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February 22, 2011

Kelly meets with constituents in 'coffee stop'

MEADVILLE — Republican freshman Congressman Mike Kelly got a cup of coffee and an earful from constituents in Meadville, but not about his vote to approve $61 billion in federal spending cuts across hundreds of programs and the elimination of others.

“I didn’t hear any of that,” said Kelly when asked if any of the 30 constituents he sat with informally raised concerns about the cuts in the spending bill the House approved 235-189 on Saturday. The historic vote was the first step freshman Republicans and TEA Party members made to fulfill their promise to cut back what they see as dangerous federal overspending. The cuts impact nearly every American and come even as House Republicans and TEA Party members vow a fight over President Barack Obama’s budget for the coming fiscal year.

The vote — and concerns about the budget — have countless voters and interest groups across the country up in arms, but according to Kelly, Pennsylvania’s Third District, which includes most of Crawford County, has been pretty quiet.

Kelly reads it as voters simply accepting reality.

“My thought is there’s a lot of good programs out there, but when you’re broke, you’re broke,” Kelly said.

Among the bill’s cuts are $747 million to WIC, which provides nutritional support for women and infants; a $1.4 billion reduction in training and employment grants to the states; and Pell Grants for lower-income college students would drop by $5.6 billion, which the White House says would cut $845 from the maximum $5,550 grant.

Other cuts are $241 million to the Food and Drug Administration; $1 billion to Community Health Centers; $700 million in education aid for disadvantaged students; and $3 billion, or 29 percent, of the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget.

The cuts still must be approved by the Democratic-controlled Senate. Even if it passes, President Obama has vowed to veto the bill.

Those who met with Kelly at the Market House Grille on Monday continued to raise concerns about what were key issues from the November election that put Kelly in office — the federal budget deficit and what they see as continued run-away spending by the government.

“You can’t keep on spending with money that’s not in there,” said Howard Roxberry of Hayfield Township.

Dr. Fred McDermott, a physician from Meadville, told Kelly he was concerned about President Obama’s 2012 federal budget proposal that will add “$7 trillion in debt.”

Kelly was in agreement.

“We’ve had no dialogue, no debate,” Kelly said of the budget proposal. “There’s an unsustainable rate of spending. It’s not a Republican or Democrat issue, but an issue for the American people.”

McDermott said he thinks it’s “hypocritical of Democrats with saying what’s going on in Wisconsin is OK, but if it happens in Washington it’s horrible.”

McDermott is referring to a walk-out by Democrat state Senators in Wisconsin so that state’s legislature can’t work on a budget and a potential shutdown of the federal government if spending plans can’t be worked out.

Asked if he thinks a standoff over the budget will prompt a federal government shutdown, Kelly said he doesn’t think so.

“It’s just playing on fear, fear, fear,” Kelly said of talk of a federal shutdown. “Things can be worked out. It creates instability and anxiety. It just fosters uneasiness and forecasts doubt.”

Kelly said he thinks more people are taking an interest in politics now than compared to past years and are letting politicians on all sides know how they feel.

Some hard choices will have to be made when Congress reconvenes to discuss President Obama’s 2012 budget, Kelly said.

“Is it stuff we’re going to want to hear?,” he asked rhetorically. “No.”

Kelly said he can’t say as yet what priorities he’ll have when work begins on the 2012 federal budget.

“There’s just not enough revenue,” Kelly said. “We can’t keep going deeper and deeper into debt. Priorities will have to take place. I can’t say what yet because there are so many different views on what is important. Everything’s on the table at this point.”

Monday’s stop in Meadville at the Market House was Kelly’s first “Mornings with Mike” coffee stops. Kelly will hold meetings as an opportunity for constituents to talk with him in an informal setting over coffee.

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