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By J.D. Prose

U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb said he was recently told the average Social Security recipient gets $16,000 a year, but Republicans want to target that safety net for cuts after giving “corporations and the wealthy” a $1.5 trillion tax cut.

Lamb, D-18, Mount Lebanon, told The Times editorial board in a meeting Wednesday that voters he met while campaigning in his recent special election were concerned about threats to Social Security, Medicare and pensions and could not reconcile that with the GOP tax plan.

“You can be on the side of those who want to cut taxes for people making $700,000 a year or you can be on the side of those who will fight to guarantee that those making $16,000 a year in Social Security will be protected,” said Lamb, 33.

“In Beaver County and in a lot of places in western Pennsylvania, there are far more Democrats, Republicans and independents on the side of those collecting $16,000 a year in benefits,” he said, “and that’s who I’m fighting for.”

Lamb’s political profile skyrocketed earlier this year with his 18th Congressional District race against Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone in a district won by President Donald Trump by 20 percentage points in 2016. The election was seen as a gauge of Democratic chances to flip House seats in red districts nationwide, and Lamb boosted those hopes with a razor-thin 755-vote win in March.

Although a newly minted congressman, Lamb is also a candidate in the new 17th Congressional District, which covers Beaver County, part of Cranberry Township in Butler County and the northern and western parts of Allegheny County. The district was created under the congressional districts map implemented by the state Supreme Court after it tossed out the old map for unfairly favoring Republicans.

Lamb, a Marine Corps veteran and former federal prosecutor, has no opposition in the May 15 Democratic primary after several candidates dropped out following his special election victory. He will challenge U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-12, Sewickley, in the general election.

During the 45-minute discussion, Lamb laid out a moderate Democratic agenda that pledged support for social programs and abortion rights but shied away from banning semi-automatic guns and approving federal spending without knowing how to pay for expenses.

Lamb, a congressman for just three weeks, reiterated his previous statements that he would oppose having House Minority Leader and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi return as Speaker if Democrats take the majority this fall.

“We need new leadership,” he said.

The key to breaking through gridlock, Lamb said, is an approach that values building relationships and finding “common ground” with those who have different opinions.

Lamb said Congress is mulling legislation to ensure that documents collected by Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the Russian investigation involving the Trump campaign, are turned over to Congress if Mueller should be fired.

“We won’t let all the work that’s gone into this investigation go to waste,” he said.

While he called the GOP tax plan “a mistake,” Lamb said he was pleased it lowered the corporate tax rate so that businesses can be more competitive. But, he said, overall the bill does not benefit working- and middle-class Americans and simply adds to the nation’s debt.

On guns, Lamb echoed comments he made during his first town hall Saturday in Moon Township in which he called for Congress to pass a bill strengthening background checks. As a former federal prosecutor, he said he has seen the shortcomings of the current system.

Lamb, however, said he does not support bans on semi-automatic weapons.

“I’m not in favor of banning any particular type of firearm right now because people already own these things and a lot of people own them lawfully and they like to shoot them,” he said. “I think we owe it to everybody to spend our focus keeping firearms out hands of people who shouldn’t have them.”

To combat the opioid epidemic, there must be a concerted effort to build more treatment facilities — four out of five people addicted are not receiving treatment, he said — and get people into them for more than 30 days.

“We’re going to have to do the things that government does when there’s a crisis. We’re going to have to build buildings, and we’re going to have to fill them with beds,” Lamb said, “and we’re going to have to let people stay there for 90 days, not 30 days … and we need to shore up health insurance programs, like Medicaid, that allow people the time that it takes to cure a disease like this.”

Lamb, a Catholic, said he believes that life begins at conception, but values the separation of church and state and would defend abortion rights for women.

Addressing immigration issues, Lamb said he wants a bill that resolves the status of those here under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and provides more resources to secure the nation’s borders, especially points of entry.

After graduating from University of Pennsylvania’s law school in 2009, Lamb joined the Marines as a judge advocate and is now a major in the Marine Corps Reserves. Enlisting as a 25-year-old, Lamb said he wanted to serve his country and challenge himself.

“Part of me wanted to know if I could pass that test,” he said. “It was the best decision I ever made.”

As officials debate who is at fault for VA failures and if privatization would improve care, Lamb said the focus has been lost.

“There are things that are the government’s job,” he said. “Taking care of veterans, the people who have risked their lives for this country and been injured in the process, is one of them.”