Students in Gerald Warburg’s “Public Policy Challenges of the 21st Century” course had an impressive finale to a semester filled with prominent speakers from across the United States government and both sides of the political spectrum.
Congressman Tom Garrett (R) of Virginia’s 5th District and Congressman Gerry Connolly (D) of Virginia’s 11th District joined the class Monday afternoon to discuss bipartisanship and what they believe are the greatest challenges in American policy.
“It’s been a tradition that at the end of 48 spring class sessions focused on the future agenda, we focus on some bipartisan solutions and hear from members of Congress who are engaged in that work daily as part of our Congressional delegation,” said Warburg, a professor of practice in the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.
While the course is primarily filled with Batten students and those hoping to apply to the school, it was especially full on Monday as additional students from related politics courses joined in to listen and ask questions.
Warburg started the discussion by asking each congressman to name the top three policy issues that would be facing the next generation in 20 years. For Garrett, the major issues were the long-term sustainability of Social Security, the growing debt of the federal government and the threat of cyberattacks.
Connolly agreed that cyber security is a growing problem but had a different list of top areas of concern between now and 2037. He argued that the top three policy issues would be climate change, the opportunities and challenges of our nation’s increasingly diverse communities, and changes in the labor force spurred by new technology. He spoke particularly about the threat of climate change in Virginia.
“We’re going to see parts of our state dealing with the consequences of huge flooding more frequently,” said Connolly.
Warburg also asked both men to discuss in greater detail how Congress is addressing changes in technology and their relation to cybersecurity and the labor market.
Garrett spoke at length about the need to prepare for changes in the job market by changing how Americans think about career success.
“We need to break the false paradigm that defines success for young Americans,” he said.
He advocated not only four-year degrees as a path to success but also community college programs and specialized training for new and enduring trade positions.
When asked about areas for possible bipartisan agreement, both congressmen agreed that there were some overlaps in the views of left-leaning Democrats and right-leaning Republicans on the need to protect personal freedoms. Both also agreed that there is a problem with having the federal government regulating marijuana when the enforcement of that regulation varies greatly from state to state.
After Warburg’s questions, the pair took questions from students on topics ranging from the efficiency of government agencies to the impact of climate change on global security. They again found an area of agreement on a question from third-year Batten student Kim Johnson – a veteran who served for 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. She asked about accountability for institutions that accept tuition payments through the G.I. Bill, and Connolly and Garrett both suggested that there should be stronger, enforceable regulations for those institutions.
After a semester spent studying the challenges that face the United States, Warburg explained that closing discussions like this are critical in reminding students of the real possibilities for collaboration. Connolly and Garrett hardly agreed on everything, but both acknowledged points of commonality and areas for progress.
“I think there is a clear sense that there’s an agreement on what the agenda is and what some of the challenges are,” said Warburg. “One of the most important takeaways for our students is that most of our elected officials are patriots and they just disagree about the best tactics to get to a common goal.”