Two of Congress’ most outspoken members discussed partisanship in Washington at a kickoff event for the Youth Leadership Speaker Series on Thursday.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Rep. Betsy Markey, D-Colo., headlined the event held at the Library of Congress. The discussion was the first of seven in a series geared toward increasing interaction between college students and members of the Democratic Party.
“You’re never going to please everyone, but it’s important to vote with your conscience,” said Markey, a freshman congresswoman representing a historically conservative area of Colorado.
Markey expressed enthusiasm about the aggressive legislative agenda of the last 10 months. Congress has passed a stimulus bill, an energy bill and a bill that would end subsidized lending and make student loans more reliable, she said.
Frank, notorious for his blunt remarks about the state of affairs in Washington, said he was pleased to be speaking to a group of students who identify themselves as Democrats.
One of the few openly gay congressmen, Frank is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. He conveyed his discontent with the Republican Party for becoming increasingly conservative after the last presidential election.
“Seventy-five percent of the GOP voted against a major defense bill because it included legislation that would protect the LGBT community against hate crimes,” he said.
Frank proudly declared himself “a partisan Democrat” because of the importance of political parties in a democracy, but admitted bipartisanship is helpful in drafting strong public policy.
He addressed the high cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the importance of passing comprehensive health care legislation.
“This notion that America has to be the primary influence around the world does not justify the cost. If we hadn’t gone to war in Iraq, we wouldn’t have a problem paying for health care,” Frank said.
The U.S. government has no legitimate reason for staying in Iraq, he said.
Questions to Frank from local college students and congressional interns included concerns about the practicality of passing health care reform now.
Frank said the increasing cost of health insurance has become unbearable for the average citizen.
“People don’t want a health care bill because it will add to the deficit, but funding two unnecessary wars is supported,” he said.
The hosts of the event, the 21st Century Democrats, were pleased with the outcome of the lively discussion.
“We were very excited to have Chairman Frank and Congresswoman Markey at our event,” said Kyle Weidleman, the organization’s communications director.
“They are dynamic speakers in their own right and get young people excited about working as progressive democrats in the future.”