IN CONVERSATION WITH ... U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle reflects on being new kid on the block
Glenside >> He’s among the youngest members of Congress, in the minority party and a freshman, but none of that appears to outweigh the enthusiasm of newly-minted U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle.
Sitting in his new Glenside office Jan. 23, the 37-year-old Democrat reflected on his brief two and a half weeks in Congress since his swearing in to represent the 13th Congressional District, which covers Northeast Philadelphia and eastern Montgomery County.
Terming President Obama’s Jan. 20 State of the Union address the “highlight” at that point, Boyle said, “it was an honor to be in the chamber … to see it in person as a part of Congress was really special.” He even got to shake the president’s hand.
The most exciting part up to then “was the swearing in day and walking with my dad to the Capitol from my office.” During that walk, his father told him, “forty-five years ago I came [to the United States from Ireland] at 19 years of age … it’s humbling to see my son serve with Congress.”
The average age in Congress is 58, said Boyle, who served six years in the state House 170th District seat, but being 20 years younger “will present advantages down the road.”
Boyle sees his new job having two primary responsibilities: in the Capitol voting on legislation and budgets and making policy; and “back home in the district,” community projects and constituent service.
The Glenside office will serve the Cheltenham, Abington, Upper Moreland and Lower Moreland areas, he said, and he is looking for a location in Lansdale and two in Philadelphia for “a total of four offices using the same budget” allotted to other congressmen.
“I was able to help a ton of constituents” as a state representative, he said. His office was “always in the top five of the 203 in the House for constituent service. I want to be able to establish the same reputation in Congress.”
Despite media accounts of partisan bickering, Boyle said he had “mostly interacted with smart, hardworking, reasonable” legislators thus far. “Unfortunately it’s the yellers who stand out,” he said.
Having grown up in Olney, the Cardinal Dougherty High School graduate was the first one in his family to go to college, earning a bachelor’s degree in government from the University of Notre Dame. After working in the private sector and after 9/11, “I decided to follow where my passions lie and went back to school,” earning a master’s from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government
As a member of the minority party in the Pennsylvania House, Boyle said he was “able to partner with Republicans and get things done. I work with people and establish relationships; it makes it easier.”
Given his working class background and “the fact that the middle class continues to fall further behind,” he said he will focus on reforming the tax code, “so the wealthiest 1 percent pay their fair share.”
“My first speech on the House floor was on student loan debt,” which he termed “a crisis at the breaking point.” Owing more than $50,000 in student loans himself, he said people are worried about taking out college loans and not being able to find a job afterward.
“Congress is dominated by people who are personally wealthy,” said Boyle, who supports raising the minimum wage to $10.10/hour. “I will advocate for the working class. It’s about fairness and would help the economy, putting more dollars in the pockets of those likely to spend on critical needs.”
Referring to repeated Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare, he said, “there are some things that can be updated and changed, [but] there will be unintended consequences if you throw out the whole thing.
“I rely on facts,” he said. “Eleven million today have health care who did not before … the rate of growth for health care costs has declined; we should all celebrate that.”
The only freshman in Congress assigned to the Foreign Affairs Committee — also appointed to the Government Oversight and Reform Committee, Boyle said it was “a remarkable and incredible opportunity,” and something he’s always had a strong interest in.
While settling into his new job, Boyle said he and his wife, Jennifer, and their 1-year-old daughter are commuting back and forth, but in the fall his wife will return to teaching in Lower Moreland.
The biggest challenge is “time management” given the volume of what has to be done, Boyle said. “There’s enough to do in Montgomery County and Philadelphia seven days a week, as well as in D.C.
“I’ve always loved politics,” he said. “I believe in democracy … people who get to serve in elected office are incredibly important as to the direction taken in the country. The opportunity to play a role is exciting to me.”