Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Schwartz Teletown Hall Meeting

On March 21st, Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, Democratic representative for Pennsylvania’s 13th district (and the only women in the state’s congressional delegation), held a teletown hall meeting. She has put an audio file of this hour long call on her congressional web site. My rough transcription is provided below. It is not word for word but the gist is there. My apologies in advance for any errors or misinterpretations.

Rep. Schwartz spoke at first and then took questions from the callers. Questions are in italics.

AS: Thanks callers, over 125 people on the line. Thrilled with your interest. Unexpectedly also in a budget committee meeting and may be have to leave for a minute to vote on amendments to the budget, which is 2.8 trillion dollars. Democrats changed the rules, such as installing the pay go rule. Want to balance the budget in 5 years. Republicans have left us with an enormous debt. We are trying to address 3 major priorities:

Health care for children, very much a part of making CHIP happen in PA in 1992, very proud of that, commit to spending $50B to ensure 7M children get access to health coverage
Veterans health care, read terrible stories, some good news, reports that PA vets get better care
Education No Child Left Behind and access to higher education

Republicans say we are raising taxes which we are not.


Voting for funding for troops, 100M for troops, she thinks it important they have the supplies & equipment they need, to make sure soldiers are safe, there are conditions on money, w must meet on rules, deploy troops with what they need and not stay beyond deployment, Iraqis must step up, if not working bring troops home. We really want to get this right, it is so serious.

Went to Iraq came back 2 weeks ago, met with troops & Gen. Petraeus and other generals. We should be really proud of troops, the 19 year old just out of high school and 46 year old reservist on a 2nd tour of duty. Trying to stabilize area and train local troops. Told troops we are proud of them. Do what you can to reach out to their families at home; we should all do this. We do need to have a much stronger diplomatic effort in region. Iraqis need internal political solution.

Honored to serve you in Washington.

Q: disturbed by your stance on the war. We don’t belong there. It’s a war of conquest. We need to get out. Cut the funding. Also a Philadelphia school teacher and funding cuts are bad. Cutting busing at her school, a desegregation magnet school, can’t be that anymore if funding cut. War budget impacting school funding. No Child Left Behind flawed, people teach to the test. Social studies not tested. Arts being cut. Only focus on subjects tested.

AS: thank you for teaching in Philadelphia schools (both of her kids when through public schools in Philadelphia). No Child Left Behind has a lot of good elements but concerned about degree of testing and lack of funding. More testing and accountability but no help with funding. Putting more dollars into budget for education. Education a shared responsibility, mostly state and local. Education committee having hearings now on NCLB. Heard from teachers heard from parents. Heard from school districts. Knows Philadelphia school district has a long way to go to get all the funding they need to do all the things they want to do.

On the war. I know there are people who want us to get out know. Legislation often a compromise. We need to do this responsibly. Won’t change the president’s attitude in a minute but pressure from Democrats saying we will set a time limit, not open ended commitment on troops and funding. American people don’t want an open ended commitment. This is being heard. Petraeus knows this and is responding to it. Forcing administration to sit down at a negotiating table.

Q: immigration from Mexico, 200K illegal aliens self import every year, will you help pass attrition bill, enforcement legislation, state & local government picking up tabs when illegal immigrants commit crimes, why not reimburse state and local govt when they have to do that, low wage jobs encourage illegal immigrants, invite fraud, overwhelm adjudicators, need state agricultural work force, two senators want to give amnesty for illegal agricultural workers

AS: believe strongly that we must enforce our laws, secure our borders, detention cells, stronger enforcement on employers that hire and encourage illegal immigration, if arrested on border deport right away, also need to understand and work together to decide what to do with those who came illegally and work here or came legally and status lapsed. Not interested in granting broad brush amnesty, sit down and work that out, review those who are here. Work and earn legal status or leave. Border security, make sure there are ways to come here and work here legally, speed up that system.

[Brief pause while Schwartz goes to vote]

Q: Caller is with united steelworkers and volunteered on her campaign; thanks for her support, with your position on ways & means, fast track coming up [blogger’s note: fast track is the extension of trade promotion authority, see http://www.usw.org/usw/program/content/3762.php and http://www.cfr.org/publication/12339/110th_congress.html for more information]

AS: trade is a very sensitive issue, in position to push on fast track and trade agreements, important to set standards, such as International Labor Standards and good environmental standards, and enforce them. Current laws not being enforced such as allowing steel to be dumped on US market. In terms of fast track the fine print is important. Wants to remain open. Need to set the kind of conditions that improve labor and living standards in other countries so they become good markets for us and to level playing field. We have the best and brightest and will be fine if we can get the rules right.

