WYSOX - At a meeting with local business people on Thursday in Wysox, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey took aim at the Affordable Care Act and other federal policies that he said are hampering the economic recovery, and discussed his views on other issues, such as raising the minimum wage and federal regulation of the natural gas industry.

Addressing about 30 business people and local government officials gathered at the Wysox Fire Hall, Toomey said that he wanted to tell them where he has been focusing his efforts since he became a senator 2 1/2 years ago, and that he also wanted to hear any concerns they had.

In a speech at the beginning of the meeting, Toomey said that while he wants to encourage strong economic growth, there are "incredibly misguided policies in Washington that are holding us back."

While the United States normally comes "roaring back" from a recession with strong economic growth, that has not occurred this time, he said.

An important reason for the slow recovery from the most recent recession has been "wrong policies out of Washington," including the federal government's fiscal policy, he said.

The huge federal debt, along with the large deficits that the federal government is running - over $1 trillion annually over the last four years - are a drag on the economic recovery, he said. "Countries that go down that path usually end up badly," he added.

"I think we need to have growth in the private sector to have prosperity," he said.

The Affordable Care Act "Is a complete unmitigated disaster" that is also hurting the economic recovery, he said.

"I can't tell you how many companies in Pennsylvania have told me that they have 45, 47, or 49 employees and they won't hire (any more workers)" because if they have 50 employees, they must provide health insurance for them, he said. "They can't afford it," he said.

He also said he would repeal the Dodd-Frank Act, which he said is causing problems for small community banks.

Toomey said he had helped launch a community bank in the past and had served as co-chairman of the bank's board of directors.

"I don't know how community banks will be able to continue, because of the cost of compliance" with the Dodd-Frank Act and other government regulations, he said.

The burdensome regulations force small banks to sell out to bigger ones, "so you lose that small-town ability to provide capital," he said.

And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is "completely out of control," said Toomey, a Republican.

The EPA is "trying to do things" that Congress itself refuses to go forward with, he said.

Toomey said the EPA shouldn't be regulating the natural gas industry.

The energy sector is the brightest spot in the economy, so "about the last thing you need is for the EPA to make it more difficult and more expensive to develop" a resource like natural gas, he said.

The federal government is already shutting down coal-fired power plants, he said, adding: "I think natural gas might not be that far behind."

Members of the audience raised various issues, such as concerns about the Affordable Care Act, reduced reimbursements from Medicare, and the minimum wage.

Toomey said he would oppose an increase in the minimum wage.

He said he is concerned that raising the minimum wage would eliminate jobs needed by people with low skill levels and young people. Young people, for example, might take one of these jobs as their first job, which allows them to get experience and move up the ladder, he said.

This week, Toomey is holding town hall meetings in Potter, Clearfield, Sullivan, and Montour counties.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.