Richard Schultz Schweiker (June 1, 1926 – July 31, 2015) was an American politician. A member of the Republican Party, he served as the 14th U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1983. He previously served as a U.S. Representative (1961–1969) and a U.S. Senator (1969–1981) from Pennsylvania.
Schweiker was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, on June 1, 1926. He was the son of Malcolm Alderfer Schweiker, Sr. (February 27, 1895 – June 12, 1982) and his wife, the former Blanche R. Schultz (December 17, 1894 – September 1974). His father and his uncle worked in the tiling business for several decades.
He received his early education at public schools in Worcester, and graduated from Norristown Area High School as valedictorian in 1944. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy aboard the aircraft carrier USS Tarawa (CV-40), being discharged with the rank of electronics technician (second class) in 1946.
Following his military service, Schweiker attended Slippery Rock State College for two years before transferring to the Pennsylvania State University. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Penn State in 1950, graduating as a member of the Pi Kappa Sigma. He then joined his family's business, American Olean Tile Company, rising from an assistant in the personnel department to the company's president within a few years. He also became active in local Republican politics; he served as a precinct committeeman, and founded the Montgomery County chapter of the Young Republicans, of which he was also president (1952–1954). He was selected as an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1952 and in 1956.
Marriage and family
On June 10, 1955, Schweiker married Claire Joan Coleman, a former host of the children's television show Romper Room in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1954–1956). They had two sons and three daughters.
U.S. House of Representatives
In 1960, Schweiker was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania's 13th congressional district. At the time, the Montgomery County-based district included Schweiker's home town of Norristown and several affluent suburban communities in the Philadelphia Main Line. A moderate to liberal Republican, he defeated conservative incumbent John Lafore in the Republican primary. In the general election, he defeated Democrat Warren Ballard, a law professor at Temple University, by a margin of 62%–38%. He was elected to three more terms, never receiving less than 59% of the vote.
During his tenure in the House, Schweiker served on the Armed Services Committee and the Government Operations Committee. He sponsored legislation, signed into law in 1965, that provided cash awards to military service personnel for cost-cutting ideas. He also supported civil rights legislation, the creation of Medicare, increases in Social Security, and federal rent subsidies. He considered running for Governor of Pennsylvania in 1966, but state Republican leaders persuaded him against it.
In 1968, Schweiker was elected to the U.S. Senate, defeating two-term Democratic incumbent Joe Clark by more than 280,000 votes. He was the only successful Republican statewide candidate in an election cycle that saw Hubert Humphrey win Pennsylvania by over 170,000 votes. Continuing his progressive reputation in the Senate, Schweiker opposed the Vietnam War and President Richard Nixon's nominations of Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell to the U.S. Supreme Court, and had an 89% rating from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action. However, he also supported school prayer, and opposed gun control and desegregation busing.
During his tenure in the Senate, Schweiker served as the ranking member on both the Labor and Human Resources Committee and the Labor, Health, and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee. Schweiker was a pioneer in increasing government spending on diabetes mellitus research, through his authoring and sponsoring of the National Diabetes Mellitus Research and Education Act. This legislation, passed by Congress in 1974, established the National Commission on Diabetes to create a long-term plan to fight the disease.
He was re-elected in 1974 after defeating his Democratic opponent, Pittsburgh mayor Pete Flaherty, despite the fact that the election cycle saw many Republican incumbents lose due to the Watergate scandal. He won 53% of the vote, the highest of any senator from Pennsylvania since 1946. He was the first Republican senator ever endorsed by the Pennsylvania AFL–CIO, and received 49% of the vote in heavily Democratic Philadelphia.
From 1975 to 1976, Schweiker was a member of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, headed by Idaho Senator Frank Church, investigating illegal domestic activities of the United States government's intelligence agencies. The "Church Committee" found that allegations of CIA plots to assassinate Cuban Premier Fidel Castro during John F. Kennedy's presidency went unreported to the Warren Commission even though CIA director Allen Dulles was a member of the Commission. These initial findings led Schweiker to call for a reinvestigation of the assassination of Kennedy. Church appointed Schweiker and Colorado Senator Gary Hart to be a two-person subcommittee to look into the "performance or non-performance" of intelligence agencies during the initial investigation of the assassination. In its final report, the Church Committee called the initial investigation deficient and criticized the response of CIA and FBI, but stated that it had "not uncovered any evidence sufficient to justify a conclusion that there was a conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy."
On May 14, 1976, Schweiker told CBS Morning News that he believed the CIA and FBI lied to the Warren Commission. On June 27, 1976, he appeared on CBS' Face the Nation and said that the Commission made a "fatal mistake" by relying on the CIA and FBI instead of using its own investigators. Schweiker also stated that he felt it was possible that the White House was involved in a cover-up.
Vice Presidential nomination
In 1976, Ronald Reagan made a serious challenge against President Gerald Ford for the Republican Party nomination for President of the United States. Immediately before the opening of the Republican National Convention, Reagan promised to name Schweiker, who had a moderate voting record in the Senate, as his candidate for Vice President to balance the ticket. This was regarded as a somewhat unusual move, as Reagan had not yet won the nomination. In response, U.S. Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina encouraged a movement to draft Conservative U.S. Senator James L. Buckley of New York as the G.O.P. nominee. Ford won the nomination on the first ballot by a razor-thin margin, and the Vice-Presidential nomination went to Bob Dole.
Reagan naming Schweiker as his running mate came as a surprise to Schweiker himself as the two did not personally know each other.
Schweiker subsequently adopted a much more conservative voting record; his rating from the Americans for Democratic Action dropped to 15% in 1977. In 1980, he announced he would not seek re-election to the Senate.
Reagan eventually got the presidential nomination in 1980 but Schweiker did not become his running mate as the vice presidential nomination went instead to George H.W. Bush and the Reagan-Bush ticket was successful at the subsequent presidential election.
Schweiker accepted President Reagan's appointment as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services in January 1981. He held the position until he resigned in February 1983. During his tenure, he worked with Reagan and House Speaker Tip O'Neill to reform Social Security, put greater emphasis on preventive medicine, reduced Medicare and food stamp grants to the states, and restricted welfare eligibility.
During his tenure in public service, Schweiker was an ardent supporter of a volunteer army. He co-authored the book, "How to End the Draft," eventually used as the blueprint for shifting the country to a fully volunteer army. He also pushed for enactment of the "Schweiker Act" of 1965 that provided cash awards to military personnel who suggested money-saving ideas, ultimately resulting in savings of more than $1 billion to taxpayers.
As ranking Republican on the Senate health subcommittee, Schweiker worked on legislation to combat diabetes, cancer, heart disease, sickle cell anemia, and lead paint poisoning. He focused heavily on diabetes and authored bills creating the National Commission on Diabetes Advisory Board, pushing for passage of the National Diabetes Act in 1972. Those efforts led to increased federal funding for diabetes programs, and became a prototype for legislatively constructing a research effort across all National Institutes of Health operations and the Centers for Disease Control. Some who worked with Schweiker or benefited from his initiative fondly referred to him as the "Patron Saint of the Pancreas" for his devotion to the diabetes cause.
Later life and death
From 1983 to 1994, Schweiker served as president of the American Council of Life Insurance, now known as the American Council of Life Insurers. He retired and lived in McLean, Virginia.
On July 31, 2015, Schweiker died of complications from an infection at the AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Pomona, New Jersey.