Congressman Doyle blames Republican obsession with health care law for budget sequestration, more problems
U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle says gridlock on Capitol Hill is hurting the Alle-Kiski Valley in more ways than one.
Doyle, D-Swissvale, slammed Republicans on Friday, claiming their single-mindedness in trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act caused the federal sequestration that gutted budgets for education, transportation and community development projects.
In a meet-and-greet hosted by the Allegheny Valley Chamber of Commerce at the Clarion Hotel in New Kensington, Doyle said he is particularly frustrated with the state of transportation in his 14th Congressional District.
“I look at all the stricter weight limits on the bridges around here,” Doyle said. “I think about all the costs that pile on the private sector as they take alternate routes to get around them. This is stuff that has a direct effect on people here in Pittsburgh and in (the Valley).”
He said transportation is severely underfunded and Congress is unable to raise fuel taxes to pay for infrastructure repairs. Those effects are felt at the local level, he said, particularly in Western Pennsylvania with its wealth of bridges and steep road grades.
Doyle blamed the inability to raise fuel taxes on right-wing Republicans.
While acknowledging that some House Republicans willing to reach across the aisle and support bipartisan legislation, Doyle said their voices are silenced by the far-right base of the Republican caucus, which pressures its party members to vote against any legislation that includes tax increases.
That mentality, Doyle said, is exemplified by the House's inability to pass a transportation bill.
In his view, the across-the-board spending cuts from budget sequestration in January are a result of House Republicans' unwillingness to compromise on a deal to reduce the deficit. The resulting automatic budget cuts have since gutted funding for a slew of federal departments, including transportation.
Older communities like some in the Valley, he said, stand to lose even more from the second stage of sequestration. Those additional cuts will take place in October should Congress fail to meet on a budget agreement.
Doyle said House Republicans are using the impending crisis as leverage against the Obama administration in a last-ditch effort to defund the Affordable Care Act.
Challenged on health care
That idea resonated among some chamber members like Chad McCutcheon of McCutcheon Enterprises in Allegheny Township.
McCutcheon challenged Doyle mid-speech on the Affordable Care Act, particularly the provision that requires mid-size and large employers to sponsor health insurance for all full-time employees.
The legislation defines full-time employees as those who work 30 hours or more per week.
Doyle's response: “Is it a perfect bill? No. All we want is an opportunity to sit down and be able to revise it together. But Republicans continually and consistently divert all their efforts on trying to repeal it, and it's not going to happen.”
Doyle also said the federal government isn't doing enough to support education.
New Kensington-Arnold School District Superintendent John Pallone gave Doyle a personal testimony of the state of public education in the Valley and inquired about the future of No Child Left Behind — a Bush-era program he said is abandoning the school district.
“The thing that hurts us the most,” he said, “is the unreasonable performance standard at 98 percent. For a school district like ours with 24 percent of students with special needs, it's just unobtainable.”
Doyle, the House's Autism Caucus cofounder, said he empathized with Pallone's position and understands the challenges of public education.
“It's a tough road,” he said to Pallone. “You're tasked with educating every student, no matter what. It's our job to provide you with the resources, and we're not doing a good enough job on that end, either.”
Doyle said Congress also failed the American people in the restriction of firearm sales. When asked if the Monroe County shooting at a municipal meeting this month would give the Pennsylvania delegation any added leverage to push for gun reform, the congressman let out a jaded chuckle.
“If 20 school children in Connecticut being butchered in cold blood can't even get Congress to pass a background check ... .
“That's the way things are now. You can't even find compromise on something like that.”
Although Doyle has been in Congress for 10 years, Allegheny Valley Chamber President Mary Bowlin said the organization's government affairs committee sought out Doyle to establish a rapport with a fairly fresh face.
Doyle is still getting acquainted with his constituents in the Valley. The 14th District was expanded to include portions of the Valley in 2010 after the decennial national census prompted a nationwide reapportionment.
Doyle claims the state Legislature gerrymandered those lines to favor Republican candidates in House elections in a predominantly Democrat state.
“There are a million more registered Democrats in Pennsylvania than Republicans,” Doyle said. “Yet there are 13 Republican-represented districts in Pennsylvania to the Democrats' five. You tell me how that works.”
Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or firstname.lastname@example.org