02/09/07 — Butterfield makes stop at school to share news from Washington

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Butterfield makes stop at school to share news from Washington

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on February 9, 2007 1:55 PM

Back in eastern North Carolina for a few days, U.S. Congressman G.K. Butterfield, D-District 1, decided to take advantage of the opportunity to visit several area high schools, including Eastern Wayne Senior High, and talk to students.

Speaking for about a half-an-hour and then taking questions, the congressman said his goal with the visit was simple.

"Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi (D-California) told us we needed to use today as a national listening day," Butterfield said. "We do a good job of talking in Washington. We need to listen more."

Gathering in the media center, about 70 social studies students listened as Butterfield, who represents 23 counties in eastern North Carolina, including part of Wayne, gave them a basic rundown of what exactly he does in Congress.

"People ask me all the time, 'what exactly does Congress do?' And that's a fair question," he said.

He explained that they are charged with three tasks -- providing for the common defense, providing for the general welfare and collecting and spending tax dollars.

"Different minds have different ideas of how to take care of the people in this country who make this nation strong," he said.

Just elected to his second term in office -- Butterfield has served since July 2004 when he was selected in a special election to replace Democrat Frank Ballance -- Butterfield has ascended quickly through the Democratic hierarchy and now, with the Democratic Party in the majority, serves as one of nine chief deputy whips.

"I'm one of about 30 people who sit down and decide our strategy," he said.

Among the primary issues facing the party leadership, he continued, are the country's budget and the wars on terror and in Iraq.

For him, the No. 1 issue is balancing the $2 trillion national budget and paying down the $8.6 trillion national debt.

"This is an exciting time in Washington because we are beginning to disagree on how to spend your tax money, but the first thing we need to do is balance the budget," he said.

Explaining the issue to the students, he compared it to balancing a household budget.

"We've run short of money every year for the past five years," he said. "That's not fair to future generations."

Congress must take a more active role in directing America's defense, he added.

"We're fighting two wars. Remember that. We're fighting a war in Iraq and we're fighting a war on terror," he said. "Now something has started to happen in Iraq and it's called sectarian violence and it's turned into what I consider a civil war.

"And we're not winning. We're fighting an enemy we can't see and the question is now, what do we do?"

That's a question that he hopes they will be able to soon begin answering.

"Turn on your television sets next week and get away from MTV and BET and some other shows. Watch the news next week," he told the students. "We're going to debate the war in Iraq next week and at the end of the week we're going to take up the question whether to support the president's proposal to send 21,000 more troops."

Throughout his talk, most of the students sat quietly, some leaning forward with their heads in their hands and some nodding attentively.

When he finished, he had time for three questions -- one from a student about the war in Iraq who had a family member injured in an ambush, another about the practice of including congressional earmarks in the budget and the third about immigration reform.

He explained to them the earmark process and how, by simply continuing the 2006 budget to Sept. 30 -- the end of the federal fiscal year -- the Democratic leadership was suspending the practice of congressmen directing money toward special projects. But he also noted that the practice was likely to return for the 2008 budget and that he was proud to stand by those dollars he has been able to secure.

"Out of 435 congressmen, I represent the 15th poorest district in the nation. We need money in eastern North Carolina from any source we can get," he said. "I'm proud of my earmarks because I put mine in places I know make a difference."

He also told the crowd that he hopes Congress can take up immigration reform by September, before the 2008 presidential election season swings into full gear.

"This issue is tearing the nation apart," he said. "The first question is, how do you stop (illegal immigration)?

"The second question is, what do you do with the 11 million who are already here? I don't think we should deport them and I don't think you can grant them amnesty or automatic citizenship. I think the solution is somewhere in the middle."

But, he continued, the important thing he learned today is that Wayne County students are engaged.

"Young people are very aware of what's going," he said. "The questions I had today showed me they're paying attention."