Penny Fellowship Recipient Ben Reimler's Washington D.C. Experience

Written By | Ben Reimler

This summer, thanks to the Timothy J. Penny Federal Public Service Fellowship, I interned for Congressman Ron Kind’s Washington, D.C., office.  As a result, I was afforded many unique opportunities.  I had the honor to meet Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, lead tours on the Speaker’s Balcony, write a floor speech for the official Congressional Record, and most importantly, substantively contribute to our legislative team’s process.  

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It would be impossible to detail all of my policy experiences, but several events were especially notable.  First, I had the chance to attend a closed-door briefing for the New Democrat Coalition on net neutrality.  This briefing included, among others, Carlos Monje, Jr., the Director of Public Policy and Philanthropy for Twitter.  Mr. Monje spoke about the importance of protecting an open internet and the consequences for consumers of rolling back net neutrality.  Additionally, our Chief of Staff and Congressman Kind wanted a memo on the specifics of this briefing after it concluded.  It was a good example of how quickly staffers have to process and analyze information and then produce a memo for supervisors.  I was also able to assist in healthcare and education policy research.  Our Legislative Director, Liz Stower, looped me in on Congressman Kind’s work on the Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act, the Save Rural Hospitals Act, and the GROW Act.  Liz entrusted me with the largest project I handled this summer, reviewing and summarizing the Medicare Patient Advisory Commission's (MedPAC) annual report.  I reviewed, researched, and summarized MedPAC’s findings on Medicare delivery systems.  

Along with my work in health care policy research, I also assisted our education policy staffer.  This entailed developing a report about workforce development and labor shortage statistics related to 4-year higher education degrees.  This report was provided to our Legislative Assistant who handles education, but it also will be useful in the higher education advocacy process.  Furthermore, I wrote and briefed our staff on the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act.  This legislation was an expansion of the G.I. bill and would, among other things, remove the 15 year cap on benefits for veteran students.  I also put together an analysis of college affordability versus the cost of President Trump's proposed border wall.  For example, I found that we could pay the cost of tuition at Winona State for one year for 212,959 students for the same price tag as President Trump’s border wall proposal.  Additionally, we could pay all four years worth of tuition at Winona State for 53,239 students for the same cost as the border wall.  A budget is a list of priorities, and it is instructive to know where the President's priorities are.  While my internship was largely focused on policy and the legislative process, I had the unique opportunity to write a floor speech for Congressman Kind celebrating the 150 year anniversary of Leinenkugel Brewery. This speeech was placed in the official Congressional Record and may have been the coolest project I handled this summer.  While these experiences undoubtedly helped expand my knowledge of the legislative process, after interning on Capitol Hill, I also feel a renewed sense of personal and civic optimism.  

Washington, D.C., is often misconstrued as a hotbed of unruly political discourse, but my experience could not be more to the contrary.  Capitol Hill is fueled by young and motivated professionals, working to influence the decisions that shape everyone’s lives.  Admittedly, diverse individuals approach their jobs with personal ideology and biases; however, it was my experience, that these opinions are often well founded based on people’s backgrounds and experiences.  As any congressional staffer can attest, the hours are long, the work is fast-paced, and the environment can be high-stress.  These jobs are largely pursued by people who are driven to make a difference.  This is not to say that genuine and significant disagreements don’t arise; they certainly do.  However, ironic as it may seem, my internship and experiences on Capitol Hill have reaffirmed in my mind that there are more things that bring us together than divide us.  I’m reminded of the words painted on the ceiling of the Rotunda, “E pluribus unum”: out of many, one.  

Aly Hagglund