely regulated? The United States faces more than a legislative problem. The very structure of our political process needs to be reevaluated.

With contributions from over 50 authors of the millennial generation from college campuses across the country, Government By and For Millennial America does just that. The document approaches the democratic process from every angle and role and breaks it up into categories as specific as Joe Swanson’s suggestions on filibuster policy to as broad as Elizabeth Stokes’ defense of the government’s role as a steward of the common good. We’ve laid out our plan for vast improvements to the system, and it’s only after addressing this issue of structure that we can tackle the ambitious goals enumerated in last night’s State of the Union. 

His address crammed with policy suggestions for the upcoming year, President Obama put strong emphasis on the message that "We can get this done." The Roosevelt Institute lauds this desperately needed bold action and with Government By and For Millennial America, we intend to provide the how.