Bipartisan Curious*

March 19, 2010 at 8:14 pm (Uncategorized)

A few weeks ago, I took a field trip to Capitol Hill.  Like a school girl excited to have a day off from school, I got my permission slip signed by my boss and headed out to learn new things.  On this trip, I was lobbying for the for an increase in the U.S. Peace Corps  2011 budget in honor of the 50th anniversary of the agency next March.
I learned:
Hill staffers are really young.  Notoriously underpaid, working on the Hill is not the way to pay off college debt.  They are also very white.  I don’t think I saw any staffers of color in the many offices we walked into.
All the offices look the same.  Seriously, they all have the coffee table book of their home state in the waiting area, a tourism board photo on the wall, and candies or peanuts on the table.  I sat in many dark, leatheresq chairs.
The hallways really are marble and large.  Though a few lucky people actually have windows for real sunlight, the interior doors and ceilings are very high.
Despite six large buildings holding thousands of offices separated by the Capitol, you never have to go outside.  You can find dry cleaning, shoe shine, gift shops, travel agency, hair salon, and of course cafeterias.  All staff buildings are connected underground and to the Capitol.  Visitors are not allowed to use the Senate underground trolley.  I tried.
Hill staffers meet with a lot of constituents and lobbyists.  We saw a ton of veterans and doctors wondering the halls.  The doctors have a major stake in the health care bill as Congress inches toward a vote.  In the true spirit of American democracy, you can walk into these office buildings whenever–you might not get past the front desk of a particular office, but I found it interesting that no one will stop you from loitering in the halls after you get through basic security check.
In the end, most of the New York representative and senate staffers we met with were in favor of the Peace Corps turning this into a courtesy visit.  We got the brush off from all the Republican offices we visited though we did sit down with one Rep from Michigan.  Their office believes in these tough economic times, Peace Corps is not a priority.  Fair enough, but I responded that Peace Corps provides a two-year job for many young Americans feeling the crunch in this economy.  Plus, 50 years ago, then presidential candidate John Kennedy announced the mission of the Peace Corps at the University of Michigan.
You can view Kennedy’s challenge at the University of Michigan here.
(And listen for the slightly inappropriate “bed” joke.)
There are many who say that Peace Corps is a bloated government program that does more for the American than for the developing country.  The truth is no two Peace Corps stories are the same and for every money waster there is a resourceful volunteer that does a small part to promote peace through personal friendship and small project development.  Considering how much this country spends on the “military industrial complex” the $400 million plus budget of the Peace Corps is ecofriendly peanuts.
*Thanks to Jon Stewart for finding an appropriate way to integrate sexual orientation with Congressional politics.
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