On December 10, 2012 Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz appeared on the PCN Call In Show with host Francine Schertzer. A video of the show was still on the PCN website today so I watched and took notes. This is not intended as a complete transcript; it is only what I jotted down while watching. As always I apologize in advance for any errors or misconceptions and encourage people to watch the video themselves, or contact the congresswoman's office if they have questions. Although the fiscal cliff bill passed, Schwartz' comments might still be of interest.
Q: What is the fiscal cliff?
AS: Thank you and look forward to talking with you and viewers. We will be tackling three major tax and fiscal policies soon. The biggest ones are the Bush era tax cuts that reduced taxes on all Americans will expire at the end of the year if we don’t do something. The second piece is not having enough dollars to operate government and fulfill our obligations to seniors and a commitment to a trillion dollar cut to deficit reduction. We have to reduce our annual deficit. We want to reduce 6 year budget by a trillion dollars. I am against this cutting payments to Medicare providers. A number of other issues facing us at the end of the year that require congressional action. We need to find common ground.
Q: How will average American be affected?
AS: Taxes will go up an all Americans. Fragile economy. Very helpful to provide certainty and predictability about tax policy going forward. We do need to bring new revenue in, make good investments. Make sure people have money in their pockets, consumer spending. Continue tax rates they’ve had in the last 10 years. Only way to reduce deficit is balanced approach, revenues and spending cuts. Do something about alternative minimum tax. Do something quickly so people will know what taxes they will be paying. Know what revenue is coming in so we can meet our obligations to seniors and education. Innovation – PA is a leader on medical research and innovation. Tax policy helps on manufacturing, biotechnology, create new jobs in this region, state and across country.
Q: Helpful to have just Obama and Boehner talking?
AS: In some ways that’s where it starts. Originally included all leaders. The president has set forward his ideas on tax policy and deficit; he also set out a much bigger policy on where we reduce deficit over time. We have the greatest economy in the world. Republicans had a much different policy on how to reach these goals. This isn’t going to happen without the President, John Boehner and Harry Reid sitting down and making decisions. We feel strongly that it has to be a balanced solution and meets obligations to seniors.
Q: You are a Senior Democrat on [the House Committee on the Budget???] Committee what input do you have?
AS: If we take some actions now and move forward then we can say here are some things we need to do with Medicare and tax policy. I hope to be on the Ways & Means committee to have some conversations and have my say and put forward my ideas. How we pay physicians on Medicare, find a better way to pay them, incentivize quality and performance, better care for chronic diseases. It keeps me in the mix.
Q: How much actual time to get an actual agreement?
AS: Time is short as you say. Have to find agreement, get it in legislative language. We don’t have a lot of time. We need to be there as long as it takes to get this done. We should use this as an opportunity to find common ground. We should not see taxes raised on first $250K of income, protect access to medical care for seniors. Let’s start there. Let’s see what we can get done and set ourselves on a path to comprehensive tax reform, sustain Medicare, for the future so our economy grows.
Q: Debt ceiling
AS: Amount we can borrow to pay our bills. Budget decisions made separately. Can we borrow to meet our obligations. Something we don’t like to see, to continue to borrow that money. I felt strongly it is something we should do. Last August there was some notion to let nation default on our debts. Caused problems, affected economy. It would probably raise interest rates for average borrowers, undermine business community. All bad for country and economy. Hope we can reach agreement on debt ceiling.
Caller: Three points -- Why hasn’t HR386 passed, cola act hasn’t moved, why are there 110 FEMA trailers in PA and not moved to NJ, approximately a million and a half container trailers turned into living quarters in disaster, why not use?
AS: I don’t know all of the specifics on FEMA trailers or containers. Please contact my office. When we experienced Hurricane Sandy in my district, some areas hit hard, w/o electricity for a couple of weeks. NJ and NY hard hit and will take a lot of work to get things up and wrong. My understanding is many trailers moved to NY and NJ, talked with PECO about getting power restored. Worked with my emergency management team. It has been suggested $60 million in disaster relief and recovery. Federal FEMA responded, hope they do all they can for recovery. I’ll look into HR386
Caller: Congrats and Happy Hanukkah. What will happen in new congress?
AS: How we will be able to work together? I hope the new congress will work together. It’s not easy. President re-elected with very strong numbers, increase in Democrats in house and senate. Understanding that some of the President’s policies, balanced approach, sound fiscal policy, meet obligations to senior, education, energy research turned into produced, tax policy advance manufacturing. Starts with understanding that what makes our country great is thriving middle class. That takes real work, investing in things like infrastructure, basic education, access to higher education.
