House links: Joe Pitts (R-PA-16)i
Campaign links: Joe Pitts (R-PA-16)i
Joseph R. “Joe” Pitts
Joe Pitts Congressional Candidate Pennsylvania District 16
Joe was born in Kentucky in a family of strong Christian faith, a faith he has passed on to his own three children. His father was an Army chaplain during World War II, serving in the South Pacific. After the war, the elder Pitts returned to the Philippines with his wife and children to serve as a missionary in a war-ravaged country. It was there, where he saw the after-affects of war, that Joe Pitts developed a heart for human rights and commitment to a strong defense. General Douglas MacArthur, a warrior who humbled an empire and taught it to be a democracy, was a childhood hero.
After high school, Joe attended Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky. It was there that he met the former Virginia Pratt, now his wife of some 40 years. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1961, Joe and Ginny both got jobs as teachers in Kentucky public schools. They also started a family. Their oldest daughter, Karen, was born at this time, followed in coming years by their second daughter Carol and son Daniel.
Joe taught math, science, English, and physical education, and well as coaching basketball. After Karen was born, Ginny wanted to stay home and be a full-time mother, but teachers in Kentucky didn’t make much in those days and Joe couldn’t support a growing family on his income. So in 1963, he walked into an Air Force recruiting office and signed up for Officer Training School.
Air Force Captain
Joe served five and a half years in the Air Force, with three tours in Vietnam. Initially commissioned as a second lieutenant, he was promoted to captain by the time he left the service. He graduated second in his class from Navigator School, after which he was trained as an Electronic Warfare officer. As an EW officer, he served on B-52s out of Westover Air Force Base, Massachusetts, with payloads of nuclear bombs. When America committed itself to the Vietnam conflict, he rotated out of Guam, Okinawa, and Thailand. In all, he completed 116 combat missions and earned an Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters. Today he is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5467 in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. To hear Joe talk about his service, click here.
In 1969, Joe decided it was time he returned home to raise his family and left the Air Force. This time, he and Ginny settled down where she had grown up outside Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Joe and Ginny both got jobs as schoolteachers. Joe taught math and science at Great Valley High School in northeastern Chester County and once again coached basketball. Ginny taught at Upland Country Day School, where she continued teaching until 1996. On the side, Joe started a small landscape nursery business.
Once they had settled in Pennsylvania, Joe enlisted his entire family in a major task: building their own home from scratch. Joe and his father led the family in performing every task of construction that didn’t require heavy machinery or licensed labor. Joe and Ginny still live in that home; solidly built, it has served them well.
In 1972, Joe began his 24 year tenure as a Pennsylvania State Representative. Joe immediately established a reputation as an effective and honest legislator. Over the years, he became a leader in the causes of farmland and open space preservation, fiscal restraint, and traditional values. One of his first bills to become law was “Clean and Green”—legislation to allow farmers to pay their property taxes on the basis of use value rather than assessed value.
He was a key player behind the 1990 Abortion Control Act. Every time there was a tax cut, Joe was there fighting to make sure it happened. Joe soon became Chairman of the Committee on Labor Relations and was then elected by his colleagues as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, a very powerful post. At home, Joe worked tirelessly to help his neighbors, helping individuals with state applications and defending farmers and businessmen from what he likes to call “bureaucrats flying under the radar.”
During all his years as a state legislator, Joe reserved time for the family-run tree nursery. Joe’s trees still dot the landscape all over southern Chester County.
In 1997, Joe was sworn into Congress replacing Congressman Bob Walker.
When Joe took office in Washington for the first time in January of 1997, he brought with him the skills of a seasoned legislator, the discipline of an Air Force veteran, and the practical outlook of a small businessman. His new colleagues instantly recognized his abilities and he was awarded spots on the Budget Committee, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and the Small Business Committee. The Majority Whip, well aware of Joe’s leadership skills, appointed him an assistant whip.
The leaders of the House also soon realized that Joe had a special relationship with many pro-family groups and asked him to chair the Values Action Team, a new organization dedicated to building cooperation between traditional values oriented Members and similarly-minded citizen groups.
In his first term, Joe made balancing the national budget and improving road safety at home two of his top priorities. The result was the first of a series of balanced federal budgets and $33 million worth of long-overdue road improvements at home.
