If you have not read about my first two weeks as an intern at Senator Paul’s office, click here.
Last time we spoke, I painstakingly detailed my acculturation to the vibe of Senator Paul’s office – from the daily interactions with self-motivated staffers to the routine fulfillment of basic tasks to learn of the prevailing concerns of the American people. Much to my merriment, these past two weeks have taken me beyond the confines of the second floor of Russell Senate Office Building to the House, CATO Forum, and everywhere in between.
“AARP Told Me to Call, But I’m Not Sure Why”
You may recall from my last blog post how we interns were delegated the task of reading through some 13,000 articles of correspondence in the aftermath of the USA PATRIOT Act reauthorization debate. The point was to separate those letters specifically lauding Senator Paul’s defense of the Second Amendment during the proceedings from the general pile so as to more accurately respond to each individual. Well, at the beginning of Week Three, I was greeted with the daunting task of reviewing all 8,600 letters in said group for sending. In other words, I had to ensure that every recipient’s name was accurate, so we were not addressing a “Mr. Mary Stonewall” or a “Mr. John Smith Smith.”
As usual, I also had ample time to field calls, but this time from a legion of elderly constituents directed our way by way of a recent downright deceitful AARP advertising campaign. The ad not only implies that Congress could easily cut earmarks and associated instances of government waste to balance the budget, but that Congress is conspiring to sabotage entitlement programs for the elderly altogether. No bill in existence cuts benefits for those fifty-five and older, though, which I calmly explained to a majority of these worried callers. I understand that these programs are indeed the lifeblood of many senior citizens today, but neglecting the need for comprehensive reform for future generations of Americans is nothing short of selfish. I am nineteen years old, paying into Social Security and Medicare, and fully comprehend the likelihood that I very well may not receive a dime back on my return courtesy of government malinvestment. As a younger American with time to plan for my future, I am more able to take control of my finances to defray the costs associated with retirement and old age than those Americans already preparing for or entering retirement.
Schmoozing Around the Capitol (and CATO)
One of our new duties as interns is escorting Kentuckians to the Capitol Visitor Center, affording them some VIP treatment by riding the Capitol subway from Russell to the Capitol Building (which the kids in particular find otherworldly) and cutting the long line to retrieve their tour passes. Aside from getting in my cardiovascular exercise, guiding constituents adds a face to the voices I so often encounter on the phones – I learn of their particular Kentucky community, their opinions of the Pauls, and their impressions of D.C.
One of the pretty awesome benefits of working for a Kentucky Senator is that there is plenty of communication within the ranks of the state delegation (and because Senator Paul’s scheduler is a magician). This delegation happens to feature Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and we five interns had the privilege of meeting and having a photo taken with him in his historic Capitol Hill office. Looking back, all I remember is feeling somewhat overwhelmed at standing right beside a Congressional heavyweight; I would not be surprised in the least if I bore some foolish expression on my face as the flash fluttered. His words of advice were absolutely spot-on: he told us the Senate moved notoriously slowly and that real progress was hard to come by. Let’s just hope they move with a bit more alacrity as the debt talks intensify.
Oh, yeah, and CATO definitely knows how to spur lively and engaging debates on politically relevant issues. A recent event at the CATO Policy Forum pitted Harvard Professor Jeffrey Miron against Richard DuPont of the Institute for Behavior and Health regarding legalization of drugs. In traditional Harvard fashion, Miron buttressed his argument for legalization based on empirical/economic data and shot facts out at a rapid clip. By contrast, DuPont rested his argument on sometimes-shaky emotional grounds, pressing the audience to assume the role of a family member desperately trying to assist an addict. In the case of marijuana, DuPont failed to address the parallel, or lack thereof, with alcohol, and why one should be legal and the other not. Miron was so inexorable throughout that DuPont marveled, “Boy, this guy [Professor Miron] gets into it like no one I’ve ever seen before.”
Don’t Grope Me, Bro
One of the most exciting projects yet presented itself before me last week. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing on the future of security protocols for rail and bus, and examined the role of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), present and future. In anticipation of the hearing, a legislative assistant dealing with homeland security asked us interns to compile instances of TSA abuse – from groping to misdemeanors and everything in between. Dating back to mid-2007, I came across approximately 60 stories, each one more repugnant than the last. Just today, I read the story of a 95-year-old leukemia patient who was forced to remove her only adult diaper as her daughter cried uncontrollably.
Thirty minutes in, Senator Paul arrived to the Committee room in Dirksen, with a poster board in tow, depicting the Bowling Green, Ky., girl who was famously frisked by TSA regents recently. The Senator issued an impassioned and articulate critique of TSA procedures, chastising the TSA for not doing adequate police work and overemphasizing procedures in a “rote automaton” fashion. Quite frankly, it was surreal to see firsthand what I had become accustomed to watching secondhand on YouTube or C-SPAN.
Did I mention all the niceties that the camera misses? Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) mouthing the words “Good morning” to Senator Paul as he took his seat, the hushed conversations between Senators in their seats, and the list extends to millions of assorted gestures and interactions. For me, it was tantamount to watching a playoff game, and that is saying something.
Where’s the Gold?
The day after the Homeland Security hearing, I caught wind of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) chairing a subcommittee hearing on the audit of the United States’ gold supply. There was no way I was missing seeing Rep. Paul live for the first time!
I finally got to witness the committee room in which Rep. Paul so often quizzed Federal Reserve Chairmen Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke during House Financial Service hearings. The room was quite larger than I expected. In fact, it is huge, with high vaulting walls all around and more chairs for Congressmen than spectators. The room has a cavernous, cathedral quality to it; quite fitting for the gravity of the debate to occur in the room. I watched as the chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy and Technology entered from the uppermost left door and walked over to his chair centerstage. Awe-inspiring. The very man who single-handedly changed my political worldview was a mere hundred feet from my seat.
The ensuing debate regarding an auditing of America’s gold supply was surprisingly informative, with the auditors winding up a bit flustered and worn out in the end. Despite their defense of the current auditing procedures undertaken by the U.S. Mint and Government Accountability Office, the Congressmen present expressed bi-partisan support for several earnest measures of accountability in the auditing process. Ranking Member William Clay, Jr. (D-Mo.) recommended a Congressional delegation accompany the auditors to Fort Knox to restore trust in American governance, which was received warmly. Congressman Paul was inexorable in his crusade against the auditors present as usual, but perhaps the most unexpected showing came from Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), who questioned the assertion that there were no encumbrances in the gold supply. He plainly asked one auditor if the United States physically transferred several million ounces of gold to the International Monetary Fund or simply pledged it, but kept it on U.S. soil. The auditor flushed a bit, turned to his aides, and repeated half a dozen times that he was not sure. In the second round of questioning, Rep. Luetkemeyer expressed his mounting concerns at the auditor’s ignorance of the situation, and demanded that they “straighten it out in private.” He even mentioned the gold standard in passing, asking how such a shift would be achieved, to which Rep. Paul beamed an unabashed smile.
The opinions of this blog are solely those of Naji Filali and do not reflect the beliefs of Senator Rand Paul or the HPR.
Photo Credits: paul.senate.gov