There is an epic battle brewing in Washington; a fight for our freedom. Many politicians are probably hoping that the voters' memories are so short that they will have forgotten that less than a year ago the debt ceiling debate in Washington nearly put our economy into a tail spin and resulted in the United States' credit rating being downgraded for the first time in history. Our lawmakers raised the government's debt ceiling to 16.394 trillion ($16,394,000,000,000.00). Now, some experts say that we could reach the new debt ceiling prior to the end of 2012. The Treasury could use "extraordinary measures" to avoid default for a few months, but in any case, it is inevitable that the combination of the debt ceiling and the expiration of several tax cuts will likely be an explosive debate in Washington and at the top of the agenda in January of 2013.
The individuals we elect this fall to represent Americans will play a critical role in the future of the United States. What will be the next debt limit . . . 18 trillion . . . 19 trillion . . . why not 20 trillion? That is a nice round number. It is no coincidence that the debt ceiling was raised just enough to get politicians through this year's elections. Our politicians seem to be more worried about keeping their jobs than doing what is right for the American people. This year's elections could be an opportunity for Americans to stand up for what they believe. It could be an opportunity for all of us to make real reductions in the deficit, and to make real tax reform.
I am running for Congress in Minnesota's fourth Congressional District. While campaigning, I have discussed issues with thousands of people in this district. The overwhelming concern is the economy. People want to know how this could have happened to our country. They have lost trust and faith in their elected officials. One of the greatest strengths of America is the ability of its citizens to vote. Each person has the power to make a difference with his or her vote. This year it is paramount that everyone uses his or her vote to be heard. Beating an incumbent has become increasingly difficult. Over the past 50 years (since 1962), House incumbents seeking reelection have won over 90% of the time. In 2000, one of the more contested elections, of the 339 House incumbents who ran for reelection, only six lost. And since 2000, incumbent members of Congress seeking reelection have won over 94% of the time.
House incumbents have many advantages over challengers. First, the average member of Congress has about 20 staff members. Just 100 years ago, members of Congress didn't have any staff. Taxpayers spend hundreds of millions of dollars for the staff members of Congress. Second, members of Congress have franking privileges which allow them to send mass mailings to the voters at no expense to the incumbent. In 2009, House members spent $45 million in taxpayer funded mass mailings. This is a powerful advantage. Third, and maybe most important, incumbents seem to do whatever is necessary to get their programs passed; to bring home the bacon. Many of these programs are extremely expensive, not to mention frivolous. The funding is then sent back to their districts, thereby also benefiting their reelections. In addition, the name recognition from the press coverage they receive is substantial. Finally, much of their time is spent fundraising. Some may argue that they spend more time fundraising than working. Incumbents of Congress often spend exponentially more than their challengers in reelection campaigns.
Most of us can agree that our nation is in a serious crisis. The inability of the members of Congress to effectively address problems has resulted in approval ratings being the lowest in polling history. Depending upon the poll, approval ratings currently range between 9% and 12%. That said, adversity has a history of bringing out the best in America. We will get past this, and we will be stronger for it. But in order to do so, Americans must vote. America's best days are still ahead.