U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz — the lone Jew and female representing Pennsylvania in Congress — discusses what's on her priority list for her fifth term in office.
Even before voters chose to send U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, a Democrat from Jenkintown, back to the House for a fifth term, some had begun to speculate that the congresswoman might have her sights set on some higher office.
Could she be mulling a 2014 challenge to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett or, perhaps more likely, a run against U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey in 2016?
In a recent interview, Schwartz didn’t exactly deny she’s harboring such ambitions, though she did seek to steer the conversation toward the very real challenges facing Congress right now.
“We’ll leave the future to future conversations,” said Schwartz, who is both the only Jew and only woman representing Pennsylvania in Congress. The longtime member of the Germantown Jewish Centre represents a district that is now roughly split between Northeast Philadelphia and Montgomery County.
“At this point, I am going back to Washington to see if we can’t handle these challenges facing our nation, in terms of the ‘fiscal cliff,’ tax policy and Medicare.”
A more immediate concern for Schwartz is her congressional committee assignments, which should be decided in the next few weeks. After the GOP took over the House in 2010, Schwartz lost her coveted spot on the House Ways and Means Committee, the tax writing body that is considered the most powerful committee in Congress.
“It is certainly a goal to be back on Ways and Means,” she said, noting that there are two openings for Democrats and, based on seniority, she should get a slot, though there’s “no guarantee.”
A prodigious fundraiser for other Democrats — she was in charge of recruiting Democratic House candidates for the 2012 election — Schwartz emphasized that she’s looking to help forge bipartisan compromises on a number of issues, including what has come to be known as the fiscal cliff.
That term refers to a set of tax increases and spending cuts that are expected to be implemented in January, unless Congress and the president can agree on another course. Economists have warned that going over the cliff would likely cause another recession, something that has both President Barack Obama and House GOP leaders softening their tones.
Still, with Obama asking for tax increases for those earning more than $250,000 a year and House Speaker John Boehner opposed to raising taxes on the wealthy, a solution seems a long way off. “We really have to get this done. There is no question in my mind,” said Schwartz, who said she expects to be part of the conversation since she served on the conference committee that negotiated this year’s payroll tax cuts. “There is hope that Republicans will change their position and will not be obstructionist.”
Schwartz, who holds a master’s degree in social work, often says that her calling to public life has been about helping the elderly and the less fortunate. The new grandmother also discusses how her late mother had served as an inspiration. When speaking to Jewish audiences, the New York native, who moved to Philly in the ’70s, mentions that her mother fled Vienna in 1938 after the Germans annexed Austria. As a teenager, her mother lived in a foster home in Philadelphia.
In the state’s redistricting process in 2011, Schwartz’s seat was redrawn and should now be an even more reliably Democratic seat. In exchange, two Republican districts in suburban Philadelphia should now be easier to defend. Cheltenham Township was one of the municipalities added to her district.
“I have a regional perspective,” said Schwartz, who lived in Philadelphia proper for years before moving to Montgomery County. “It gives me the opportunity to speak up for urban constituencies as well as suburban constituencies.”
Schwartz, a former deputy commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Human Services, considers health care a major issue. Some of her legislative accomplishments include subsidized health insurance for needy children through the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act, which was signed into law in 2009.
She also continues to press for reform on how physicians are paid under Medicaid and, more broadly, is looking for ways to build on the changes enacted under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and bring costs under control.
Though usually more closely associated with domestic policy than foreign affairs, Schwartz is considered by Jewish groups to be a reliable supporter of Israel and upholding American military aid to the Jewish state. Responding to the possibility of a new round of sanctions against Iran, Schwartz said, “There is no question that Iran is of deep concern for us all.”
Asked if she would ever consider voting for American military action against Iranian nuclear facilities, Schwartz deferred to the commander in chief: “The president has been very clear on this; force is an option on the table, but this should never be the first option.”
In Harrisburg, Not Much Changed
— In the House, Democrats made what looks to be a net gain of one seat, with Republicans holding a 110-to-93 seat advantage.
— In the Philadelphia suburbs, State Rep. Steve Santarsiero, a Bucks County Democrat who converted to Judaism last year, won more easily than expected against Republican Ann Chapman.
— In Chester County, another Jewish Democrat, Paul Drucker, failed to recapture the seat he’d held for one term and lost in 2010. Republican Warren Kampf defeated Drucker, the former assistant district attorney of Philadelphia, by fewer than 1,000 votes.
— Democrats gained three seats in the Senate: Republicans now have a 27-23 majority. Jewish Democrat Rob Teplitz won a Harrisburg-area seat that has long been held by a Republican. State Sen. Daylin Leach of King of Prussia held off a challenge from 26-year-old Charles Gehret.
— Democrats won all three contested statewide seats for attorney general, auditor general and state treasurer. State Treasurer Rob McCord, who is Jewish and from Montgomery County, won a second term.
— Hank Butler, executive director of the non-partisan Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition, said the legislative agenda for the next term includes working to build support for an anti-cyber bullying law. Another goal, said Butler, is to prohibit companies connected to Iran’s energy sector from being awarded state contracts.