Presidential candidate Mitt Romney made a campaign stop in Bethel Park Tuesday afternoon.
In a picnic-like setting at the Bethel Park Community Center, he chatted with a handful of Pittsburghers about their current concerns, the state of America and what he plans to do should he unseat President Barack Obama and take office.
A teacher, occupational therapist, corporate aircraft mechanic and a former school bus driver were among those who spoke informally with Romney. With it being Tax Day, they all were curious as to what Romney thinks about lowering taxes.
“I’d like to reduce the burden on middle-income taxpayers,” Romney said. “I’d like to see anyone making $200,000-$250,000 or less—which is 98 percent of Americans—save their money tax-free. No capital gains. It’ll make filing taxes a lot easier and people can save money for things they care about.
“With rates a little lower, businesses can afford to hire and expand.”
Romney discussed the value of Pennsylvania’s resources.
“Obama is making it harder and harder to take advantage of the resources,” he said. “Taking advantage of what’s above and below ground—coal, oil and gas—will not only create more jobs and keep more money in the U.S., but it’ll allow us to have more confidence that energy prices won’t be as driven from what’s happening in the oil cartel.
“Pennsylvania has three major sources—natural gas, Marcellus Shale and coal. A lot of jobs are associated with that. The idea of trying to prevent those sources in my opinion is an enormous mistake that this current administration is taking.”
A Greensburg husband and wife, both of whom work in health care and are parents to a 2-year-old daughter, told Romney their primary concern is the national debt.
“We want our daughter to have a strong America,” said Jason Thomas, a physician’s assistant. “Right now, it’s not sustainable. It makes me very uncomfortable. I want to be an advocate for my daughter. Sept. 11 was unifying and now we’re at polar ends of the political spectrum. Nothing is getting done and Congress’s approval rating is 11 percent.”
“I’m very concerned about our health care system,” he said. “The orientation of this administration is toward trying to have the federal government control reimbursements, insurance and procedures. I’m trying it from a top-down approach. The right course is to get it to act more like a consumer market, where you can compare prices and make your own choices. There should be competition among practice and providers—higher quality, lower cost.
“Obamacare—I’d love to repeal it. I hope to stop it in its tracks on day one. (Health care) should be market-driven, consumer-driven. I would make Medicare a permanent part of our future. Obama’s sole contribution was cutting $500 billion to have it count for Obamacare.”
Romney asked one man at the table, who owns a residential construction company, how business is.
“There are highs and lows,” responded the man, who gave his name only as Joe. “As long as there’s money in the area, we have work.”
He said that most of his work comes from word of mouth and that he has a daughter who’s a freshman in college.
“How is she paying for college?” Romney asked.
“With loans and scholarships,” the man replied.
“In the last three years, we’ve seen a reduction from having just over 600,000 businesses down to 500,000,” Romney said. “Had we not seen that drop-off, we would have 2 million more jobs. People aren’t starting new enterprises—folks are afraid. It’s made America less attractive for entrepreneurs.”
The discussion continued with talk of the future and the next generation.
“The reason I’m in this is because I’m really concerned about people who can’t find good work and our kids,” Romney said. “My parents, your parents and our grandparents were the greatest generations. They left us with a nation that was free and strong. What are we going to leave our kids? Some students have loans larger than their pay.
“How can we pass on our debt to the next generation? It’s not fair. We need to cut the grips with the excessive scale of government and rein it in.”
Romney said the median American income has dropped by 10 percent in the last four years.
“We’re going in the wrong direction,” he said. “We need more job growth in this country. If there’s more demand for people than there are people willing to work then wages go up. With such demand for good jobs, people are competing to hire folks. There will be better wages and benefits—a greater degree of prosperity.
A school nurse from Greensburg, who did not identify herself, said her concerns lie in public education.
“Had my daughter not been able to choose from electives in high school, she wouldn’t have found her niche,” she said. “There are cuts here, cuts there. You never know when (your budget) is on the chopping block.”
Regarding engineering, an unidentified man, who said he is a corporate aircraft mechanic, said, “I want my son to grow up and building something here, not overseas.”
Romney said he’d like to reshape the entire tax system.
“I want to simplify the system,” he said. “I plan to bring the rates down by 20 percent. I want to limit deductions and exemptions. Top-income earners will continue to pay the share they’re paying now. It’ll make it easier for middle-income families to make ends meet.
Romney shared a quote from U.S. Rep. “Dick” Armey of Texas, which he said put things into perspective. “It used to be the American dream to own your own home,” he said. “Now, it’s to get your kids out of the home.”
With that said, Romney continued, “I’m sure Mom and Dad don’t mind, but people want to start their life, get married, and get an apartment or a home. The system isn’t working right now.”
The former governor of Massachusetts said Tuesday his focus is not on punishing the people, but getting jobs.
“People need to have incentive to start a small business,” he said. "I spent 25 years in business. I started a small business and it grew very successfully. I only spent four years in government and I’m very concerned about the country. I’d like to go to Washington and help.
“I love this country. I love the American people. I love our principles. I want to preserve what’s great in America. I’m convinced we can.”
Following the roundtable, Thomas—of Unity Township—said he decided who he's voting for in November.
"Certainly Romney," he said. "I thought he was likeable. He doesn't seem out of touch like some of the media portays him. I think he's the best option in the general election."
Do you agree or disagree with Romney's stance? What do you propose are the best actions the country should take? Tell us in the comments.