This is part of a series of posts from two MIT students—Shawn Wen ’13 and Taylor Yates MBA ’14—involved in the 2013 Student/Alumni Externship Program, which connects current students with alumni in workplaces worldwide during MIT’s Independent Activities Period. These bloggers will report on what they learn and how the experience informs their career journeys. Alumni, learn how to get involved as a sponsor. Read the other posts in this series.
Guest Blogger: Shawn Wen ’13
Extern sponsor: Jon Glaudemans ’80
Company: Ascension Health, Washington, DC
Externship: health policy analysis
This past Sunday, a day before President Obama’s Inauguration, I visited Mount Vernon Gardens and Estate. The property itself was beautiful, but perhaps the most poignant part about being at the former home of George and Martha Washington was being reminded of one of our first President’s greatest marks of leadership: his firm belief in the peaceful transfer of power and its shaping influence on how the US political system operates today.
As I watched the Inauguration on Monday among a mass of about 800,000 people packed onto the National Mall, I couldn’t help but feel lucky and moved to be a part of history. In 2009, President Obama made history by becoming the first African American President of the United States. This Monday marked a different kind of history. The nation faces extremely challenging issues, but like President Washington, we must find sound judgment despite being in uniquely challenging circumstances without any guiding precedence.
A day after the Inauguration, the 113th Congress wasted no time in beginning hearings. I attended hearings at the Energy and Commerce and the Ways and Means Committees. Successes at the Energy and Commerce Committee, which included markup of pending legislation (including the Veteran Emergency Medical Technician Support Act and National Pediatric Research Network Act of 2013), were mixed with heated discussions about the debt ceiling at the Ways and Means Committee. Sloan Professor Simon Johnson PhD ’89, who gave testimony at the Ways and Means hearing, warned that failure to increase the debt ceiling would seriously and permanently undermine our standing in credit markets, increase interest rates, and worsen the budget deficit, which would have detrimental effects in the global economy.
What I am coming to appreciate about policy and governance is the interconnectedness of issues and the resulting challenges of finding comprehensive solutions. In the three hours of the hearing, no clear action steps were laid out. If anything, a world of challenges and exceptions were raised. But perhaps that’s how policy works. Dialogue is laboriously slow but critically necessary to allow all stakeholders to be heard, every viewpoint to be considered, and the most well-informed policy decisions to be made.