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The new resolutions for NCFCA have just been released! And since everyone who’s done policy debate over the past two years is DONE talking about China, we’ve got domestic resolutions out the wazoo! Let’s check them out from the perspective of four Ethos team members.

Also, our good friend Gregory Rehmke just published an analysis of two of the resolutions on his Economic Thinking blog! It’s extremely in-depth and includes a ton of supporting resources and research. Check it out here.

Check back Monday for our analysis on the LD resolutions. Spoiler alert: We don’t like them 🙂

Thaddeus Tague:

Resolved: The United States Federal Government should significantly reform its budget and appropriations process.

Pro: I always have had a soft spot in my debater heart for resolutions that do not require a host of definitional explanation in the 1AC, this one will face fewer T-violations than the others because the budget and appropriations process is clearly defined.

Pro: Highly educational. One of the most enlightening classes I ever took in college was on the USFG appropriations process. In order to debate this resolution, debaters will be forced to actually understand it. Trust me when I say, the debaters who do not understand this resolution will look like fools when they hit debaters who do. The process is highly complex, but not overly complex. Congress, the executive all have access to the budget at various times, and administrative agencies get lobbying power to boot. Oh wait, and you have 3rd parties like the CBO and the OMB that try to wrangle everyone at once. The result is a veritable conglomerate of pork barrel and necessary monetary expenditures that represent the “budget”

Pro: Over saturation of literature. So many people have written about this, it really isn’t even funny. Look up authors like J. Shafritz, Hyde, and Woodrow Wilson. If you can understand budgeting from the standpoint of a public administer, then you can understand WHY they ask for the yearly appropriations they do. The literature here is overlapping. If you understand the sub-committee process, the budgetary track, the committee appropriations process, and the timeline of a “budget” you will be on the right track.

Con: As with about half of all nominated resolutions: there will be a host of confused judges, due to debaters who fail to explain the process. However, the federal budgetary process is SO extensive that this con is expounded by a factor of two or more

Con: This resolution gives Aff very few tangible benefits. Aff can fiat passage of the budget, but in no way can Aff fiat implementation or adherence to the budget. There will be some consequential advantages that Aff can argue – like “if x agency follows budgetary measure changes, XYZ advantages will take place.”

Resolved: The United States should significantly reform its policies regarding higher education

Pro: This topic is so pertinent. Not only to professors sit on the boards of accreditation agencies, but they force book prices UP every year so they themselves make money. Every year, new textbook editions come out with nothing but changes commas and replaced examples. It makes NO sense. There is so much wrong with our higher education system – a debater can attack it from a price standpoint, a quality standpoint, or an efficiency standpoint.

Pro: The reform process is fairly straight forward for 1AC’s: legislation, internal policies, funding etc. Funding is the single largest contributory force for school change that currently exists. Schools almost always bend to the will of the government, despite the funding being equal to a negligible part of their funding.

Pro: This topic will give way to rounds that talk about what is true education, and what needs to be changed in higher education. A debater who went back to read Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics would not be led astray.

Con: Despite there being numerous mechanisms for change, change in the ivory tower of academia is known for being slow. Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk (The most watched TED talk ever), gives good context for why the culture surrounding primary, secondary, and higher education may indeed be failing.

Con: The temptation to bring in neo-conservative morals and to “change” the education of American young adults to better fit a conservative worldview will be hard to ignore. Analyze policy through the lens of what is “good policy” or what is “Wise education policy.” Do not write the 1AC from a presupposition you already have – write it based off of policies that are already supported by evidence.

Resolved: The United States Federal Government should significantly reform one or both of the following: Medicare or Social Security.

Pro: Very timely. Both are abject failures in the modern western liberal democracy known as America.

Pro: This resolution, despite being bi-directional, is the simplest of the lot. Reform being encouraged currently is either minor budgetary changes, entire overhaul, or complete extension measures of current policies. The room for divergent operation is great. Let your economic mind run rampant as you attempt to solve the biggest budgetary problems that face America today.

Pro: SS and Medicare directly affect millions of people nationwide. It links to the wellbeing of the next generation, as well as the wellbeing of the baby boomer generation who is drawing on SS right now.

Con: This resolution could get boring by the end of the year, with several very good cases dominating tournaments.

Con: This resolution is pertinent but definitely not exciting. Judges and debaters alike will realize the pain that legislators feel when they attempt to apply political capital to this issue.

Con: Yeah basically, there is nothing “wrong” with a boring debate topic. It just ruins the fun of having an exciting, educational debate.

Harrison Durland:

Resolved: The United States Federal Government should significantly reform its budget and appropriations process.

Pro: I recognize that it is an important topic, just as NCFCA does in its guide. However:

Con: Much like with the “monetary policy” option for Stoa, I feel that the major issues in this topic will be a bit technical and/or boring for many judges and debaters. This does mean that judge bias should be less influential (Pro), but it still will tend to be comparatively dull.

