The Ripon Forum

Volume 46, No. 2

Spring 2012 Issue

The Paradox We Face

By on August 13, 2014 with 0 Comments

A conversation in the grocery aisle about the price of bread and the intent of the Founding Fathers


rnugentrfIt’s a late Sunday afternoon in Florida. I’m standing in the checkout aisle at the grocery store – half-looking over the candy display, puzzling at the tabloids in front of me. A lady in line behind me leans in and says, “Excuse me, are you Rich Nugent?”


“I’m sorry Congressman, but what on earth is so wrong with Washington that all of a sudden you people can’t get anything done at all?”

“Oh no,” I say to myself, my shoulders sinking a little. “I’ve got to explain the Senate one more time…”

As you’d probably expect, it’s a question that comes up a lot and it’s one I’ve thought about a lot over the last year and a half. Like many of my freshman colleagues, I came from a career outside of the legislature. I was an executive – the sheriff of Hernando County. When there were things that needed fixing – policies that needed to be changed – I was able to make the decision to move forward. I could, as my dad would say, “just get it done.”

But Congress is obviously a different animal, and “just getting it done” isn’t as straightforward as most people think. The dysfunction is, in many ways, both structural and inevitable.

 Congress is obviously a different animal, and “just getting it done” isn’t as straightforward as most people think. The dysfunction is, in many ways, both structural and inevitable.

Our Founders created a system of government in which it would be very, very difficult to ever make a dramatic change. They did that on purpose. It was part of their genius — make a government that will work well generation after generation, but one that could probably never work too well. Stability, in short, was going to be key to both prosperity and freedom. A government that could change things on a whim would threaten both.

But now, the problem we face (and the frustration we feel) is that radical change is needed – and fast. It isn’t talked about much, but last year, the federal government paid over $200 billion in interest payments on the debt. By the end of 2014, that number will more than double to $550 billion (more than we’ve typically spent on Medicare). And by the end of the decade, interest payments on the debt will be approaching a trillion dollars annually. That’s going to compound, in no small way, the problems we’re already facing trying to find the resources necessary to meet our obligations and priorities.

And so we have a paradox that my friend in the grocery store may not have fully realized yet. We’re at one of those rare moments in our history where our system of government actually needs to work better than our Founders really intended it to. That’s not going to be easy. It isn’t supposed to be.

At the end of the day, all I can really tell my friend, after a year of seeing Congress up close, is that success ultimately hinges on our willingness (and hers) to take a risk and face the real challenges we’ve been avoiding all these years – all of them and unfortunately, all at once.

The only really good news to report that Sunday afternoon is that loaves of bread are on special – buy one, get one free.   RF


Rich Nugent, who previously served as Sheriff of Hernando County, represents the 5th District of Florida in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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