When the most controversial bills are debated on the floor of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, it’s common for Republican House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler and Democratic House Minority Leader Frank Dermody to speak on opposite sides of the issue.
Oftentimes, it can seem like their comments are more directed at their own party members, directing them how to vote, than designed to constitute a dialogue between the parties. But when invited to speak on the progress of the state budget for a TV audience this week, Cutler and Dermody made clear that they do, in fact, speak to one another frequently about the progress of legislation.
Asked about the primary source of friction in the budget negotiations by the host of the PCN Call-In program, Dermody said that the amount of spending in the final budget was the main sticking point.
Cutler was similarly optimistic that the rival leadership teams would be able to come together, as they did last year, and assemble a budget compromise before the June 30 deadline – a sharp contrast to the extended sessions and acrimony that had marked the prior decade of budget negotiations.
“I think when you look at the budget, we’ve already kind of laid that groundwork, with working with leader Dermody and myself,” Cutler said. “I think we have to follow the revenues and see where they’re at, and then do our best to control some costs going forward so that hopefully we can put some more money in the rainy day fund, and then fund all the priorities this year and next.”
There were topics where Cutler and Dermody disagreed, such as the governor’s proposals for a minimum wage hike and a severance tax on natural gas to pay for a $4.5 billion infrastructure package. But even as he opposed the governor’s specific policies, Cutler made clear that improving the overall wage picture and funding infrastructure were priorities that both parties share.
“When you look at the Independent Fiscal Office’s report that said upwards of 30,000 people could potentially lose jobs if wages increased, … that’s really taken opportunity away from all of those individuals,” Cutler said. “And I don’t think either of us want to do that. So I think a targeted response is to find out why some people still earn minimum wage and focus on getting them into jobs that pay much more is a better approach.”
When asked why there weren’t more Democratic-sponsored bills making their way to final passage in the Republican-controlled House, Dermody declined the chance to attack the other party, instead insisting that the good working relationship he has with Cutler allows the parties to work together on legislation.
“In all fairness, Bryan has come to me, we’ve talked about bills, we talked about sharing and having some Democrats get some bills passed,” Dermody said. “Getting a bill passed is difficult. It takes a long time. But if you can work through an amendment process and don’t care who gets the credit, you can get language and legislation that’s important, that’s important to you, that’s important to the groups that need it.”