Con: Partially as a symptom of that technicality/unfamiliarity, I don’t know of very many potential cases. The NCFCA guide noted a decent amount of case ideas: Earmarks, for example, seemed to be a good area for debate. However, not all of the examples were strong, such as the common “require a balanced budget” (which is cogently criticized here and here).

Aside from what NCFCA mentioned, here are some links to sites that give recommendations.

Con: I see “inherency construction” as being a significant issue with this topic: with unclear/complex rules and regulations, I imagine that for plenty of cases—especially squirrel cases—affirmatives will make questionable or subjective inherency claims like “Currently, we don’t set ‘strong’ deadlines.” Negatives will have to prepare for this via research and generics.

My rating: C+: This seems to have a decent aff/neg balance due to insignificant judge bias and is an important topic, but I imagine the actual cases won’t usually be that important, and the topic, in general, is dull, technical, and too narrow.

Resolved: The United States should significantly reform its policies regarding higher education

My first impression: “Oh, this seems great! College education is timely, and is generally important… it doesn’t immediately seem either too limited or too broad… this is something that would interest both debaters and judges…”

My second impression, after rereading the resolution: “What.”

Fatal con: Who is the actor??? I suppose I can slightly understand why NCFCA did this, but it is still so terribly flawed that I can only give a few of the reasons why here:

  • Confusion/disagreement over what is and isn’t acceptable. Expect T-presses and fringe cases to abound. For example, what if I wanted to run a case that US employers (on average) should worry less about applicants’ higher education (“their hiring policies regarding higher education attainment by applicants”)? If you counter that this isn’t a problem, then you’re worsening the second major issue:
  • Excessive breadth: This resolution seems broad enough with just the USFG as the actor. Now NCFCA wants to expand the scope to any actor that might fit under the “United States”—which NCFCA explicitly says includes private entities like accreditation agencies??? That’s way too broad: aside from the exponentially larger scope of core ideas for reform, this allows numerous “agency/enforcement” variations—such that no negative could seriously prepare to debate the merits of most proposals.
  • It’s far less educational to consider these unrealistic scenarios of multiple, disparate actors working together to act on something. The idea that we can control all of Congress and the federal government is a stretch enough, but under this resolution there could be cases that bring together accreditation agencies, universities, state governments, and the federal government in ridiculously unrealistic “God-guided” ways that ignore the various actors’ conflicts of interest—which may be the only reason the problem exists in the first place. Aside from being unfair in these cases (e.g. “Accreditation agencies will agree to stop giving dishonest reviews; universities will stop manipulating grade measurements”), that’s just simply not as educational as the more realistic single-actor cases.

Possible cases:

I cannot even scratch the surface, but I suppose I can still give a few examples (all without specified actors, for reasons already explained): Make STEM into STEAM, provide free community college, de-emphasize liberal arts in place of practical skills, etc.

My rating: D+, at least with the current wording: it is just so terrible that it outweighs all the other positives. However, if NCFCA changed the wording to limit the actor to the federal government—or even included state governments—I might give this a B or even B+. Thus, if you like this topic area but agree that the actor needs to be changed, I would recommend contacting NCFCA about your opinions.

Resolved: The United States Federal Government should significantly reform one or both of the following: Medicare or Social Security.

Pro: It seems that this topic has just the right scope to allow for a sizable number of cases. Yes, the topic area is limited to these two programs, but these two programs are fairly broad and open for reforms, not to mention that:

Pro: These are very important topics! As NCFCA noted, the spending on just these two programs is comparatively huge, and yet they are loaded with flaws and areas for improvement.

Neutral: This resolution will require a substantial amount of technical research for most cases, so this might initially challenge or intimidate new debaters. However, this gives novices plenty of material for experience, and rewards dedicated research.

Semi-con: mediocre aff/neg balance. NCFCA does make a decent point in that at least some judges will not want to see retirement benefits decrease (although who’s to say that most cases will decrease benefits?). However, I still think NCFCA might be overestimating the effect that “personal interest” issues will have on judging a policy debate round—especially if affirmatives use prepared statements to encourage disinterested judging. Additionally, the topic may favor affirmatives more because it seems that there are a lot of bad policy drivers when it comes to these kinds of social welfare policies, based on politicization and voter self-interest.

My rating: B: This is an important topic which isn’t too complicated, should be fairly interesting and seems to have good scope. It may favor the aff more than usual, but overall I think it will make for good research and clash.

Alexander Kidd:

Resolved: The United States Federal Government should significantly reform its budget and appropriations process.

Pro: Educational Opportunity

Let’s be honest, how many of us know anything about how the budget and appropriations process operates, other than the fact that it doesn’t actually operate? This Resolution would require students to research a crucial yet obscure part of our government system.

Con: Complexity

This is the flipside of the above pro. Yes, you, the debater, will learn a lot about the Federal Appropriations process, but you will be faced with trying to communicate to judges who don’t know much (if anything) about federal budgeting and, quite frankly, don’t care all that much. MPX: Expect longer waits for your debate rounds to start as judges fight for an LD ballot and timers hide in the restrooms.

