Senator Casey’s Town Hall: Constituents Raise Their Concerns

Senator Bob Casey held a town hall in the University of Pittsburgh’s Alumni Hall on Sunday, April 9, 2017. Casey, the senior Senator from Pennsylvania, addressed a wide range of topics including fracking, jobs, clean energy, the bombing of Syria, healthcare, addiction, the Trump administration and the future of the Democratic Party. Attendees were given “agree” and “disagree” signs to keep audience reactions concise and orderly.

The fervent audience asked the Senator just under thirty questions in the hour and a half allotted for the town hall. Fracking and clean energy, the situation in Syria and healthcare were the most popular issues constituents asked about.

For fracking, several constituents expressed its devastating impacts in their communities on health and access to clean water, air and food – especially for children. Casey addressed these concerns by stating that residents of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have a right to a clean environment as written in Article 1 Section 27 of the state constitution:

“The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”

Senator Casey emphasized the importance of funding the EPA, as it is the agency that regulates fracking. He also brought up his “FRAC Act” that would give communities and citizens the right to know the chemical activity of fracking sites. Casey said that it is impossible to end fracking because of the jobs it brings to Pennsylvania and its increases to our energy portfolio, which in turn decreases our oil dependency on the Middle East. He continued to say that he supports and will continue to support tax credits and breaks for renewable and alternative energy and would fight to stop Republicans from eliminating these benefits. Casey noted that the primary source of policy on energy comes from the state government and that the challenge of balancing the fight against climate change while ensuring a stable economic future is a dynamic, multi-faceted problem. Two individuals invited him to come out to their hometowns and witness first-hand the negative and real effects of fracking, to which the Senator said he would be willing to accept these invitations.

On the topic of Syria and the President’s recent authorization to bomb, Casey stated that he agrees with the President in that there must be a response when the line of chemical weapons is crossed. However, he warned that the President cannot proceed down the path he is currently on – and that there must be a debate and vote in Congress before the US takes any more actions of force.

Casey does not support the use of ground troops in Syria. He believes in a political solution rather than a military solution and wishes that the US would join the coalition of almost 65 other nations to defeat ISIS. He stated that he does not believe the President has a clear plan to defeat ISIS. He supports allowing some refugees to come to the United States seeking a political arrangement rather than another war. Casey was very critical of the Trump administration’s proposed budgets, specifically about the increases to the defense budget and decreases to social programs.

Senator Casey emphasized again and again the importance of defending the Affordable Care Act because he suspects that the Republican attempts to repeal it or defund it have not ceased despite their initial defeat. He acknowledged that it is not without flaw but that it has benefited the 20 million Americans that received healthcare and an additional 156 million who received employer healthcare. He touched on the importance of not being denied health insurance because of a preexisting condition and that the ACA filled in a lot of prescription drug costs placed on seniors. Casey is working on a bill with Sen. Bernie Sanders to allow the import of prescription drugs from Canada, which would substantially lower their cost.

The Senator additionally spoke about how the ACA has made an impact on treatment for mental health conditions and related this to the Commonwealth’s polysubstance abuse problem. There was not enough funding allocated to support this policy that was meant to focus on local treatment of addiction and substance abuse. Treatment funds come from Medicaid for substance abuse disorder – it is vital to fight for this in a proposed budget.

The Senator repeatedly addressed the importance of overturning Citizens United and restructuring campaign finances. He reaffirmed his support for the Johnson Amendment that keeps nonprofits out of politics, but warned that there is a bill to repeal this amendment. Many constituents expressed their dislike of gerrymandering and “dark money” in politics. Casey said these are slow moving issues to solve, and that it is vital to stay vigilant about them.

On Trump’s ties to Russia, Sen. Casey said that he believes Congress is concerned about this and that there will be at least four investigations into it (including the current two). He acknowledged that even Republicans are willing to pursue these investigations, especially with a divided Republican party.

The future of the Democratic Party was a continuous theme throughout the town hall. Constituents expressed that there has to be a clear message and more leadership. They encouraged Casey to be evermore enthusiastic about his talking points and specific about his visions. He said that a focus on infrastructure jobs is the future of the Democratic Party.

Attendees expressed a need for Pennsylvania’s other Senator, Pat Toomey, to host a town hall.

Sen. Casey left the audience with an inspirational memory from 78 years ago on April 9, 1939, when Marian Anderson sang at the Lincoln Memorial – an important strive for black artists.

 

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