Newly Elected Members of Congress Attend Kennedy School Issues Conference

December 5, 2008
By Jake Ackman

CAMBRIDGE, MA – The 111th U.S. Congress will have its hands full as it grapples with some of the most complex and profound challenges the country has ever faced. And it will do so with many new members in the chamber.

More than 50 first-time representatives were elected in November, and a vast majority came to the Kennedy School this week (Dec. 2-5) for the Institute of Politics’ (IOP) 18th biennial Program for Newly Elected Members of Congress. Approximately 40 new members participated in workshops, lectures and meetings with various Harvard faculty members, both academics and practitioners. There were 16 individual sessions addressing a variety of issues from energy and national security to education and budgeting.

One of the more timely workshops, “Understanding the Economic Crisis,” was moderated by Kennedy School Dean David T. Ellwood.

Panelists Jeffrey Frankel, James W. Harpel professor of capital formation and growth, and Gregory Mankiw, economics professor at Harvard College, providing an overview of the current financial crisis and the tools policymakers have to address it.

Frankel cited the lack of savings in American households, the underestimating of risk and a lack of effective regulation on Wall Street as some of the factors that caused the economic crisis. “Financial institutions were so highly leveraged that they didn’t hold a margin of error,” Frankel said.

Mankiw laid out a three point plan to strengthen the economy: fixing the financial system, repairing monetary policy and re-crafting fiscal policy. He said that the newly elected members of Congress could help specifically with fiscal policy – either by increasing government spending or cutting taxes – although he admitted there is no textbook answer as to which strategy is most beneficial.

Three of the new members are Harvard Kennedy School alumni: Dan Maffei MPP 1995 (NY-25, D), Alan Grayson MPP 1983 (FL-8, D), and Gerald Connolly MPA/MC 1999 (VA-11, D). Three others were participants in the Kennedy School Executive Education’s Senior Executives in State & Local Government Program: Mike Coffman (CO-06, R), Deborah Halvorson (IL-11, D) and Chellie Pingree (ME-01, D).

“It’s fun to be back here as a student again,” said Congressman-elect Connolly of Virginia. “I think this particular seminar is very helpful in providing a précis on current issues facing the next Congress.”

Image of Prof. Jeffrey Frankel speaking to New Members

Prof. Jeffrey Frankel (L) speaking to New Members during workshop on economics

“It’s fun to be back here as a student again,” said Congressman-elect Connolly of Virginia. “I think this particular seminar is very helpful in providing a précis on current issues facing the next Congress.”

Photograph of full room during New Members conference

The C-SPAN cameras rolled as the New Members heard from Harvard faculty on a variety of public policy issues


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