Talk of the second amendment, border security and of course the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic took center stage during a Tele-Town Hall meeting with Representative Fred Keller (PA-12) last week.
In both opening statements made by Keller and questions from constituents during a question and answer period, legislation related to COVID-19 quickly arose as key points of the conversation.
Keller informed listeners about multiple bills regarding the Paycheck Protection Program, which he stated helps businesses that have been most affected by the pandemic and government shutdowns due to COVID-19 including hospitality and restaurant industries and spoke about revitalizing the country’s economy.
According to Keller, including the most recent COVID-19 relief bill, which totaled $1.9 trillion, Congress has spent $6 trillion in response to the pandemic.
The representative criticized the most recent relief bill, saying that the majority of funding approved through the bill was not delegated to issues relating to the pandemic.
“It was not targeted, it was not temporary and much of it was not tied to COVID-19,” he commented, saying that only 9% of the money was earmarked for public health spending while 91% went to non-COVID matters including $12 billion for foreign aid, $200 million for the institute of museum and library sciences and $135 mill to be used for the endowment of the arts.
Keller also criticized the method in which the legislation was approved, stating that it was done through “reconciliation” which allowed it to be passed with no support from the minority Republican party and through a new law that permitted the $1.9 million that would need to be offset from the funding to be added to the national debt.
Keller expressed that he believes instead of passing bills that heighten national spending and could lead to higher taxes and enforcing strict regulations, legislators should be focused on reopening American businesses to begin building back the country’s economy.
“We can not be raising taxes in the middle of a pandemic, we can not be placing more burdensome regulations on job creators and people that go to work every day, so we must simplify the permitting process and we must make sure that people can keep more of the money they’ve earned every pay period in their paycheck,” he said.
When a constituent told Keller that they know of businesses that have faced challenges finding employees because individuals are less willing to work due to COVID-19 benefits, Keller stated that he doesn’t blame citizens, who he has found are mostly hardworking, but instead faults the politicians who created the extra financial packages and urged listeners to contact their representatives and tell them that the American people don’t want another reconciliation bill.
Regarding legislation relating to gun ownership, Keller stated that he has recently voted against laws that would create national gun owner registries and that he believes it would make it harder for law abiding citizens to defend themselves, infringe on the constitutional right for American citizens to bear arms and “do nothing to keep guns out of the hands of criminals or improve public safety.”
“I support targeted solutions to improve school safety, support mental health services and address the root causes of violent actions, keeping in mind that people who commit violent actions need to be held responsible and we can not infringe upon the rights of law abiding citizens for the actions of others,” Keller said.
Multiple citizens pressed Keller, asking what action he plans to take to increase public safety in light of recent gun violence, including Dr, Catherine Heinz from State College who stated “we regulate cars, why not guns” and suggested every gun owner should have a license and insurance for each firearm they own and that politicians look to the private insurance sector to do so.
“It’s government’s responsibility to make sure we protect your constitutional rights and the private insurance industry should not be tasked with ensuring private rights of individuals that are given to us by our Creator and guaranteed in our constitution,” Keller responded. “I am not willing to turn any, any, of your constitutional rights over to private companies for them to try to manage.”
A Coudersport resident also questioned Keller about what can be done to prevent mass shootings, stating they have “really gotten out of hand” and another constituent asked the representative if privacy laws like HIPPA could be eased as a way for more in depth background checks to be conducted on those purchasing firearms.
“It’s a tragedy when anybody suffers pain and harm at the hands of another individual. That is just tragic,” Keller replied in response to talk of gun violence in the country, adding that he believes the focus in stopping violent crime should be in holding those who commit them accountable for their actions.
“Guns are not violent, people can be violent and any instrument that they’re using to inflict harm upon another person, it is wrong,” he commented. “So I want to focus on the actions of the individual and not the instrument that they use to inflict harm upon another and I think that’s really where our dialogue needs to go because I think we can get everybody on board with that.”
Keller noted that he would “take into account” the ideas presented regarding easing HIPPA laws for background checks.
Keller was clear in declaring that the country is facing a crisis with the increase of individuals attempting to enter the country illegally at America’s southern border and shared stern disapproval of the Biden Administration’s handling of the issue.
“There is a crisis at the southern border and our focus should be on stopping the flow of illegal immigration,” Keller said. “I have serious concerns with any plan to grant blanket amnesty to those whose first action is entering our country illegally. The Biden Administration has yet to take any responsibility for the surge of illegal immigration in the United States and refuses to call the situation a crisis, which it most certainly is … the first thing in solving any issues is admitting what the issue is.”
Multiple citizens called into the town hall voicing concern over how increased immigration will impact spread of COVID-19 in America and stated that American citizens are being forced to comply with national COVID-19 restrictions while the same regulations are not being enforced at the southern border.
Keller placed blame on the Biden Administration for “signaling” that the nation would accept more individuals attempting to enter the country and stated that the most recent COVID-19 relief bill included payments that could be made available to individuals staying in the country illegally.
Keller said he plans to visit the border soon and that the government should “go back to what works” by returning to policies put in place by the Trump Administration and then move forward with improvements from there.
Energy policy and legislation that deals with voting regulations were also discussed in the town hall.
Keller highlighted that he supports “all energy,” including solar, wind, natural gas and oil but feels it incredibly important that America be energy independent and not rely on foreign energy.
The representative criticized HR1, a bill currently in the House of Representatives that deals with voting rights.
Keller stated that the bill would allow taxpayer money to fund political campaigns, permit ballot harvesting during elections and more.
“It’s been called For the People Act, it really would more accurately be called for the politicians act. The legislation doesn’t address concerns that millions Americans have about elections, it just centralizes power in Washington D.C.,” he said. “It’s simply not good policy when it comes to making sure every legal vote gets counted.”