By Curt Yeomans
Issa Kenyatta said he was surprised by what he saw during a visit to the U.S. House of Representatives last week with 54 other North Clayton High School students.
Kenyatta, 14, a freshman at the school, said Congress didn't operate, on Jan. 21, the way he thought it would.
"It felt very busy," Kenyatta said. "I saw groups of representatives on the floor having their own conversations, while others were talking on their cell phones. Meanwhile, there was a bigger conversation taking place with speakers at the podium. I expected to see one person speaking, and everyone else sitting in their seats listening to that person."
The North Clayton students were in Washington, D.C., last week to attend President Barack Obama's inauguration. A day after witnessing that event, the students visited U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) at the U.S. Capitol. Scott invited the pupils to visit the floor of the House chamber while representatives debated the Troubled Assets Relief Program Reform and Accountability Act of 2009.
The bill amends the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which offered financial assistance to troubled banking institutions, to mandate quarterly reports from institutions receiving money from the government. The bill also directs the secretary of the Treasury to use at least $100 billion for foreclosure mitigation.
The House passed the bill, with a 260-166 vote, on the day the students visited the chamber. The bill has been sent to the Senate's finance committee for review.
While the students were on the floor, they kept an eye out for local representatives, including Scott and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), but the pupils also saw other prominent members of the House. Kenyatta said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the bill's sponsor, was at the speaker's podium urging his fellow House members to vote in favor of the act, while the students were in the chamber.
Carrie Baker, an administrative assistant at North Clayton and an organizer of the trip, said she was glad the House members were debating the bill when the students visited the chamber because "this is one where everyone was speaking from the heart."
William Jordan, 17, a senior at North Clayton, said it was "very interesting" to watch Congress in action, although he was surprised by the side conversations several members were having during the debate on the bill.
"All of them seemed like they had already made up their minds," Jordan said. "I learned it's a very busy process that takes a lot of thought before you decide how you're going to vote."
Scott said he invited the students to watch the floor debate so they could gain a deeper understanding of how the federal government works. "They got a chance to see their representatives at work at probably the most critical time, since so many people are depending on a bill designed to fix the economy," Scott said.
Also on their trip, the students held their own inaugural ball at their Baltimore, Md., hotel on Jan. 20, and visited the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore. The pupils also toured the campuses of Howard University, in Washington, and Morgan State University, in Baltimore.