U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., visited the Butler Eagle offices and production center Thursday to share his views on everything from background checks and workforce development to other issues impacting his constituents.
During his discussion with Eagle general manager Tammy Schuey and several editors, Toomey also discussed health care, energy and agriculture.
Toomey said he met with the county commissioners before his visit to the Eagle, where he was updated on the condition of Butler County.
“Generally, it was a pretty upbeat assessment of how the county's doing,” Toomey said.
Expanded background checks
Toomey discussed a bill sponsored by himself and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., that aims to expand background checks in the commercial sale of firearms, particularly at gun shows or on the internet.
He said the idea of the bill he and Manchin introduced in 2013 is virtually the same as the background check expansion he is now promoting.
“We should do what we can to prevent, or at least to make it more difficult when we can't prevent, people from buying firearms if they're not legally qualified to buy them by virtue of past criminal history or if they have been adjudicated as dangerously mentally ill,” Toomey said.
President Donald Trump, Toomey said, is not opposed to discussions on the matter, as long as the rights of law-abiding citizens are not infringed upon.
“He thinks it is not acceptable that violent criminals and mentally ill people can go to gun shows and get an AR-15,” Toomey said.
He also touted the “lie and try” bill, which would require the FBI to alert states when they find a violent criminal has lied on a background application when asked if they have any prior criminal convictions.
“You might want to keep an eye on that person,” Toomey said.
Mass shootings, mental illness
Regarding the mass shootings that recently rocked the country, Toomey said the challenge is identifying the suspects before the shooting is carried out. He said the difficulty lies in the fact that many people are isolated, depressed or ostracized.
“But the vast majority of them are never going to pick up a gun and kill strangers,” Toomey said.
He praised the Sandy Hook Challenge program, in which students are educated and encouraged to report classmates who they feel are at-risk on an app they download to their phones. Reports are then reviewed by professionals and problems are confronted.
“They think it has probably saved a lot of lives,” Toomey said of the program.
He is also a proponent of the Red Flag Law passed in several states that allows family members or police to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of weapons from an individual they feel is a threat to themselves or others.
“It's extremely controversial because it could be misused,” Toomey said of the possibility of false incrimination.
He said affordable recourse for those falsely identified should be included in the prospective law.
Toomey said he spoke with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., about the potential for a common-sense bill on keeping weapons out of the hands of society's most dangerous.
“He said if you can get a bipartisan consensus and have the president's support, then I'll put it on the Senate floor,” Toomey said. “Now, if we don't have those two things, he probably wouldn't put it on the Senate floor.”
Toomey said he expects some legislation regarding the matter to be introduced in the not-too-distant future.
He also discussed the challenge faced by many employers in Butler County and across the state in finding qualified employees.
“It's the right problem to have,” Toomey said.
Toomey said about 47 job training programs exist at the federal level, and none are being reviewed to determine their success. He wants to consolidate the programs and have them evaluated.
“If they're not working, eliminate them,” he said.
Immigration and DACA
He said low limits on legal immigration in the United States reduces the number of workers available.
“We benefit as a state and country by legal immigration,” Toomey said. “People who want to come to this country because they want to work and build a better life for themselves and their families, they contribute to our society. They don't detract from it.”
Toomey said he has long been in favor of expanding legal immigration in a variety of ways, including retaining the best, brightest and most capable students who come to the United States from other countries to attend college.
He is also open to temporary workers coming to the United States and returning to their native country as necessary.
Toomey said he supports a path to citizenship for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals youths who were born in the United States to illegal immigrants.
“They didn't break the law, their parents did,” he said.
He said Trump offered a deal in which DACA youths could remain in the United States if expanded enforcement of the southern border was included in the deal, but that offer was rejected by Democrats.
“I think that's a pretty reasonable offer,” Toomey said.
He said Trump is now attempting to change the DACA immigration rules to a merit-based system rather than a family-based model.
Energy and ethane
Regarding energy, Toomey said the natural gas industry needs a pipeline to move gas to New England, but pipeline proponents are stymied by the anti-drilling stance of New York State.
A large natural gas storage facility is also needed if the state wants to attract another large construction project like the ethane cracker plant currently being built in Beaver County, he said.
Agriculture and trade wars
Toomey also discussed the plight of dairy farmers in the county and across the state.
He said milk consumption is down, largely because whole milk was eliminated from school lunches during the Obama administration. Toomey feels consumption would increase if the more palatable whole milk were allowed in schools.
Regarding the trade war with China and the new tariffs, Toomey said farmers are “taking the brunt.”
“President Trump was right to confront China,” Toomey said, “but I would have chosen different tactics.”
He said he feels Trump thinks tariffs are “intrinsically good for the economy.”
“I can't disagree more,” Toomey said.
Regarding health care, Toomey said a Senate Finance Committee bill would redesign Medicare Part D, which is the prescription drug portion of Medicare.
The redesign would cap an individual's out-of-pocket expenses at less than $4,000.
“No senior citizen has to have out-of-pocket drug costs higher than that,” Toomey said.
He said Democrats want to institute price controls on drugs, but if catastrophic costs are prevented through capping out-of-pocket costs, price controls would not be necessary.
Toomey expects McConnell to introduce a bill onto the Senate floor that will be a combination of ideas from both sides of the aisle.
On health care costs for employers, Toomey said one-third to one-half of all the health care delivered in the United States is unnecessary.