As the Democrats prepare to run both the House and the Senate come January, questions remain about how the shift in power for the incoming 110th Congress will shape American policy on Iraq, as well as a range of domestic issues.
U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-District 13), who was overwhelmingly re-elected to a second term in Congress, said rather than up the partisan ante, the new majority party will bring cordiality and open discussion back to Capitol Hill.
"One of the goals of the new Democratic majority in Congress will be to debate the issues in a full and fair way, and to find common ground for the opportunities facing our nation," she said.
Schwartz defeated her Republican challenger, Raj. Peter Bhakta, by a margin of 143,539 votes to 73,591, according to unofficial results posted by the Pennsylvania Department of State.
The daughter of a Holocaust survivor, Schwartz — who previously served in the Pennsylvania State Senate for 14 years — is currently the only Jewish member of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation. During her first term, she sat on the House Budget Committee, as well as on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure; she said it was too soon to tell whether her assignments would change in the new Congress.
On the Iraq front, Schwartz said that it was a positive — if long overdue — development that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had finally heeded calls by the majority of Democrats and a good number of Republicans to resign.
"We need a change in strategy in Iraq, and we need to begin to bring our troops home," she said. "If a new strategy in Iraq doesn't happen in the next few months, there is little hope that there will be a new strategy."
Schwartz did not outline any specific strategies to bring stability to Iraq or to confront Iran's looming nuclear threat.
She said that a clear need to contain nuclear proliferation exists, especially when it comes to rogue countries like Iran.
"Exactly how to get there is still being debated," she said. "All of us have called on the president to work with our allies to deter and stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons."
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On the domestic front, she said the biggest priorities for her second term are to restore fiscal responsibility to the federal government; help reduce the national budget deficit and national debt; and increase the accessibility of affordable health care.
To that end, Schwartz plans to push for a national program that would mirror Pennsylvania's CHIP (Child Health Insurance Program), which she noted has helped more than 200,000 children from middle-class families obtain private health insurance.
One of the first questions to be settled by Democrats in the House is: Who will be majority leader? A vote expected to take place on Nov. 16 will pit current minority whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) against Pennsylvanian John Murtha (D-District 12), who in the last year has become an outspoken critic of the war, and is the preferred choice of Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the presumed next speaker of the House.
Schwartz said she planned to support Murtha, with whom she's developed a close working relationship.
Another question that will take more time to be resolved is what kind of relationship will develop between the incoming freshman class of Democrats — many of whom are considered to be to the right of traditional Democrats — and those in the House leadership, who tend toward the more liberal end of the spectrum.
"We have always seen a broad diversity of views and opinions," said Schwartz, who described herself as a moderate Democrat. "That is what makes our party so strong."