This week, the U.S. House of Representatives decided to end its nearly 200-year-old page program, citing budget constraints and advancements in technology that made pages unnecessary.
Closing the House Page Program will save about $5 million dollars a year, a pittance given our astronomical debt of more than $14.5 trillion. But it wouldn’t matter if the program cost nothing to maintain. The last several weeks of partisan bickering in Washington have made one thing abundantly clear.
Congress, in its current form, is no place for teens to learn job skills.
For the past two centuries, our nation has sent its brightest saplings to Washington, D.C., for an education in policy-making and the delicate art of reaching across the aisle. Maybe the page program worked wonders in 1832 or 1957, but in 2011 its mission has been completely tarnished through the debt ceiling debate and its dangerous brinkmanship.
Politicians from both parties seemed willing to let our nation default on its debts for the first time ever rather than sit across from each other and find consensus. House pages were no doubt within earshot as Boehner, Cantor, Pelosi, and all the rest fired salvos at each other, one side set against raising taxes, the other determined not to cut entitlements. Even the final deal fell short of everyone’s expectations.
And what does such intransigence teach impressionable high school pages? They certainly didn’t learn to think independently or engage in the tough talk that’s necessary to produce compromise. Sadly, they watched politicians refuse to budge even as the fate of the world economy hung in the balance.
The American people roundly condemned this inaction with descriptors like “disgusting,” “ridiculous,” and “stupid.’” If a high school received the same marks from a state agency, parents would clamor to pull their children from the building forever.
The same should go for Congress. All teens in the market for a quality internship should look in places where adults conduct themselves like adults, setting positive examples. Students should consider interning at a fire department, rescue squad, non-profit or even local government, where good people can have a lasting effect on young people. That would help us flood the job market with right-minded citizens who understand the value of compromise and how to achieve it.
Congress isn’t just saving money by ending the House Page Program. It’s also saving our sharpest teens from a wasted semester in real-life courses like AP Obstinacy and Advanced Ridiculous Behavior.
So $5 million off the books? That’s a drop in the bucket. Our biggest gain here is never again sticking an ambitious teen in a room with a bunch of politicians who act like children.