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In This Town, Politics Keeps Running

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Yesterday marked the beginning of government shutdown, the first one in 17 years. The point of contention was a measure to defund the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- a law that has literally been tested by all three branches of government. It seems fitting that the same Republican-controlled House of Representatives that voted and failed to repeal the law 40 times would waste time to vote on measures that would defund and delay the ACA -- again, all of which the Senate rebuffed.

It was less than a year ago that the American people overwhelmingly voted for President Obama and his landmark legislative accomplishment. Each time Congress votes in favor of defunding and delaying the much-needed health care law, they are voting against the very people who elected them to represent their interests. Congress' unwillingness to fund the government demonstrates a continued unwillingness to legislate and find solutions to improve our economy.

In this town, it's sometimes hard to see beyond the next crisis -- falling over the fiscal cliff, defaulting on our debt, and shutting down the government -- but it's important to recognize how our actions today will affect our economic growth, our standing in the global community, and our fight for economic equality.

When I was a child, the idea of the American dream was not a cliché, nor was it used as a political football. It was real, and I'm a testament to its reality. Originally from a small village in northern Laos, my family and I fled a volatile country experiencing a violent insurgency and found safety and freedom as political refugees in a mid-west town in the U.S. My parents eagerly adopted the American values of working hard, caring for their family, and creating better opportunities for their children -- my siblings and me. That's what we all strived for, with the support of a government that was on our side and acted in our best interest.

According to a recent New York Times article, the income wealth gap is continuing to widen, with factors of geography, race, and income disproportionately affecting economic mobility. At a time when we are faced with a shrinking middle class and families are working harder, only to see fewer opportunities for them and their children, we look to our elected leaders. Yet all we get in return are partisan politics and obstructionism.

When the American electorate voted in 2012, we did not vote for a government shutdown. We voted for a fix to our broken economy, for jobs, and the ability to take care of our families. We voted for a future for our children, for education reform and opportunities in higher education. We overwhelmingly voted for affordable health care and an immigration system that values families and economic prosperity. We elected this Congress to lead us, and yet we now face voters' remorse.

When we see our nation's leaders acting with their own political agendas in mind and refusing to work together, it is all too easy to feel cynical, discouraged, and disengaged. Yet it is in moments like these that we must recall the words of President Abraham Lincoln that we are a government "of the people, by the people and for the people," and remind ourselves that we have the power to make a difference. It is our civic duty to tell our elected officials what solutions we demand and whose interests they serve. If they chose to ignore us, then they too will be held accountable for their actions, come next November.