By Joe Wiercinski
Herald Staff Writer
SHENANGO TOWNSHIP —
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and some of his constituents talked about the issues of the day during a legislative lunch Thursday at Park Inn by Radisson, Shenango Township.
The session sponsored by six area chambers of commerce from Mercer and Lawrence counties as well as Penn Northwest Development Corp., covered such topics as federal spending and budget deficits, jobs and the economy, health care, regulation, tort reform, medical liability and others.
Toomey, whose last local visit was in Grove City last year, was making his first visit to the Shenango Valley as senator since the Republican was elected three years ago.
“I’m all about economic development,” Toomey told the gathering of some 70 lunch guests mostly from business, industry, government and social service agencies.
“I’m all about making the policy changes needed so we can reach our potential in our woefully underperforming economy.”
Toomey serves on the finance, budget, banking and joint economic committees.
Controlling federal spending is high on the action list, he said, citing an expected deficit of $500 billion for the current fiscal year.
Toomey blamed Obama administration policies for the lagging pace of growth since the 2008 recession ended. He cited “excessive regulation that imposes costs on employers” as well as the Dodd-Frank Act, legislation aimed at financial reform that Toomey said reduces lenders’ willingness to issue housing loans.
“We would have the bounce back and growth in jobs that we have always had after other recessions if we had the right policies,” Toomey said.
Controlling spending is a daunting task, he said, citing the Affordable Care Act – dubbed “Obamacare” by the law’s opponents – as an example of how hard it can be to cut funding as a tactic to slow the implementation of the law.
“I think the immediate thing to do is to defund Obamacare and then work on what comes next,” said Michelle Zolnier, a Social Security-age retiree from Hermitage.
That’s not so easily done, Toomey said, because as much as 85 percent of health care funding comes not directly through the health care law but through Social Security and other federal programs.
Unpopular as the health care law may be in some quarters, changes it has brought are a welcome improvement to many, including women, Becky McFadden, of Greenville said.
McFadden heads the board of AWARE, the nonprofit that deals with domestic and sexual violence, but said she wasn’t speaking on behalf of the organization.
She cited coverage examples important to women, such as pregnancy, annual mammograms, contraception of all types for all women and coverage of college age children up to age 26. Those benefits often were not available under health insurance plans before the health care law required them to be offered, McFadden said.
Toomey said he favors individual ownership of health care plans with tax-deductible premiums as the way for people to buy plans that include coverages they want.
“Those might be important benefits to you but not to someone else,” he said.
Toomey got a thank-you for his support of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
He had earlier opposed the law but advocacy groups for women were successful in changing his mind last year and he voted to renew the law that provides funding for a crucial local program, said Lizette Olsen, executive director of AWARE.
“Because of funding under that law we were able to serve 1,500 victims,” Olsen said. “We were able to build a closer relationship with police agencies and we have a dedicated investigator at the county level.”
The three-year Mercer County STOP grant renewal she described provides $125,000 a year in funding for services, training, officers and prosecution of offenders.
Mercer County Commissioner John Lechner noted the slow pace of efforts to replace the Ohl Street bridge in Greenville as an example of regulations that he said are more harmful than helpful.
A lengthy state review to determine if the bridge has historic value is one reason it has been closed for four years while the county tries to replace it, he said.
Toomey told Lechner and others at the lunch that they should contact his office for help and he and his staff will do what they can to help them work through problems.