Caller: Single father work in restaurant business, listen to people talk about debt crisis, why is it that people in House and Senate and talk about what American people want but nothing gets done. Unfair that we have to sit around and wait for elected officials to do their job when we have to do ours.
AS: It is a question I often hear. I try to articulate our priorities. Sometimes rhetoric gets heated in campaigns but then work together. Every bill that I’ve introduced I’ve found a Republican co-sponsor. It is sometimes a challenge. It has been difficult because there is a difference in how to do things like tax policy. Do you grow the economy by giving wealthiest tax breaks and hope it trickles down or do it by making sure vast amount of Americans actually get that kind of tax relief to grow economy? If you protect Americans in the right way you can grow economy. Must work together. Sit down and not just in a crisis to get the work done for immediate concerns but also look to the future. Sometimes hard with two year terms, can take time and work. We are, many of us, working every day to bring these debates to closure and work toward common ground. I voted for a budget that only 38 people voted for – it was more of a message piece, must make sure we grow the economy. Work for common ground and new ideas.
Q: rumors on run for governor or senate?
AS: Honored for people to think that because of the work I’ve done I might do that but I’m focused on getting things in Congress right.
Q: Quoted saying concerned about Corbett’s decisions
AS: concerns about his cuts to higher education. We have fine colleges and universities in PA. People are concerned about cost of college and training that will make a difference in getting jobs and bringing industries to PA. Extend affordable coverage to middle and lower income Pennsylvanians. Health insurance exchange under new federal law. We’ve asked the states to do it. PA did take $900 million in grant to investigate how that would work. Hope we will step up and see how we can do this. I was involved in setting up CHIP program. We have the talent to do it. If state doesn’t federal government will step in. Second, people who earn $35K in family income finding it hard to buy health insurance, want to extend eligibility of Medicare income. Most of cost taken on by feds and not state. Governor might still choose not to do that and then Pennsylvanians wouldn’t have access to that. It would be hurtful who would be required to get insurance but not be able to pay for it.
Caller: I appreciate your comments this evening. Glad you are representing us. I continue to hear people in DC talk about creating jobs. To me a job is something that will last 20 years or more. What do you think we should do about jobs?
AS: With changing economy we’ve all had jobs we hoped will last a long time but younger people might have to change jobs more often. People want jobs with living wage. Private sector creates job. People work for government, must make right environment, tax policy, not incentivizing businesses that don’t need it, incentivize businesses that do need it. Don’t give oil industry subsidies. They don’t need. Tax deductions for companies to move overseas – why are we paying for that? Incentivizing wrong behavior. We need to look at that. Some people want to move businesses back to US. I’ve supported tax break for advanced manufacturing. Let’s keep them here. We need to be aware that’s a competitive market place. Need to make sure young people are educated about technology advances, research dollars, great pharmaceutical advances. It matters what government does, if we don’t have roads and bridges that lets companies move products back and forth. Need to make sure we get tax policy right so private sector can create jobs in US and PA. Requires a partnership.
Caller: Three questions. Does AS think a deal can be done in time to avoid fiscal cliff, can Obama get along with next congress
AS: we better but it’s not been easy. I’ve talked about differences of opinion but what we are asking for is reasonable. Some say we should go off cliff to teach us a lesson or all about spending cuts, but no new revenue. My feeling is that the math just doesn’t add up. Can’t make promises that we don’t think will work. Can’t cut and not bring in new revenue. That hasn’t helped and why we are in situation we are in. What are the right kind of investments we should make, how do we sustain commitment to seniors. Serious business, it isn’t a game, not a “let’s see what happens” and pretend money will come in a few years. We need to get it done and tackle bigger issues, make hard decisions, take balanced approached.
Q: Michigan “Right to Work.” Something similar in PA?
AS: I imagine some people in PA would support it. PA a strong labor state. I would not like to see it passed. You always hope that workers fairly represented by unions, and work with management so they can move forward together. Moving away from the right to organize is not the way to grow jobs.
Q: How has your background in health policy helped you?
AS: Helpful to know how health policy works, have access to health coverage, especially for women and children, reimburse doctors for care, not delay care until a big problem. Worked actively for people with pre-existing conditions get care, people at small businesses get coverage, get best bang for our dollars. Not helpful for health costs to go up faster and higher than other costs. Not sustainable for industries or individuals. People get sicker. Need to push health and insurance industries. Should have more people insured, all Americans. Improve coordination of care, efficiencies, electronic medical records. We should also take responsibility as individuals for our health and care. Partnership between patients, doctors, employers and insurers. I worked with a lot of health policy over the years in state senate and in congress. Work together for affordable care act to work. Probably have to make changes over time. Get the right kind of health care. Been a huge advantage for me to have worked in health care.
