Congressman discusses spending, war

He’s an author and a bluegrass band harmonica player – and he also happens to be a key decision maker for government spending.

Wisconsin Congressman Dave Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, spoke to students and members of the political science department Thursday night at the Whitten Learning Center. Obey’s discussion focused on spending and money.

“When I ran [for Congress] I spent $45,000 to get elected. Now some people are spending six or seven million dollars to get elected,” Obey said. “Money is much more dominant [now].”

Obey, a Democrat, has been a member of Congress for the last 38 years, while serving on the House Appropriations Committee since 1994. The committee is one of the most powerful in Congress, as it sets the government’s expenditures every year and decides which parts of the president’s proposed budget get passed.

Obey stressed the committee’s importance by citing examples from this year’s budget that affected college students.

“If our budget [didn’t pass], the only financial assistance [college students] would have would be Pell Grants and work study,” Obey said.

Besides money talk, Obey also expressed his contempt for the Iraq War, which he called “the dumbest war we’ve been in since the War of 1812.” Obey voted against the Persian Gulf War as well as the Iraq War.

Obey, who originally planned to teach Russian politics before becoming a member of the legislative branch, initiated last Thursday’s lecture.

“He actually called us,” said Michael Abrams, professor of political science, whose class hosted the representative’s presentation.

After answering questions from the students, Obey ended his visit by signing copies of his book, Raising Hell for Justice.

“I think he did a very good job of covering a wide variety of issues,” Andrew Jacobs, a senior, said. “I felt the most important point isn’t that we’re spending too much, it’s that we’re spending it in the wrong places.”

Other students shared a similar sentiment.

“I’m actually glad there’s people like him in Congress,” Andres Avellaneda, a junior, said. “It gives me faith in democracy.”

Felipe A. Yanez may be contacted at