Bryan Cutler lives in the log cabin home where he grew up in the village of Peach Bottom, in southern Lancaster County, along the east bank of the Susquehanna River. He's got 11 acres of largely wooded land, heats his house entirely with wood, and keeps ducks, chickens, goats, and sheep.
At 43 — he looks younger — he's already served more than a decade as a Republican lawmaker in Harrisburg. And he recently was elected House majority leader, which means he has say over what gets considered and what gets passed by the GOP-run legislature.
(Cutler is replacing Rep. Dave Reed, of Indiana County, who's leaving state government for the private sector.)
Cutler graduated summa cum laude from Lebanon Valley College with a major in health care management, spent years as an X-ray tech and administrator, and got his law degree from Widener University School of Law. He's a member of the Lancaster law firm Nikolaus & Hohenadel.
He and his wife, Jennifer, a nursing supervisor at Lancaster General Hospital, have three kids ages 10 to 15.
His mother was also a nurse at Lancaster General. His dad was a welder for a company that made farming equipment. Both died in their 40s after they were diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). He has a sister who lives in Utah.
Cutler has competed in triathlons, still runs an occasional 5K, hikes, and mountain bikes. Because he lives on "a hobby farm, which is just code for 'it costs us money,'" he does lots of canning, makes applesauce and apple butter, and says, "I love to bake."
This could be a good thing. Experience in a hot kitchen can come in handy for one looking to run the state House Republican caucus.
The new House leader talked recently with the Inquirer and Daily News about Pennsylvania's new, smaller, but more conservative House majority, and what Philadelphia and its suburbs might expect from Harrisburg next session.
What do you see as your most immediate priorities when the new two-year legislative session begins in January?
I think a natural starting point is to pick up on some unfinished business from last session, including a package of bills aimed at career and technical training, that would, for example, expand access to trade schools, career choices, letting people know what's out there. And then we have legislation to do with telemedicine to increase access to health care, especially in rural areas. And by then the annual budget will quickly come on the horizon
Speaking of the budget, the state's Independent Fiscal Office projects a 2019 budget deficit between $1.5 billion and $1.7 billion. This sounds familiar. Are we headed down the same path as recent non-election-year budgets?
I would certainly hope not. And I'm not sure those numbers will be as high as they are right now. But they mean we need to start talking with Gov. Wolf and the administration about ways to curb costs, about what can be done to do so.
So, was last summer's budget a paste-and-borrow to get through an election year?
No, I don't think so. Revenues are actually pacing ahead of projection. But the problem continues to be that spending outpaces revenue over the long term. We need to concentrate on cost drivers, Medicaid, human services, pension, education, and evaluate what's working and what's not.
The new House will have fewer Republicans. [It was 121 R's and 82 D's and will be 110-93.] But that majority will be more conservative. What does that mean in terms of working with Democratic Gov. Wolf?
Numerically, we lost some seats, but we still have a large majority. And both caucuses, Republican and Democrat, trended more to the ends of the political spectrum.
In some ways that makes it easier for Republicans in terms of getting more agreement on some reforms. And it could make it more difficult for Gov. Wolf.
And will you again push bills that Wolf rejected, such as restrictions on abortion rights and work requirements for Medicaid?
That's something we're going to cover with leadership and the whole caucus during a retreat in the coming weeks.
I personally supported those measures, but it's not just me. My job as leader is to both represent my district constituents and also the interests of the caucus
Gov. Wolf consistently seeks a severance tax on natural gas, a hike in the minimum wage, and some form of gun control. Do you see any chance he gets any of those in the new session?
He's asked repeatedly and failed to get those things. And based on past responses, I think it's probably unlikely.
And on the minimum wage, the one thing this economy has done is shown how hard it is to fill jobs, which brings us back to the need to expand access to trade schools.
The recent elections left very few Republican House seats in the Philly region and just one (Rep. Martina White) in the city. With a more conservative House and fewer local Republican representatives, should Philly and its suburbs be worried?
No. Our job is to represent all of Pennsylvania and find solutions that work for everybody.
And, honestly? Politically some of those seats that switched R to D probably will be on the table two years from now, depending on the national mood. And, besides, we continue to have somebody in leadership from the southeast (Rep. Marcy Toepel of Montgomery County, GOP Caucus Chair).
With your background in health care, what one thing do you think the legislature should do to improve the health-care delivery system for all Pennsylvanians?
For me, it would be highlighting the difference between getting care and having insurance. There's a lot of people with insurance who can't get care. For many, there's still an access issue, especially in rural areas. So, we need to look for ways to expand access.
We pay lots of money for Medicaid, and we probably could do better using it for prevention. To go at root causes of disease. To get better outcomes and ultimately lower costs for taxpayers.
Gov. Wolf's been up and down with the legislature. Down in his first few years. Up this year. What do you think is coming next year?
I'm hoping we see more of the later years than the early years. I've got a relationship with the governor, and I hope to meet and talk with him soon about the coming session.
What's your favorite thing to bake?
Raspberry cobbler. I make it every June. We grow our own raspberries. I use my mom's recipe. And it's delicious.
Think that could come in handy next June during budget time, assuming Gov. Wolf likes raspberries?
Absolutely. Love the approach.