Local issues such as gun violence, airport noise and insurance costs, rather than political conventions, were on the minds of Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) and his audience at a recent town hall meeting in Oak Lawn.
Lipinski told about 60 people at Oak Lawn Community High School on July 19 that this was the lowest turnout at a town hall since he took office in 2005. But those who were there came from around the district, including Orland Park, Homer Glen, Oak Lawn, Burbank, Countryside and Chicago.
“Low attendance is why a lot of my colleagues don’t hold these any more, but I think it is important to hear from residents in person,” said Lipinski.
Hot weather and the Republican convention on TV may have kept some at home, but Lipinski said fewer people approach him anywhere to ask questions or share concerns.
“I get the sense that people have given up on seeing any change (in Washington gridlock). There is no trust in either party getting anything done.”
“I share that frustration. I’m a Democrat. But I think my first responsibility is to represent all my constituents and make the district and the country better,” said Lipinski.
He confirmed that he was a Bernie Sanders superdelegate in the presidential election, explaining that all Democratic congressmen are superdelegates, able to vote for whomever they want at the convention. But the congressman said he wasn’t going to the Democratic National Convention this week in Philadelphia.
“If it was a contested convention, I would vote for Sanders because he won the primary in the 3rd District. But there is no need now that Hillary Clinton has enough elected delegates, and Sanders endorsed her,” he said.
“Nothing happens at conventions now. It is all show for TV. If you are on the floor, it is very hard to even hear what is being shown on TV,” he added, speaking before the release of leaked emails allegedly showing the Democratic National Committee was supporting Clinton behind the scenes.
When the issue of gun control was raised, Lipinski said he supported increasing background checks for gun buyers following the mass shooting in Orlando.
“Forty percent of guns are sold at places like gun shows, where there are no background checks,” he said. “There are also no federal laws against straw purchases,” he noted, referring to the sale of legally purchased guns to unknown third parties. He said “truckloads” of legally purchased guns are brought across the country, to places like Chicago, for sale on the streets.
Lipinski said he was “very torn” about the sit-in involving House Democrats to bring gun-control legislation to the floor following the Orlando massacre, and didn’t participate.
“I agreed with the proposed ‘no fly-no buy’ legislation preventing people on no-fly lists from buying guns, but some of the congressmen were involved in things that I felt weren’t helpful. It brought attention to issues but there was no way it would have been brought to the floor for a vote,” he said. Opponents sought to prevent only those “known to be planning a terrorist act” from buying weapons. “If we knew that, they would be in jail,” he said.
When asked about climate change, he said, “I believe climate change is important and something should be done about it. But we have to be careful not to affect manufacturing.” He said manufacturing jobs were key to improving the economy.
Lipinski stressed his opposition to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, involving the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries. He said that like NAFTA and other trade agreements, it would hurt U.S. manufacturing jobs.
“Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have come out against TPP. My concern is after the election, they will ram it through. The administration will have to give a 30-day notice before bringing it up for a vote, and Congress will have 45 days to vote on it.”
He said one of his immediate goals is to pass “a big infrastructure bill,” to improve roads and bridges. He said infrastructure projects only accounted for six percent of the stimulus package approved to help the economy in 2008, and only “shovel-ready” projects were considered.
“The increases are ridiculous,” agreed Lipinski, when Manuel Papadopoulos of Oak Lawn asked for relief from health insurance premium costs. “If insurers come back with more than a 10 percent increase, regulators have to question it. But they can’t really stop them.”
He said that there is also nothing legally that, except for shaming them, can be done to stop insurance company officials from taking exorbitant bonuses while rates are raised.
“There are no pain-free solutions to the budget deficit. The answer isn’t just tax increases or spending cuts,” said Lipinski. He said the $11.9 trillion deficit did drop during the Obama administration due to economic improvements creating tax revenue.
“Economic growth in the 1990s got us to a balanced budget. But then there was 9/11, and the wars, and tax cuts were put in place,” he said.
On the refugee question, Lipinski said, “It’s a tough balance. I think we have an obligation to help people who are facing real danger. We’re not talking about economic refugees. But there are people who are really facing persecution.”
He said he did support legislation that would require the director of the FBI and two other top officials to sign off on any refugees allowed in, guaranteeing that they were properly “vetted.”
“But we haven’t had that many refugees come in, compared with Europe,” he noted.
Several people, from Chicago and Burbank, asked Lipinski for help with increased airport noise caused by new flight paths instituted by the FAA.
“They changed the flight patterns without looking at the impact on local communities,” he agreed. He noted that he co-sponsored HR 5075, the Airplane Impacts Mitigation Act of 2016, aimed at examining the health impacts of airplane overflights