Obama Pushes Fiscal Cliff Plan in Montco

Obama at The Rodon Group in Hatfield. Photo credit: Meghan Check

Hatfield — President Obama visited The Rodon Group Friday as part of his tour to promote his plan to avoid the so-called ‘fiscal cliff.’ The Montgomery County company manufactures K’NEX and Tinkertoy parts, among others.

The President chose the manufacturer as an apt setting for his advocacy of the middle class and domestic growth in an effort to strike a balance between deficit reduction and economic stimulus measures – especially in the holiday season.

“These guys are Santa’s extra elves here,” Obama joked. “They manufacture almost 3,000 K’NEX pieces every minute.  And every box that ends up on store shelves in 30 countries is stamped ‘Made in America.’”

“Our ultimate goal, our long-term goal is to get our long-term deficit under control in a way that is balanced and is fair. That would be good for businesses, for our economy, for future generations.”

The remarks were in concert with Obama’s overall strategy of winning support from middle class families for his proposal for higher tax rates only on incomes above $250,000.

Prior to delivering his speech, he toured the factory and a tool room with company executives, Michael Araten, Joel Glickman, and Robert Glickman where he got opportunity to see the production process up close.

The audience of 350 included Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Phila) and Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Montgomery) as well as Rodon executives and workers.

In his remarks, President Obama called upon both parties to work across the aisle for an agreement saying, “In Washington, nothing is easy, so there is going to be some prolonged negotiation.  And all of us are going to have to get out of our comfort zones to make that happen.”

The President asserted that if Congress refuses to take action, taxes will increase for the middle class across the country come January.  He then discussed the particulars of Congress’ second option,

“Congress can pass a law that would prevent a tax hike on the first $250,000 of everybody’s income – everybody… 98 percent of Americans make $250,000 a year or less; 97 percent of small businesses make $250,000 a year or less.  So…the vast majority of Americans, they don’t see a tax hike.”

Following the President’s remarks, Michael Araten, president and CEO of K’NEX spoke with the press about why he supports Obama’s overall strategy, even if it may present a cost to him at the outset.

“It will cost us a lot more money if demand is taken out of the system. If you lose $200 billion of discretionary spending from the American economy that is going to hurt businesses a lot more than the incremental 3 percent I might pay more on my taxes.”

Pennsylvania is a certainly a battleground as far as fiscal cliff negotiations are concerned with moderate Republican Congress members such as Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Delaware) saying that they will not be held to Grover Norquist’s pledge not to raise taxes.

Meanwhile, in nearby Warminster in Bucks County, Pa. Republicans held a counter-event.

Pa. Manufacturers Association Executive Director David Taylor called Obama’s plan one that would hurt businesses.

“The President’s obsessive fixation on tax increases fails to appreciate that most of Pennsylvania’s manufacturers are structured to pay business taxes at the personal rate,” he said. “Rather than being Scrooge McDuck rolling around in his big vault of money, the income earned by these employers represents the working capital of their business – the money available to maintain and expand their business operations, purchase new equipment, and expand payroll.”

The Bush-era tax cuts will expire automatically for all taxpayers on December 31.

Breaking: Mellow Sentenced to 16 Months

Former Senate Democratic Leader Bob Mellow has been sentenced to 16 months in prison for using official staffers to conduct campaign work.

He also filed a fraudulent tax form that undervalued a property he sold.

Mellow plead guilty to the charges in the spring, and could have been sentenced to up to 5 years in prison. The plea deal was designed to minimize the public disclosure of the investigation against the former Senator.

He’ll also have to pay almost $120,000 in restitution. He had previously been stripped of his state pension; he is appealing that decision.

From the Scranton Times-Tribune:

A tearful Mr. Mellow apologized and begged the court for mercy. His attorneys said he has heart disease, and that his 40-year career in public service, a need to care for an ill adult daughter and record of charity should earn Mr. Mellow probation rather than prison time.

U.S. District Judge Joel H. Slomsky said Mr. Mellow’s age and civic and charity work do not excuse his crimes. He said Mr. Mellow “did a lot of good,” but that his sentence had to serve as a deterrent to other who might break the law.

He’s the latest Pa. lawmaker and caucus leader to face prison time over similar activity, following former House Speakers Bill DeWeese (D) and John Perzel (R). Likewise State Sen. Jane Orie (R).

Mellow, 68, was elected to the Pa. Senate in 1970 and served until 2010.

List: Where Pa. Republicans Stand on the Norquist Tax Pledge

Grover Norqusit

As negotiations over the fiscal cliff continue, one interesting aside is the question of the Americans for Tax Reform pledge. Signatories agree to oppose any measure which would have a net impact of raising taxes (including limiting deductions).

