CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — It's time to bring spending under control or face a possible fiscal crisis, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey warned Friday during a jobs and economy town hall meeting at Letterkenny Army Depot in Chambersburg.
"We're in a very dangerous place, in terms of our budget, and deficits that we've been running," said Toomey, R-Pa.
The federal government is borrowing 40 cents of every dollar it spends, he said.
"We now have about $15 trillion in total debt, and I am here to tell you that is completely unsustainable."
Dwight Weidman of Chambersburg was one of about 130 people, including state and local elected officials, who turned out for the meeting held in the depot's building No. 10 at 1 Overcash Road.
Weidman, who is chairman of the Franklin County Republican Committee, said he attended the morning meeting as a private citizen concerned about the economy.
"Unless we make some fundamental changes in our economic policies, I don't think our long-term prospects are good. We've got to get our deficit under control," Weidman said.
Sheri Morgan, Greencastle, told Toomey that the government's spending is askew.
Morgan is the Franklin County committee woman for the state Democratic Party, but she came to the meeting to discuss her 21-year-old son, Charles, who is autistic.
"We have tried to find a job for him since he was 16, but can't find any. My son lives with me, and I can't find a job that will allow me to take him to work with me, and he can't be alone," she said.
Due to the state of the economy, Morgan said their hopes of starting a home-based business failed due to inability to get a bank loan.
"My concern (is) when we talk about spending and the terrible debt that we have. I'm concerned that our spending has not been done to benefit people who truly need and depend on services in our country. Our spending has been done to bail out Wall Street and to support corporate welfare as opposed to supporting the welfare of our people — the most vulnerable people in our culture," she said.
"I happen to agree there is an awful lot of spending. Entire categories of spending that shouldn't exist at all. I opposed all the bailouts. Not only the financial companies, but I didn't believe we should be bailing out car companies, either," he said.
Toomey said from the time of the Revolutionary War to 2008, the federal government incurred a cumulative debt of about $5.8 trillion. In the last three years, another $5.4 trillion of debt has been added.
If the nation continues down this road, he said the consequences are clear.
"There's plenty of empirical data from around the world ... countries that add too much debt have a lower economic performance, they grow more slowly, they have a lower standard of living, and that's if you can avoid a full-blown fiscal crisis," he said.
Too much regulation
Toomey also said he wants to create a job-friendly environment by "pushing back on excessive regulation."
"I have heard about the ways in which the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and other regulatory bodies are making it really hard for people to hire workers, to grow a business or to get a job," Toomey said.
Bill McLaughlin, president of Chambersburg Borough Council, said one of the biggest problems local governments face are federal mandates.
"Right now, we're dealing with the Chesapeake Bay mandate, and I envision a strong push back from EPA with regard to things dealing with nutrient credits for the municipalities attempting to form a partnership with farmers in order to reduce agricultural runoff, (and) sediment and fertilizer runoff," McLaughlin said.
EPA officials have enacted new limits that require expensive upgrades at many wastewater-treatment plants to reduce the output of nitrogen, phosphorus and other chemicals, so that pollutants don't reach the bay.
"All the communities in Pennsylvania that are going to need water and sewer upgrades are going to need help and relief from some of the mandates the EPA has imposed, some of which work at cross purposes," McLaughlin said. "It would be nice to have a rational system that we could deal with."
"We all know agriculture is the single biggest industry in Pennsylvania, and I have heard this all across the Commonwealth," Toomey said. "They (EPA) have set up a very complex formula that is subject to a lot of question as to whether it is the appropriate way for them to allocate limits."
David B. Mackley, of Franklin County Area Development Corp., asked Toomey for his support in retaining and growing jobs in the county, especially at Letterkenny.
With the pullout of forces in Iraq and the withdrawal of more troops in Afghanistan over the next few years, Mackley asked Toomey to help Letterkenny get its fair share of equipment repair or refurbishment work.
"Letterkenny is probably close to 3,800-plus employees. That's a lot of families in this region that it affects. If you want to talk about the heartbeat of an economy, it's probably no secret that this installation, if not the heart, is maybe the brain of the economy in Franklin County," Mackley said.