Eric Swalwell PHOTO/KQED
CONGRESS | After an amazing upset in the 15th Congressional District with the young, now Congressman-elect Eric Swalwell ousting long-term incumbent, Pete Stark, from his 40-year throne, we can now wonder what a Rep. Swalwell will look like.
Swalwell had looked to be a likely loser after the Hayward Demos forum early this year showed an inexperienced candidate with little new flavor to add to Democrat’s legislative history which Stark enjoyed poking at with snarky enthusiasm. Instead what voters witnessed was an anti-Stark media clamoring for more Stark gaffes after his bribery accusation landed him in hot water last spring. Swalwell’s unorthodox campaign was then able to ride the bribery charge to the finish line despite a recent expose that alleged Swalwell had engaged in pay-to-play politics in June.
Swalwell will head to Congress in January and while constituents were familiar with Stark because of his long voting record it is still unclear what Swalwell will bring. He’s a Blue Dog democrat with particular differences from Stark. Swalwell says he will have the cordial attitude to get work done in a divided Congress that the progressive standard bearer, Stark, couldn’t do. He may be right, but who, exactly is Swalwell? From what one could tell he seeks funding for NASA and local labs, continuation of global American hegemony and seeks some social security adjustments.
Understanding Swalwell would require looking at his prime influence, former Rep. Ellen Tauscher, who not only endorsed the young candidate but announced his victory before the excited electee took the podium on election night to speak to his supporters. Tauscher’s voting record and bills is layered with defense-related legislation from voting for the Iraq war and increased sanctions on both Libya and Iran. She sat on the House Committee for Armed Services and since retiring from her seat in 2009 became Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security for the State Department.
Swalwell’s own foreign policy initiatives follow on the heels of Tauscher and pays respect to President Barack Obama’s nuanced foreign policy in Middle Eastern hot spots, namely Iran. Swalwell was clear when he first sat down with me in January that he believed Iran to be a real threat and when peacenik Stark voted nay on sanctions against Iran last spring Swalwell hopped on the opportunity to attack him, “Does Stark want to start a war with Iran?” It didn’t make too much sense considering the aggressor in the Middle Eastern region for decades has been largely America, not Iran, but it tells constituents that Swalwell will not be the peacekeeper that highlighted Stark’s legacy.
But the congressman will be an advocate for NASA, an undernourished economic opportunity for America. Since scientist and praised Internet celebrity, Neil deDegrasse Tyson, spoke before the Senate Committee on Science to double the current half a penny budget for NASA there’s been some enthused advocacy for space exploration among citizens. Swalwell has joined that pack expressing to me via Twitter his desire to see increased funding for not just NASA but local laboratories like the Livermore National Lab that Stark has expressed weary support for because of their past participation in nuclear proliferation. Swalwell praised the lab as an example of energy related job creation, a penchant of his campaign and alleged primary focus. He will likely seek funding for the Livermore lab but hasn’t shown much regard to non-proliferation like Stark has on the campaign trail; an important topic for progressive peace keepers.
Stark’s career was defined by his legislation’s focus on Medicare and Social Security. When Nancy Pelosi called him the “Champion of Medicare,” last month during a health related committee hearing, she honored him with an accurate career title. Former congressman Dennis Kucinich wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle that Republican attempts at repealing Obamacare would face difficulty in the Ways and Means Committee because of Stark’s staunch defiance to repeal as chairman of the health subcommittee. Kucinich was right about this and his argument was a likely benefactor in trying to re-elect Stark. But Stark’s often rude remarks stunted relations between congress members that cost him the Ways and Means chairman seat. Stark shot himself in the foot too many times to win re-election. But Democrats in Congress have lost an aggressive defender of Obamacare that a newcomer like Swalwell cannot replace.
Swalwell criticized Stark over giving his kids social security benefits while still working and has promised to close what he calls “the rich kid loop hole.” Swalwell says he can do it without means testing but the San Francisco Chronicle cites experts calling that impossible, “Social Security experts, liberal and conservative, agreed that Swalwell’s proposal would require some form of means testing.” The experts are right. The only way to close the “loophole,” would be to limit collection benefits for kids based on their parents income levels, which is means testing. Swalwell knew that the term carried a bad taste in democratic constituents’ mouths and strayed from it when The Chronicle first cited the term regarding the controversy.
The Democratic establishment won’t likely receive means testing well and while reform will be needed eventually the program doesn’t reach deficit spending for another two to three decades. Swalwell’s idea doesn’t save money and only solves a problem that Swalwell called an ethical issue. If Swalwell proposes legislation to deal with this issue, it may pass the House but not the Senate and those who would meet him at the table will probably be Republicans before Democrats since it was from the right-wing camp a few years ago that wanted to aggressively means test Social Security.
Furthermore, the right-wing think tank, Heritage Foundation, jumped on the opportunity provided by Swalwell’s attack to point to their economic plan that wants to not only means test social security but also transform it to something reflective of a privatized 401k plan. Swalwell won’t likely go this far but there are Republicans will try to use it as opportunity to do so.
Swalwell isn’t the stalwart progressive that those in the Hayward area may like, he won’t be the party’s enforcer like Stark was of staunch democratic principles and he hardly will be able to fill the shoes of Stark’s influence in medical legislation. Instead, what Swalwell offers is alleged bipartisanship, job creation (albeit with no solid plan), and the usual American international aggressiveness. Whether Swalwell can deliver on his promise for jobs befitting of the new digital and hi-tech age will have to be seen. If he can’t prove himself to be a capable Congressman then he will be nothing but a mere footnote in political history when former White House Business Council member Ro Khanna and State Senator Ellen Corbett come for his seat in 2014.