ATR was founded and is lead by Grover Norquist.

The pledge is a mainstay for Republicans; it’s tough to win a primary without having signed it. But for incumbents, the pledge may stay back at the campaign office.

Rep. Pat Meehan made headlines this week his willingness to violate the pledge in the name of a debt deal. Here’s what the rest of the GOP delegation had to say.

Most Republicans seem willing to cap deductions, which violates the pledge, but oppose raising tax rates as President Obama insists.

Sen. Pat Toomey: sticking with the pledge by closing loopholes but also lowering rates.

“If we’re gonna have to have some kind of revenue increase, which this President seems determined to do,” Toomey said on CNN this week. “I would hope we could at least do it in a way that does the least economic harm. That means lower marginal rates, reform the tax code, offset the lost revenue by reducing deductions, write-offs and loopholes.”

PA-3. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Butler): sticking with the pledge.

“Rep. Kelly is committed to raising revenues through comprehensive tax and government reform that works to spur growth, create certainty, and reduce our nation’s trillion dollar deficits. We do not have to raise tax rates to raise revenues.   Mr. Kelly has been very clear about his position on this and, for two elections in a row now, his constituents have elected him to represent that position,” said spokeswoman Julia Thornton.

PA-5. Rep. GT Thompson (R-Centre): willing to hedge.

Rep. Thompson was entrusted by voters of Pennsylvania’s 5th District to represent them in Washington, primarily because of a shared concern over potential tax increases and the threat of our escalating national debt,” said spokesman Parish Braden. “The pledge the Congressman plans to stand by is the one he made to his constituents to represent these interests in Washington.”

PA-6. Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Chester): district over pledge.

“While the media focuses on pledges, the families and employers in my district are focused on finding solutions for creating jobs. I have supported a common sense approach to averting the so-called fiscal cliff that would end decades of reckless Washington spending and would generate additional revenue by modernizing and simplifying a tax code that is stifling growth and discouraging job creation.

“The most important pledge that I have made has been to reflect the views of the approximately 700,000 people who entrusted me to represent this District in the U.S. House of Representatives. That is always my guiding principle when making decisions on how to deal with tax policy and every single issue that Comes before the House.”

PA-7. Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Delaware): district over pledge.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“The most important pledge is the one I make to my constituents when I’m sworn in,” Meehan said in a statement. “I’m going to do the very best I can to avoid the fiscal cliff and keep our economy strong.”

PA-8. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks): didn’t respond to request for comment.

PA-9. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Clair): didn’t respond to request for comment.

PA-10. Rep. Tom Marino (R-Lycoming): no pledge, no problem.

“Nothing locks me into anything,” Marino repeatedly and vociferously insisted when confronted by a protester/tracker with a video camera about the pledge in October. And according to the Wayne Independent, “Marino was part of an extensive interview in August and suggested that he would be open to raising taxes on the top 1 or 2 percent of wage earners if that money went to reduce the deficit and cut spending.”

PA-11. Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Luzerne): willing to hedge on deductions.

“This isn’t a matter of raising taxes, it’s a matter of raising revenue. We can raise revenue by limiting deductions and closing loopholes that big corporations and the rich use. Raising taxes as the president wants would pay for about eight days of spending in Washington, so we need a combination of cutting spending and bringing in revenue.”

PA-15. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Lehigh): pledge schmedge.

During an appearance on PCN, Dent said he’d support limiting deductions.

“I am prepared to accept additional revenue,” he said. “I take really one oath, and that is to protect, to uphold the Constitution. That’s my oath and that’s the one I take most seriously. Again, that was signed back in 2004 and a lot has occurred since then so I would argue that I am going to do what’s right for the people of this country and the people of my district.”

PA-16. Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Chester): didn’t respond to request for comment.

PA-18. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Allegheny): Obama made the pledge question moot. 

“The media is obssessing over the No Tax Pledge but the issues surrounding the so-called fiscal cliff aren’t just about supporting the President’s tax hikes,” said Chief of Staff Susan Mosychuk. “Look at all the other details in his latest offer: billions in new stimulus spending while putting off spending cuts for a full year, plus it gives the White House the authority to increase the debt limit without congressional approval. I can’t imagine a single Republican – or frankly even certain Democrats – that would support the President’s plan.”

PA-19. Rep. Todd Platts (R-York): didn’t sign the pledge.

11/30 Ups & Downs

It’s been a good week for Pa.’s GOP congressional delegation overall, plus a few others. See who made progress and who fell behind.

