By Austin Cannon
I must confess I did not know much about Senator Rand Paul before I was assigned him for our congressional simulation Friday. I knew he is a Republican, he’s vocal and he’s a flashy name for the 2016 presidential race (maybe). So, I had to sit down and research his views on the budget, immigration and healthcare. And let me tell you, it was easy,
I may not agree with the Senator’s views, but he clearly spells out his agenda, which made my job much easier. He believes illegal immigrants are a threat to our national security and thinks we need to do more to strengthen our border security. He naturally opposes President Obama’s executive action on immigration, and is trying to undo it. He wants to cut federal government spending, reform Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and balance the federal budget. He even provides his own budget that includes the elimination of the departments of Education, Commerce and Housing and Urban Development. As for healthcare, he aims to repeal the Affordable Care Act, give seniors the equivalent of Congress’s healthcare plan and enact free market principles for the healthcare system. It didn’t take me long to grasp what he stands for. Then I just had to walk the walk.
Every student was assigned a Congress member to impersonate. In our committees (our class groups), we were tasked to write a resolution that, upon passage by our committee, we would introduce and debate in front of the whole Congress on Friday. The goal was to craft a resolution that was bipartisan enough to pass the vote of the joint session of Congress (not how it works) by enough votes to override a theoretical filibuster (still not how it works). If enough votes met the oft-mention “threshold,” it went to the president. A roll of a dice would determine if the resolution was vetoed (definitely not how it works).
We decided to tackle immigration. Our committee’s resolution provided “tax offsets” (*cough* earmarks *cough*) to communities that put unauthorized immigrants on the path to citizenship in accordance with Obama’s executive action. To offset the cost of the earmarks, the immigrants would have to pay a tax once they became citizens. To try and capture more Republican support, a provision was added to strengthen border security. It made it out of our committee by a 7-6 vote. I, as Paul, voted against it along with five other Republicans. My basis was that the resolution would incentivize illegal immigration, it could threaten our national security, there’s no guarantee the taxes will pay for the earmarks and it supported Obama’s executive actions.
We then had to pick out who would present the bill, who would promote it and who would make a two-minute speech in opposition. The committee picked me as the opposition speaker because I was vehemently against the resolution, and I was a big name that people would recognize, hopefully making them feel more inclined to oppose the bill.
As a Missouri YMCA Youth in Government alum, I’m no stranger to defending or opposing fake legislation. I was actually excited to poke holes in our legislation and speak as if I was a member of Congress. Yeah, I’m a geek. Whatever.
I wrote out my remarks Thursday night. I just highlighted the points I discussed above, making sure I could do so within two minutes. I sped through my speech pretty quickly. I was only asked one question: how I would make the border more secure than what our resolution described. I was actually able to answer with something not pulled out of my behind: I would be open to the construction of military bases near the border. That’s actually part of Paul’s immigration policy. People laughed, most likely thinking I was trying to be wise. But I was right. And what I said helped the fake Congress to vote no on the 130-word resolution. I did my job.
I felt almost like I was in a movie starring Austin Cannon as Senator Rand Paul (I was told we even look alike). Throughout the whole session, I had to remain seated instead of voting for resolutions that I personally found appealing. That was difficult, but the research I did was extremely useful. I definitely don’t agree with all of Paul’s views, but I was able to gain some insight into why he supports the things he does. He isn’t some crazy guy on the right, and he should not be automatically dismissed by those who disagree with him. He has legitimate concerns and strategies to try to alleviate them.
Examining those strategies could help other senators understand what Paul wants. Then, maybe they could work together to try and find some common ground. It might not work, but someone at least has to make the effort to try to enact some form of bipartisan legislation. I’d like to see Democrats working with Republicans. It would be nice to ease the stereotype of two parties butting heads all the time. It would be nice, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Even today in the simulation, where the students could’ve acted a tad more bipartisan than the members of Congress they were representing, there were only two bills that passed out of ten. I guess we’ll see what Rand Paul and the actual Congress do.