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Agriculture, jobs, broadband among issues Keller tackling

Checking In

CHRIS MORELLI / THE EXPRESS Rep. Fred Keller is interviewed Monday morning at The Express offices.

LOCK HAVEN — Rep. Fred Keller (R-12) has a busy week ahead.

He did a whirlwind tour of Clinton County on Monday, visiting Glick Fire Equipment Inc., Dotterer Farms and R.C. Bowman Inc.

However, his first stop — one day in advance of President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address tonight — was at The Express to talk about issues.During a wide-ranging, nearly hour-long interview, Keller touched on a myriad of topics. Here are some of the highlights:

Touring the 12th

When he’s not in Washington, Keller said he believes it’s important to get around to his constituents in the 12th District.

“It’s been our philosophy to make sure we’re available to the public so that we can get their opinions, what they’re working on, what’s important to the people of PA-12,” Keller said. “Someone asked me one time, ‘I bet it’s really vast from one end to the other.’ There are certain things you work on, infrastructure and things that might be different from area to area, but the main concerns of the people are pretty consistent.”

He said there are certain topics that come up quite often.

“They want to make sure that, one, our government works and, two, that we’re taking care of our veterans. Education and healthcare tend to be the top things. I’m not putting them in any particular order. Jobs, the economy … people are very happy with what we’ve seen over the last three years,” Keller said.

The 12th District covers 15 counties.

Broadband Expansion

It was recently announced that the United States Department of Agriculture will open a second round of ReConnect program funding. The ReConnect program allows the federal government to work with telecommunications companies, rural electric cooperatives and utilities, internet service providers and municipalities to build modern broadband infrastructure in areas that do not have sufficient service.

The first round of funding has already approved more than $340 million for rural broadband projects.

“Tri-County just got about $2.5 million to put fiber in for their customers,” Keller said.

Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative, Inc. of Mansfield covers portions of Tioga, Potter and Bradford counties.

“Those are the things we’re looking at. A lot of people think of infrastructure as roads, bridges and those things you can see, but there’s a lot of infrastructure you cannot see. Broadband is one of those. People don’t always think about that. I think it makes sense that we can partner with people that already have facilities to be able to get that fiber out to the rural areas. I think that makes sense. Rather than re-creating everything, let’s share some resources,” Keller said.

Keller knows the significance of getting broadband out to the rural areas.

“It’s three things we always mention. It’s commerce because in today’s world … the more effective you are and more quickly you can transmit data, if you’re a business that certainly helps out. You always have education. There are people who do Penn State World Campus and school districts need access. And in healthcare, everyone calls it telemedicine but it’s being sent through the internet. You need to be able to deliver healthcare to people who aren’t as mobile in rural areas. It’s huge benefit and that’s why it’s important to us,” he said.

According to the USDA, the ReConnect funds will be awarded to projects that have financially sustainable business models that will bring high-speed broadband to rural homes, businesses, farms, ranches and community facilities such as first responders, heatlhcare sites and schools.

Impeachment

A staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, Keller has made his stance clear — he has been opposed to the impeachment process since Day One.

“The thing you have to start with is, what brought these articles of impeachment forward? The House intel committee chairman, Chairman (Adam) Schiff and Chairman (Jerry) Nadler were hanging their hat on this phone call. In fact, to the point where false information was made up when Chairman Schiff had that first meeting and he made up that phone conversation. The President released a transcript,”

Keller said there are plenty of things to keep in mind when discussing the Articles of Impeachment.

“The facts that you have to keep in mind are … the transcript showed nothing inappropriate. President Zelinski, the person who was supposedly pressured, said there was no pressure. The NDAA, which is the National Defense Authorization Act, requires that any administration that sends national tax dollars to another country has to make sure they’re not corrupt. Ukraine is notorious for corruption. You have a president who ran on anti-corruption — (President Volodymyr) Zelinsky — and President Trump was making sure there wasn’t corruption. He’s getting impeached for doing his job, quite frankly,” Keller said.

Simply put, he believes the impeachment process has been a waste of time.

“There was no case there. The fact that people were hollering about no witnesses … the House had an opportunity to do that. The President answered every subpoena they put out there, and then they canceled the subpoenas. It’s not being reported on; they withdrew some of the subpoenas. The fact is that the House didn’t do its job and then they want the Senate to do its job. They didn’t have a case and I think the Senate handed it appropriately. I would anticipate that on Wednesday, the articles will be dismissed or the President will be acquitted and we can move on,” Keller said.

Fiscal Responsibility

Keller recently signed a bipartisan, bicameral letter requesting that the House and Senate Budget Committees require the Congressional Budget Office to include debt servicing costs in all CBO estimates. The debt servicing costs would include the amount that the federal government is spending in net interest on debt.

