Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District was redrawn last year to eliminate much of its territory in Greene, Fayette, and Washington Counties. Those areas were replaced by the northern tier of Allegheny County and all of Beaver County.
The new 12th District took in the home of District 4 Congressman Jason Altmire, setting up a hotly contested Democratic primary between him and District 12 Representative Mark Critz. Critz won that election this April and now faces North Hills attorney Keith Rothfus.
EPA Coal Regulations
Based in the heart of Pennsylvania coal country, Critz said he opposes the Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality regulations for coal fired power plants.
“Let’s be smart about this. Let’s not make these decisions where we’re making it tougher and tougher for coal to survive when it’s going to be part of our base energy supply anyway," said Critz. "Oh, by the way, when natural gas prices start to go up, coal becomes more competitive again, and it keeps people’s power rates low.”
This is one of the few points on which Critz actually agrees with his opponent. Republican Rothfus said he opposes “agenda-based” regulations from the EPA.
“I have no problem with scientific-based regulations," said Rothfus. "Unfortunately, there’s an agenda at the Environmental Protection Agency, and the president talked about it in 2008. He promised he would shut down any coal-fired power plant, that you couldn’t build a coal-fired power plant. It’s the one promise he’s keeping.”
However, these two candidates don’t agree on much else.
The National Economy
Critz contrasted himself from his Republican opponent by criticizing free trade deals as harmful to American manufacturing, “because we pretty much end up giving it away, opening our borders to lots of countries who then still continue to have their protectious [sic] measures. So then, our companies move their manufacturing overseas, and in some weird way of how the tax code’s set up, actually there’s a tax loophole that rewards companies for moving their jobs overseas. We have to do smart things.”
Speaking of taxes, Rothfus said he wants tax reform in the US. The Republican compared the nation’s tax code to Swiss cheese.
“The tax code is riddled with deductions, exemptions, credits, et cetera on the business side, where the government is picking the winners and the losers," said Rothfus. "We need to lower the rates, simplify what’s on the deductions [and] credits side on the corporate level, and make it a fairer system for our businesses.”
The divide between Critz and Rothfus becomes especially pronounced when it comes to Medicare. The Republican challenger said Congressman Critz has no concrete plan to fund the program.
“There’s a serious, bipartisan proposal on the table from Senator Wyden and Congressman Ryan for those under 55 to bring a little bit of competition into how we get Medicare," said Rothfus. "Traditional Medicare will still be an option, and then there’s something called the premium support model, which is what frankly is being used today with the Medicare Part D program. That program, because of the competitive aspects in it, is 40 percent under budget.”
However, Critz derided the Ryan-Wyden Medicare plan as a voucher program that would start too quickly in 2016. By contrast, the Democrat said the Affordable Care Act funds Medicare through 2024.
“Giving us an extra eight years to 2024 allows us to look at the program [and] work on bringing health care costs down, which is where the major issue is," said Critz. "What the health care bill doesn’t address well enough is that we have to bring our delivery costs down. That’s where our problem is, and that’s where buying those extra years of Medicare allows us to fix that on the Medicare side.”
Critz said he opposes some parts of the Affordable Care Act, but said he would not vote to repeal it. On the other hand, Rothfus said he would vote to repeal the healthcare law.
Both candidates said they are pro-gun and pro-life, although Rothfus contested his opponent’s commitment to anti-abortion policies.
“I am pro-life. Congressman Critz talks about being pro-life in his ads, but he only gets a 60 percent rating from National Right to Life," said Rothfus. "You know, when I was in school, you get a 60 percent on a test, it’s an F.”
For his part, Critz accused his Republican challenger of being one-dimensional in his desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“Actually, when he was asked a couple of weeks ago at a chamber event what committees he wanted to be on, he didn’t have an answer," said Critz. "I thought to myself, ‘Here’s a guy that’s not really serious about going to Congress and having an impact, because he has no idea what committees he wants to be on.”
Critz won the two-incumbent primary against Congressman Altmire with strong support from Somerset and Cambria counties in the easternmost part of the district.
In facing his new Republican challenger, Critz may have to rely on that voting base again, since Republicans have a registration advantage in much of the North Hills.