Meanwhile, don’t miss PoliticsPA’s list of Top Political Operatives.

Bill Shuster. Like Father, like son. The Congressman from Altoona will follow in his father’s footsteps and take the gavel of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. It’s also good news for Pa. His father Bud Shuster served as chairman for 6 years.

State House Dems. Getting Rep. Joe Brennan off the ballot may have helped the Dems save a seat, but the decision to hire him to work for the caucus reeks of deal-making. This is a down arrow for optics. There’s no good way to hire an outgoing lawmaker who’s been charged with assaulting his wife and driving drunk.

Todd Platts. The Republican congressman is ending his tenure after 6 terms, but not before the President signed into law one of Platts’ longstanding legislative priorities. The bill protects whistleblowers who report government waste, fraud or abuse.

Bishop Zubik. The Catholic case against Obamacare’s Health and Human Services mandate was dealt a blow in court this week (albeit a temporary one), when a federal judge ruled that the Diocese of Pittsburgh doesn’t have the legal standing to challenge it. That’s because, he ruled, they can’t show that they’ve been materially impacted by it. But don’t think we’ve heard the last of this case.

Keith Rothfus. The number one prospective Democratic challenger to the Congressman-elect, Jason Altmire, is essentially taking a pass on a 2014 run. The outdoing Democrat took a government affairs (read: lobbying) job with a Florida health insurer, and he’ll be based in Jacksonville.

Tweet of the Week:

Have you read John Baer’s book? If not, you can get it on Amazon.com where, as Senate GOP staffer Erik Arneson notes, it has a somewhat interesting rank.

Pennsylvania political writer John Baer’s book is #66666 on Amazon. The mark of the Super-Beast? twitter.com/erikarneson/st…

— Erik Arneson (@erikarneson) November 28, 2012


Capitolwire: Ousted Dems Land Caucus Jobs

Outgoing Rep. Joe Brennan

Outgoing state Reps. Joe Brennan (D-Lehigh) and Ken Smith (D-Lackawanna) didn’t win new terms on election day but they’ll be coming back to Harrisburg for work anyway.

That’s because the House Democrats have hired each as caucus employees.

Brennan is presently facing charges of assaulting his wife and driving drunk; Smith is embroiled in a bankruptcy case.

Capitolwire first reported the hiring decision.

Brennan, who worked as a House researcher for over a decade, will be research analyst in the Legislative Policy and Research Office.

Smith will join the Office of Member Services and help newly elected lawmakers adjust. That group presumably will include Kevin Haggerty, the man who beat Smith in the April Democratic primary.

Both men will draw a slightly lower salary than they did as lawmakers, but will continue to build their pensions.

Brennan withdrew from his race in August after the charges had been announced. His Allentown district is safe for Democrats in most cases, but the party pressured him to pull out to avoid any chance of losing the seat. Dan McNeill, a former union leader and Whitehall Township commissioner, took his place on the ballot and won easily.

As Capitolwire notes both parties have hired outgoing and potentially disgraced former legislators to do caucus work.

11/30 Morning Buzz

The President is in Pa. today, and Gov. Corbett faced every Capitol reporter in an interview marathon. Good morning politicos, here’s the Buzz.

And don’t forget to check back later for the Ups & Downs!

Jason Altmire’s New Job: It looks like Keith Rothfus can breathe a little easier. Outgoing Rep. Jason Altmire will be taking his talents down south, as Senior Vice President of the Florida chapter of Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Shuster Gets Transpo Chair: Like father, like son. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Blair) will step into his dad’s former role as Chairman of the powerful House Transportation and Infrastructure.

Peduto Poised to Run; 4 Line up for His Council Seat: Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto promises to make, “a very special announcement” at a fundraiser on December 13. If, as is widely expected, he announces a bid for Mayor of Pittsburgh, four people are already lined up to run for his seat on City Council.

Reader Poll: Should candidates fundraise at PA Society? PoliticsPA wants to know: Should candidates fundraise at PA Society?

Reader Poll: Rothfus Most Vulnerable: PoliticsPA asked which GOP Congressman is most vulnerable in the 2014 mid term election, and a majority feel that it is newly elected Rep. Keith Rothfus.

The Full 2012 PA Society List of Events: It’s that time of year, politicos: Pennsylvania Society! Here’s a rundown of the events at the weekend-long marathon of dinners and receptions.

Rebuttal: The Abortion Messaging Myth: Brandon McGinley of the Pa. Family Institute takes issue with a PoliticsPA assertion that swing district GOPers are likely to tread lighter on women’s issues given the results of 2012. He notes that all but 1 pro-life state House incumbent weathered the Dem storm.

