The Hill Special Reports: Vital forum for lawmakers to shape, debate policy

The reports delve deeper than most on the issues of the day. Equally non-partisan, they give voice to both political parties and positions in between. Having participated often as an author, three issues stand out to me as particularly poignant: Healthcare (September 2009), Environment (July 2009) and Education (May 2009).

Healthcare was published on the heels of the August recess, a month that witnessed the full range of civic emotion and debate. As a strong supporter for a public option, I was immediately on board. What a well-timed issue, published the day after President Barack Obama’s healthcare speech to a joint session of Congress. I found myself in a quandary, however, having to submit text to the editors the day of the joint session, without knowing the president’s speech but simultaneously wanting to support the president’s platform. That evening, the president pitched the public option and the next morning my op-ed in The Hill read “Public option enjoys broad support despite falsehoods spread by critics.” How fortuitous.

Environment coincided with the climate conversations in Congress. As the Waxman-Markey bill gained momentum, creating the first-ever cap-and-trading system for the U.S., The Hill went to press with my concept, not commonly included in climate policy, of democratizing energy. Putting power, literally and figuratively speaking, into the hands of the people — where “one person, one vote” would be extended to “one person, one energy supplier.” We would create a radically different energy infrastructure and market where supply is not controlled by a handful of utilities, but by every individual household. If America leads this democratic effort by lowering the market price for household-sized renewable energy technologies, other countries will follow because the price will be right.

Education was a natural for me, as I was an educator for 30 years — serving as teacher, principal and school board member. I had recently reintroduced the Educational Opportunity and Equity Commission Act, H.R. 1758 — supported by the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers and Parent Teacher Association — to create a national commission that gathers public insights about how government can improve education and eliminate systemic disparities.

With 15-year-olds failing to rank in the world’s top dozen on reading, math and science scores, with graduation rates 20 percent lower than other nations, with six out of 10 African American, Hispanic and Native American high school students struggling to graduate on time, and with 50 percent of Cambodians, Laotians and Hmong aged 25 and older obtaining less than a high school education, my op-ed pushed for a high prioritization of this national security issue.

These Special Reports have served as a meaningful medium for members to shape and debate legislation. By feting these timely topics in a focused and featured format, The Hill has done a great service to this country by raising awareness on issues within Congress and without. And for that, on this 15th anniversary, I give thanks.

Honda (D-Calif.) serves on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. He is chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.