Ending the page program is a disservice to America

I fear that in cutting the program and citing the costs, House leaders Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and John Boehner (R-Ohio) — in a fashion sadly typical these days — have failed to see the expenditure as an investment. The hundreds of successful, engaged page alumni ranging from Bill Gates to Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and the many other sitting and former members of Congress would surely be found to be a high return on America’s investment. Broadly, the page program is proven successful at engaging American youth in public service for life. Many go on to serve in some capacity, and even those who don’t go on to be better voters and live civically educated lives — no small feat.

To speak briefly on my experience, the page program opened my mind to the world. It challenged me at a young age to take ownership of the issues of our time. I saw members of Congress who honorably served every day, working ethically and diligently — people I would happily model myself after. Likewise I saw men and women I knew I didn’t want to become — both influences were equally beneficial. Further, my fellow pages formed perhaps the biggest part of my education. It was in that year I shaped many of my convictions, and at the same time learned how to change them. The page school also made a positive impact. I started to figure out that year what I was academically curious about, what made me tick and where my skills might lie. The teachers were professionals of the highest standard.

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The program is very expensive by any measure and was, in my opinion, overdue for an overhaul. Pages are paid a fairly high salary for the work. This is meant to make the experience affordable despite the fact that almost all of the program’s costs are covered. Removing the salary and replacing it with a modest living stipend would save money. 

Pages are also appointed on a partisan basis and are managed separately based on affiliation. The majority (usually) gets two-thirds of the 72 slots. This means twice the staff for supervision. Pages should be nonpartisan and require one supervisor. 

To further mitigate the costs, alumni and other private individuals should be contacted for donations. To address the technology and efficiency issue, the work can and should be changed to make the experience rewarding for the pages and beneficial to the House. 

There’s no shortage of work to be done in the Capitol. We have options. There are ways to continue the program in a sensible fashion, but instead of exploring these options, our leaders abandoned a good program, further removed America’s youth from the political process and left part of the Capitol’s history behind. 

East Brunswick, N.J. 

Bring back the Social Security trust fund

From John Bergener Jr.

It’s time restore the Social Security trust fund. Former President Johnson ended the real trust fund back in the 1960s; the Social Security trust fund currently exists on paper only with a surplus near $3 million. The trust fund consists of a special type of low-interest U.S. government bonds that are not allowed to be publicly marketed. This is the reason in August of 2011, President Obama said Social Security checks were in danger unless the government could borrow more money to pay what was due. 

Let’s recreate the Social Security trust fund. It should be run by a full-time, seven-member board of trustees with seven-year terms. The terms should be staged so that one term expires every year. There should be a large financial penalty if anyone leaves the board early. The trust fund should be allowed to invest in government bonds, but these should be publicly marketable so it can sell them to pay benefits when needed. The trust fund should also be allowed to open CDs in banks and credit unions. Each CD should be required to be treated as a separately owned account so that CDs can be fully insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or the National Credit Union Administration. The Social Security Administration should be run by the board of trustees and have a separate fiscal year,  say May 1 through April 30, so it is not tied to regular federal budget. 

Restoring the Social Security trust fund could help protect benefits for the foreseeable future. 

Latham, N.Y.

Washington’s got it all wrong on the economy

From David H. Brown 

Paul Krugman, the Pulitzer Prize winning op-ed columnist for The New York Times, hit the proverbial nail on the head with his Aug. 5 piece when he opined that we are worrying about the debt ceiling when the economy is going through the floor. Could we say President Obama fiddled while Congress burned?

The problem, as Krugman alludes to, is that our government believes it can bring the economy back to normal when that normal is out of date. Any solution will have to accept the premise that we have to create a new norm.

Members of Congress will be getting an earful during their August-to-Labor Day hiatus. A new poll concludes lawmakers are held in the lowest repute in decades. Obama is not faring much better.

The Beltway has become our political Great Wall, subject to a lot of hot air rising — and not because of Fahrenheit readings. Congress and the White House might be patting themselves on the back, believing they have won the debt battle, but they could well have lost the war of public opinion.

North Bethesda