Pete Hegseth

According to a recent poll from ABC News and the Washington Post, 54 percent of Americans say that the nation is on the wrong track; only 43 percent believe things are headed in the right direction. That 11-point spread stands in stark counterpoint to the gauzy campaign ads boasting of “how far we’ve come.”

Surely one contributing factor in American’s declining confidence is the unchecked growth in government that has taken place under the last two presidential administrations. Today, our nation struggles with a historically high national debt of $16 trillion. For the last four years, our annual budget deficit has topped $1 trillion, with further deficits forecast well into the future.

Is there any way to right the ship? Since the president was so unwilling in the campaign to share details about his second-term agenda, here’s the starting point I’d suggest: actually work with Congress to meaningfully tackle the looming threat of the “fiscal cliff.” That refers to the dangerous combination of tax hikes and indiscriminate spending cuts slated to take effect in January—a combination many economists have warned will likely spark a recession.

The tax hikes in this scenario would imperil an already fragile economic recovery. Meanwhile, the across-the-board spending cuts, which would take $500 billion out of the defense budget over the next decade while leaving our costly entitlement programs virtually untouched, will reduce force readiness and compromise our national security. And the cuts would do little to address the long-term spending trends that have brought us to this impasse.

The president and Congress should work together to resolve the fiscal cliff—and then get to work on spending reforms that reduce the deficit and the debt while protecting our nation’s security. Moreover, we need a tax code and regulatory environment that makes America an attractive place to do business again. These would go a long way toward restoring confidence among both business leaders and working families.

In late October, I spent 10 days on a multi-state bus tour through states along the eastern seaboard on behalf of Concerned Veterans for America. In Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, Ohio and elsewhere, I heard a familiar refrain from voters of all partisan stripes: they want to see real leadership from Washington to restore the economy to health.

Our elected officials in Washington work for us, and we should demand more from them in terms of the mature leadership, sound policy and good governance our nation needs. Those qualities have been strikingly absent in the last four years.

Now there’s a chance for the president to change the tone by offering the leadership we need to avert the fiscal cliff, and then get to work bringing smart spending restraint to Washington. Those won’t be easy goals to achieve. But this is the job you asked for, so prove to us you’re up to the task.

Pete Hegseth

Pete Hegseth is the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, and the former executive director of Vets for Freedom. Pete is an infantry officer in the Army National Guard, and has served tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay.