With Congress in recess, members are taking the time to meet with constituents.
Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-5) did just that on Wednesday morning at the Conewango Club in downtown Warren. He met with a group of about 20 during a Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry event.
Joanne Oviatt questioned the need for rural energy programs. As someone who serves on the advisory board for Wild Woods Animal Park in Cherry Grove, she said the electricity available there is spotty.
"It's also a major increase in cost," Oviatt said. "It costs 14 cents every time they turn on a power tool."
Instead of the current program, Oviatt said a company like First Energy could take over the power lines. While energy companies do great work, Thompson said, they make their money through population density.
When the program was formed, over 90 percent of the country didn't have electricity. Today, Thompson said, the program is still needed.
Infrastructure is aging, Thompson said, and would be worse without rural electric cooperatives. He also said President Barack Obama is attacking the coal industry which provides 60 percent of the nation's electricity.
"I'm losing two coal plants in the district," Thompson said.
On a recent trip to the Middle East, Thompson said he was reminded about how important electricity is. Even in the capital city of Pakistan, he said the power is on for only six hours each day.
Back in the United States, Thompson said power companies are trying to diversify their portfolios. Some have bought into nuclear power and hydroelectricity, but those sources aren't allowed to expand.
Natural gas also provides another source for them. However, Thompson said he would prefer to see that resource used in transportation and manufacturing.
Since the power lines already exist, Oviatt said she didn't know why customers have to pay more through the rural energy programs. Some of the cooperatives operate their own plant, Thompson said, such as the one in Raystown.
Darryl Pierce said government spending had gotten out of control. In the latest farm bill, Thompson said he helped cut $35 billion.
In a reworking of No Child Left Behind, Thompson said the first thing he and his colleagues looked at was how to get rid of redundant programs. He said they found 60 of them.
"We can't afford redundant government," Thompson said.
When bureaucrats oversee programs, Thompson said they aren't good financial stewards. In every area of government, he said, there is some fat to cut.
Cutting military waste was one area Democrats agreed with, Thompson said, but now he and the Republicans are fighting sequestration. It kicked in after a failure to balance $1 trillion in government spending.
"We don't use zero-based budgeting," Thompson said. "Once something's there, it's there forever."
After identifying $800 billion in cuts, Thompson said the select committee was told by Obama half of of the balancing had to be through tax increases. That prevented any agreement by the committee and triggered the automatic sequestration.
With drastic cuts to the military, Thompson said, the country would return to the 1990s when it was a weak target for terrorists. The best way to achieve world peace is to create a deterrent for attacks, he said, by having the best staffed and trained military possible.
Jim Decker said many business owners don't have the time and resources to attend meetings of workforce development partnerships sponsored by the government. Instead, he said, it would be better to give that money to the businesses directly in order to provide training.
Some workforce investment boards are more concerned with taking funds to create brick and mortar buildings, Thompson said, which don't train anybody. Students also need proper training, he said, as a lot of them graduate college with nothing more than an average debt of $27,000.
A lot of parents think their role is to make sure their children get a four-year degree, Thompson said, but that's not enough. He said they have to be attuned to what jobs are in demand.
Mary Kushner said funding cuts to state hospitals has led to many patients ending up in prisons. When he tours prisons, Thompson said, he sees a lot of inmates with a diagnosis of mental illness.
"With one regulation on another, it doesn't allow us to get back to common sense," Kushner said. "It starts in Washington and ends up in Pennsylvania."
People become slaves to regulations, Thompson said, and they're unable to do their jobs. Right now, he said there's not a lot of money at any level of government.
According to Thompson, a bill he has worked on to allow flexible spending in education could also have future applications to human services. Education funding now works like silos, he said, with each program allotted separate money.
The bill would allow some of the funds to be pooled, Thompson said, with exceptions for programs like Title I which helps impoverished students. It also comes with accountability, he said, so the government can tell what the money was spent on and what the results were.
At the Department of Human Services where she is the director, Kushner said caseworkers spend more time with paperwork than with families. Managed care has saved money, she said, because it is family driven.
In Warren County alone, Kushner said there are 150 children who are considered homeless.
Bill Wagner, president and CEO of Northwest Savings Bank, said regulations have been enforced more in the banking industry since Obama took office. For the most part, he said, there haven't been new regulations.
In the Senate, Thompson said Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has provided Obama with cover. As a result, he said government is creeping outside the lines of the Constitution.
"They're abusing the rule of law," Thompson said.
As an example, Thompson pointed to the Defense of Marriage Act. Obama's administration has decided not to defend the law in court.
In the Chesapeake Bay, Thompson said the Environmental Protection Agency wanted to limit the number of pounds of pollution discharge. They backed off of that, he said, and that was a small victory because of the restrictions it would have put on local communities.
With an expansion in the works at the bank, Wagner said officials are having second thoughts. With government regulations, he said they can't grow.
Coralee Wenzel of AR Trucking said they are in the process of taking over another company. However, she said they are similarly unsure of what to do because of regulations.
In her work with Pennsylvania Kinzua Pathways, Wenzel said they are ineligible for a large sum of money from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources because they are working on federal land. As a small grassroots organization, she said their hands are tied.
"Give me a call," Thompson said. "Let's continue to work. There are no barriers that can't be broken."
Keith Oviatt said he's asked about NCLB as a former educator and he tells people it's good on paper but it's bad in practice. Also, he said his neurosurgeon has told him he'll be done when Obama's health care reform goes into affect.
There is a high cost of compliance with the reforms, Thompson said, just as there is for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. There are now federal bureaucracies to oversee that law, he said.
In Pennsylvania, Thompson said the average age of a physician is 57. If they leave the profession, he said it will leave a void in communities in rural and underserved urban areas.