Amidst the intense partisan rancor in Washington during the debt-ceiling debate in late July, Student Assembly President Kaveh Sadeghian ’12 joined more than 120 student body presidents to ask lawmakers, “Do we have a deal yet?”
A nonpartisan initiative that began on the campus of Georgetown University, “Do We Have a Deal Yet?” was intended to urge leaders in Washington to compromise on a deal to raise the debt ceiling and reduce long-term deficits.
The student body presidents, collectively representing more than two million college students from 40 states, signed and sent a letter to President Barack Obama and each member of Congress serving the districts and states represented among the signatories.
“While you may disagree over which party shoulders more blame for our current situation, one thing is certain: Young people will shoulder the consequences of gridlock during a time that requires bold action,” the letter read.
In addition to sending the letter to lawmakers on Capitol Hill and at the White House, Sadeghian appeared on “CNN Newsroom” and spoke at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington July 21 on behalf of the initiative.
“Our leaders are used to kicking the can down the road. Well, we’re that can, and we’re here to kick back,” Sadeghian said at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
“Do We Have a Deal Yet?” received responses from the White House as well as from multiple Democratic members of Congress, including the Office of the House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). President Obama held a conference call with the student body presidents July 26 to thank them for their message and to address their concerns. The president also read the letter at a town hall event at the University of Maryland-College Park the next day.
The student body presidents did not receive responses from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), however.
“We were waiting to hear from Speaker Boehner, but we never ended up hearing from him. I don’t know specifically why,” Sadeghian said.
After receiving an email from the founders of “Do We Have a Deal Yet?,” Sadeghian was at first reluctant to sign on to the initiative because he did not want the Student Assembly to become involved with anything “political.” But when his colleagues at the National Conference on Citizenship in Washington, D.C., a nonprofit that measures civic engagement, began Tweeting about it, he realized that the nonpartisan initiative was gaining momentum.
Sadeghian thought the message of solidarity and bipartisanship amongst the student body presidents made it worthy of his signature.
“I thought the message was very powerful, because we were literally demonstrating what we were advocating,” he said.
But because the College of William and Mary is a state-funded school, Sadeghian worried at first about becoming embroiled in regional politics by signing the letter.
“When I did it, I have to be honest, I was a little bit nervous signing it,” he said. “I had really thought about it, which is the reason I waited so long to sign it. We took a risk by signing that letter. We did. It is a nonpartisan message and one that’s rooted in compromise, but it is still risky. But then I realized that’s exactly what we’re asking our legislators to do to: take a risk, the same way we did.”
Sadeghian said that while the initiative was student-oriented, it did not take stances on any issues because of its non-partisan origins — including Pell Grant funding. Late in the debt-ceiling negotiations, Pell Grant funding took center stage when some Republican House freshmen were angered by a proposal to increase spending for the grants while slashing spending for other government programs. Others, such as Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), compared it to “welfare.”
The point of the initiative, Sadeghian said, was to urge everyone to engage in shared sacrifice.
“It would hypocritical for us to say, ‘Everything but Pell Grants,’ and that’s kind of exactly what everyone else is doing, saying: ‘Everything but this.’” Sadeghian said. “What we’re saying is, you have to put everything on the table, and only when you do that can you actually have this bold, balanced and bipartisan deal.”
Sadeghian said that the support he received from the College community subsequent to his involvement affirmed to him that he had made the right decision in signing the letter.
“It’s not even that people said ‘thank you’ to me,” Sadeghian said. “It was like this collective pride — not in what I did, but in what we were all involved in. So it wasn’t about me, which is what I liked about it. It was about us.”
Vice President of Student Affairs Ginger Ambler ’88, Ph.D. ’06 expressed support for Sadeghian’s actions.
“I was proud to see Kaveh on CNN speaking with such passion on behalf of the coalition and framing the debt-ceiling debate as an issue of critical importance to this current generation of college students,” she said in an email.
Whether Sadeghian’s involvement with the initiative will encourage College students to engage with lawmakers when deficit-reduction talks resume after the recess remains to be seen.
“I’m really curious to see how this generation reacts to this,” Student Assembly Vice President Molly Bulman ’12 said. “I worry that students will disengage and give up on Washington and give up on policy. But I think it’s important that we stay informed and engaged.”
Out of the many dramatic narratives in Washington during the debt-ceiling debate, Sadeghian thought that “Do We Have a Deal Yet?” demonstrated that it was possible for a diverse group of people – students in this case – to come together.
“It set the tone that our generation is one that is rooted in compromise and one that’s rooted in rationality more than anything else,” Sadeghian said. “It was reaffirming to see that everybody could at least agree to this collective message and that this partisan battle and Washington gridlock didn’t apply to our generation, at least in this case.”