Capitol Ideas: Corbett: “There are going to be some people out there that, no matter what we do, that are not going to forgive me for doing that investigation.”
State House Sound Bites: Corbett on expanding PA Lottery: “We need more revenue.”
PA Independent: Corbett: Fed hasn’t provided ‘rules’ for health care law
PA Independent: WATCHBLOG: Q/A with Gov. Tom Corbett
PA Independent: WATCHBLOG: Leaked report shows two-tiered justice in Philly traffic court
StateImpactPA: Alan Walker Hasn’t Given Up On Coal
StateImpactPA: EPA Fines Marcellus Driller for Clean Water Violations
StateImpactPA: Drill Bits: Waiting For Cracker News
Capitolwire: Ten percent cut in pension multiplier, other options being considered for administration pension reform.
Capitolwire: Corbett favors expanded Lottery gambling to generate revenue.
Capitolwire: Corbett Q n A on Pennsylvania Lottery, Voter ID.
Capitolwire: Sandusky/Kane/Penn State Q n A with Gov. Corbett.
Capitolwire: Two ousted House Democrats given caucus jobs.
Captiolwire: Corbett says AG approach will decide if he will speak to Kane’s Sandusky case investigators.
Capitolwire: Corbett says PA’s economy ‘heading in the right direction.’
Capitolwire: Former DEP Secretary Hanger announces bid for governor.

Inquirer: City Council restores cash for parks and rec, shelters
Inquirer: Corbett stays firm on promise to not raise taxes
Inquirer: Philadelphia legislation would offer tax credits for health benefits to same-sex partners
Philly Clout: Former CIty Councilman Ed Schwartz passed away Thursday morning
Philly Clout: City Council approves controversial Point Breeze affordable housing plan
Philly Clout: Council approves more $ for Parks and Rec, other programs
WHYY NewsWorks: A story of unemployment in 3 acts
Philly Now: Councilman Kenney touts same-sex benefits
CBS Philly: Philadelphia activist and lawmaker Ed Schwartz dead at 69

Phillyburbs: Rodon group, K’NEX ready for the spotlight
Montgomery Media: Obama to visit K’NEX in Hatfield Friday

Tribune Review: West Penn Allegheny receives SEC warning; loss rises to $24.7M
Tribune Review: Former President George H.W. Bush hospitalized with bronchitis
Tribune Review: Judge: Allegheny County municipalities, Pittsburgh schools may get budget expansion
Tribune Review: Pittsburgh City Council moves to accurately track contracts with minorities
Tribune Review: Duquesne school board accepts chief recovery officer
Tribune Review: Pittsburgh City Council fights over redrawn boundaries
Post-Gazette: Duquesne board accepts financial recovery officer
Post-Gazette: Fayette County Commissioner loses suit against colleagues
Post-Gazette: Corbett promises transportation funding proposal soon
Post-Gazette: 4 interested in council seat held by Peduto
Early Returns: Shuster talks transportation
Early Returns: Peduto’s hat to fly
KDKA: Sen. Casey Weighs In On Legionnaire’s Disease Issues At VA Hospital

AP: Corbett: Pension cuts would affect all state employees
Beaver County Times: Fallston, Patterson Township to vote on merger next month
Altoona Mirror: Act 47 brings more debate
Altoona Mirror: Shuster to build infrastructure
Tribune-Democrat: Police pacts OK’s: Paint Borough; Central City to pay more
Tribune-Democrat: Johnstown jobless rate improves in October
Tribune-Democrat: State grants promoting use of natural gas in vehicles

Times Leader: Public sounds off on budget
The Times-Tribune: Election board hears voting horror stories
The Times-Tribune: Lackawanna County commissioners OK 2013 budget, tax hike
The Times-Tribune: Carroll new chair of NEPA caucus
Citizens Voice: Wilkes-Barre residents weigh in on budget
Citizens Voice: Barletta district offices collecting Toys for Tots donations
Citizens Voice: Hazleton projects whopping 83 percent tax increase
Citizens Voice: Opportunity Finance Network names Eachus chief external affairs officer

North by Northwest
Erie Times-News: Erie County Council proposes Home Rule Charter review as term limits alternative
Centre Daily Times: Commissioners continue debate on use of impact fee money
Williamsport Sun-Gazette: City budget deliberations continue
Williamsport Sun-Gazette: City has new tax collection agency

Delco Daily Times: Like it or not, C.U. recovery plan coming
Daily Local News: Pennsylvania turnpike takes a turn towards the future
KDKA: Opinion: My 2K
KDKA: Opinion: The Fourteenth Amendment Solution
Altoona Mirror: Strike reprieve temporary
Erie Times-News: Our view: Visit Union City; help new businesses prosper

