When it comes to the race to succeed outgoing Pa. Gov. Corbett ("outgoing" if you believe the latest polls, that is), U.S. Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz comes to the race with the highest name recognition, the ability to raise millions of dollars, and a well-established track record including five terms in Congress.
Put it another way: She may be screwed.
Consider the food stamp (a.k.a, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) and the hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians who depend on this program to put dinner on the table. Food stamps are funded though Congress by something called the farm bill (because apparently food comes from farms and not the warming tray at Burger King...who knew?) and with the dysfunctional situation inside the Beltway, that piece of key legislation has been long overdue.
With Republicans who control the House determined to end the 47-percent-moocher-gourmet-moveable-feast* that is funded by this program with its average benefit of $4.45 a day, the 2014 farm bill was expected to be brutal for SNAP recipients, and it is. Its version of the bill cuts $8.7 billion from the food-stamp program nationally, and experts say that because of the elimination of a program known as "heat and eat" (which also includes an energy benefit), Pennsylvania is getting whacked harder than most states.
It's not surprising that of four Pennsylvania House Democrats who cast a vote, three of them -- including Philadelphia's Chaka Fattah and Bob Brady -- voted "no."
That one who voted "yes" was Schwartz.
That's brutal politics for a Democrat trying to win a gubernatorial nomination. Her party -- enthralled by the likes of Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York's Mayor Bill de Blasio -- is clearly drifting further left, even in slow-to-change Pennsylvania. Schwartz's 2014 has already been distinguished by her clumsy struggles to divorce herself from the centrist group Third Way (after the group attacked Warren, ironically.) Now, some progressives are bashing Schwartz over the farm bill; young left-wing muckraker Sean Kitchen cited it as "another bad vote" for the "centrist" (which will be a dirty word for Democrats between now and late May).
The reality is more complex. Schwartz' vote for the farm bill came after an extensive push by her to insert $125 million for a program that offers financial aid for building new supermarkets in food deserts -- low-income neighborhoods that were abandoned by groceries a generation ago and now lack healthy food options, The program that Schwartz successfully added is modeled after a program that was conceived by activists and lawmakers here in Philadelphia and has been pretty darned successful, as anyone who's noticed the spanking new supermarkets in places like West Philly or Brewerytown would attest.
Lawmaking is nuanced -- but nuance is the kiss of death in today's party primary. Some of Schwartz' problems like her involvement with Third Way are self-inflicted, but it is hard to deal with the sinkhole that is Congress while her rivals who don't have to cast votes are out winning environmental endorsements or throwing up their pro-pot billboards.
Look, whoever replaces Corbett in the governor's mansion is going have a big mess to clean up and the devastation of the social safety net -- not just the SNAP reduction but our current governor's failure to expand Medicaid and harsh cuts to other welfare programs -- is going to be a top priority. I'm still dubious that Schwartz will be the one jangling the keys.
* If you're new to the blog, that's what we call "sarcasm" around here.