Shamokin News Item
Congressman Lou Barletta is the sitting representative for the 11th Congressional District, but in the Shamokin area and beyond, he may as well be just a candidate and not an incumbent.
That’s because Shamokin and surrounding communities have been represented for the past decade by the congressmen from the 10th District.
Redistricting has changed that and, beginning in 2013, it will be either Barletta, a Republican, or Democratic challenger Gene Stilp representing the area in Congress.
Barletta says his experience, not just as a first-term congressman but also as Hazleton’s mayor, has him battle-tested and
experienced beyond what Stilp can offer.
Barletta says he stood against his own party to ensure Northeast Pennsylvania got appropriate disaster funding, and against former President George W. Bush during the much-publicized illegal immigration issue that consumed part of his mayoral tenure.
“I stood there by myself when no politicians would come near me. I stood up under the pressure of the national media and the spotlight of the national media and I never wavered,” he said.
Among the many criticisms leveled by citizens at Congress is that bipartisanship has caused stalemate in the House and Senate. The popular opinion is that much is said and discussed by the legislators but little comes of it.
“I’m just as frustrated as the average citizen with the gridlock,” Barletta said.
The first-term congressman said he’s sought for and found opportunities to find common ground among both Republicans and Democrats, even bucking party leadership on at least one occasion.
He found a Democrat to co-sponsor transportation legislation and sought Democrats’ support to revamp relief funding in the wake of a presidentially declared natural disaster.
Both bills, he says, lay on the desk of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, and have fallen victim to partisanship.
Barletta pulls a brochure from his coat pocket referring to 33 jobs bills that were passed by the Republican-controlled House but have been left for dead in the Democratic-controlled Senate. That brochure needs an update, he says, as the number has now reached 39.
“For me, that’s dysfunctional. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or Republican, we still have a responsibility to do the business of the American people,” he says. “You can have disagreements with these bills, but I believe all the Senate should have the opportunity to vote on it, debate it, send it back to the House and maybe we could amend it. We could see where there’s common ground.”
If re-elected, Barletta says he’ll continue to seek Democratic support in the House on potential legislation.
Medicare and Social Security are endangered, and the nation’s debt is rising, in large part due to entitlements, Barletta says.
On average, 10,000 Americans are retiring daily and the working class isn’t large enough to sustain Medicare and Social Security.
Reform, he says, is necessary.
“We could cut all of the discretionary spending entirely, including the entire Department of Defense, and it won’t put a dent in America’s debt. It is the entitlements that’s driving the debt because of the number of Americans retiring every day versus the number who are working and paying in,” Barletta said.
Barletta is for repealing the Affordable Care Act, derisively referred to by opponents as “Obamacare.”
But a void cannot simply exist if that happens. There must be an alternative measure put in its place, he says.
His goal and that of many Republicans is to offer tiered, income-based health care options. A greater income would mean a lower government subsidy when choosing a health plan. Lower incomes would bring higher subsidies, and the poorest of people would be covered at no cost, he says.
Health care providers would be jockeying to provide the coverage, and the marketplace would be competitive. The subsidies paid by the government would be made directly to health care providers.
“One thing that’s clear is there is no voucher. That’s just a scare tactic, a lie. There is no voucher given to anyone,” Barletta said.
For Americans 55 years and older, their plans would remain unchanged under Medicare.
There are 20 million Americans out of work, he says, and he put “the real unemployment rate” at 14 percent compared to the 7.8 percent figure reported by the feds.
In Pennsylvania and beyond, he says embracing the development of natural gas and “clean coal” in an energy policy is necessary to kick-starting the economy.
He cited the use of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale by companies in the Northern Tier and a potential for “wet gas” development in western Pennsylvania for chemical and biochemical companies.
The fuel must also be embraced commercially, he says, including to power the engines of private vehicles. The focus must be on transportation fuel.
“Between coal and natural gas, Pennsylvania could be the next Saudi Arabia in the amount of natural resources that are under our feet here that are yet to be explored.”
He is critical of President Obama’s policies, saying they attack fossil fuels and are counterproductive in seeking energy independence.
Blighted properties aren’t a problem exclusive to the coal region and other Pennsylvania communities. Barletta says it’s an issue that has reached the House.
He says he went to the House floor to seek greater funding of Community Development Block Grant funding, a crucial source of income — and a declining one at that — for many municipalities across the state.
“I think I was the only Republican that signed onto a letter to ask that funding be put back into CDBG,” he said.
As mayor of Hazleton, he says CDBG was key in the development of the Pine Street Neighborhood. That revitalization project included 24 newly constructed, energy-efficient, single-family homes and a neighborhood playground in a three-block area that, he says, was the worst in the city.
It was done in an effort to reinvigorate a downtown sector that had seen a 30 percent occupancy rate for storefronts.
“That’s the experience that Gene could never get. Eleven years as a mayor dealing with the city and the problems that I had to deal with in Hazleton. And I stood up. I haven’t taken my mayor’s hat off because I know how important some of these programs are to addressing blight in a community.”