SCHWARTZ, Allyson Y.

Image Courtesy of the Member
SCHWARTZ, Allyson Y.
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
1948–

Biography

In 2004 Allyson Schwartz, a longtime nonprofit health care executive, won election to the United States House of Representatives from a Philadelphia-area district. Her focus on results, and her willingness to strike an independent course from her party, defined her decade-long career in the U.S. House. “For me, it is … important to—where I can—work with my Republican colleagues,” Schwartz told a reporter in 2005. “That’s what the legislative process is all about.”1

Allyson Y. Schwartz was born Allyson Young in Queens, New York, on October 3, 1948, the second of four children and the oldest daughter. Her father, Everett Young, was a dentist in Flushing, New York, and later Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her mother, Renee Perl, was a Jewish refugee who had fled Vienna for Holland in 1938 after Nazi Germany invaded Austria. Two years later, at age 16, Perl settled with a Jewish family in Philadelphia—about the time Perl’s mother died by suicide in Austria.2

Schwartz graduated from Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1970 and went on to earn a master’s in social work from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania in 1972. She married David Schwartz, a cardiologist, and they had two children: Daniel and Jordan.3 Shortly after Schwartz started her career, her mother Renee took her own life. Schwartz was 26 at the time. “My mother was very clear that painful experiences in childhood don’t necessarily make you stronger,” Schwartz later recalled, “which is maybe where my interest in children and family comes from.”4

Shortly after the Supreme Court legalized abortion with its Roe v. Wade decision in 1974, Schwartz and others established the Elizabeth Blackwell Center, a women-run nonprofit health center for women providing a range of care and services that included cancer screening, birth control, and abortions. Schwartz served as its executive director.5 In 1983 Schwartz drafted health care position papers for mayoral candidate Wilson Goode, which led to her appointment as deputy commissioner of Philadelphia’s human service department in 1988.6 Working for city hall, she recalled, allowed her “to see government from the inside, to see some of the challenges, to see some of the feelings of communities that felt not helped but actually intruded upon by what was supposed to be seen as help.”7

In 1990 Schwartz won a seat in the state senate after defeating a 12-year incumbent from northern Philadelphia. In Harrisburg she continued to concentrate on public health policy, sponsoring a children’s health insurance program which she called “one of my proudest accomplishments.”8 As one of the few women senators, she learned to play “hard ball” politics. When ignored by senate Democratic leaders, she routinely disregarded caucus decisions, disrupting their legislative strategy. She gained both a record of accomplishments and a reputation for being independent.9 In 2000 she decided to challenge Republican U.S. Senator Richard John (Rick) Santorum, but lost in the Democratic primary to Ronald Klink, 41 percent to 27 percent.10

In 2004, when Representative Joseph M. Hoeffel challenged Republican Senator Arlen Specter rather than stand for re-election to the House, Hoeffel’s northern Philadelphia seat opened. Schwartz announced her candidacy for the seat with the endorsement of abortion rights groups and financial support from EMILY’s List. In the Democratic primary she faced Joe Torsella, a former aide to Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell and director of the National Constitution Center who had the backing of the state Democratic organization. In a hard-fought race, Schwartz edged out Torsella, 52 percent to 48 percent.11

In the general election, Schwartz faced Republican Melissa Brown, an ophthalmologist who had run against Hoeffel in 2002. Health care became the central issue of the campaign, and the race turned negative. “The two opponents proved that women can sling mud as capably as any men,” the Philadelphia Inquirer observed.12 It was also one of the more expensive House campaigns in the country. Schwartz alone raised $3.7 million.13 On Election Day, Schwartz won handily, taking 56 percent of the vote.14

In her first term in the House, Schwartz was assigned to the Budget Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. She would serve on Budget for her entire time in Congress. In her second term Schwartz left Transportation and Infrastructure for a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which controlled the nation’s tax policy.15 Schwartz served on two Ways and Means subcommittees: Select Revenue Measures; and Social Security.16 One longtime Democratic leadership aide remarked that Schwartz specialized in policy “areas that are very complicated and high-risk,” including the budget and health care.17