Q: amount of money lost and unaccounted for in Iraq. Is this money that we just have to say is gone and forget it?

AS: Good question and one we have been concerned about. Now that Democrats in charge we get to ask the tough questions. Having oversight hearings. Don’t know if we can go after contractors. There may be a way to go after them about unfulfilled contracts. Some of the money spent by military but more spent by private contractors on security but we should go after them if spent inappropriately. We are all concerned that there is accountability for public dollars.

Q: 75 yr old, biggest threat to many constitutents not Al Queda but regional hmos, regional hmos misbehaving, prevent med specialists from doing what the are trained to do in a timely efficient matter, can document one case that was life threatening. He was forced to experience excruciating pain for 2 months because of need for pre-certification. Some docs have told him they have to spend 40% of their work days on paperwork. Regional hmos spend 20% of their time trying to block or delay needed medical tests and treatment. Co-pays going up. Why can’t we obtain similar cost effective health care like Louisville BC/BS Anthem? [blogger’s note, for more information http://www.medhealthinsurance.com/anthemkentucky.htm?source=google]

AS: Caller has been in touch with district office staff, please stay in touch to let us know how we can advocate for you. Working quite hard to figure out how we can get affordable health care that works for providers and patients. A lot of talks in Washington about hmos and asks questions about how many people getting care, etc. We need to know if we are spending extra dollars that people are getting care. Health care a huge priority for Schwartz.

Q: immigration, I have a rental property in Norristown just turned into cocaine operation by 4 illegal Mexicans. They were rounded up and deported just returned to Norristown. Neutering border agents by throwing them into prison for vigorously enforcing laws. In favor of wall?

AS: voted against law because experts said that a physical barrier works in some places but not others, Head of Homeland Security said won’t build wall across all of border, need other kinds of high tech barriers, in some places border patrol agents, in others cameras, agree with need to secure borders, Democrats and Republicans agree, frustrating for all of us but we need to be smart about it and do what makes sense. Criminals should be deported or imprisoned.

Q: Democratss not acting any better than Republicans. stop funding war. Oilmen and Halliburton funded quite enough, bring the troops home

AS: couldn’t agree with you more on reigning in contractors, Iraqis need to do more in funding reconstruction, using oil reserve dollars, bring in others in international community, private entrepreneurship, trying to change direction of war in Iraq, President must understand our commitment is limited in terms of dollars and troops. Generals and Iraqi leaders and people are hearing it. Understand Democrats only in charge of congress less than 3 months. Would rather it not be a Democratic or Republican issue but work together for long term interests. Would love to see this be a bipartisan effort.

Q: united steelworkers at Merck, sweatshop legislation, thanks for supporting employee free choice act, fast track not just about free trade but fair trade.

AS: 10K Merck employees in her district, must make sure our workers compete and have an equal opportunity, issues like intellectual property and patents, other countries must respect, appreciated their visit with her, work together in global economy

Q: what are you doing to gain freedom of two heroic border patrolmen, falsely arrested and put into jail.

AS: aware of situation, in jail for shooting someone coming across the border, following the situation, confidence in judicial system, on appeal, but not sure why they were charged, monitoring situation but not a current role for congress

[AS goes to vote, chief of staff takes question]

Q: 85 years old, just became a Democrat, used to be a Republican, WW2 vet, disgusted with present element in the White House, war going on and money wasted, spending money like it’s coming out of a spicket. what is accomplished by congressmen and senators going to Iraq? How much does it cost to fly them over?

[AS back]

AS: did think about it, was their being there more disruptive than helpful, did decide that going there, troops appreciative, dinner in the mess hall with troops, met with PA troops and civilians volunteering there, thanked her for being there. Heard troops concerns, offered to call their loved ones, specifically people from district and PA. Dad in Korea when she was 3-5, he would have liked to see someone from home. We need to be supportive when troops come home, too. We should end this war. It should end by political and diplomatic efforts not military efforts.

Q: Mr. Bush has signed over 850 executive orders. Precedents are being set and are not challenged by congress

AS: This is a president who acts unilaterally sometimes, just getting used to working in a bipartisan way. But he came to Democratic retreat and talked about ways we might reach agreements. We do need to establish that kind of working relationship. They were appreciative and need to work together but call president to task when we need to.

Q: He is a member of customs board of protection, provision in budget to reduce health insurance for federal retirees with less than 10 years of service. He has nine and plans to retire.

AS: Not familiar with specifics. She would like to follow up. Please contact office. She will look into it.

Thanks to all those who came in on call. She and staff available in district offices or DC office.

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