Three lessons for the new Congress

Published 9:14 am Wednesday, December 24, 2014

by Randy Forbes

When I was a boy growing up, before I was old enough to work anywhere officially, my best friend and I walked along the roadside in our neighborhood collecting old glass Coke bottles that had been tossed into ditches by passengers in Oldsmobiles and Chevy trucks. We knew we could exchange each bottle for 3 cents. Our sole purpose for doing this was to buy candy from the local store. Our “job” collecting Coke bottles grew more out of our free time on long summer days than anything else, but it proved lucrative to us. We learned the valuable lesson that another man’s trash — literally — can become another man’s 3-cent treasure. And we learned that a little bit of effort combined with a lot of saving could get us those coveted Hershey’s bars with almonds.

Years have passed since my days of glass bottle recycling entrepreneurship, but the lessons I learned were fundamental in shaping my understanding of hard work and returns.

In the New Year, a new Congress will be sworn in to the 114th Congress. 535 members will stand with their right hands raised, as mandated by Article VI of the Constitution, to pledge by oath to uphold our Constitution. In that moment of swearing in, we’ll take on the incredible responsibility of guiding and navigating our nation through both our challenges and our opportunities. To that end, here are three lessons from the simple days of glass bottle entrepreneurship that would serve us well in the new Congress:

Sometimes the most lucrative ideas come by collecting discarded pieces. What by itself may seem like an unusable or old idea, together with other bold ideas may be the exact solution our nation needs to propel us forward. With a little sweat effort, we can pluck out those pieces that have been swept aside or put on pause for a time. As we work together and combine our efforts ­— little by little, piece by piece — we have the opportunity to experience even greater reward as a nation.

The importance of partnerships remains constant, no matter the political makeup of Congress. One of the reasons I focus so much on working together is because I learned from an early age that it just works better. When it came to Coke bottle collection, I found that working with my best friend, we could accomplish so much more when both of us were focused on the same goal. As a representative of the Fourth District, I need my colleagues and the voices of my constituents for the same reason. Henry Ford, who was known for creating highly effective processes, said this: “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” At the end of the day, what matters most is a willingness to work together.

A little effort with a lot of savings has big returns. Our ideas to move the nation forward will mean nothing if we don’t have the means to execute them. Our national debt recently broke $18 trillion. It will continue to rise inexorably unless we make a drastic and necessary shift to a saving mindset. We cannot lean on debt as a crutch. It is a cancer on our economy, choking job growth, threatening our national security, and hampering our global competitiveness. We need to balance our budget. We must address our existing debt with urgency. We need to consider the result of our actions on future generations. We need to be creditworthy. We’ll never reach the future we want for our nation if we continue to spend instead of save.

As we head into the New Year, let us remember that the best lessons are often the most simple, found right out of the stories of our own lives. I think fondly on that simpler time, not just because of the memories they hold, but because of the lessons learned about being an American citizen; lessons that transcend throughout generations, from roadside ditches to the halls of our nation’s Capitol, and from Hershey’s bars at the local candy shop to our nation’s hopeful future.

RANDY FORBES represents Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. For contact information, see