As defeated politicians clear out their offices and prepare to trek home permanently, there’s a lot to consider about what the midterm elections meant and how the incoming Congress will behave. Requisite attempts at partisan excuse-making aside, there’s a wide consensus surrounding the fact that the left simply couldn’t motivate its base this year. Notably, Democrats even lost their once-tight grip on the cohort that swept Obama into office: young people. In many key Senate races, Republicans won the youth vote outright. Even where conservatives didn’t capture the full 18-29 demographic, there were significant swings in the GOP’s direction almost universally.
Although Republicans experienced a major victory this election, they ought to recognize that voter rejection of Democrats doesn’t constitute a full-throated embrace of their party—especially as it pertains to young voters. If conservative legislators want to keep and expand upon the support of Millennials that they earned this year, they’ll need to pressure the President into accomplishing goals that will benefit our generation. If, as he claims, Obama is interested in bipartisan compromise and helping those still suffering due to our poor economy, he and the new Republican Congress have their work cut out for them.
Luckily, there are places where the President and Congress can in fact work together. One area that has begun to foster promising across-the-aisle cooperation is criminal justice reform. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) have put forth a noteworthy piece of legislation called the REDEEM Act. If passed, this law would make it easier for juvenile delinquents to get their lives back on track, with a specific focus on non-violent offenders. Another bipartisan bill co-authored by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) called the Smarter Sentencing Act, would reduce mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses and give more discretion to judges who believe such harsh penalties may not fit specific, non-violent crimes.
An additional arena of interest to young people is higher education reform. The average Millennial now graduates with over $30,000 in student loan debt. Proposals that beat around the bush by tinkering with interest rates only serve to exacerbate underlying problems with the system. The fundamental issue is the federal government’s death-grip both on student loans and the university accreditation process. Government monopolies in these spaces strangle the kind of freedom necessary to foster innovation and competition. The HERO Act, introduced by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Representative Ron DeSantis (R-FL), is a good first step toward breaking the government control that has led to both stagnation and out-of-control costs in an industry so crucial to the future of our nation.
Happily, there’s already one piece of good news that’s materialized for Millennials since the election. Speaker Boehner has said the House won’t be taking the misnamed “Marketplace Fairness Act” up this year. This is fantastic, because the legislation is actually an Internet sales tax in disguise. Sadly, this disastrous bill that targets Millennial entrepreneurs has won bipartisan support in the past. If you agree that forcing small online retailers to comply with over 10,000 tax codes is a ridiculous, job-killing proposition, make sure to hold your elected officials’ feet to the fire if this awful legislation materializes again.
An area that’s also crucially important to young Americans is healthcare. While it’s unlikely that the President will provide any leeway as it pertains to his signature law, Republicans need to make it clear that they’re fighting for our generation. Obamacare stacks the deck against Millennials in a profound way. It more than doubles costs for a high share of those under thirty. To make matters worse, its employer mandate and endless red tape have contributed to America’s troubling transition to a part-time economy of underemployed young people. It’s clear that Millennials desperately need compromise from the White House in this area. A good place to start looking is the new reforms suggested by health care policy analyst Avik Roy .
Ultimately, one of the biggest takeaways from this election ought to be that young Americans aren’t loyal to any particular party, or even political ideology. Time and again, we have made it clear to politicians that we want results that work for our generation. We’re fed up with Washington’s rampant cronyism and blatant disregard for us. We may have trended Republican this election, but make no mistake, conservative legislators are going to have to earn our trust moving forward. The road to 2016 is long, and the next two years will be a trial run. Our generation is in a position to be part of a major swing vote—and we’re sick of being disappointed.