Current CBO estimates put payments for net interest on current debt service at $928 billion within 10 years, nearly three percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. The inclusion of debt servicing costs in all CBO estimates will help lawmakers decide make informed decisions about the true costs of legislative proposals and their impact on the national debt, rather than just pointing out the sticker price.

“In addition to just spending — since we are borrowing money to do this spending — to understand the entire cost, including the debt service on that spending when you’re financing it over many years. I think there was an analogy … if you’re going to college and you buy a cup of coffee using your student loan money for $1.50, what did it really cost you when you wind up paying all the interest on it? You might end up paying 15 bucks for it over time,” Keller said.

In the end, he’s just looking out for his constituents, he said.

“When you spend money and you borrow money for programs (you need) to understand the entire cost of that. You do it when you buy a car … if we do it for that, it’s incumbent upon us to look at the entire cost, not just the cost right now,” Keller said.

‘Keeping the 12th District Great’

Keller took office eight months ago and promised to make the lives of those in the 12th District better. The first two bills he co-sponsored were the Dairy Pride Act and the Whole Milk Act for Healthy Kids. Those bills, he said, would benefit the agricultural industry by bringing transparency to product labeling and expand access to flavored and unflavored whole milk in schools.

He was also a vocal and leading advocate for passage of the United States-Canada-Mexico Agreement, which will benefit 60,000 Pennsylvania agriculture and manufacturing jobs. President Trump signed the agreement last week.

“In the midst of everything else, the President has been going about doing the business of the American people,” Keller said, “and we’re glad it got brought up for a vote. When you’re looking at Pennsylvania along with USMCA, you’re talking about 42,000 manufacturing jobs affected by that and also about 17,000 agricultural jobs because it deals with in Canada — dairy products and milk. It also deals with soybeans and corn in Mexico just on the agriculture side of things. It was huge.”

Keller said that he’s more than pleased with the agreement.

“I think the agreement has a huge benefit. When you talk to people that are in dairy and manufacturing, they’re very pleased with what that does,” Keller said.

The PRO Act

Keller is opposed to the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, otherwise known as the PRO Act. The PRO Act will be brought up on the House floor for a vote this week. In a recent op-ed, Keller called the PRO Act “anti-worker.”

“It’s not good for employees. It interjects government into the employee-employer relationship. It has us mandating that from Washington. One example is, it will require an employer to give employee information to a third party collective bargaining agency. In a time of sensitive information and identity theft and everything else, the federal government making an employer share names, phone numbers, addresses without that person’s consent, I think, is a problem,” Keller said.

Keller believes the PRO Act will open the door for future problems as well.

“We already have the Fair Labor Standards Act. I think that is sufficient,” he said. “We’re just trying to interject more government regulation on workers and their employers, is really where the Federal Government does not need to be.”

Minimum Wage

There has been talk about Pennsylvania raising its minimum wage. It currently stands at $7.25 per hour in the Commonwealth. Keller addressed the controversial topic.

“We can have those discussions, but when you look at the competitive market like we have, when you’re competing for that labor, I think really it’s the best because you’re not talking about the minimum, you’re not talking about the bottom. You’re talking about how high somebody’s wages can go,” Keller said.

Ultimately, Keller said, increasing the minimum wage is a slippery slope.

“Where do you set the minimum wage? What’s the goal for minimum wage? You’re trying to increase somebody’s buying power. Once everything equalizes at that level, do they really have more buying power or did you just create a problem for somebody that’s just above where you placed that wage? There’s a lot of discussion to be had and I’m not opposed to having that discussion,” Keller said.

Increasing the minimum wage, he said, could have repercussions on the taxpayer.

“In the summertime, kids work for school districts, at least my kids did. They get a lot of maintenance work done, painting and that kind of stuff and they page minimum wage. If you (increase it), school’s have to raise taxes. Grocery stores have to increase the price of their groceries. Then you have senior citizens who can’t afford to pay their property tax. That certainly doesn’t help them. I think we have to look at the entire impact of what happens, not just the talking points,” Keller said.

Election 2020

Keller was elected to fill out the balance of then Rep. Tom Marino, who stepped down due to illness. Therefore, it’s an election year for Keller. He’ll be running for another 2-year term on Election Day.

“Good policy is good politics and that’s what we work on in the district — good policy,” Keller said.

He feels that he’s gotten a lot accomplished in a short amount of time. He’s hoping his constituents will re-elect him for another term.

“Right now, we’re focused on making sure that we’re focused on taking care of the issues that are important for the people of PA-12,” he said.

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