Caller: You said earlier that math doesn’t add up. I have to agree with you but for a different reason. Right after WW2 government got about 32% of their revenue from corporations. That won’t happen again because manufacturing moving overseas, offshore tax shelters, people lose jobs and go on welfare. The math won’t add up on these conditions.
As: You are right in that the economy has changed. We are in a global economy and marketplace. There are opportunities and challenges. That’s a reason I talk about education and training. People lost jobs they had for a long time and are now long term unemployed. We need to make sure they have access to training and our young people have access to training. We do have some manufacturing, some very sophisticated. Using machines and robots, more efficiency, less workers. We have seen a wider wage gap and wage stagnation, wider gap between wealth and lower income workers. We need to look at how wealthy are taxed, lower taxes on investments. How do we continue to do manufacturing in the US. How can we have skilled workers. People say they want to hire but can’t find the workers. They say they need lower energy costs. We should use natural gas but do it in the right way, environmentally safe. We need to use natural gas byproducts. I talk about natural gas, pharmaceuticals, etc. There is new manufacturing we can do here, not widgets, but sophisticated manufacturing. We need the right tax policy, educated people, infrastructure, make sure we can compete. We still have the biggest economy in the world, need partnership between private and public sectors.
Caller: Social Security. Before cutting they should start cutting 6 figure salaries government employees are paid, start with president on down, through military, congress, everyone. The time spent praising individuals in congress, see it on c-span and then run out of time to do government business. On Washington Journal say that if money not spent they lose it so they spend it on things they don’t need and then when they need it they don’t have it.
AS: Social Security. I agree with you that it is a promise and we’ve paid into it. A lot of seniors coming on line, 10,000 new seniors every day, as boomer age, fewer workers paying into Social Security and Medicare, some challenges for Social Security. There is a way to do this to make sure Social Security there for current and future seniors. As far as federal government pay, we have cut both the number of workers and held the line on salaries. It is a challenge. There are jobs within fed government that are highly valuable and highly skilled and we have to pay competitive salaries. At highest ranges they make less in government than in private sector. We need to make sure we get that right, fair salary but not too much. Example the people who monitor food safety and air safety – we want people with the right skills to do that. We have a lot of smart skilled people working for us. There are a lot of government subcontractors to make sure we are getting the right people for the right job.
Q: on health care, GOP want to raise Medicare eligibility age to 67.
AS: I’m hesitant to that on Medicare or Social Security. Would people who are 65-67 be able to buy health insurance, older with medical problems, pre-existing condition, not the most desirable insurance buyers. How could that afford it if they aren’t working. They couldn’t plan for it if we did it in short order. I would be concerned that we are creating a new group of uninsured Americans. They show up
at the emergency room or doctor and we end up paying for that.
Q: change reimbursement on providers?
AS: We need to make sure they don’t get a 30% cut. We don’t want to overpay but want to make sure we have the providers we need. Looking at Medicare we need to make sure we aren’t paying for care we don’t need. Need to make sure doctors are working together, maybe people can stay at home which costs less than hospital care, not re-admitted to hospital. It is a concern, need to do something but it is a demographic challenge. Health care challenge.
Caller: when will they change law to make nonprofits pay tax. Navy Seal killed protecting doctor setting up a non profit in Afghanistan.
AS: Not going to happen in church community. Many non-profits are providing a service to the community, not paying shareholders, putting money back into services they provide. I don’t know which non profits you are concerned about. Not paying shareholders.
Caller: Social Security. Problem of not enough people paying in, government borrowed money from Social Security. Raise level of money people pay into Social Security. according to research report, millionaires getting unemployment, why not raise amount of money that people should be able to pay into Social Security
AS: that is one of the options on the table. People only pay into Social Security up to a certain amount of income. That is something very important to look at. The money borrowed from Social Security must be paid back in. we are obliged to pay. We should. When it comes to Social Security I start with our commitment to the people who have paid in. it is a partnership we have with our seniors. You are right we should look at some of the wealthiest Americans. We should ask our multimillionaires to pay more. They get income from investments, taxed at a lower rate. We should ask them to pay higher rates and higher taxes. We can’t meet fiscal challenges just by cutting. We should cut government spending, ask government to be more efficient, make sure what we do works and works well. Those are not easy choices. We do need more revenue and it should come from very wealthiest.
Francine Schertzer thanks Congresswoman Schwartz.