The halfway mark of my internship at Senator Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) office was certainly eventful. It resulted in the cancellation of our scheduled Senate recess from July 5-8 amid looming public concerns about the nation’s debt; specifically, the reaching of the current statutory debt ceiling by Aug. 2 according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Instead of hanging around the office in business casual attire and in a relatively relaxed environment, I was treated to the frenetic and quite frankly, awesome. It was both gratifying and humbling to walk through the halls of the Capitol and see Senators and aides during the past two weeks, engaged in such ponderous and, indeed, historic discussions.
The Debt Ceiling
The incessant discussions about the national debt in Washington naturally provoked even more vociferous debate amongst Americans of every political conviction throughout the country. Whether it was letter, fax, or phone call, the push to get America back on track could not have been stronger. There were those who wanted reduced spending and those who wanted more revenue, but the impetus for both sides’ beliefs was undeniable: a deep concern for the United States’ fiscal future. I fielded calls about well-intentioned proposals and read letters from both adults and children who wanted to find a way to resolve our debt crisis. As the debt talks continue to develop and intensify and the calls continue to come in, I have learned tons about the debt ceiling’s history through independent research for the office — from it being raised around 90 times since 1939 to the ways in which the Treasury Department uses accounting mechanisms to extend the deadline to continue servicing the debt.
One constituent recently read me an eye-brow-raising quote over the phone, exposing the hypocrisy of President Obama, to put it bluntly:
The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies. … Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that “the buck stops here.” Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.
One of the many perks of being a Capitol intern is having the opportunity to attend the “We the Interns” Speaker Series, a lecture series conducted by the Committee on Rules and Administration that brings in prominent political speakers on a daily basis. This time around, they brought in former Secretary of State Colin Powell to address Capitol interns on the floor of the House. The line in the Hall of the House congested about every hallway and bustled with the clamor of about a thousand interns. I waited for about an hour and a half, but it was worth every minute — the atmosphere was fittingly electric.
General Powell’s speech touched about every hot button foreign policy issue in the book. He started off with some personal anecdotes about his family, expressing his amazement at how rapidly technology is changing social interactions around us (read: he cannot keep up with his nephew because he does not know how to text), and added a bit of personal commentary on issues ranging from the environment to education to the economy. Then, he shifted gears to discuss his forte, foreign policy. Although it was subtle, General Powell certainly earned my respect for being open-minded about many foreign policy stances. He worked under the Bush administration, yet expressed his reservations about Iraq and he endorsed Obama in 2008, yet felt it proper for him to adhere to the War Powers Resolution and at the very minimum inform Congress of military engagement in Libya. He sang the tune of presidential prerogative to justify each President’s respective military actions, but it was nonetheless inspiring to observe a former Secretary of State provide his own unique insights while perched atop the historic House gallery. I wish I was on the floor, though, because all interns there had prime opportunities to ask questions; one intern was even asked by General Powell to come down to the podium to ask his question since it was inaudible from his seat. Overall, Colin Powell exceeded my expectations both as a political figure and as an individual.
Meeting The Man
I am interning on Capitol Hill. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) works on Capitol Hill. This could only mean one thing: I had to meet him, and at long last, I did. You may be thinking, “Wow, how did he pull that off?” It was quite simple, actually: I called his scheduler, requested to meet the doctor, and got myself a date.
Walking over to his office in Cannon House Office Building was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences to date; what do you possibly say to Ron Paul? I reached Cannon about five minutes ahead of time and nonchalantly walked by. He was sitting in the main office around a coffee table with a group of college students already! I turned around, walked in and told the receptionist my name. He pulled out a chair, placed it beside Rep. Paul, and urged me to take a seat. I felt a bit embarrassed to intrude on the group conversation, but Rep. Paul assuaged my embarrassment by immediately welcoming me and asking where I was from. His response to the group: “New York? You see, there are lovers of freedom even in New York!” I also told him I was interning for his son, Rand Paul, to which he became ecstatic and hoped I was having a good time. Those next 20 minutes were a bit fairy-taleish, as I heard Rep. Paul discuss just about everything from his introduction to Austrian economics to his beliefs of non-interventionism. One student claimed that she worked at the Republican National Committee and received contemptuous looks for espousing libertarian ideas and wanted to know how Rep. Paul handled such criticisms. To that, he simply grinned and plainly said, “They always tell me I have the kooky ideas, but then I look at what they have done to the economy, education, and foreign policy, and say, you know what, you guys have the crazy ideas, not me!”
At the end of the day, I wound up with a signed pocket Constitution from Rep. Paul — who insisted our generation read it since no one on the Hill will — and a photo in front of the Texas flag draped from his wall. I shook his hand one last time, able to check one more item off my bucket list.
As I walked out of Cannon and headed down the tunnel on my way back to Russell, I ran into fellow HPR writer Rajiv Tarigopula, who was just as surprised at my meeting as I was, it would seem:
Naji: “You are not going to believe who I just met!”
Rajiv: “The Dalai Lama?”
Naji: “Better yet, Ron Paul!”
The opinions of this blog are solely those of Naji Filali and do not reflect the beliefs of Senator Rand Paul or his staff.
Photo Credits: The Star Tribune