By Kim Walter
STRASBURG -- Students in Larry Vance's AP government class got a quick summary of the hot button issues up for discussion in the 113th Congress from none other than a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-6) lead the class Monday morning by giving the students a glimpse into the issues he's most focused on, as well as answering a few of their questions.
Goodlatte spoke about the national debt and sequestration -- topics he said he feels students should be aware of, since it could affect them years from now.
"We've reached a deal calling for $1.2 trillion in cuts, which would happen over 10 years," he said. "But they aren't really cuts, they're just a reduction in spending increases."
In order to recover from the nation's $16 trillion debt, Goodlatte said $10 trillion in cuts would need to take place.
Sequestration would bring across-the-board cuts to government departments, and Goodlatte said it would be better for the House and Senate to reach some kind of agreement that would keep cuts from certain mandatory spending programs.
The deadline for that compromise is Friday.
Goodlatte said the hope is to not cut funding for education or defense, but that in the end, some cuts will have to happen.
"The worst thing to do right now is to back away from doing cuts of some kind," he said. "You're going to have to pay it all back, and you won't be able to. Really, the government is borrowing against your future."
Another topic that Goodlatte brought up was immigration reform. He referred to the United States as a "nation of immigrants," and said it would be hard to find someone who didn't have at least one tie to an immigrant in their family.
Goodlatte's said his focus is not to close borders and keep people from immigrating, but instead it should be to make sure they come legally.
"This is not an ethnic or racial issue ... 35 to 40 percent of immigrants came legally, but aren't here lawfully. They've simply overstayed their visas," he said. "The issue is about protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens and those who came here the right way."
As the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Goodlatte said he often deals with questions over the Bill of Rights, including recently proposed gun-control reform.
"You have the right to own firearms," he said to the class, adding that he himself is a gun owner.
Goodlatte said that mental health has to be a part of the discussion, as does criminal history. He expressed belief that states need to do better in reporting mental health patients, as well as people with a criminal background, to prevent them from purchasing firearms with ease.
"Before we implement any new regulations, we've got to be better at enforcing current laws," he said. "There's no point in engaging in political showmanship and saying, 'We've done something about this because we passed this,' ... it shouldn't be harder for law-abiding citizens to purchase a gun for their own protection or hunting."
Some students asked Goodlatte to expand on the three issues he touched on, but the last question asked about his decision process when it comes to voting for or against a bill.
For the most part, the conservative Republican said his constituents want the same things he does. But when the opinions differ, Goodlatte said it's best to go with what he believes.
"I was elected to make tough decisions, and it is my job to do the research ... know all therer is to know about the issues I vote on," he said. "When it comes down to it, a good representative does what they believe is right, and goes with their conscience."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org