America faces a mammoth debt crisis. Imagine if the Berlin Wall were reconstructed with stacks of $100 dollar bills. Using the US national debt, we could build two walls each 67 miles long, 12 feet tall, and eight inches thick. This $13.4 trillion debt wall symbolizes the amassing barrier standing between my generation and the future of the American dream.
A deeper problem
This growing crisis is a symptom of a deeper problem in Congress: members stealing from the future to stay present and reward the past.
The tendency to burden America’s young people with unsustainable debt is understandable: At the start of the 111th Congress last year, the average age of members in the House was 58; in the Senate, it was 64. That’s the oldest Congress in our nation’s history – at a time when it’s never been more important to safeguard the interests of the next generation.
Clearly, the halls of Congress could use some youthful voices. Yet the Constitution bars those under 25 from running.
It’s time to change that. Not only to solve the debt problem, but to bring youthful accountability on a whole host of issues.
I’m 20. Most people my age (even those who don’t drink) abhor the drinking age. Since the law’s inception in 1984, the classic rebuttal has been this: If you’re old enough to die in war, you should be old enough to have a beer.
The same concept applies to serving in Congress.
If you can be sent to war, you ought to be able to participate in the decision making process to declare war. Sure, citizens over 18 can vote, but we need a real seat at the table.
Youth: an underrepresented minority
The equal rights movements throughout history sparked debates about underrepresented minorities.
Americans take pride in seeing more diversity in our representative bodies, but few realize that the youth constitute the most underrepresented major demographic in the country.
How many members of Congress are under 30? Just one: Rep. Aaron Schock (R) of Illinois.
The national discourse is devoid of young perspectives. Turned off by the divisiveness of politics, folks my age lack any incentive to stay informed. Even after the election of President Obama, who inspired millions of youthful voters, my generation feels like they can’t change Washington.
We can get rid of this youth malaise and liven up politics once we allow people between the ages of 18 and 24 to run for the House.
Congress could use a youthful freshening.
Imagine the paradigm shift if more young people became involved in government. More members of Congress would own a stake in the country’s future and be able to hamper the government’s shortsighted addiction to deficit spending.
Even though most people under 30 are oblivious to the looming economic hazard of the national debt, younger representatives would at least have stronger incentives to leave less debt for their own generation to pay off.
Young candidates would be able to better communicate with fellow young people, inspiring the youth to rally behind entitlement reform and stop Generation “Y” from becoming Generation “Why Us.”
A powerful symbol
Obviously, lowering the age requirement alone is no panacea. It won’t solve the debt crisis overnight. It would, however, be a powerful symbol that gives voters more choices.
There’s no guarantee a single person under 25 would be elected. If younger candidates can’t draw votes, so be it. The decision rests with the people.
Before young candidates ever appear on the ballot, the American people must be convinced that the founding fathers – who got most things right – were wrong on this restriction. Our founders set a minimum age of 25 for the House and 30 for the Senate, believing our legislators need extensive life experience to run the country.
But unfortunately, the politicians with tremendous life experience set us on this path to financial ruin. When politicians age, they owe more payoffs to the special interests funding their campaigns. As apparent by the $13 trillion debt, the old and entrenched Capitol leadership fostered a vacuum of responsibility.
They’ve passed the buck to the next generations.
Young people must serve
If Congress continues neglecting the future, the future should stop neglecting Congress. Young people must demand their rights to serve in government.
Don’t discount the ability of young people to change American laws and attitudes. Student activists in the early 1970s helped fuel the drive for the 26th Amendment, which extended the right to vote to those as young as 18.
Using the same amendment process – one of our Constitution’s greatest tools – America has a shot to make our union a little “more perfect.” Lowering the age requirement doesn’t guarantee any miracles, but a strong youth voice can only help build our nation a brighter tomorrow.
Ron Meyer, a senior at Principia College, writes for Human Events and the Daily Caller. He hosts “We the People Internet Radio Show” and has written commentary for the Santa Barbara News-Press, AOL News, and the Principia Pilot.
This article originally appeared in the Christian Science Monitor.