Jon Geeting: Governments Create Markets: Bethlehem Trash Hauler Edition
Jon Geeting: Shorter Boehner: Democrats Should Propose the Spending Cuts for Us
Keystone Progress: The election is over and it’s time to make it count. Grassroots power is not just for elections.
Keystone State Education Coalition The new “philanthropy”: private agendas vs. public interest
PA Water Cooler: Obamacare couldn’t possibly derail this…

Peduto Poised to Run; 4 Line up for His Council Seat

Bill Peduto

Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto promises to make, “a very special announcement” at a fundraiser on December 13. If, as is widely expected, he announces a bid for Mayor of Pittsburgh, four people are already lined up to run for his seat on City Council.

Here are the four hopefuls, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Kirk Burkley, 35, a Shadyside resident and attorney, is still mulling around a bid for the councilman position.  Burkley is currently a member of the Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Adjustment for city of Pittsburgh.

Jeanne Clark, 63, is currently the Democratic chair of the city’s 7th Ward. As the communications director of environmental group PennFuture, Clark hopes to make her official candidacy statement sometime before the end of 2012. Clark is also from the Shadyside area. Clark was encouraged by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald to run for the position and Fitzgerald is supporting her.

Dan Gilman, 30, has announced his official candidacy and named his political action committee chair, David Caliguiri. Caliguiri of Squirrel Hill, is the son of late Pittsburgh Mayor Richard Caliguiri. Gilman has been chief of staff for Bill Peduto’s for eight years and is from the Shadyside area.

“For the past eight years, I have counted on the advice, vision and experience of Dan Gilman,” Mr. Peduto said in a statement. “He has been my partner in improving our neighborhoods and our city. I know that you can count on him too.”

Sam Hens-Greco, 56, the 14th Ward Democratic chairman and attorney, is unsure when he will make is formal candidacy announcement, but has every intention on running. Hens-Greco is married Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Kathryn Hens-Greco and from Point Breeze.

Reader Poll: Should candidates fundraise at PA Society?

PoliticsPA wants to know: Should candidates fundraise at PA Society? In years past, it was not the norm. However times are a’changin and recently (including this year) it’s become more prevalent. After all, it’s easy access to the NYC circuit. What do you think? 

Should candidates fundraise at PA Society?

  • Yes (55%)
  • No (45%)

Total Voters: 449

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Reader Poll: Rothfus Most Vulnerable

PoliticsPA asked which GOP Congressman is most vulnerable in the 2014 mid term election, and a majority feel that it is newly elected Rep. Keith Rothfus.

Rothfus, who won a tough election over incumbent Rep. Mark Critz (D-Cambria) in PA-12, received 45 percent of the vote (316 votes). Finishing in a distant second was PA-8 Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, who received 20 percent (143 votes). 

PoliticsPA readers generally feel that the other congressmen who were polled are safe, as Lou Barletta (8 percent), Charlie Dent (7 percent), Pat Meehan (6 percent), Mike Kelly (6 percent), Jim Gerlach (5 percent), and Tom Marino (3 percent) were bundled at the bottom of the pool, only receiving single digit percentages. There were 704 respondents.

Although Rothfus has been chosen as most vulnerable, he likely won’t have to worry about a major challenge from Rep. Jason Altmire, who was tabbed to head up Florida Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Jason Altmire’s New Job

Jason Altmire

It looks like Keith Rothfus can breathe a little easier. Outgoing Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Allegheny) will be taking his talents down south, as Senior Vice President of the Florida chapter of Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Altmire, who lost a tough primary election to Mark Critz (D-Cambria), will take his position with the company at the end of his term.

“Serving the people of western Pennsylvania in the United States Congress has been the highest honor of my life. During the past six years, I have worked to represent every constituent in our diverse district and give western Pennsylvania a voice in Washington. I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to serve the district and I am proud of the work that we did together,” said Altmire in a company press release. “Now that the time has come to move on to the next phase of my life, I am delighted to return to my career roots in health care policy and community affairs.”

Altmire went to school at Florida State University in Tallahassee on the gulf coast; he’ll relocate Jacksonville for the position.

Health care policy is Altmire’s wheelhouse. Prior to his election, he worked in government relations for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).

During his tenure in Congress, Altmire was a loud voice in the debate for health care reform (ultimately as a Democratic vote against Obamacare). He also introduced numerous pieces of legislation that got signed into law, including a bill that ended the late enrollment penalty for low-income seniors who participate in the Medicare Part D program.

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