By Patty Yauger firstname.lastname@example.org
Published 2:00 AM EST
The current U.S. Senate has 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats and one Independent Party member with 34 seats — 24 which are held by the GOP — up for grabs on Tuesday, including the one held by U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey.
The race is considered a “toss up” as Toomey’s Democratic challenger, Katie McGinty, has kept pace with him throughout the election season.
Democrats must secure four or five seats to take control of the now-GOP led Senate.
McGinty, a former state and federal environmental policy official, and Toomey were invited to participate in a Herald-Standard-sponsored candidate forum, but declined due to their schedules.
Toomey agreed to take part in a telephone interview. McGinty declined a similar invitation.
Christopher Whitlatch, Mon Valley Alliance chief executive officer, offered the editorial board questions to Toomey.
The Pennsylvania Insurance Department has announced that premiums will skyrocket for residents in 2017, estimating increase of about 32 percent.
While his challenger seeks to give the government more control of health care, Toomey said he favors the abandonment of the Affordable Health Care Act, describing it as an “unmitigated disaster.”
“It is in a death spiral and collapsing as many of us knew it would,” he said. “The idea that you could keep your health insurance if you liked your health insurance was never true as they were disqualifying plans left and right.
“They said you could keep your doctor if you liked your doctor even though they knew these new health insurance plans they were forcing people into would reduce their choices of doctors.”
The program cannot be restructured, added Toomey, it must be repealed.
“You can’t fix this by tweaking it around the edges,” he said. “Government bureaucrats should not be making healthcare decisions. Those should be made by moms and dads sitting around the kitchen table making decisions for their own family.”
The solution, Toomey continued, would be to have a competitive marketplace where insurers would compete for consumer business.
“We should encourage affordability of plans and renewability of plans so no one worries about have a pre-existing condition.”
This year, the National Rifle Association (NRA) downgraded Toomey from its highest “A” rating for those that staunchly support its policies, to a “C” rating.
While the NRA does not specify what votes or statement it uses to determine a rating, it did not support the gun background-check legislation introduced by Toomey and Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.
Toomey said his support of background checks to ensure guns are not being sold to violent criminals, those that have been diagnosed with severe mental illness or suspected terrorists, is not contradictory to the Second Amendment.
“I am a big believer in the Second Amendment,” he said. “I’m a gun owner and I take my son shooting.
“I will continue to defend the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, but at the same time, I will try to improve our background checks system so we can try to keep guns out of the hands of people that have no right to them.”
War on coal
With coal production waning, workers have watched their pension fund decline and health care benefits teeter.
Toomey said he has met with many coal miners during his tenure and finds it “heartbreaking” to listen to their stories about losing their jobs, their homes and their pride.
“They feel like their own government set out to destroy their career and they’re right,” he said. “(President) Barack Obama admitted he has engaged in a war on coal and unfortunately the president has been winning.
“This is horrendous to me and completely unjust.”
Toomey said that he has supported the Miner’s Protection Act that would move mining reclamation funds to shore up the pension and health care benefits.
As to coals’ role in the nation’s energy program, Toomey said he will continue to support its production.
“I think coal is a very essential part of our energy picture as it is domestic, completely reliable and extremely low cost,” he said. “We have a tremendous, existing infrastructure to use coal to develop reliable electricity.”