If I had to bet on it, I'd say the government will be shut down next week. We are inching closer to that reality, with the Senate and House yet to reach an agreement on a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through either November 15 (Senate) or December 15 (House). There are so many critical issues facing our country, and yet we have a raging ping-pong match between the two chambers of congress who insist on treating this economy and our national challenges like a game. I desperately want to believe that Congress will halt the political brinkmanship and move past short-term funding agreements or debt ceiling debacles to real solutions, but I am skeptical.
What little part of me believes in miracles has experienced a glimmer of hope in the launch of the Congressional Future Caucus.
Led by the first millennial in Congress, Representative Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), and the youngest woman in Congress, Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), the Future Caucus legitimately rekindles a hope within me that the past few years has subdued. To start, a few of its members have gotten together over beers to discuss the Affordable Care Act and not ended up with anyone yelling, "You lie." The capacity for our government to function in a bipartisan way, without inflating or dramatizing the nature of legislative proposals or the goals they are aiming to achieve, may be revived by young lawmakers who have set their sights on finding common ground.
The Future Caucus was launched in partnership with the Millennial Action Project, a group aiming to promote "an innovative, future-focused policy dialogue through millennial thought leadership on 21st-century challenges." Their cause is an important one, given the dispiriting nature of politics today that is causing millennials growing impatience.
Millennials have only known bitter partisan politics. We have watched the full faith and credit of our country called into question, witnessed gridlock and political shenanigans in the midst of daunting national challenges, and have had to stand by as moderate voices have abandoned the halls of Congress, believing the institution they served could not be saved from the inside. We do not have much faith in our nation's leaders, and studies have raised concern by pointing out exactly how lost faith can jeopardize policy and political debate.
Yet some people are beginning to consider whether millennials will be the next greatest generation, based on the challenges we face and the diversity and technology we have at our disposal. The question remains: how we will we harness those tools and turn them into political influence? Do we have power that our parents' generation lacks when it comes to defeating congressional gridlock and creating policy discussions that extend beyond a two-month continuing resolution?
Frankly, millennials are by and large represented right now by a group of lawmakers focused exclusively on sating the desires of our grandparents and parents. Beneficiaries of Social Security and Medicare are sacred, but student loan recipients are fair game. The current Congress does not speak for the future generations, but for the past.
The absence of forward-thinking policy leaves Congress with skewed priorities that do not focus on future economic competitiveness in a globalized economy, an educated populace prepared to engage and innovate, or even a healthy nation. Congress is focusing on stopgap measures, short-term budget projections, and the next election instead of on the long-term structural challenges facing our country.
In part, this is because the average age in the House is 57 and 62 in the Senate; so we're being led by a demographic facing retirement and not anticipating 30 to 40 more years of work in the current economic climate.
Millennials are uniquely positioned to buck the status-quo of our aging lawmakers and demand change. The Future Caucus will work in a bipartisan way to develop long-term, collaborative solutions to our nation's problems and, in particular, to issues facing younger generations. Reps. Todd Young (R-Ind.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Joseph Kennedy (D-Mass.), and Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.) have also joined the caucus, cementing a membership that represents a broad swath of the country with vibrant leaders all under the age of 40.
If we do not act to change the partisan discourse in our government, we are the ones who will suffer the consequences. Though millennials are more likely to believe in social entrepreneurship and civic engagement than government as vehicles for change (and to believe more strongly that the purpose of business is to improve society), we also have growing representation in our government. There are now 20 Republicans and 14 Democrats under the age of 40 in Congress, spanning Gen X and Gen Y. In 2008, there were only four under the age of 40. If this entire segment of Congress were to join the Future Caucus, it would represent a significant bipartisan voting block to gain influence and put pressure on congressional leadership to promote policies for the future.
Imagine the potential.
As millennials, we have a unique perspective that make us more pragmatic, more collaborative, more innovative, and more civic-minded than our parents (and most of our Congress). The This is only the beginning; the Future Caucus and Milliennial Action Project are at the early stages of spreading their influence. Encouragement from citizens like us can help them grow and gain a louder voice so that, in spite of all the challenges our generation faces, we can be the change we seek in our government.