A lifetime ago when I served in Congress, visiting constituents would always ask what it was like to work in such a historic and scenic city as Washington, D.C. I would smile and express my sincere conviction how it was an honor to be elected, and entrusted to serve my constituents anywhere they sent me.
The simple truth was that many members of the U.S. House, myself included, did not have the time to tour the capital and see the sights. Between the aforementioned constituent meetings, committee hearings, votes, events, and speeches, the schedule did not afford the opportunity to “sightsee.” Also, as a member from a marginal/targeted district, I went home every weekend, though I would have done so regardless of the nature of my seat, because our family lived in the suburbs of Detroit. As much as I wanted to see historic D.C., I wanted to see my wife and kids even more. In the end, the only time we saw any of the storied landmarks and institutions was when we, as a family, were briefly together in town for events, such as the Congressional Baseball Game.
So, when I was in town last week to appear as a presenter in a policy seminar, I finally had some time to take an evening stroll around the capitol district to see some of the sights. It was a weeknight as dusk descended and settled into night, and there were few people around the area. In the unaccustomed, eerie stillness, I meandered past the Capitol, which was no longer scarred by the narrative building barricades erected by the late Democrat majority. I sauntered past the steps of a quiescent U.S. Supreme Court, where an absence of protestors reinforced the point that while the light was on, there was nobody but security personnel home. I felt the misting spray of the fountain from the Library of Congress’ Jefferson building, which was erected in 1837; and past both the later additions of the Adams (1938), and Madison (1981) buildings. The Jefferson was imbued with the grandeur of an aspiring, rising republic, while the latter buildings evince the stolid, impersonal functionality of a rising, then triumphant, bureaucratic state.
Peckish, I turned down Pennsylvania Avenue, S.E., toward 8th Street and Eastern Market. As I walked, the number of people increased, either walking, dining, or dashing into the convenience stores. What also increased was the skunky smell of marijuana being openly, and casually smoked on the street. It was not long until I encountered my first panhandler. Many more would follow and, as I continued onward, I passed the homeless, some clearly suffering from mental afflictions and some already hunkered down to sleep on the street. Turning at Market Square and down 8th, I could not escape the juxtaposition so much human suffering a short walk from the seat of the marbled halls of the American government.
From the recesses of my memory a number emerged – one numbing in its concreteness, yet also inviting abstraction because of its consequential immensity. It was a number demonstrating a people’s compassionate intentions and their ultimate failure; a number serving as the ever-increasing price tag on how much it costs to pave the road to ruin with these intentions. The number: $32 trillion dollars. It is the national debt.
Shortly, the number will be over $33 trillion dollars; and the destitute, homeless, and suffering people I passed will still be there, struggling to survive in the nation’s capital, and throughout our nation. If not to help these people, where did the trillions in debt go? What kind of government can drive up such a debt and, despite its professed intentions, still leave behind the most vulnerable among us? And this is only the federal debt. This soon to be $33 trillion is over and above what the federal government has spent every year on everything, including the homeless, mentally afflicted, and the economically disadvantaged.
Then, I recalled how, within 10 years, net interest costs on the national debt alone will exceed federal expenditures for Medicaid and defense; and, over the next 30 years, these interest payments will be the biggest line item in the federal budget. This will impair and eclipse government’s ability to provide assistance to our most vulnerable citizens; and to provide for the common defense of all citizens.
I paused outside a 7-Eleven. My mind drifted northwest to the tony suburbs surrounding the Capitol Hill. Million-dollar houses and multimillion dollar mansions, home to government vendors, lobbyists, bureaucrats, media personalities and pundits – and all those who make their pile redistributing government largesse to themselves and/or others. Cynically, these are some of the people most likely to profess their noble intentions to help our disadvantaged fellow citizens. I didn’t see many of them on 8th Street.
An awful thought wafted across my mind: the irony of a revolutionary experiment in self-government whose capitalist economy made it the most prosperous in human history could fiscally implode due to its citizens’ inability to prioritize and properly manage a budget. And, should that happen, one should shudder at the societal disorder that will ensue.
I walked through the phalanx of forsaken citizens and back to my hotel, praying for them – and our country – along the way.