By historical standards, Charlie Dent is a conservative; make no mistake about that. Look at his voting record: he votes for cuts in many domestic social programs, against regulation of business that might improve safety or consumer protections, he gets high marks from taxpayer advocates and he scores low among the various environmental activist groups that rate lawmakers’ voting records. So lots of liberals are appalled when someone like me suggests that Congressman Dent is actually a moderate. All things – especially politics – are relative. If you compare him to where the Republican Party is now, our congressman is practically a communist. OK, I exaggerate. But not by much. By today’s standards, it is fair to say, our congressman is a moderate.
Charlie is something you don’t see in his position these days: a practical, deal-making, flexible, minimally ideological, reasonable guy. Yes, I always worry that his daily talking points are coming from the Republican National Committee, but the Gentleman from Pennsylvania is a practical problem-solver who tries to represent his constituents and bring a measure of balance and reason to his position.
Policy wonks know that an important reason why our politics have gotten so divisive and ugly is that redistricting has resulted in increasingly “safe” seats, which means those representatives on both the right and the left don’t need to attempt to represent the broadest interests of the district. Hence, there are plenty of whack jobs in the Congress, especially on the right.
It becomes the moderates’ role to bridge the chasm. The fewer they are, the more power they have. And there ain’t many of them. Consequently, Charlie Dent’s stock has been rising a ton, making many of us here at home pretty proud that our guy is getting a lot of national attention for being at the fulcrum of American politics.
For someone like me, working to affect his voting record, the Charlie Dents make you do your homework. If you have a good argument based on solid data and can show that many of his constituents will benefit with little damage to others, chances are he will be with you. No need to exaggerate, be too strident or shake your fist and shout.
On more than one occasion, Charlie Dent has been the key player in fixing a problem that would have done damage to low-income and working families or their communities. The deal to end the government shutdown last fall was a big one. But there are others. For example, his Republican colleagues had zeroed out funding for housing counseling in the middle of a national foreclosure crisis. Scratching that funding would have meant the work we do in saving families from foreclosure (our record of achieving loan modifications for 40% of the homeowners who seek our assistance is among the best in Pennsylvania) would have been shut down. Our congressman’s staff would have nowhere to send his constituents for assistance. So, he quietly worked with his colleagues and convinced them to restore the funding.
We have been grateful for his work on behalf of the low-income people our agency serves. Just this year he is a co-sponsor of the bill that would reauthorize our program. (Community Action was established as part of the Johnson Administration’s War on Poverty, which has been routinely dissed as a failure by many conservatives. Note that you don’t see Charlie Dent fleeing to avoid being tagged as sympathetic.) He also played a key role in restoring some funding to the federally-funded weatherization program, which Community Action administers.
Charlie Dent is rising quickly in the ranks of his party. Amazingly, in just a few months, he is likely to ascend to the role of “cardinal” status. That’s the unofficial title of the chairs of the Appropriations Committee’s thirteen subcommittees. As one can imagine, controlling how the federal government spends its money, especially in lean times, gives a Member significant power. Charlie is in line to become the chair of either the subcommittee that handles appropriations for Labor, Health and Human Services and Education or Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. Folks, this is huge!
I believe the Gentleman from Pennsylvania will restore credibility to his party, converting it to one that isn’t so extremist that it can’t govern. This is good for our country and it’s good for the Lehigh Valley.
He deserves our thanks. So, thanks, Charlie.
Now, about your position on long-term unemployment benefits…