U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, earning national acclaim for campaigning as a champion of the Affordable Care Act, suggested Wednesday that her rivals for the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania governor were soft in support of President Obama's signature law.
They all have publicly backed Obamacare, although the law has not been a frequent topic of conversation on the campaign trail – even for Schwartz, who began running a TV ad Monday declaring she was proud of her work with the president helping to write parts of it as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
"I believe very firmly that I'm the only one in this race who's willing to express both pride in this law and willingness and understanding to make it work for Pennsylvanians," she said in a conference call with reporters.
Schwartz singled out the frontrunner, York businessman Tom Wolf as being "evasive" on the law, citing his comment in a newspaper story that it was a "step in the right direction." He pushed back against Schwartz's critique with examples of his statements supporting it.
Wolf, state Treasurer Rob McCord and former state environmental secretary Katie McGinty also have joined Schwartz in blasting Gov. Corbett for declining federal dollars to expand Medicaid to cover as many as 500,000 people in the state without health insurance, a key component of the ACA.
Schwartz, the former frontrunner who has lagged by double digit margins behind Wolf in recent public polls, hopes to distinguish herself from her rivals with the ACA message. (That is an imperative for all the candidates, in fact, as they share many views.)
And she does have a claim: legislation that Schwartz wrote prohibiting insurers from banning coverage of pre-existing conditions in children, an idea later incorporated in the final version of the law. During her career in Congress and the state legislature, Schwartz has been known as a health-care policy wonk. She also founded a women's health clinic in the 1970s and headed the city human services department in the 1980s.
"Tom's record in support of the Affordable Care Act has been clear and unambiguous," said Wolf campaign spokesman Mark Nicastre. "Tom Wolf would expand Medicaid, institute a state level exchange, and work toward universal, quality access to health care for Pennsylvanians." He added, "It's unfortunate and disappointing that Allyson Schwartz would play politics on this given her own record of zig zagging."
Mark Nevins, McCord's campaign spokesman, said there wasn't a "dime's worth of difference" between the treasurer and Schwartz on the issue.
Mike Mikus, campaign manager for former DEP leader McGinty, noted that she backs ACA.
"Congresswoman Schwartz's statement is mind boggling since Congresswoman Schwartz is the only Democratic gubernatorial candidate who has supported legislation that would weaken the Affordable Care Act while also endangering Medicare," Mikus said.
He was referring in part to Schwartz's sponsorship of legislation that would repeal the law's 2.3 percent excise tax on medical devices. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the tax would generate $29 billion over a decade to help fund Obamacare. Schwartz, who represents medical-device manufacturers in her suburban Philadelphia district, joined a bipartisan effort to repeal. The state's senators, Bob Casey (D) and Pat Toomey (R) also back the change.
Schwartz also has backed efforts to eliminate the Independent Payment Advisory Board, formed under ACA to control costs in Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly.
In the conference call, she said that ACA is a complex law and that she "would like to see some provisions modified."
But, she said, "The basic concepts, the big ideas in the legislation, I embrace."