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Toomey talks tariffs, guns, health care at Upper Bucks Chamber roundtable


Days before the 116th Congress returned to Washington after its summer recess, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey stopped by the Upper Bucks Chamber of Commerce to share his thoughts and hear comments from local leaders on several hot-button issues.

About 30 people, including U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, state Sen. Bob Mensch and Bucks County Commissioner Rob Loughery, were on hand for the wide-ranging one-hour roundtable discussion, which touched on the effect President Donald Trump’s tariff war with China is having on local commerce, expanded gun control, health care reform related to prescription drugs, how the federal government can help fight the opioid crisis locally, and the need for workforce development initiatives.

In his opening remarks, Toomey predicted Congress this fall likely will strip President Donald Trump of his unilateral authority to levy tariffs. Along with Virginia Democrat Mark Warner, Toomey introduced legislation in the spring that would amend a section of the Trade Expansion Act that gives the president authority to impose tariffs in the interest of national security.

Over the last year, Trump has wielded that power against China and has threatened that he would impose tariffs against Mexico unless the country took measures against illegal immigration.

The Constitution assigns to Congress the responsibility to regulate trade with foreign countries, said Toomey. It is ambiguous, he said.

Even though the economy remains strong with record-low unemployment, it is still “consumer-driven,” he said. A slowdown in economic growth is possible because of trade uncertainty, said Toomey.

“I worry that one person can unilaterally have an enormous impact on the economy on a whim,” he said. “We have delegated that authority and we have a president with protectionist views. A tariff is a tax on American citizens and it does a lot of harm.”

Toomey also said he expects to know “by the end of the September” whether there is a consensus in the Senate to expand background checks for gun purchases. A bill introduced by Toomey and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin would expand background checks for commercial sales, including those at gun shows or online. He called the measure “completely reasonable” to require “a three-minute background check” to keep weapons out of the hands of those who have been identified as a danger.

Toomey said Trump has been “interested, engaged. He wants to do something meaningful.”

Toomey insisted he has “no interest in diminishing the rights of law-abiding citizens who are not a threat.”

Senior citizens could get some relief from catastrophic drug prices, according to Tomey. He said he supports legislation that would limit out-of-pocket prescription costs for those on Medicare to $3,600 a year by redesigning the benefit formula.

“I don’t support price controls,” said Toomey. “I do support generic drugs coming to market the way they are intended to when a patent expires. Some clever people are finding a way around that.”

In response to questions from the audience about the opioid crisis and the need for workforce development, Toomey acknowledged the federal government’s role to provide funding but to leave the individual program implementation to counties and states.