There are a lot of frustrating things involved in the daily life of a freshman legislator, said U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan.
“One of the great things about being in Congress is when I write a letter, they have to write back,” said the Chester County Democrat who represents all of Chester and parts of southern Berks County.
Houlahan returned to Reading on Sunday to conduct her 10th town hall meeting in her eight months in office, taking written questions from an audience of about 80 people.
It was her third town hall in Berks County. She said she wants to maintain her focus on the Berks so voters here know she's serious about representing all of the 6th Congressional District.
Houlahan said the district she represents is 40% Democrat, 40% Republican and 20% independent.
With the newly refurbished Penn Street Bridge gleaming in the bright sunshine a block away, Houlahan said the Trump administration is not doing enough to revitalize the nation's aging infrastructure.
“President (Donald) Trump did talk a lot about infrastructure, and I really had a great deal of hope we would make some great progress,” she said. “It seemed like a good way to move forward in a bipartisan way. It looked like we would make some bipartisan progress, but that has all stalled, and I'm really doubtful we'll be able to come to any kind of infrastructure deal.”
Nevertheless, Houlahan said she continues to press her colleagues on congressional infrastructure and appropriations committees so they know how important infrastructure is to Pennsylvanians. During an appearance in early July at the Miller Center for the Arts, Houlahan said, “We need to have a frank discussion about the gas tax,” a topic she did not raise Sunday at her town hall at the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts.
Houlahan said Sunday that another concern she has is that available infrastructure monies seem to be going to the West Coast and southwestern states, or what she calls the newer economies.
“We are in one of the older parts of the country and there is too much focus on new parts of the country and we need a voice in Congress,” she said. “I'm an industrial engineer by training, and we have transportation issues in areas where the buses and trains can't take people from A to B.”
Her stand on guns
Houlahan also said she is in favor of criminal and mental health background checks for gun purchases, and she is a co-sponsor of bills that may be introduced as early as next week to regulate magazine sizes and assault rifles.
“Around 70 and 90% of us believe there are common sense things we can do to make our communities and schools safer and many of those people who believe that are responsible gun owners,” she said. “I co-sponsor background check legislation and two more bills, so that's where I stand on that.”
Education and the economy
Education is a big challenge for both the civilian business community and the military, she said.
When she taught high school in Philadelphia, she learned that about 70% of high school students were reading at a third-grade level.
Houlahan serves on the Readiness Subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee.
“It's where we ask if we have the right people in the right jobs and the answer is ‘no,' ” she said. “We turn away about 70% of (armed services) applicants because they can't pass the written test or the physical test.
“They can't be active members of the economy.”
Ready to impeach Trump?
Houlahan said she spoke Thursday with Rep. Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, about the ongoing impeachment hearings, and he assured her he had everything he needed to pursue articles of impeachment against Trump.
“I'm in support of the Judiciary Committee and their responsibility and oversight,” she said. “I believe one of the major roles of Congress is oversight.
“I believe in talking one on one to Mr. Nadler on Thursday he feels he is on the right path, and I am in support of that.”
Military and technology
Pennsylvania is the ninth-largest recipient of military spending, and Chester County has the largest defense appropriations economy in the state. Most of that military spending goes to small businesses that make parts and materials for larger equipment.
Houlahan lamented the fact that many in Congress are lawyers with no experience with technology.
“'I'm one of about 10 in Congress with a tech background,” she said.
Because of that, she said she worries about Russian and Chinese cyberattacks on our economy and elections.
“I am worried about China,” she said. “I'm worried about cybersecurity and intellectual property.”
In what might otherwise be good news, Houlahan said in her eight months in Washington, the House has passed 450 bills, but only 50 of those bills made it to the president's desk, and those are for renaming post offices and authorizing payment of federal employees after Congress shut the government down.
“Climate change is real, and we're causing it,” Houlahan said about global warming.
Regarding immigration, referring to the president's statements that the U.S. is full and can't take in as many immigrants as are seeking to come in, she said: “My father survived the Holocaust. I'm a huge proponent that we are not full and that we are a nation of immigrants.”