At his semiannual “coffee chat” with community media outlets, recently re-elected U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah spoke Monday about his agenda for the coming term and fielded questions about job creation, neuroscience research, the mood at the Capitol and, among other things, Philadelphia’s proposed school closings.
The hour-long, on-the-record chat was held at Wired Beans Cafe in Germantown’s Chelten Plaza, as was the previous coffee chat in August.
1. On jobs going unfilled because youths aren’t focused science, technology, engineering and mathematics
Citing a robotics program seen at the Wissahickon Boys and Girls Club and beyond, he said, “By 2025, there will be 25 million jobs which require college education that we can’t fill. … We’ve got to do more with young people, to send a signal that they can achieve things beyond what they think they can at the moment. Science is the key. … We need an all-in effort.”
2. On legislation that he expects to introduce shortly
“It’s called ‘American Discoveries, American Jobs,’ [and it aims to establish that] all new inventions [which tax dollars are involved in the process] are manufactured in America. There are plenty of patents [with funding] from the taxpayers, from waiters at a hotel restaurant to those who pick up the trash. If a job is created from it, create it here in America. It just makes sense.”
3. On whether the mood has shifted on Capitol Hill since the inauguration
“I think so. There was a lot of noise, a lot of resistance to really anything to President did. But now that they see the opportunity to make him a one-term president is over, we do have to get back to work. The House [of Representatives] is going to be a problem. [Speaker John] Boehner and leadership will have to [realize] you can’t stop the whole show from moving forward.”
4. On the nation’s fiscal health
“This theory that the economy [has entirely rebounded] is just not true. We need to give confidence to small businesses. Look at [Superstorm] Sandy. As a country, we always do [disaster] relief. But this time, people had to jump through hoops, it took some time. Meanwhile, the small-business burnout rate is a very [sensitive] area. When we take three months to provide a relief package, which we were going to do anyway, it creates a level of uncertainty” which can force small businesses to close down.
5. On the Philadelphia School District’s plan to close or reconfigure schools including Germantown High
“At some point, some of these buildings are going to have to close. [Decreasing enrollment figures and unused space] is like a family situation. You go from six kids to an empty nest, and there’s no need for the big house anymore. It was always going to be a political hot potato. I like how we did it with Mastery and other charter schools, and I support charters schools, saying [they] can go into an existing school building. That worked really well. But money spent on heating hallways where no children go to classes is money that could have been used to educate them. …
“We have a lot of problems, but Philadelphia has made a lot of progress. We have to be supportive of those programs which have worked moving forward.”
6. On the Congressional Gun Violence Task Force, of which he is vice-chair
“We’re meeting tonight at 7 to finalize our recommendations. One thing that I’m supporting that is not in the President’s proposal is a national tipline. [People with an illegal gun] usually tell someone, show it off. If someone can pick up the phone to contact the authorities, and pick up a little coin while doing so, we’d rather get [the gun] before someone gets shot.”
He then cited misconceptions about universal background checks (which he think will be passed with bipartisan support) and existing means to prevent the mentally ill from getting guns. He added that “the ATF can only check [gun shops] once a year, so once they come through, people know that nobody is looking at them for a whole year. … The other thing I’m pushing, which is in the President’s proposal, is for gun-safety lockers at storage facilities.”