PHOENIXVILLE — U.S. Rep Chrissy Houlahan, D-6th Dist., presented her third annual “State of the Sixth” Town Hall at the Colonial Theater, reviewing the year’s events and the impact she and the federal government had in facing them.
It was her second State of the Sixth delivered in person, last year’s being virtual due to COVID restrictions, and one of 19 town halls she has held since she took office — more than any other member of Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation, according to her office.
And although Houlahan said she was there to “discuss policy, not politics” on Tuesday, politics was not hard to find with supporters of real estate agent Ron Vogel, one of the four Republicans seeking the nomination to run against her, waving signs outside the theater, and many of Houlahan’s policy discussions focusing on her accomplishments in office.
Supporters of Republican Ron Vogel, who hopes to win the Republican primary and face Houlahan in the fall election, held up signs outside the town hall meeting at the Colonial theater Tuesday night.(Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)
Houlahan, who is unopposed in the May Democratic primary, will face the winner of the Republican primary in the general election in November. The other Republican candidates are businessman Steve Fanelli, businesswoman Regina Mauro and former Chester County Chamber of Commerce President Guy Ciarrocchi.
As for Houlahan’s record, a slide projected on the screen during her presentation indicated she was the lead on 30 bills, 86% of which are bipartisan; co-sponsored 360 more, 56% of which were bipartisan, and returned $9.5 million of federal dollars to the district and its constituents.
U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-6th Dist., outlines her record during Tuesday’s “State of the Sixth” town hall meeting in Phoenixville.(Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)
“Considering me and my office costs taxpayers $1.3 million, I think that’s a pretty good return on investment,” said Houlahan, a former business owner, as well as a former teacher and veteran of the U.S. Air Force.
Houlahan said she has only missed two votes during her three years — the best voting record of any member of the Pennsylvania delegation, according to her office.
Houlahan stressed the bipartisan nature of her record saying it befits the 6th District, which is comprised of Chester County and a portion of Berks County, and is composed of 40% Democrats, 40%Republicans and 20% independents.
Between her prepared comments and the half-dozen questions she fielded from constituents, Houlahan covered a broad range of topics, from taxes to inflation, infrastructure to immigration, education to health care and COVID to climate change.
U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan shows a map of the Sixth District with indications of all the ways the federal government provided health during the COVID-19 pandemic.(Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)
Houlahan said the economy is growing as the nation emerges from COVID restrictions, with “the fastest job growth in 40 years and unemployment down to 3.6 percent nationally. We have room to grow, there are thousands of jobs available in the sixth.”
The counterweight to that upbeat narrative are rising prices caused by inflation and Houlahan said she co-founded the Congressional Inflation Working Group which is targeting things the federal government can do to improve supply chain challenges to keep prices down.
Houlahan said she also wants to help families challenged by high student loan debt, pushing a bill that offers debt forgiveness for graduates who “serve for six years” either in the military, or as teachers, nurses, doctors or emergency service workers.
“I don’t want to see the government making huge profits off students, but I do want the students to have some skin in the game,” she said.
She has “ginormous concerns” about the pending closing of Brandywine and Jennersville hospitals and said she appreciated Chester County Hospital expanding its emergency room to handle the resulting overflow. Houlahan also touted $300,000 in federal funds provided to Chester County to establish a 988 hotline for those in the midst of a behavioral health crisis.
As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Houlahan similarly said she is concerned about proposed changes at the Veterans Administration hospital in Coatesville and hopes to arrange for a visit from U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough “to see what we’re getting done up here.”
Houlahan is also a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and said she met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy just weeks before the Russian invasion. She displayed a copy of the March 4 letter she co-authored asking President Joe Biden to suspend all Russian oil imports and the bipartisan support she has seen for standing up for Ukraine.
This photo displayed during U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan’s State f the “Sixth Town Hall Tuesday shows her meeting Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Belgium just weeks before the Russian invasion.(Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)
She said she recognized that cutting off Russian oil will cause some pain at the gas pump, but said “we cannot fund Putin’s war crimes.” Houlahan also mentioned wryly that “I’m very proud to have been personally sanctioned by the Kremlin itself.”
The war in Europe and the Jan. 6 insurrection are all object lessons on “how fragile democracies are” and Houlahan said she supports reforms to make it easier to vote in the U.S. and make Election Day a national holiday.
“My brother works as a nurse in Iowa and he works 12 hour shifts, and it’s an hour to and from work, there’s no way he can get home to vote, and that’s just wrong,” she said.
U.S. Rep Chrissy Houlahan points out that re-districting in the wake of the 2020 Census brought few changes to the Sixth District.(Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)
The daughter of a refugee from the Holocaust, Houlahan said she has an appreciation for what the United States offers those seeking a better life and would like to see immigration reformed to make it easier for highly-trained foreign born, as well as workers desperately needed by the agriculture and landscape industries, to become legal citizens of the U.S.
Noting that a visit to the southern border convinced her it is “a really dysfunctional system,” Houlahan said “this place is not full. Look at me, the daughter of a refugee now serving in the U.S. Congress. This is the kind of story that needs to happen over and over again.”
Once a year, U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-6th Dist., holds a town all she calls “the State of the Sixth.”(Evan Brandt — MediaNews Group)
Although she acknowledged that it is “too little, too slowly,” Houlahan said she is seeing signs that some Republicans are recognizing the dangers posed by climate change, particularly in the language they use. She also noted that the armed services have long recognized the danger it poses to the nation’s bases and equipment, forcing Congress to face some hard truths.
Damage from more and more frequent storms like Ida also make the reality of climate change increasingly hard to ignore, she said.
“We’ve had to make some really hard choices” in the last two years “and I honestly hope our best days are ahead of us,” said Houlahan.
She reminded the audience that “just as there is no such thing as perfect circumstance, there is no such thing as perfect legislation,” adding a quote from the philosopher Voltair that “perfection is the enemy of good.”
Houlahan closed with a few lines from “The Hill We Climb,” the poem by National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman read at President Joe Biden’s inaugural:
“And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us,but what stands before us.”We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,we must first put our differences aside.”