THE BLOG

More Veterans in Congress Would Make 'Nuclear Options' Less Likely

07/23/2013 09:28 am ET | Updated Sep 22, 2013
AP

Last week, the Senate went to the brink and threatened the "nuclear option" over filibusters and confirmations. It is another example of how our political system has fallen into gridlock and dysfunction. Our representatives only compromise at the eleventh hour to avoid tragic results, and then they congratulate themselves on how well they worked together.

One way to change this broken process would be to put more military veterans into the seats of the House and Senate.

Congress comes to a standstill more often than they make progress -- unable to even pass laws with immense public support. This is no way to govern, and conditions are not improving. At the same time, the number of veterans in Congress decreases with each election. With every lost veteran, our country loses opportunity.

In the conventional sense, veteran representatives bring skills for leadership, team building and problem solving. They understand strategy and tactics. They have a global perspective, yet can relate to everyday Americans. They are good leaders.

More importantly -- and often overlooked -- veterans have a proven ability to work together. As lawmakers negotiate around the debt ceiling, sequester, and a rules change, the ability to work together is crucial.

Members of Congress and political experts, alike, have lamented the loss of days when compromise and bi-partisanship were commonplace in Washington. Many cite the lack of shared service -- between members and across parties -- as one reason for the departure from this behavior.

Senator Arthur Vandenberg said, "Politics stops at the water's edge." A champion of bi-partisanship in the early days of the Cold War, he understood what many military veterans know from their service -- there are key times to come together for the country.

In 1964, two World War I veterans, Republican Senator Everett Dirksen and Democratic Senator Mike Mansfield, joined together to end pervasive partisan filibustering and bring the Civil Rights Act to vote and passage. During President Reagan's first term, World War II veterans Bob Dole, a Republican, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat, worked together to lead a bi-partisan solution that kept Social Security solvent.

But, as the number of veterans in Congress has diminished, so has the overall willingness to act in a bi-partisan fashion.

Through the 1970s, our country elected Congressional classes that were upwards of 75 percent veterans. Since that time, however, the number of veterans in Congress has gradually decreased to the lowest proportion since the late 1920s.

This past November, 12 veterans were newly elected to Congress. Meanwhile, 23 veterans either retired or were not re-elected. With the subsequent loss of the venerable Senators Dan Inouye of Hawaii and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey -- both World War II veterans--the percentage of veterans in Congress has sunk to 18.8 percent.

There are bright spots. Among the newly elected veterans in 2012 were the first two female combat veterans to serve in Congress. Nine are veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, one is a retired General Officer, another is Purple Heart recipient from Vietnam, and one is a world record-setting aviator. There is great promise within this group.

Public service is a natural progression for those who have served in uniform, and today, more than ever, our country needs veterans on Capitol Hill. We need veterans because many of the issues the country faces are those with which veterans have experience, from foreign policy to counter-terrorism to government spending.

Despite a shrinking national veteran population, veterans are increasingly seeking public office. In 2012, more than one in four general Congressional races involved a veteran. The prevalence of veterans in the last election was almost three times their proportion in the general population. Despite that, veterans are departing Congress faster than we can elect them.

Americans have elected young veterans, combat veterans and disabled veterans to represent them. These elected veterans comprise a cohort poised to serve, to work together and to put politics aside for the betterment of the nation.

As constituents, we can demand that our representatives join these veterans to lead in Congress in the same way that they have led in the military. We can use this veteran leadership, not only to avoid the worst-case scenarios, but also to ensure the country can prosper. Bi-partisan leadership and true dedication to service is precisely what our country needs now.

Chris Marvin served more than seven years in the U.S. Army as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot. He is the Managing Director of the Got Your 6 campaign and a commissioner for the Bipartisan Policy Center's Commission for Political Reform.

YOU MAY LIKE