Rothfus brings D.C. insights to Valley

| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 1:01 a.m.

Freshman U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-12th District, used his invitation as guest speaker at Friday's Allegheny Valley Chamber of Commerce breakfast as a chance to express his views on some of the major topics currently being debated in Washington.

Rothfus, of Sewickley, emphasized his concerns regarding the looming possibility of a budget sequester.

The sequester calls for mandatory, automatic spending cuts of $85 billion set to kick in next Friday unless Congress and President Obama agree on a plan to avoid them.

In 2011, Congress and the president struck a deal designed to avoid defaulting on federal debt obligations and force both sides to start earnestly reducing the nation's debt, which exceeds $16 trillion.

The Obama administration is using the threat of the budget cuts, split between domestic and defense programs, to pressure Congress into a comprehensive agreement.

“The problem with the ‘sequester' is it's indiscriminate,” Rothfus told the crowd of about 30 business people in the RIDC Comfort Inn. “It wouldn't be as bad if there were ways to say, ‘We'll cut 2 percent from this program, and 30 percent from this.'

“You can't just make 10 percent cuts across the board,” he said. “Cutting 10 percent from the defense budget means a $71 billion cut.”

Rothfus also defended his decision to vote against a bill to send $9.7 billion in relief to the victims of Superstorm Sandy.

“I think we have the responsibility to help people,” he said. “But it's our responsibility to help, not to borrow so much that it becomes our grandchildren's burden.”

Rothfus spoke about the challenges a freshman congressman faces during his first term in Washington.

“There's a lot of dysfunction down there,” he said. “I've found out that it's easier to campaign than it is to govern.”

Rothfus didn't hold back from criticizing Obama and other Democratic leaders.

“(Democratic Sen.) Harry Reid sits there and does nothing, and allows the president to be a demagogue and raise taxes,” Rothfus said when asked a question about spending in Washington.

Rothfus, who has been in office for two months, addressed the same issues that he campaigned on. He extolled the virtues of “smaller government,” one of his top issues while defeating former Rep. Mark Critz to represent Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District.

“The federal government has gone in so many different directions that the things that they should be doing, and doing well, they don't do well,” he said. “You go down to Washington, D.C., and at all times you see five or six cranes in the skyline.

“To me it's a scandal,” Rothfus added. “The average income in D.C. is higher than any other major city in the country; they're draining resources from our country. From Western Pennsylvania.”

Chamber members react

Members of the Allegheny Valley Chamber of Commerce said they appreciate when a politician takes the time to keep them updated on the happenings in Washington.

“Anytime we have a new congressman come into our community, it's good to have a chance to meet them,” said Jeffrey Jacob, director of marketing and development at Westarm Therapy & Homecare in Lower Burrell. “We've had so much turnover in our district lately (Rothfus is the 12th District's third representative in a year) that the chance to meet who's in office is important.”

Joseph Lucchino, a financial adviser whose office is in Natrona Heights, Harrison, said Rothfus' presence allowed him to understand how what's going on in Washington affects what's happening in the Alle-Kiski Valley.

“You always have to take the opportunity to go to an event like this,” Lucchino said. “This gives me a chance to hear about what's going on and how it affects my industry.”

Rothfus said he enjoys the opportunity to talk to his constituents.

“These are my employers,” he said. “These are the people that I work for and have to answer to.”

The chamber has about 325 members along the Route 28 corridor, as far north as Freeport and Sarver and as far south as Aspinwall and Sharpsburg.

R.A. Monti is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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