They may not be plentiful in the “swamp” of Washington, but there are some lawmakers there who seem to regard their position not as a career, but as a responsibility. There’s a massive distinction between the two, of course.
When people build careers they are looking for advancement, promotions, job security, raises, and stability. In other words, career building is largely centered on self. That isn’t bad in and of itself, but when you hold a position of elected trust, self is supposed to be secondary to your responsibilities towards those who elected you.
Don’t misunderstand, this isn’t the clichéd platitudes about “listening to the will of the people,” or “you work for me” posturing. It may be that the most responsible lawmakers are those who act in the best interest of their constituents, even if their constituents don’t like it. And that’s why we should all be wary of Washington career-building, be it Republican or Democrat.
If my objective is to be in Washington as long as possible, my primary concern is saying what people want to hear, acting only according to popular trends and following the political winds whichever way they are blowing. The last thing I would do is ask or demand people make sacrifices – even if that’s something I know is entirely necessary for the good of the nation.
And that’s why I have such admiration and respect for Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Following him on Twitter, you quickly come to the realization that his life is far more than just politics. The ratio of faith, family or sports tweets to political tweets leans staggeringly towards the former. And listening to him speak, you realize he isn’t concerned about his future in Washington, he’s concerned with our future as a republic.
Take, for instance, what Sasse just said about Trump’s budget proposal and it’s lack of focus on major entitlement spending:
“71 percent of the federal budget is five entitlement programs: Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, Social Security and interest on the debt. 71 percent of federal spending! And the remaining 29 is about half and half. 14 to 14, defense verse non-defense entitlements.”
“If you go back to the Kennedy administration, a little more than 50 years, at that point, 52 percent of federal spending was defense and one percent was entitlements. Now, we’re at 70 percent entitlements, 14 percent defense,” the senator explained.
“We are never going to protect our kids from generational bankruptcy if we don’t tackle entitlements and right now there’s just little political will to do that in Washington. That’s the budgetary item that I’m most anxious about.”
Those numbers are shocking and unsustainable. Our government simply cannot stay in the healthcare and retirement business with the systems we currently have in place, or we will be belly-up within a generation. That’s a serious fiscal crisis for the country.
Yet we aren’t hearing this blunt and honest talk from other voices in Washington. And responsible voters, left or right, must ask why. Not, “Why is Sasse talking about this,” but “why aren’t others doing the same?”
I suspect the answer we will come to has a lot to do with their preoccupation with Washington career-building over the momentous responsibility to us that they hold.