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Rothfus defends vote against Sandy legislation

| Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013, 11:55 p.m.
U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, signs his oath of office in front of his daughter Alice, 5, when the 113th Congress was sworn in on Jan. 3. Submitted
U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, assembled his family for a portrait in Washington on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013. With him and wife Elsie are their children (from left) Gerard, 20, Alice, 5, Maggie, 15, Marilyn, 22, Helen, 11, and Edmund, 18. Submitted

Although he once worked for an agency that helped victims of natural disasters, U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus said he had good reason to vote against a bill authorizing $9.7 billion in aid to states devastated by Superstorm Sandy.

It's “irresponsible to raise an insolvent program's debt ceiling without making reforms,” the Sewickley Republican told the Tribune-Review from his new office on the fifth floor of the Cannon House Office Building in Washington.

“My problem with the bill is that we are funding offsets for the National Flood Insurance Program,” said Rothfus, 50, a freshman lawmaker who was among 67 Republicans to vote against the first part of a two-part emergency aid package for victims of the October storm in the Northeast.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency told Congress it needed approval for additional borrowing authority to keep the National Flood Insurance Program from running out of money by Monday. According to FEMA, storm victims filed nearly 140,000 flood insurance claims so far. Payments have totaled $1.7 billion.

The vote on Friday was Rothfus' first legislative act since taking office a day earlier. His 12th District includes parts of Allegheny, Armstrong, Cambria, Fayette, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland counties and all of Greene County.

Elected officials in New York and New Jersey criticized House Republicans for not acting immediately on the storm aid package after voting on the tax relief bill.

The bill providing money for 115,000 flood insurance claims from homeowners and businesses passed by a 354 to 67 vote. The House is scheduled to take up the second part of the aid bill, totaling more than $51 million, on Jan. 15.

“The reason we have this federal flood insurance program is because private, standard homeowners' insurance does not cover flood damage,” said Rothfus, who isn't certain how he'll vote on the second bill because he hasn't seen the details.

“I agree that we need to do something to help people in disasters, but we also need reform to make sure that programs are adequately funded,” he said.

A lawyer who attended the University of Notre Dame, Rothfus will serve on the House Judiciary Committee and on its Homeland Security Committee. He worked for the Department of Homeland Security in 2006 and 2007, heading an office that worked with religious organizations to distribute aid after Hurricane Katrina.

Rothfus said his Judiciary Committee assignment is “a perfect fit to draw on my experiences going back to my practice, where we did transactional law covering intellectual property, licensing and technology agreements.”

His other committee assignment is a natural follow to his government work on disaster relief, but Homeland Security encompasses much more, he said.

“In my prior service, I had the opportunity to look across the agency and see up-and-coming issues like cybersecurity, infrastructure protection, immigration and customs and border patrol that are all very interesting to me,” he said. “I am looking forward to see where the subcommittee assignments place me.”

Rep. Mike Doyle, a Forest Hills Democrat in office since 1995, told the Trib that Pennsylvania's congressional delegation long has worked together across party lines.

“When it comes to Pennsylvania issues, like energy and transportation, we have a great tradition of coming together, and I hope that continues,” Doyle said.

Rothfus said he intends to open constituent offices in Ross, Beaver County and Johnstown.

“I am not completely staffed up yet,” he said, “but my district directors in the state are all from the region.”

Salena Zito is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at szito@tribweb.com.

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