Schwartz spoke on the House Floor for the first time on January 25, 2005, while the House commemorated the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Holocaust survivors from the Auschwitz death camp. She told her mother’s story of having to flee Nazi oppression, “to speak from my heart in a way—the role that Jews have played in being willing to talk about a difficult period in our past,” she said.18

The first bill Schwartz sponsored in the House encouraged employers to hire veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by providing federal work opportunity credits—a bill she would later list as among her proudest accomplishments.19 The bill honored her father’s service during the Korean War when he served overseas for several years, away from his family.20

In Congress, Schwartz focused on results rather than process. “What we do or don’t do makes a big difference in the lives of my constituents,” she said.21 An old state senate colleague of hers, Tom Murphy, once observed that Schwartz “is a doer.”22 This pragmatic approach meant building bipartisan coalitions and working with more senior Members, including longtime western Pennsylvania Representative John Patrick Murtha Jr., chairman of the Appropriations Committee, a senior leader of the state delegation, and a close ally of House leadership.23

Schwartz remained popular in her northern Philadelphia district, and won re-election easily in the next four cycles. In 2006 she defeated Republican Raj Peter Bhakta, who had been on the television reality program “The Apprentice” in 2004, with 66 percent of the vote.24 An active fundraiser, Schwartz won with 63 percent in 2008, 56 percent in 2010, and 69 percent in 2012.25

With her health care background and powerful seat on the Ways and Means Committee, Schwartz took an active role during the 2009 debate on the Affordable Care Act, a major health care reform measure backed by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats. Schwartz was credited with pushing two popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act: prohibiting the denial of health insurance because of preexisting conditions and allowing adult children to remain covered by their parents’ health insurance up to age 26.26 Schwartz recalled that she prioritized “supporting primary care and investing in primary care” to ensure “a better use of tax dollars and better care for people with chronic conditions.”27 She also advocated for Health Care Innovation Zones pilot programs to of fer care for people living in underserved areas by coordinating activities among physicians, hospitals, and other providers.28

When House Democrats lost the majority following the 2010 midterm elections, Schwartz lost her seat on Ways and Means for one term and transferred to the Foreign Affairs Committee where she served on the Subcommittees on Middle East and South Asia and on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade.29 Democratic leadership also appointed Schwartz to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) to help recruit candidates. “It is our responsibility to increase our number, our clout, and the power of women in leadership,” Schwartz said.30 “I went to districts. I talked to people to recruit them,” she noted, adding that she worked to help candidates with “running the kind of modern campaign that could help them win.”31 Shortly after the 2012 elections Schwartz became the finance chair for the DCCC.32 Schwartz regained her seat on Ways and Means in the 113th Congress (2013–2015).

In 2014 Schwartz announced her candidacy for governor of Pennsylvania. State law allowed her to run simultaneously for the House and for governor, but Schwartz announced that “it wouldn’t be right” to pursue both offices and focused on her gubernatorial bid.33 In the primary, however Schwartz lost to businessman Tom Wolf, who won with 59 percent of the vote.34

After she retired from the House in early 2015, Schwartz became a fellow at the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative and at the Center for American Progress. She also served as co-chair of the Health and Housing Task Force at the Bipartisan Policy Center and as president and chief executive officer of a group that worked to improve Medicare.35

Footnotes

1Joshua Runyan, “Rep. Schwartz Takes to Capitol Hill,” 3 February 2005, Jewish Exponent: n.p.

2“Allyson Y. Schwartz,” Pennsylvania state senate, accessed 7 December 2016, https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/BiosHistory/MemBio.cfm?ID=5426&body=S; Almanac of American Politics, 2006 (Washington, DC: National Journal Group, 2005): 1441–1440; Politics in America, 2014 (Washington, DC: CQ-Roll Call, Inc., 2013): 846.

3Almanac of American Politics, 2014 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013): 1439, 1441.

4Politics in America, 2014: 846.

5Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 1439; “The Honorable Allyson Y. Schwartz Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives (12 April 2017): 6–8. The interview transcript is available online.