In his second term, which began in January of 1999, Joe switched from the Transportation Committee to the House Armed Services Committee—keeping his posts on the Budget Committee and the Small Business Committee. Our military readiness had suffered from several years of under-funding. Joe was outspoken about the need to provide for military personnel, both in terms of compensation and equipment. As a former Electronic Warfare Officer in the Air Force, Joe recognized a very serious danger: our research and development in radar detection and evasion technologies were lagging. Joe formed the bipartisan Electronic Warfare Working Group to educate his colleagues on the need to stay ahead of the curve in technology. “The cost of failure,” he said, “will be American lives.” Joe also worked hard to acquire funding for the preservation of the Brandywine Battlefield in Chester County. The site of the largest battle of the Revolutionary War was threatened by development. He succeeded in obtaining federal funds to preserve this precious historical resource.
In his third term, Joe switched committees entirely. He holds a coveted seat on the Committee on Energy and Commerce, one of the House’s most powerful panels. He has also took a spot on the International Relations Committee, allowing him to advocate for human rights improvements around the world.
In his fourth term, Joe took a more visible role on each of these committees. As the vice-chairman of the International Relations Subcommittee on International Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Human Rights, he became widely recognized as a principled, respected voice on international human rights issues such as religious freedom, trafficking in persons, refugee and IDP issues, HIV/AIDS relief, and foreign aid. Focusing in particular on issues facing Burma, Pakistan, Kashmir, Western Sahara, Central Asia and Afghanistan, Congressman Pitts has worked to help his constituents plug in to America’s foreign policy by offering them ways to assist in sending aid to people in need overseas. To this end, he has spearheaded the delivery of mobile dispensaries, ambulances, combines, and other vital equipment and supplies to impoverished areas around the world. This “people-to-people” style diplomacy helps the American people take ownership of their foreign policy, rather than waiting for Washington to act. By founding the “Adopt-A-Country Caucus,” Joe is seeking to enlist his colleagues and their constituents in this effort to make a difference around the world.
During his sixth term, Joe took leave from the International Relations Committee to focus his efforts exclusively on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, the oldest and most prestigious committee in Congress.
In his seventh term, Joe continued to serve exclusively on the Energy and Commerce Committee on the the Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection Subcommittee, as well as the Health Subcommittee, and was added to the important Energy and Environment Subcommittee. Joe is recognized as a leader on wireless privacy issues, medical devices and medical imaging technology, as well as oversight of federal agencies that fall within the committee’s jurisdiction.
Now in his eighth term, Joe was appointed by his colleagues to serve as the Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee. He continues to also serve on the Environment and the Economy Subcommittee. Joe is leading efforts to repeal President Obama’s health care law, the Affordable Care Act. On the subcommittee he is also working to create jobs, make health care more affordable, and ensure that food, drugs, and medical devices are safe
Balancing Budgets and Paying Off the Debt
When Joe first came to Congress, the federal government hadn’t balanced a budget since Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Trillions of dollars in debt had been racked up, and just the interest on that debt was one of the largest parts of each year’s budget. During his four years on the Budget Committee, Joe remained firm in his commitment to fiscal restraint. Congress passed four consecutive balanced budgets. The last two were balanced without using a dime of the Social Security trust fund. The resulting surpluses enabled the government to pay off over half a trillion dollars in public debt in just four years. Unfortunately, the recent recession and the War on Terrorism put the federal budget back into deficit spending. Joe, however, is among a large group of Congressman who want to make a return to balance one of the government’s top priorities. Joe remains firm on fiscal restraint, even going so far as to vote against a handful of his own party’s appropriations bills.
The American people pay more in taxes today than they have since World War II. They pay more to Uncle Sam each year than they spend on food, clothing, shelter, and transportation combined. Joe has voted consistently in favor of cutting taxes, knowing that the American people need and deserve relief from a heavy tax burden. As a freshman Congressman, he immediately led the charge by introducing legislation to repeal the Estate or “Death” Tax, and taking the lead on a package of tax cuts proposed by the freshman class. When President Bush took office, significant tax relief was finally possible, resulting in the elimination of the Estate Tax, Marriage Penalty relief, cuts in rates across the board, and increases in IRA and 401(k) limits. Joe would like to see the Capital Gains Tax, and other taxes further reduced.
Open Space and Farmland
The 16th Congressional District has a long and rich heritage of agriculture. For centuries, farms have dotted the countryside, alongside beautiful rivers like the Susquehanna, the Schuylkill, the Brandywine, and the Conestoga. Long ago, Huguenot French, Amish and Mennonite German and Swiss, and Welsh and English settlers chose our area for its beauty and rich soil. Recent decades, however, have brought rapid development and loss of open space. Conservation has risen to the top of the public policy agenda in Lancaster and Chester counties, and Joe is doing his part to preserve a very special way of life. He led a successful effort to designate the White Clay Creek in southern Chester County part of the national Wild and Scenic Rivers System. He acquired $3 million to save the historic Brandywine Battlefield from development, helping to protecting and irreplaceable historic and natural resources. He introduced the Open Space Preservation Act and the Farmland Preservation Act, to help ease a tax burden that is driving farmers out of business.
