This Is How Millennials Roll

Harvard study suggests young Americans’ views on the U.S. budget don’t fit neatly into a partisan box.

Focus of states: College students.  
National Journal
Ron Fournier
Add to Briefcase
Ron Fournier
April 10, 2014, 6:22 a.m.

Put a hand­ful of smart mil­len­ni­als in a room and ask them to de­con­struct the U.S. budget, and what you might get is 90 pages of level-headed ana­lys­is that doesn’t fit neatly in­side a par­tis­an box.

They wouldn’t dic­tate ideo­lo­gic­al solu­tions, be­cause this gen­er­a­tion of young Amer­ic­ans is less par­tis­an and more open-minded than any oth­er. They would, however, chas­tise their par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion for ac­cept­ing stas­is and status quo, say­ing something like, “Our fu­ture hinges just as greatly on the budget­ary de­cisions our lead­ers re­fuse to make.”

I’ve seen this room — it’s at the Har­vard In­sti­tute of Polit­ics — and I’ve met the mil­len­ni­als, most not­ably ju­ni­or Daniel Back­man. He is the lead au­thor of the IOP’s “An­nu­al Re­port of the United States of Amer­ica: What Every Cit­izen Should Know about the Real State of the Na­tion,” an ex­am­in­a­tion of the na­tion’s fisc­al health that will tan­tal­ize both Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats.

For in­stance, the re­port says an­nu­al growth in Medi­care costs has fallen from 7.1 per­cent between 2000 and 2005, to 3.8 per­cent between 2007 and 2010. Though ex­perts dis­agree on why health costs have slowed, the re­port says, fed­er­al health care spend­ing at the cur­rent rate will be $770 bil­lion lower over 10 years than cur­rent pro­jec­tions.

You can al­most hear the White House yell, “Eureka!” This is a tail­or-made talk­ing point for ad­voc­ates of the em­battled Af­ford­able Care Act, good-as-gold proof for Demo­crats that Obama­care is already a suc­cess. No need to tame the U.S. debt!

At the same time, the re­port says the av­er­age monthly par­ti­cip­a­tion in the food-stamp pro­gram grew nearly 77 per­cent. The cost of the pro­gram climbed to $71.8 bil­lion in 2011 from $30.4 bil­lion four years earli­er.

Grab your ra­cial dog whistles, folks, and cue the right-wing out­rage. This is the Obama wel­fare state gone wild!

Yawn. Back­man said his gen­er­a­tion is dis­con­nec­ted from such de­bates, which too of­ten re­volve around tired talk­ing points that dis­till com­plex is­sues in­to slo­gans. He dis­misses “debt alarm­ists” (I think he was talk­ing about me), who he says over­state the threat of red ink to the na­tion’s fisc­al health, and he has no stom­ach for Re­pub­lic­an ef­forts to turn Obama­care in­to a budget­ary bo­gey­man.

“There are solu­tions, but our lead­ers don’t present them in a way to point to solu­tions,” Back­man said. “They just point fin­gers at the oth­er side and say, ‘Look, the oth­er guy’s worse than me.’”

A Demo­crat, Back­man sup­por­ted Obama but now has his doubts about the pres­id­ent’s lead­er­ship, and he no longer thinks Obama will be a trans­form­a­tion­al fig­ure like Ron­ald Re­agan. “He had a chance to be great,” Back­man sighed.

For those who might not be sat­is­fied with a clear-eyed ana­lys­is of the budget, who want a list of solu­tions and sound bites, Back­man says, cool your jets. Read his re­port. Learn the is­sues. Form con­clu­sions and policies based on a com­mon set of facts, then seek con­sensus. That’s how mil­len­ni­als roll. That’s why this coun­try, if not its cur­rent pres­id­ent, still has a chance to be great.

Dis­clos­ure: In two weeks, I join the Har­vard IOP board of ad­visers, an un­paid po­s­i­tion.

Re­lated by Fourni­er:

“No Party for This Young Man: Mil­len­ni­als Storm­ing the Gates of Wash­ing­ton”

“The Out­siders: How Can Mil­len­ni­als Change Wash­ing­ton If They Hate It?”

“Mil­len­ni­al Mad­ness: What Hap­pens If Mil­len­ni­als Bolt Polit­ics”

“Mil­len­ni­als Aban­don Obama and Obama­care”

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