Retired U.S. Rep. Barney Frank told an audience of more than 200 local Jews on May 5 that the United States needs to trim its military budget and raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
Frank, a 72-year-old Jewish lawmaker from Massachusetts who served in the House from 1981 to 2012, is known for his blunt talk and acerbic wit, and he brought those qualities to his talk at the Philadelphian, a Center City condominium.
Frank, who became the first member of Congress to publicly identify as being gay in 1987, was in Philadelphia to receive an award from the Equality Forum, an annual conference focusing on gay and lesbian issues. But he said his friend Ted Mann, a Philadelphia resident who has held numerous leadership positions with national Jewish organizations, talked him into speaking at the annual meeting for the Jewish Social Policy Action Network, a liberal group that focuses on domestic policy.
Frank has taken the lead in advocating for clemency for Jonathan Pollard, jailed for life since 1985 for spying for Israel, though there was little mention of the Jewish state, or the Syrian civil war, in his talk.
He defended the notion of benevolent government influence and the need to tax and also said he wished he could make it illegal “for anyone in my former line of work to brag about cutting government.”
Frank told the room of mostly seniors that the United States has plenty of room to cut military spending and still be the best fighting force in the world. He said that the heavy American presence in Europe makes little sense in a world without a threat from the Soviet Union.
“Obama is not yet where he should be in terms of cutting the military,” he said. “I want America to remain the strongest nation in the world. If Denmark could be the strongest nation in the world, I wouldn’t worry.” But, he added, the only other viable candidate is China.
He said there was little reason to hope this Congress would make any headway on immigration or other tough issues and that he’s given up on the idea of compromising with Republicans. The only answer, he said, is for Democrats to take back the House.
In a question-and-answer session, he was asked his thoughts on the Pennsylvania governor’s race. Republican Tom Corbett is considered vulnerable and Jewish lawmaker Allyson Schwartz has declared her candidacy.
“I served with Allyson. I think highly of her,” he said. “But it is not for me to suggest” who the nominee should be.