As a former teacher, Joe knows the importance of a good education for our kids. We’re blessed in our area with some of the best schools in the country. But other areas are not so fortunate. Some schools as nearby as Philadelphia lose up to two-thirds of their students before graduation. There are schools in this country that seem completely unable to educate. And schools everywhere suffer from heavy loads of federally-mandated paperwork and regulation. Joe introduced the Dollars to the Classroom Act soon after going to Congress—a bill that would require that 95 cents of every dollar of federal tax money in 31 programs be spent directly in the classroom and not by bureaucrats in Washington.
For 70 years, Americans have been paying into the Social Security system with the expectation that their money will be returned to them when they retire. The federal government still plans to keep that commitment, but the system is in trouble. The huge Baby Boom generation will soon begin retiring, taxing the Social Security system beyond what it can currently bear. Medicare, too, is threatened. Joe is eager to enact a bipartisan solution to this ticking time bomb, and has worked with his colleagues to do that. Saving and strengthening Social Security and Medicare is possible this year.
Throughout his tenure in Congress, Joe has been an advocate for oppressed people in places as far away as Turkmenistan and Western Sahara . He has served three terms as a Commissioner on the Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) —the arm of Congress that participates in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In addition, he serves as a Commissioner on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China which is the main congressional venue for raising human rights violations with Chinese officials. He has been a member of the Human Rights Caucus for all four of his terms in Congress. In 1997, Joe founded the Religious Prisoners Congressional Task Force to advocate for prisoners of conscience in countries like Pakistan , Iran , Peru , Sudan and China . Even in the 21st century, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists are all still oppressed in many places. Joe writes letters to presidents, visits with ambassadors, and even travels to some of the world’s poorest countries to spread the idea that men and women should be free to believe and worship according to their convictions.
A Strong Defense
As a Vietnam veteran, Joe knows how important it is that we support our men and women in uniform. Since the end of the Cold War, downsizing and budget cuts have dealt a heavy blow to our readiness. Research and development has declined and some military families are even on food stamps. We still have not fully deployed a missile defense system, leaving us vulnerable to nuclear, chemical, or biological missile attack from any of a growing list of rogue states and terrorist groups. As a former electronic warfare officer, Joe founded the congressional Electronic Warfare Working Group to educate his colleagues on the importance of using electromagnetic technology to save American lives.
Joe often says that he goes down to Washington “to bring our values to the government, and to stop the government from imposing its values on us.” Joe Pitts is your congressman. He’s the man we have elected to represent our part of the country when big decisions are made. He wants to know what you have to say about the issues, and he wants to help you whenever you have a problem with the federal government. If you need to contact Congressman Pitts—if you want provide input, if you need his aid, or if you just want to tell him he’s doing a great job—please give him a call.
Biography of Joe Pitts from Friends of Joe Pitts
Congressman Pitts has spent his entire life serving his community and his country. He was a decorated officer in the Air Force, serving three tours and flying 116 combat missions. He was a high school math and science teacher and basketball coach. He was a highly respected state legislator and is now our U.S. Congressman. Constituents and colleagues know him as a workhorse, not a show horse. “I’m not interested in running for higher office,” he says. “I want to use this job my neighbors have given me to make America safer and stronger so that no one has to be afraid of losing their health insurance, losing their home, or losing their investments.”
Congressman Pitts believes that government can help farms, businesses, and families succeed—often by getting out of the way, but sometimes by getting involved. He believes that America is still the land of opportunity where entrepreneurship and ingenuity can make anything possible. But he also recognizes that government sometimes needs to level uneven playing fields and reach out a hand to those who need it.
“One of the reasons I joined the Air Force was that I couldn’t support my family on a teacher’s salary,” he says. “When Ginny started staying home with our first child, we couldn’t make ends meet. The government helped me then by training me and giving me a job I could support three children on. But the job I had also gave me a chance to serve and defend my country. I’m proud of that.”
He believes in free market economics, but recognizes that greed and irresponsibility make government oversight important. “The current crisis is the result of predatory lenders making money on the backs of working people,” he says. “However, the entire thing began with government regulations that pressed lenders to give mortgages to people who really couldn’t afford them. Government makes mistakes too. That’s why it’s so important that we elect the right people to public office.”