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At Lebanon town hall, Costello addresses Trump comments, N. Korea

Written by Merriell Moyer/Lebanon Daily News | Aug 18, 2017 7:22 AM
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Congressman Ryan Costello, Pennsylvania's 6th Congressional District, held a town hall at Harrisburg Area Community College Lebanon Campus for constituents Thursday evening, August 17. Costello answered questions about a variety of topics for the hour and a half long event. (Photo: Michael K. Dakota, Lebanon Daily)

(Lebanon) -- Republican Congressman Ryan Costello re-emphasized his disappointment with President Donald Trump's take on the protests and tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend, called for more congressional authority over the future of health care, and stressed the need for education reform to spur job growth at a town hall Thursday evening in Lebanon.

The town hall attracted a crowd of about 50 to 60 at the Harrisburg Area Community College Lebanon Campus in downtown Lebanon. Those attending were asked to register in advance, with priority given to Lebanon County residents.

Unlike many congressional town halls nationwide in recent months, there was little contention from those in attendance.

Costello, a second-term Republican representing the 6th Congressional District in Pennsylvania, addressed a wide range of topics Thursday, including: 

  • Costello's criticism of Trump's comments on the Charlottesville tragedy
  • Praising the president for his handling of the situation in North Korea
  • Plans for bringing health care under the congressional appropriations process
  • Ideas on using education reform to give boost to job market

Trump's comments that "both sides" were to blame for the events in Charlottesville last weekend, in which white supremacist protesters clashed with counter-demonstrators, and one woman died and 19 were hurt when a car was driven into a crowd, was addressed first by Costello.

"I did a WFMZ interview yesterday where I dealt directly with what I thought was the lack of presidential leadership to just speak clearly about what happened," Costello said.

Schaefferstown resident Steve Neff disagreed with Costello's criticism of President Trump, saying that Trump denounced white supremacists numerous times in the aftermath of the tragedy.

"I think the statement that was given should have focused on the actual incident that happened which was someone drove a car into a crowd, killed someone and injured 19 other people - that's what happened. And the person who did that was a white supremacist," Costello said in reply.

Costello later showed support of the president's handling of the situation with North Korea and China when Lebanon resident Ben Thompson asked if there was any chance the U.S. would join forces with China and Russia to overthrow the current North Korean regime.

"Ninety percent of (North Korea's) economic activity come from China, which is why I think President Trump in dealing with China as he has, has now created a circumstance where I think China realizes that we're serious and that we are going to require them to lean on North Korea in terms of denuclearization," Costello said.

The congressman focused on China's role in the situation just as much as he did North Korea in answering Thompson's question.

"I think the president's approach in terms of triangulating and forcing China to take action and not taking no for an answer right away has proved itself thus far to be a very smart negotiating strategy to exact leverage there because we need to be careful how we deal with China economically," Costello said.

Several residents asked Costello what is being done about the Affordable Care Act, and Costello said he feels the ACA grants too much authority to the executive branch of government.

"The president, and the president alone, should not have the authority to decide whether or not to make the health insurance marketplace work for middle- and lower-income Americans," he said. "That shouldn't be President Obama, and that shouldn't be President Trump (or any president)."

Health care should be the subject of a congressional appropriations process instead, Costello said.

"I think it is a lot cleaner and there is more stability if it is subject to congressional oversight and appropriations, and so we have legislation that would do that," he said. "For two reasons: one, that provides more stability, and two, I think that is the constitutional approach to this whereas the way we are doing it now is not constitutional."

Pamela Hineman, a Lebanon resident whose income supports her two adult children who she said can't find jobs that pay enough for them to move out on their own, asked Costello if there would be any tax breaks or aid for those with lower paying jobs.

"Let me focus on education, workforce development and creating more academic opportunities for those who don't have a college education, and also let me briefly address the cost of higher education," Costello replied.

After sharing that he feels that colleges and universities should be more transparent in what their tuitions go toward, Costello explained his ideas on how education reform could improve the job market.

"We are testing our students too much and there are too many curricular mandates in secondary education," he said. "If you don't have Washington D.C. telling you what you need in your curriculum and you don't have Washington D.C. putting out testing requirements so that a school district has less days preparing for tests, less days teaching to the test and testing, that is more days to teach kids in the type of instruction that will help create career awareness."

This would allow children to start a career path much earlier and without the cost of a college education, Costello said. Those jobs would be in technical fields that are in high demand in manufacturing and repair services.

"The more interesting and productive policy making is in career and technical education," Costello said. "We just held a roundtable earlier today - we are about to reauthorize the Perkins Act which is for those who don't go to college, but go to a trade school instead."

After the meeting, Hineman said she felt Costello only answered part of her question.

"I don't know that I agree that his ideas would work," she said. "It's great for when you are planning for children who are still in high school or just out of high school."

However, Costello's plan wouldn't do much for adults who are struggling now, Hineman said.

Before the town hall, a small protest group gathered outside the campus location, including Lebanon City Councilman Cornell Wilson, who voiced displeasure at the seating process for the town hall.

"It's hard for (Costello's) constituents to get a chance to see him," Wilson said. "It's hard to get a meeting with him. His office has few open hours."

Wilson and several other protesters were allowed in to attend the meeting.

Before the meeting, Costello explained his reasons for limiting attendance at his town hall meetings.

"As long as you never threatened me and you're a constituent then you get to come," Costello said. "We don't necessarily want folks who are constituents in other congressional districts coming in and asking questions because there is going to be a couple of hundred people in there and we only have so much time. I want to make sure the voices of my constituents are the ones in there being heard."

 

This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between WITF and the Lebanon Daily News.

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