U.S. Rep.-elect Keith Rothfus traveled the length of his newly drawn congressional district, walked in a parade with a former rival and fielded calls from House Speaker John Boehner even before his freshman orientation began in the nation’s capital.
“We are in the center of serious times in Washington and in the country,” Rothfus told the Tribune-Review. “I thought it was a good idea to get started immediately.”
Rothfus, 50, a Sewickley Republican who in January will replace Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown, is in Washington with wife Elise and daughters Helen, 11, and Alice, 5, for a weeklong visit that marks the start of orientation to familiarize first-time House members with the workings of Congress.
Before heading to Washington, Rothfus traveled the 12th District — southern Lawrence County, all of Beaver County, the northern tiers of Allegheny and Westmoreland counties and large swaths of Cambria and Somerset counties — to meet with people and assure them he will pay attention to constituents’ needs. He walked in the Veterans Day parade with outgoing Rep. Jason Altmire, a McCandless Democrat who lost to Critz in the April primary.
Rothfus said he’s confident that Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation of 13 Republicans and five Democrats will work together on legislation that benefits the state, on topics such as energy and transportation.
Yet the single biggest issue in Washington is one that Congress likely will tackle before he is sworn in: the so-called fiscal cliff the government faces at the end of the year, when terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011 would take effect and some tax cuts would expire.
“The fiscal cliff has to be tackled head on,” Rothfus said. He hopes lawmakers will reach agreement with the Obama administration before Jan. 1.
Rothfus says firmly that he will not vote to raise taxes on small businesses. The White House last week said President Obama would veto any extension Congress might approve of tax cuts on household incomes above $250,000.
Rothfus is one of three newly elected congressmen from Pennsylvania.
Democrat Matt Cartwright of Scranton unseated longtime conservative Democrat Rep. Tim Holden for the party nomination and won the 17th District seat that includes Schuylkill County and parts of Carbon, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe and Northampton counties. Republican Scott Perry won the 4th District seat, to replace retiring Republican Rep. Todd Platts. That newly drawn district covers York and Adams counties, most of Harrisburg and parts of Dauphin and Cumberland counties.
Steve Dutton, spokesman for the House Administration Committee, said the orientation program includes assigning offices to new House members through a lottery and briefing them on rules and ethics. They’ll get help setting up offices here and in their districts, hiring staffers and putting together office budgets, he said.
The goal, Dutton said, is to ready members “so they are prepared from Day One to assume the responsibilities and challenges” officeholders encounter.
Orientation began on Tuesday and runs through Saturday, then resumes on Nov. 27.
The freshman class has 75 members — 40 Democrats and 35 Republicans, though the partisan split isn’t certain because officials are recounting some close races.
Rep. Mike Doyle, a Forest Hills Democrat, recalls feeling somewhat overwhelmed when he attended freshman orientation in 1994.
“That was the year of the Republican wave election, so there were only 13 Democrats in that class,” Doyle said. “I can still remember how much information we had to absorb in those two weeks — rules, budgets, staff hirings and all of the maze of buildings.”