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Dear new Congress: Bottle this feeling and carry it with you

We took the oath 38 years ago — but this isn’t a call to go back to the way things were

Newly elected lawmakers pose for their incoming freshman class photo on the East Front of the Capitol in November. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Newly elected lawmakers pose for their incoming freshman class photo on the East Front of the Capitol in November. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

OPINION — On Jan. 3, 1981, we raised our hands on the floor of the House of Representatives and solemnly swore to support the Constitution of the United States, and we are watching today with pride, hope and a tinge of jealousy as 100 of you take that oath.

Like it was yesterday, we recall the intoxicating mix of optimism and excitement as a new member walks the hallowed halls of Congress for the very first time. We hope you never let go of that feeling and the energy that propelled you to this moment.

Serving as a member of Congress is everything it is cracked up to be. Being the voice of your neighbors, family and community back home in this auspicious process is an honor and privilege. And if you have the pleasure of representing our nation abroad, it is a singular memory you will carry with you for the rest of your life. These experiences and so many others are the fuel that will carry you through many long days and late nights in your quest to make your mark on this institution and this nation.

And there is much work to be done. Governing and the political process that fuels it is broken. Our interconnected world has changed politics for both good and bad. The world is smaller and more accessible, but it has also ushered in an era of less civility and harsh polarization. We urge you to think carefully about the needs of the American people and the nature of leadership. We humbly ask that you, newly elected members of Congress, restore order to the people’s House.

Our federal government should play a role in the long-term process of providing for the welfare of our fellow citizens, building a strong national security and preserving liberty throughout the globe. America is at its best when there is equal opportunity for all. These issues are not exhilarating, but they are necessary.

We are also responsible for the steep price for a healthy and safe citizenry. Funding our government simply by avoiding one crisis after another is unsustainable at best and dangerous at worst. We must create meaningful budgets and hold ourselves accountable. The annual federal budget deficit is again approaching $1 trillion. No business could remain viable like this, and we should hold ourselves to the same standard.

The national debt — nearly $22 trillion — weakens our role on the international stage and is a deadly weight around the necks of our children and grandchildren. The laws of physics and economics cannot be repealed. The necessary steps to eliminate this burden and put us on a path toward more responsible fiscal management do not have an R or a D next to them. They have been well studied and endlessly documented, and it will take work and compromise on both sides of the aisle to achieve success.

Thus far, we have been unable or unwilling to make this a priority. Act, before it is too late.

This is not a call to go back to “the way things were.” We don’t ask for a return of old-school politics but rather urge the development of a new commitment to solving problems together. We are optimistic about both the ever-bending arc of progress as well as the robust arena that policymaking has become.

But we have let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and we have allowed short-term thinking to obscure long-term planning. Americans, your constituents, are suffering as a result.

You will take on these challenges in your unique way, and we are hopeful to see the way you use your energy and passion to achieve collaborative outcomes that will benefit our nation. Thirty-eight years ago, we were the fresh faces in this town. In our time, we saw the fall of Communism and the rise of the internet, we balanced the budget and assembled a united coalition of nations to successfully repulse the illegal invasion and occupation of Kuwait.

We made mistakes along the way, plenty of them. But there is much to learn from what came before you, and we are asking you to benefit from our hindsight.

Congratulations and enjoy this moment. Then get to work.

Dave McCurdy represented the 4th District of Oklahoma in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1981 until 1995. He is the president and CEO of the American Gas Association.

Jack Fields represented the 8th District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1981 to 1997. He is the founder and CEO of the Twenty-First Century Group.

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