Eight Republican and Democratic Congressmen, including two GW alumni, focused on energy policy, education and globalization during a debate at the Jack Morton Auditorium Monday night.
The debate, which was moderated by National Journal columnist Ron Brownstein, took advantage of the 200-person audience with a significant GW student presence.
“Since we are at a university, let’s take a look at the cost of a college education,” said Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.). “The average college student will owe $20,000 in debt by graduation. One in four students don’t even make it through to graduation and will drop out because of cost.”
Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-Wash.), the sole female panelist, said the U.S. must help its children get to college.
“A third of our kids will not graduate from high school . and yet the future of our country really does rest with our children,” McMorris-Rodgers said.
Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who graduated from GW in 1982 with Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), said the University was much more inexpensive when they attended GW.
“Neither Eric nor I got here on a full tuition scholarship playing basketball for the Colonials, although tuition was much cheaper then,” Israel said.
He said GW’s tuition was an example of failed Republican economic policy.
“Tuition at George Washington University went from $26,460 in 2001 to $39, 210,” Israel said. “Now.are you really better off now than when the Republicans took control of the government?”
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) touched on the night’s other big topic – globalization.
“Ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers live outside the United States,” Cantor said. “We’ve got to open up our markets.”
Later, Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.), the most senior Congressman present, teased the Republican panel’s reluctance to state whether they supported the energy policies of presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
“I think one of the reasons why Congress has an 87 percent disapproval rating is people don’t answer yes or no questions by saying yes or no,” Andrews said.
Throughout the debate, there was camaraderie among the panelists and the debate only became heated near the end, when panelists started to interrupt each other regarding energy policy.
“The EPA needs to recognize that regulating carbon emissions is kind of within its job description,” Davis said.
Davis then proceeded to talk over Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) while the Florida Congressman spoke about tax increases for energy.
“I’m not sure how you tax your way into lower prices (for energy),” said Putnam.
Davis interrupted him by repeating, “No new refineries, $14 billion worth of tax payer money, no new refineries.”
Putnam then regained control of the debate.
“And secondly.$7 of that $14 billion that you have consistently referred to was a Clinton administration billion dollar giveaway to oil companies,” Putnam said.
Brownstein joked that the Jack Morton Auditorium became the U.S. Capitol building during the fiery debate on energy policy.
“We went 88 minutes without this turning into the House floor,” Brownstein said.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) said that despite their differences, Republican and Democrats do find common ground.
“When these microphones are turned off, we get along with each other,” he said. “We actually like these guys!”
Freshman Emily Smith, who heard about the event through the College Republicans, said the debate was nothing new.
“I thought it was pretty interesting,” Smith said. “(But,) it was a lot of the same old same old kind of stuff.”
She added, “I’m not sure it accomplished anything, other than that these Congressmen got some time in the limelight, but I think it was worth coming down to hear them talk and hear their opinions.”