Con: Narrow Resolution

It should be noted that this resolution limits itself to the budget and appropriations process. Thus, plans regarding where money goes are blatantly non-topical (this is the same principle that applied Federal Courts year, you can only reform the system, not the products of that system.) This resolution is very topically narrow. There may be a number of possible cases, but as far as diverse sectors of the resolution go, it’s very limited. You are essentially trying to fix one problem. Compared to nearly every resolution since maybe Election Law, this one is very limited in its scope. The upside of this is less of a need for broad prep. This will be balanced out by the very real need to dig deep because of the resolution’s complexity.

Score: D – (Mainly because of how narrow and boring this)

Resolved: The United States should significantly reform its policies regarding higher education

Pro: Relevant yet fresh topic

NCFCA (I’ve been told no homeschool league) has never covered education in any way before. So, this is an exciting development. Yet at the same time, it is also a very relevant topic. Higher education is going through a massive shake-up right now. This becomes evident when schools are offering you large scholarships (and terrible frisbees) before you even apply.

Pro: Real World application

While I might never use the knowledge of China policy that I gained this year, and never hope to need what I learned about the Federal Court system. Learning about the policies that drive and control higher education will be eminently practical for most students in the very near future.

Pro: Plenty of ground

On the surface, this seems narrow, but it isn’t. This resolution has a number of things that make it loaded with good debates. First, topicality is a little ambiguous. The Actor is specified as “The United States”, however, it doesn’t specify the US government. Thus, you can legitimately reform these policies while using a non-governmental actor. However, I think a strong topicality argument could be made that individual state policies are not included in the resolution. Nevertheless, there are a great many distinct issues and policy areas within this resolution that enable this resolution to stay interesting all the way up to nationals. Second, educational policy has a great many facets for exploration.

Pro: Fair resolution with real value clash

There is lots of ground for both aff and neg teams. However, this resolution also asks interesting questions such as: how responsible is the government for education? What disciplines ought to be valued in our education system? To what extent should free speech be preserved in education? this is a very debatable resolution and should be a lot of fun.

Con: Vague wording

There are a few problems with the wording of the resolution that will lead to some interesting topicality arguments throughout the year. First is the issue of the actor (or the lack thereof). This means that reforms can be done by governmental and non-governmental bodies, like accreditation boards. However, I don’t think this will spell doom for this resolution, the resolution specifies United States’ policy which gives good grounds to reject reforms that take place exclusively on the state level. However, there will be interesting debate about what constitutes higher education as well.

Score: B+ (The wording flaws keep this resolution back from its full potential but it is still a great resolution.)

Resolved: The United States Federal Government should significantly reform one or both of the following: Medicare or Social Security.

Pro: Important topic

The American welfare system has problems and you don’t have to be a genius to know it. This resolution would give students insight into a major part of millions of American lives.

Pro: Good clash of values

While this is policy debate we’re talking about, I firmly believe that the best debates involve a clash of value. That’s why I like TP the best, you can have arguments about values but you have the added aspect of context. This resolution would certainly open the door for some strong clash.

Con: Judge Bias

Unfortunately, all that clash won’t come free. Judges will usually be walking in the door with closed minds on the issue of welfare. Some will be adamantly for, others, against. Welfare is a hot topic and preconceived notions will be powerful contenders for the judge’s ballot. Students will have a hard time building their credibility on an issue the judges are rather familiar with and care deeply about. Judge bias is real, folks. I can point to many TP rounds this year that were lost exclusively as a result of judge bias. Good debaters adapt, yet minimizing the potential for bias is still a worthy goal.

Score: C (A very mediocre resolution, it wouldn’t be the end of the world but it wouldn’t be all that great either.)

Isaiah McPeak’s Quick Thoughts:

Resolved: The United States Federal Government should significantly reform its budget and appropriations process.

Wish it included acquisitions… 😛 Or wish it included Constitutional change authority… balanced budget amendment counterplan should be pretty great here. Still, good to know about how continuing resolutions and general budgeting work. Based on how NCFCA parents are coaxed to reward cases that point out the speck and miss the log, I’m not excited.

Resolved: The United States should significantly reform its policies regarding higher education

Title 20 U.S. Code has two sections with “higher education” in the name. And there’s a bunch of other stuff in there that looks related. I’d guess affirmative action and ideological cases (basically the reason Patrick Henry College doesn’t take federal funds) would be the primary cases. Given the looming education bubble in our country, I think the topic, that in general is worth exploring though philosophy is much less likely to be discussed due to federal/state/private divides. Tenure, educational philosophy, and so on, are not really part of the federal policies.

Resolved: The United States Federal Government should significantly reform one or both of the following: Medicare or Social Security.

Yes, please. This takes up something like 1/3 of our total tax $ in this country. Both systems are incredibly broken but incredibly complicated, providing both AFF and NEG ground. It’s important for a country to keep its prior promises while also not going out of business.

Final Thoughts?

Thaddeus: B>A>C

Harrison: C>A>B

Alexander: B>C>>>>>>>>>A

Isaiah: C>A>B

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