The November 2018 midterm elections may be several months on the horizon, but politicians and other political commentators are already thinking of election day and its potential impact on the course of Trump’s presidency. New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney visited campus on Wednesday, Feb. 21 to discuss the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 and other legislation passed by Congress in the past few months. Maloney also considered the Democratic Party platform and student political involvement in midterm campaigns as possible responses to these developments.
In Congress, Maloney represents New York’s 18th district, which encompasses
Poughkeepsie. During the discussion in Rockefeller Hall, Maloney suggested that the federal government’s decision to increase the annual deficit has continued to sacrifice the future well-being of U.S. citizens to maintain living standards in the U.S. today. Maloney considered the Bipartisan Budget Act that became law on Feb. 9 and reported, “They just passed with bipartisan support the spending bill that has 500 billion dollars of unfunded deficit spending, which means the annual deficit is going to [be] 1.1 trillion, 1.2 trillion next year.” The larger annual deficit implies that the total debt owed by the federal government will grow at an increasing rate. Comparing the annual deficit to a credit card bill and the total debt to a debit card statement, Maloney continued, “On top of 20 trillion on debit card [debt] we have, that’s going not to 30 trillion over the next 10 years, it’s going to 31.5 trillion.”
Federal policies have started to limit the options for policymakers in state and local government seeking to make the best decisions for their constituent communities. Dutchess County Legislator and Vassar Professor of History on the Eloise Ellery Chair Rebecca Edwards reflected, “County and municipal laws can’t overrule state or federal ones, so of course there are limits to what can be done on the local level. We’re already beginning to see the impact of last fall’s irresponsible tax bill, for example, and dangerous changes in immigration and environmental policies, and other Trump-era initiatives.”
President Trump and other Republicans in 2017 backed a plan to sustain three percent annual GDP growth by passing tax cuts in Congress designed to stimulate the economy. In the question and answer period of the event, a member of the audience pointed out, “The three percent tax overhaul is bad news for the middle class and lower class, but in polls it seems to be getting popularity.” For Democrats, the tax cuts represent the federal government’s decreasing commitment to social welfare programs and increasing emphasis on personal income as a work incentive.
Maloney explained, “The narrative is it’s terrible for New York. Why is it terrible for New York? Because we’re whacking the state on deductions that people really care about … There’s a billion dollar hit to New York just on this tax bill.”
Among the programs that require federal support is a nationwide response to the opioid crisis. Maloney suggested, “It used to be a criminal justice issue only, but now it’s a public health issue, which is a big step forward … We gave this stuff away like candy for years and we got people hooked; the doctors and pharmacies have a lot to answer for.” The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated that over 11 million Americans abused opioids, which are associated with over 42,000 deaths that year.
Looking at collaboration at the federal, state and local levels of government, Edwards elaborated, “Federal funds to address a crisis such as the opioid epidemic can also make a huge difference. But we can strive to build a more just society block by block, family by family, child by child, and local governments are very well suited to do that kind of work.”
Student involvement in addressing these political issues remains a crucial course of action for achieving progress. Cecilia Bobbitt ’19 of the Vassar Democrats—which hosted the event— suggested, “Vassar students can get involved in campaigns at all levels of government, as well as at local non-profits, such as Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, that seek to affect structural and policy changes.”
Speaking to his volunteer work in campaigns for the Democratic party, Seth Molwitz ’18 indicated, “I’ve worked on Rep. Maloney’s campaign before … I always enjoy hearing the honest opinions of representatives. I think representatives connecting with constituents is always important.”
Representing another part of the political spectrum, Pietro Geraci ’18 noted, “I am most excited for Young Americans for Liberty’s new program, Operation Win at the Door, which places activists on campaigns for pro-liberty state legislature candidates in a concerted effort to get them elected … It’s easy to stay active; anything from tabling on campus to hosting speakers to volunteering or working on campaigns counts.”
Maloney’s personal experiences have led him to believe in the power of grassroots movements to bring sociopolitical change to American political institutions. He offered, “I believe that it still matters that when you work this thing will work. And the reason that I believe that is because I’ve seen it in my lifetime, you know, I’m the first LGBTQ [person] elected to Congress in New York, never happened before, never happened since.” Seven members of Congress this year openly identify with the LGBTQ community. Maloney continued, “It came out of the AIDS crisis… A lot of people said we got to come out, we got to organize, we got to raise money, we got to run as candidates … We’re going to knock on the door and we’re going to demand change. And over time the system opened itself to that progress.”
Focusing on the importance of voting for officeholders that better reflect the wide range of identities and viewpoints in the U.S., Edwards emphasized, “I think progressives have, in recent years, underestimated the opportunity to bring about change through elections. Getting someone into office is direct democracy and can make a big difference.” For this reason, Edwards urged, “I’d encourage students who are registered to vote at their home-away-from-campus to make sure they are linked into political information so they can follow the fall campaign, secure an absentee ballot on time, and make their voices heard. If you vote here in Dutchess, there are many opportunities to get involved and learn about the candidates and issues.”
In terms of making informed voting decisions, Molwitz advised, “The easiest way to be informed is to follow diverse sources of news regularly.” Along similar lines, Geraci specified, “I believe Vassar students would remain best informed by reading across news sources on all degrees of the spectrum, from [The] Daily Caller to CNN to the Huffington Post. They would also be wellserved by robust conversations with people they disagree with.” Geraci concluded that thoughtful discourse between Republicans, Democrats and representatives of other political perspectives on campus can enrich students’ educational experiences.
Maloney’s appeals to student political involvement found a positive response among those who attended his address. Bobbitt and the Vassar Democrats commented, “Many of us had never met him before and found that he was incredibly personable and articulate. Congressman Maloney is highly capable at his job, and his responses to students’ questions demonstrated his expansive knowledge and experience. Additionally, he did not talk down to students and engaged with them on a high level.”
His visit was part of a larger campaign for the midterm elections this year. Edwards said, “I think Congressman Maloney is doing a great job, and I hope that, combined with the current political landscape, will result in his re-election in the 18th district.”
Considering ways for students to gain a voice in politics, Maloney concluded, “If you want to be in politics, it’s real simple, you got to show up and be useful.”