WHEELING - Americans' hope that future generations will match or exceed their own prosperity seems to be fading, according to Rep. David McKinley - a trend he finds deeply concerning.
During a talk with the Wheeling Kiwanis Club on Thursday, McKinley, R-W.Va., pointed to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll which uncovered some troubling things: Seventy-one percent of Americans feel the nation is headed in the wrong direction, 60 percent believe America is in a period of decline and 76 percent lack confidence that their children ultimately will be better off than they were.
When McKinley asked those in attendance whether they felt their quality of life was as good as or better than their parents', almost everyone raised their hands. But when he asked how many felt the same would be true of their children, most of the hands stayed down - and he said he gets an even less enthusiastic response when he poses the question to high school and college students.
MCKINLEY SPEAKS — Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., addresses the Wheeling Kiwanis Club on Thursday at WesBanco Arena. -- Ian Hicks
"That ought to disturb us," McKinley said. "I look upon that as a challenge. ... We cannot accept that."
McKinley said when he meets with constituents, he tries to get a sense of what they believe made America great in order to figure out what Congress needs to do to set the country on the right path. He asked those at the Kiwanis Club meeting the same question.
Alex Coogan of Wheeling, who ran unsuccessfully for an Ohio County Board of Education seat this year, believes a root cause of the country's problems is a lack of consequences for failure in government.
"You don't hold anybody accountable," Coogan said of Congress. "Who's going to look to this country for leadership when the country can do whatever it wants?"
The Rev. William George of Wheeling Jesuit University, meanwhile, believes America rose to greatness because of traditional values that are no longer emphasized in public schools.
"I think it started with the little red school house," he said. "You can't have a democracy without an educated middle class."
McKinley said he, too, is frustrated with the gridlock in Congress, but he called on voters to do their part to get things moving again. Noting several members of his staff are Democrats, he said too many people see things in terms of Republicans against Democrats, rather than who can get the job done.
"That sets the tone in Washington. We've got to stop that," McKinley said, recalling a recent conversation with a pair of local business owners who said they were happy with the job he's doing in Congress, but supported his opponents in past elections. "They say, 'I can't vote for you because you're not on my team.' I thought we were on team America."
McKinley also addressed the House's recent vote - almost entirely along party lines, with all but five Republicans in favor - to sue President Barack Obama, alleging he exceeded his constitutional authority in implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He said the suit isn't just about suing the president, but also about clearly delineating the authority of the nation's legislative and executive branches.
McKinley said the House can continue passing resolutions to curb executive authority, but they are useless if the Senate refuses to concur.
An example, he said, is the new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency effort to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the nation's power plants 30 percent by 2030. Opponents of the rule say they aren't achievable with existing technology and will lead to massive job losses in the energy sector as coal-fired power plants are forced to shut down.
As this is taking place, McKinley said, other nations such as China and India will continue to burn coal, making America's effort to curb emissions all for naught.
"Until we get the rest of the world engaged with us, we've got to be very careful about what we're doing to our economy," McKinley said.