WILKES-BARRE — In a sit-down with The Times Leader, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey said the efforts of some Republicans this fall to tie repealing Obamacare to the government shutdown was a mistake. And it’s one, the first-term Republican said, that isn’t likely to happen again with another shutdown looming.
“I never thought it was a good strategy last time around to make funding of the government contingent on defunding Obamacare,” Toomey said. While he still opposes Obamacare, he said he never believed linking the two issues was a good strategy, though it was employed by a faction of House Republicans and eventually led to a 16-day partial government shutdown in October.
“The good news is there’s nobody on our side making that link this time around,” Toomey said.
Toomey, who sits on a bipartisan, bi-chamber committee seeking to avert another shutdown that could happen next month said there’s “at least a 50-50 chance” the shutdown is averted.
Congress faces a Friday deadline to come up with a package before the House recesses. Without action, funding to keep the government open will run out on Jan. 15.
“I think it’s ridiculous that we’re even having discussions about another government shutdown,” Toomey said. He said because Congress didn’t do the “ordinary appropriations process” this issue will continue to come up every few months. He made it a point to mention that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, has not allowed spending appropriation bills to come up for votes on the Senate floor, which has perpetuated this cycle of “manufactured crises.”
“The odds are pretty good we’ll avoid a shutdown, but notice I’m not guaranteeing anything,” Toomey said with a smile as he held a small cup of Starbucks coffee inside the Barnes & Noble joint student bookstore in Wilkes-Barre.
The senator was in Northeastern Pennsylvania on Friday to visit the Children’s Advocacy Center of Northeastern Pennsylvania in Scranton. There he toured the facility and then promoted his The Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act.
That bill would strengthen protections against child sex abuse by requiring schools nationwide to conduct background checks on all employees.
Right now, Toomey said, “there’s no uniformity and it varies from state state.” Some states may require background checks for teachers only, others for any staff member that would come into contact with a student, including coaches, bus drivers and cafeteria workers.
By having a national law, Toomey said, there would be no way for predators to slip through the cracks by going from state to state to find a job.
The Protecting Students From Sexual And Violent Predators Act would:
· Require schools to perform background checks on every employee;
· Stop schools from allowing sexual predators to transfer to new teaching jobs and new victims; and
· Require schools to notify local law enforcement if a background check indicates a sexual predator has applied for employment.
The bill would require background checks for any employee who could have unsupervised contact with a child on school property. It’s only slated for enforcement for public schools at this time.
The bill was spurred, Toomey said, by a case in West Virginia that involved Edgar Friedrichs, a former Pennsylvania teacher who had been dismissed by the Interboro School District in Delaware County for sexual misconduct. But that district then helped the man land a job at a school district in West Virginia, where he sexually assaulted and then murdered a student, 12-year-old Jeremy Bell, in 1997.
Toomey said there are documented cases in which some school districts went as far as even writing letters of recommendation for dismissed teachers.
“They just want the problem to go away. Well, think of how unspeakably outrageous that is,” Toomey said.
Legislation passed the U.S. House that mirrors Toomey’s Senate version, and Toomey said he hopes it will get fast-tracked in the Senate since it’s acommon sense issue.
“This should not be controversial,” Toomey said.