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Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA 13)
In Their Own Words

An interview with Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz

-- Alan Tuttle

Allyson Schwartz was elected in 2004 as U.S. Representative of the 13th Congressional District of Pennsylvania, which covers parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery Counties. Prior to this, she served four terms in the Pennsylvania State Senate, after having been director of the Elizabeth Blackwell Center. She is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and a Korean War veteran.

PJV: You’re now in your second term in Congress. What has been a highlight of your time so far, and have there been any unpleasant surprises?

Let me begin by saying it’s been an honor and privilege to serve in Congress on behalf of the 13th Congressional District. In my first term, I was a Democrat in a Republican controlled Congress, but I’ve always worked to find common ground to deal with the challenges facing us. I was able to get quite a bit done as a member of the Transportation Committee. In my second term, as a member of the majority, I was appointed to the Ways & Means Committee, which is known as “The Powerful Ways & Means Committee,” which I hope will provide increased opportunities for me to represent and benefit my district, the Commonwealth, and the country.

As to unpleasantness, certainly there is partisanship and some difficulty in getting things done, but there is always a way to break through that. In my first term I was very pleased by the seriousness of my colleagues and with the relationships I was able to develop. Of course, in my first term I did see Republicans take advantage of their position and get caught up in a culture of corruption that was distressing. Now we will try and change that. We’re working very hard to see that we keep to the highest ethical standards.

PJV: As a state legislator, you had little experience with foreign policy-making. How has that transition been, and do you have a preference between foreign and domestic policy issues?

Certainly my experience in a variety of domestic issues, particularly in health care, is what I bring with me, as well as my legislative experience. And certainly as a Jewish American and as daughter of a holocaust survivor, as well as a daughter of a Korean War veteran, I am well aware of our country’s role in the world, our stature in the world, and our ability to affect security at home and abroad. As to my experience on military affairs and international relations, I have worked hard to gain greater knowledge because all of us have to make significant decisions on issues that relate to security, to reaching out to our allies, and to working with developing nations.

PJV: You are currently on record as opposing escalation of the Iraq war, but previously voted to fund it. What changed, and how does that impact your approach and thinking to a possible U.S. attack on Iran?

There hasn’t been a change in my position. I’ve always spoken out that the escalation in the number of American troops in Iraq was not going to be a successful strategy. Having said that, I’ve always stood by our troops and have always been willing to fund the troops. But in fact it was Congress that spoke up and pushed this Administration to make sure that our troops in the war zone in Iraq had the supplies they needed. So we didn’t accept what [Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld said, that “you go to war with the army and supplies you have.” We said it’s unacceptable not to have armored vehicles or have the necessary protective equipment they need, so we helped make that change. And that’s been consistently my position all the way from the get-go and will continue to be. I will continue to vote for funding. I also think it’s important for us to set conditions on this funding, to call to greater accountability this president, and his failure in the way he has conducted this war, and to call on him to meet benchmarks for success.

PJV: Speaking of Iran, AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) is lobbying to block the requirement that the President seek Congressional approval before attacking Iran. What is your view on this?

At this point, the language is not in the bill that we are currently considering, so I won’t be faced with a vote on that. This is very difficult - I do feel strongly that the President should have to seek Congressional approval to go to war. But that’s already the case, that he has to seek approval to engage in new military activity in another country. I do believe that Iran is a threat, but it is certainly preferable for us to engage in serious diplomacy to reduce the threat that Iran poses against the U.S. and against Israel.

PJV: Another push that AIPAC is making is to ask the Administration to cut off contact with the Palestinian Authority unless the three conditions are met (recognize Israel, renounce terror, accept past agreements). Can you comment?

The Administration has been consistently correct in this; they actually agree that they will not engage directly with Hamas, will not recognize a government that fails to recognize Israel and fails to condemn terrorism, so that is a consistent policy of this country, and I support that.

PJV: There is a kind of ‘push-pull’ going on in terms of linking peace in the wider Middle East to progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Do you feel this connection should be made?

I just returned from Iraq about a week and a half ago, and we did stop in Jordan. I certainly have heard this both from the Baker-Hamilton report and also the Jordanian king spoke about it. Of course, it is Israel’s interest to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority. Unfortunately, it is the P.A. that refuses to recognize Israel. But a resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict will not completely resolve the serious issues that exist elsewhere, including Iraq.

PJV: Moving to domestic questions: Do you believe the U.S. should provide guaranteed medical care for all Americans? If so, what needs to happen to make this a reality?

Health care has been significant part of my own professional background, and I took that with me to the State Senate. One of my proudest accomplishments was working to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in Pennsylvania, before the Federal CHIP program was established, to help middle class families buy children’s health insurance. In Pennsylvania we have over 150,000 children who have CHIP, and Governor Rendell is looking to expand that. We’re working here to make sure that every eligible child can get health insurance. Ultimately, we have to make sure that every American has access to quality, affordable health care. That must be our goal. I’m flexible in the way we get there, and I want to work with my colleagues to make happen.

PJV: Can you describe a little how your Jewish background affects your role as a lawmaker? How much does it influence you compared to your being a woman or being a mother or other factors?

I do not think there is a way for me to compartmentalize who I am. I am Jewish, I am a mother, I’m a daughter, a wife. It’s the whole package. The way to answer that is that all of those roles are what I bring to being a member of Congress. I am the only Jew and the only woman representing Pennsylvania in the House. I take seriously my responsibilities in both those ways. Of course I represent all constituents. I look for common ground, where we are, where we want to go, and how best to get there - that’s how I view politics. I look at health care - how best to get the health care that all Americans need and deserve and pay for it. How do we balance budget, make trade agreements? I look for that common ground. Being Jewish, I do have a special interest in Israel, and as a minority in this country in issues of discrimination, fairness, justice. Those are issues the Jewish community takes very seriously and understands the role the government can play in providing fair and equal opportunity to all Americans.

PJV: What are you personal priorities in this session of Congress?

Fiscal responsibility. This government has borrowed and spent money we simply don’t have. We need to work toward a balanced budget to reduce debt because if we don’t, we’ll leave it to our children and grandchildren. Restoring integrity, finding common ground, facing challenges from economic competitiveness to access to health care, to safety in the world; those are the broad themes I’m interested in. As a member of the Ways and Means Committee, I will play a role in expanding access to health care and making sure we meet our commitment to seniors and to reimburse our hospitals and physicians. I’ve also been engaged in some of the issues around energy - I have some legislation to promote energy efficient commercial buildings and also dealing with global warming and energy independence.

Previous Interviews

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