United States of Dysfunction: Is it too late to restore confidence in D.C?

Pete Hegseth CEO, Concerned Veterans for America
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Here’s a pop quiz: If (or when) the federal government shuts down over Washington’s inability to agree on spending, who will deserve the greater share of the blame? Congressional Republicans? Congressional Democrats? President Obama? What effect would a shutdown have on the 2014 midterms, or the 2016 presidential election?

Welcome to the Great Government Shutdown Debate of 2013, where the pivotal questions, according to our nation’s pundits and media mavens, center around the political “optics” and the classification of “winners” and “losers” in every debate.

Thus, we get endless finger pointing and blame-casting, without ever addressing the real issues. Once this crisis is past, we can look forward to the whole cycle starting anew in a few months. The inevitable result is an erosion of confidence in government.

But perhaps it’s time to step back and take stock of the critical issue in this debate, which is the dark shadow that spending and debt are casting over our nation’s present and future. Simply put, if we fail to set the right course on these questions now, our fiscal future will only grow more bleak — and Americans’ confidence in their government will only grow weaker.

Recent polls have explored Americans’ feelings about a government shutdown. Taken together, the results suggest there’s strong disapproval of a government shutdown, and that both parties would share responsibility if they fail to reach an agreement.

A closer look at polls reveals a more revealing trend: Americans are losing confidence in our nation’s leadership. Last week, the Gallup organization reported that a strong majority (60 percent) believe the federal government has too much power; a few days before, a separate Gallup poll found that less than half of Americans trust the government to handle problems.

And why shouldn’t they turn away? Consider what Americans see when they survey what Washington, D.C., has delivered over the last five years:

  • A jobless economic “recovery” that, more than four years after the end of the recession, is barely worthy of the name. Unprecedented stimulus efforts at the Federal Reserve have done little, except add $7 trillion to our national debt.
  • Endless deficits and ever-growing debt, driven by uncontrolled mandatory spending through Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, on a trajectory that even the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) calls “unsustainable.”
  • The slow-motion train wreck of Obamacare, which every day delivers fresh news of implementation failures, unintended consequences and broken promises.
  • Ham-fisted spending cuts under “sequestration” that are slowly eroding our defense posture without reforming the real waste in Pentagon spending or addressing America’s long-term spending trend lines.
  • A foreign policy that appears feckless and adrift, as the most powerful nation on earth courts disaster by retreating from a dangerous world and grasping for “deals” with conniving adversaries.

Call it the United States of Dysfunction. Against that backdrop, the loss of confidence in the government is no surprise. And a government shutdown will only serve to hasten that ongoing decline in confidence and trust.

A shutdown will impact our community of veterans and military personnel. Even if we’re not completely sure how deeply veterans’ benefits and military pay would be affected by a shutdown, it’s bound to have a serious effect.

This is why the intense focus on the “optics” of the shutdown is so ridiculous: it obscures the fact that we have a very real spending and debt problem that is hindering our ability to meet our obligations and defend ourselves. And because Washington cannot forge solutions, Americans across the country take the hit.

When the debate focuses on politics and personalities (“Has President Obama spent enough time glad-handing members of Congress? Do other senators like Senator Ted Cruz?”), we avoid the more pressing question of how to address the long-term threat that fiscal profligacy poses to our freedoms.

In October, Concerned Veterans for America will demand a higher standard of our nation’s leadership on our “Defend Freedom” bus tour. Kicking off in Las Vegas onFriday, October 4, we’ll be crossing the nation for three weeks to meet with military veterans, their families and patriotic Americans.

Our goal is to draw attention to the dysfunctional state of Washington, and urge veterans, military families – and all Americans – to take action. Nothing is going to change until the American people demand it. This tour will help do just that.

The United States has faced serious challenges that eroded the people’s confidence in our national leaders in the past. Yet at every turn, the American people have shown optimism and resilience and we’ve bounced back. It can happen again, but our leaders must earn the people’s confidence once again. Setting the right course on spending and debt, without further delay, is a critical first step.

Pete Hegseth is the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, and the former executive director of Vets for Freedom. Pete is an infantry officer in the Army National Guard, and has served tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay.