Making the Case for the Page Program

Alex Wirth
August 10, 2011

There is a magical feeling when you step onto the blue floor of the
United States Senate. You are quickly overcome by how small it is. You
feel like you are part of history. When the Senate gavels into session
and you see Senator Carl Levin argue with Senator John McCain, you have
experiences that you will never forget. I know this because last
summer, I had the privilege of being a page for Senator Jeff Bingaman.
It was an experience I will never forget.

And so it comes with great sadness that I heard the news of the end of the House page program. In my opinion, Congress is making a terrible mistake.

As a Senate page, I saw first-hand how our government works. There
is no better way to understand or study the Senate than to live it. We
sat on the Senate floor, day in and day out, listening to speeches about
healthcare, energy, Wall Street reform, and unemployment benefits, in
any random order.

One of my favorites moment from the Page Program came on July 21st
of last summer around 7:30 at night when the Senate was in the middle of
five procedural motions. I was standing up on the rostrum next to the
presiding officer in my navy blue suite, white shirt, and navy blue tie
checking off the names of the senators as they came onto the floor and
voted. I was next to a telephone with a direct line to Senate staffers
outside the chamber who called at least once a minute to figure out
which senator had voted and which one had not. Pages were running all
across the Capitol trying to get senators on the floor for the vote and
assisting the floor staff with operating the Senate.

At the end of my thirteen-and-a-half hour day, I wrote in my
journal, "I had a really important role in making the U.S. Senate run."
This kind of access and experience for both House and Senate pages is
unparalleled and provides a working knowledge of the U.S. government
that even the best courses cannot teach.

One of my colleagues on the Do Something Youth Advisory Council,
Alex Pommier, was a House page the spring of his junior year and wrote
in an e-mail to me this Monday, "The House Page Program allowed me to
realize at an early age that most of our nation's leaders are
well-intentioned, caring individuals who are working tirelessly to serve
and better our country."

He continued, "I had the incredible opportunity to see our
nation's leaders at work without the bias of the media. It inspired my
peers and I to seek futures in public service."

What also made the program special was the people of different
backgrounds who served as Senate pages. This diversity led to intense
political debates when we were off the floor. After my fifth day at the
page program, I wrote in my journal:

In the spirit of youth we had some awesome debates
today on the issues that really matter. Intense discussions about the
future of our country and about issues like the war in Afghanistan and
American politics and the future of the Democratic and Republican
parties. We held more lively debate than those on the floor of the
Senate and often had to quiet down. We are all working on making sure
to have lots of discussions as we have all found that we rarely find
people who can actually talk politics in a coherent manner and make
sense.

What I wrote over a year ago is still true -- the Senate Page
Program was one of the few experiences in my life where I have found
such smart and enthusiastic young people to talk politics with.

There is no way to replace the connections that both House and
Senate pages make to each other and to the U.S. government. Yet look at
the press release
issued this Monday by Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi as they
cancelled the page program, "Citing advances in technology that have
reduced the need for services traditionally provided by congressional
pages" and because the program was too expensive.

What Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi failed to take into account
is the impact the page program has on the pages themselves, the love for
government that was fostered in our nation's youth and the debates that
were had bridging the partisanship of Washington. I couldn't agree
more with Alex Pommier in saying, "That education is worth much more
than $5 million dollars a year."

The Washington Times did report
that, Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi "promised to try to find a way
for high school students to get involved with the work of Congress."

I wanted to hear more about what this might look like. I called
Leader Pelosi's press office, who said they wouldn't be able to get
anything to me by the end of the day. Their response was better than
Speaker Boehner's office, who I gave up on after 30 minutes on hold.

If that is going to be their experience for high school
students involved in the work of Congress, then I am worried. I can
only hope that that the Senate Page Program continues to bring youth
inside the halls of Washington and transform their lives much like the
House Page Program did.

 


 

Alex Wirth is the only young person in the country advising the nation's two largest youth service organizations, DoSomething.org   and Youth Service America.  He recently graduated from high school and will be attending Harvard in the fall of 2011.  Follow him on Twitter. This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post, and is reprinted here with permission.


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Comments

<p>I served as a Congressional Page for the U.S. House of Representatives in the summer of 2002 (I honestly did), and I agree with Mr. Wirth that the Page Program is extremely beneficial to those involved and sparks a deep interest in the world of politics in many of those who have the privilege of participating in the program. This is simply another example of the Congress deeming that quantitative easings (bailouts) of Wall Street are more important to them than programs such as the Page Program. It is my sincere hope as well that Congress can find a way to live up to their promise of getting high school students more involved with their legislative duties.&nbsp;</p>

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