Levin Peppered with Questions by Government Students

Jun 5, 2013 Issues: Education

Acting as a substitute teacher on Friday in a high school government class, U.S. Rep. Sander Levin probably didn’t expect to encounter someone like 16-year-old Nicole Burkel.

The Warren Cousino High School junior peppered the congressman with questions about the federal debt and deficit, spending cuts, gun control and Pentagon funding. Sitting in the front row in the Advanced Placement class, the junior asked at what point will the deficit “crash” the economy for the next generation?

Congress is taking steps but needs to do more, Levin responded.

Burkel followed up: Are you in favor of both revenue increases and spending cuts? Why not cut “outdated” programs? Why are you for cuts for the military -- do you not believe that national security is important?

“I think it’s vitally important … but with the Iraq war over and things winding down in Afghanistan, our needs have diminished,” the veteran congressman responded. He later added: “I don’t want to pass on to you an ever-increasing debt.”

Levin clearly enjoyed the banter with Burkel and took numerous questions from his teenage audience. After class, he told the girl to start preparing her college applications now.

“I’m very interested in politics. I like it a lot. I enjoy talking about politics,” Burkel said. “But I think I may major in forensics.”

Teacher Roxanne Garrish invited Levin to talk to her crowded classroom mostly about deficit issues and Congress’ automatic sequester cuts that have faced considerable criticism. Levin, a Royal Oak Democrat who represents most of Macomb County, came armed with charts and graphs.

Issues within the budget such as education, student loans, mass transit, health care and medical research are critically important and they “will very much affect your lives,” he said.

On other topics:

• The lawmaker seemed a bit stunned that the class essentially favored extended background checks for gun purchases yet many of the students had mixed feelings. Closing the so-called gun show loophole won’t help much, some said, because the “crazies” can still buy firearms on the black market. “Just because something is available on the black market,” Levin said, “doesn’t mean it should not be deal with.”

• The 81-year-old lawmaker conceded that the vote he regretted casting the most in his three decades in the House was his support for the Defense Of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which gives states the right to not recognize same-sex marriages performed out of state. “I think for my generation, the issue of gay marriage is difficult to look at,” he explained.

• Levin advised his audience not to make a decision on future public service based on their bulky government textbook. Holding up the current edition, he said: “I found this to be utterly boring, while my work in government is so interesting and exciting.”


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