PHOENIXVILLE — Two things become clear attending a U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan town hall — she likes charts and data, and children’s books in roughly equal measure.
The recently reelected Democrat who represents the Sixth Congressional District held her fourth annual “State of the Sixth” meeting where she usually does, in the iconic Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville and throughout, there were references to her favorite children’s books, as well as lots of charts and graphs.
Standing beneath graphics with statistics like the fact that Chester County has only 4.3 percent unemployment and that 23 percent of Berks County households in her district have a disabled person living there, Houlahan, who is also an air force veteran and former high school chemistry teacher, said “I’m an engineer, I like data.”
Data from her own office shows that over the last four years in office, 48 percent of the calls she received from constituents involve issues with the Internal Revenue Service and taxes. This would suggest, she said, that the IRS staff needs beefing up, not scaling back as newly minted Republican Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy has suggested.
In fact, likening the situation to the children’s book title “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day,” Houlahan noted that because of McCarthy’s historic 15-round struggle to secure enough Republican votes to become speaker, she did not take her official oath of office until 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 7.
Houlahan said that’s why she wanted a more normal swearing-in like the one she got from Chester County Common Pleas Judge Analisa Sondergaard before she got down to business Monday. After all, she noted, thanks to the COVID pandemic, her previous swearing-in happened in an empty House chamber over Zoom.
That said, like the engineer that she is, Houlahan said she is a fan of pragmatism and she will work with any Republican, and has, to get things accomplished — including an Indiana Congressman who voted against certifying the results of the 2020 election. “He has some interesting ideas about family leave,” she explained.
Houlahan cited the famous Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quote — “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” — when she said “we have to face the challenges that are coming from a standpoint of equity and empathy, but we have to keep moving forward.”
“Half a loaf,” she said calling on another axiom or pragmatism, “is better than no loaf.”
And her bi-partisan pragmatic record, as it was presented Monday night, is not insignificant.
Houlahan is a member of the Problem Solver’s Caucus, membership in which requires showing up with a member of the opposition party to keep things balanced. This bi-partisan group helped get the infrastructure bill — which she called “generational legislation — over the finish line and signed into law, she said.
Pointing to how far behind the U.S. has fallen in its maintenance of basic infrastructure and the construction of the next generation of infrastructure, Houlahan said the bill was long overdue if the U.S. wants its economy to remain competitive. By way of example, she shared an anecdote about a bakery in her district whose trucks can only be loaded halfway because an aging bridge the trucks must cross cannot bear the weight of a full truck.
Under the infrastructure act, Pennsylvania ranks third in infrastructure funding it will receive from the federal government, she said.
The Problem Solvers Caucus is a useful group interested in getting work done, which is a relief, said Houlahan, given that the U.S. House of Representatives “is a nutty place. The place really encourages people not to get along.”
A member of the Small Business Committee, and herself a former entrepreneur, Houlahan also pointed to the bi-partisan passage of the CHIPS and Science Act to make the U.S. less dependent on China and Russia for materials and manufacture of technology.
The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act was also “generational legislation,” and will encourage things ranging from helping to change over large fleets of gas-burning vehicles to electric to lowering drug prices and limiting the price of insulin to $35 per month, she said.
Houlahan also credited her constituents with coming up with good ideas. She said a man at a town hall told her he was worried about oil from the U.S. Strategic Oil Reserve being sold to China and, after she looked into it, so was she. Legislation put a stop to that.
A ride-along with Phoenixville Police Sergeant Steve MacDonald awakened her to the need for more data storage capacity for local police. “Local police are getting all kinds of cool equipment, but if there’s no place to store the data, it’s useless,” she said.
There are, of course, some issues about which Americans will seemingly be debating forever.
The issue of gun control came into focus for a second time Monday night when a fifth grader submitted a seemingly simple question: “How can you ensure students will be protected from school shootings?”
“I wish I could say all the right things. I wish we could be New Zealnd,” which banned ownership of military-style semi-automatic and assault rifles after a mass shooting there like the ones that have become commonplace in the United States. “But we are Americans” said Houlahan.
She pointed to the passing of the first gun control measure in decades last year but added “we should have a lot fewer guns on the street. I taught chemistry in a high school where I had to walk through a metal detector every day, but we still wound up with guns in the school.”
Houlahan also reiterated her unwavering support for abortion rights and championed her vote for the Respect for Marriage Act.
She also urged voters to pay attention to discussions in the new Congress about continued support for Ukraine and the debt ceiling.
“Ukraine is a really big deal. Where they go, we go. China is watching, Iran is watching. We cannot afford to blink,” said Houlahan, who sits on both the Armed Services Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Also on the subject of safeguarding democracy, Houlahan urged her constituents to read the executive summary of the Jan. 6 Committee report, if not the entire report itself, which she said she has yet to finish. Those members of Congress who served on the committee investigating the insurrection that sought to prevent the certification of the 2022 election “are true patriots,” Houlahan said, singling out Wyoming Republican representative Liz Cheney for particular bravery.
“We don’t agree on very much, but I really admire her,” Houlahan said.
The looming fight in Congress over the debt limit “is going to be a scary conversation,” Houlahan warned. “We have to pay for the stuff we already bought. We have to service this debt, but we can’t afford to have social Security or Medicare on the chopping block in this conversation about the debt.”
Asked why we should have any hope for the future at all, Houlahan seemed taken aback for a moment. “We have to have hope. I genuinely believe in this nation,” she said adding something she learned from her father, a Holocaust survivor, is “you can only fix things if you’re there. We have to solve these problems.”
Perhaps hope can be found in a boy and his crayon.
Once again turning to data and children’s books, Houlahan said the Sixth District is one of a handful of truly “purple districts in the country” with “a good balance of Republicans, Democrats and independents (about 40 percent Republican, 40 percent Democrat and 20 percent Independent.)”
Those familiar with the 1955 children’s classic “Harold and the Purple Crayon” could see this allusion coming; “Harold has this big purple crayon and he goes around town drawing, meeting people and solving problems with his purple crayon,” she said.
Houlahan closed by referencing Pittsburgh native Fed Rogers of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” fame. In uncertain times, he said and she did she “we must look for the helpers.”
Source: Berkshire mont