6Politics in America, 2014: 846; Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 1449.

7“Schwartz Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 9–10.

8Politics in America, 2014: 846; Politics in America, 2006 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2005): 893; Almanac of American Politics, 2006: 1456.

9Robert Huber, “Who Doesn’t Like Allyson Schwartz?,” 27 December 2013, Philadelphia Magazine, https://www.phillymag.com/news/2013/12/27/doesnt-like-allyson-schwartz/.

10Politics in America, 2014: 1441.

11Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 1441; Almanac of American Politics, 2006: 1456.

12Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 1441.

13Politics in America, 2006: 893; Almanac of American Politics, 2006: 1457.

14Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

15Almanac of American Politics, 2006: 1456; Bryan Schwartzman, “Schwartz Gets Nod for Ways & Means Committee,” 14 December 2006, Jewish Exponent: n.p.

16Almanac of American Politics, 2008 (Washington, DC: National Journal Group, 2007): 1417.

17Huber, “Who Doesn’t Like Allyson Schwartz?”

18Congressional Record, House, 109th Cong., 1st sess. (25 January 2005): H154; Runyan, “Rep. Schwartz Takes to Capitol Hill.”

19Veterans Employment and Respect Act of 2005, H.R. 1352, 109th Cong. (2005); Jonathan Tamari, “Allyson Schwartz Looks Back on Congressional Career,” 23 December 2014, Philadelphia Inquirer, https://www.inquirer.com/philly/news/nation_world/20141223_Allyson_Schwartz_looks_back_on_ congressional_career.html.

20Congressional Record, House, 113th Congress, 2nd sess. (10 December 2014): H8936.

21Runyan, “Rep. Schwartz Takes to Capitol Hill.”

22Huber, “Who Doesn’t Like Allyson Schwartz?”

23Runyan, “Rep. Schwartz Takes to Capitol Hill”; Huber, “Who Doesn’t Like Allyson Schwartz?”

24“Election Statistics: 1920 to Present.”

25“Election Statistics: 1920 to Present.”

26Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 1441. Among the measures Schwartz introduced was a separate bill preventing insurance companies from refusing to cover children due to a preexisting condition. See Children’s Health Protection Act of 2009, H.R. 1619, 111th Cong. (2009); Congressional Record, House, 111th Cong., 1st sess. (19 March 2009): H3703.

27“Schwartz Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 46.

28Congressional Record, 111th Cong., 1st sess. (23 September 2009): H10069; Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 1441.

29Almanac of American Politics, 2012 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011): 1319.

30Tamari, “Allyson Schwartz Looks Back on Congressional Career.”

31“Schwartz Oral History Interview,” Office of the Historian: 53.

32Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 1441.

33Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 1441; Politics in America, 2006: 845; Thomas Fitzgerald, “Schwartz to Set Up State Political Unit,” 2 March 2013, Philadelphia Inquirer: B1.

34James O’Toole, “Democrats Can’t Find a Favorite in Race for Governor,” 9 February 2014, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: A13; Huber, “Who Doesn’t Like Allyson Schwartz?”; Almanac of American Politics, 2014: 1527.

35“Allyson Schwartz to Lead Medicare Advantage Coalition,” 21 April 2015, Better Medicare Alliance, https://www.bettermedicarealliance.org/newsroom/press-releases/allyson-schwartz-lead-medicare-advantage-coalition.

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Allyson Y. Schwartz" in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Budget
  • House Committee - Foreign Affairs
  • House Committee - Transportation and Infrastructure
  • House Committee - Ways and Means
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Related Media

Unique Background

The Honorable Allyson Y. Schwartz explains how her unique background in social services and health care made it difficult for others to classify her political qualifications.

The Honorable Allyson Y. Schwartz, U.S. Representative of Pennsylvania
Interview recorded April 12, 2017 Deed of Gift
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Gender and Fundraising

The Honorable Allyson Y. Schwartz shares her thoughts on the role gender plays in raising money for Congress.

The Honorable Allyson Y. Schwartz, U.S. Representative of Pennsylvania
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