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Lipinski: Shutdown is ‘terrible’

lipinski town hall photo 1 17

Photo by Dermot Connolly

Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) responds to an audience question at his town hall meeting held Saturday at Oak Lawn Community High School.

By Dermot Connolly

The partial government shutdown over President Trump’s request for $5.7 billion to fund a wall on the Mexican border was the hot topic at the town hall meeting Cong. Dan Lipinski (3rd) held Saturday at Oak Lawn Community High School.

At the 8:30 a.m. event in the high school’s new performing arts center at 9400 Southwest Highway, the congressman fielded queries submitted by audience members and randomly drawn by staff. Those chosen to ask questions came from Oak Lawn, Orland Park, LaGrange Park, Burbank, the Southwest Side of Chicago and elsewhere.

“The government shutdown is a terrible situation. We can debate all we want about what we want for border security, but we shouldn’t hold up the government funding based on that,” said Lipinski about the shutdown that began on Dec. 22, which is now the longest in history.

“Why can’t we have a wall? We have doors on our houses and fences on our yards,” asked one Oak Lawn man. “I believe in immigration, but you can only get so many people on a boat before it sinks.”

“You are all about protecting American jobs and union jobs, so how can you allow people to come in and steal jobs from people and commit crimes?” asked Bill Hennessy, an Oak Lawn High School student. “You can’t put a price on that — $5.7 billion doesn’t seem like a lot if it saves one life.”

“I think having border security is necessary. We should have barriers in some places,” said Lipinski, acknowledging that in 2006, he and Democratic leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and then-Sen. Barack Obama voted to fund 700 miles of border fence. “I am not saying we can’t have any kind of fencing but let’s sit down and talk about it. President Trump has gone back and forth about what he wants. We shouldn’t have a government shutdown over this,” said Lipinski.

“These are issues that could be worked out. It is not really clear what he is talking about, where he actually wants it. ‘Build the wall’ was a good slogan at Trump rallies — it still is,” said the congressman after some audience members cheered. “But it is more of a rhetorical point now. The issue now is what is he asking for? I am not sure he has said what he wants to spend the money on exactly.

“All of a sudden, (Trump) came out with this $5.7 billion. We said, OK, we will pass a short-term bill to fund Homeland Security and other departments through September if you want more time to talk about it. But the president said he will veto, so here we are.”

While the House now does have a Democratic majority and has passed funding bills to reopen the government, he said there would not be enough votes to override a veto and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) won’t consider bills that President Trump would veto anyway.

“We need comprehensive immigration reform. There will always be more people wanting to enter this country than we want to let in legally. But the actual number coming across the border is down tremendously,” Lipinski said. “A lot of the issue now is with people who came (by plane) with a visa and never left. The 9/11 hijackers did not come over the border. We need to do more about the entire situation, not just the border.”

He noted that the “frustrating” issue came up at his first town hall in 2005, “and there are many fewer people coming in now than then,” he said.

Responding to an Orland Park woman’s concern about deadly drugs like fentanyl being brought it, the congressman said, “The drugs that are coming in largely come through the legal ports of entry. The biggest issue (at the southern border) now is people from Central America coming in seeking asylum. I am not saying there is not a problem, but it is not a crisis.”

Another chronic issue addressed was the proposal to extend Central Avenue, with either an underpass or overpass through the railroad yards in Bedford Park to connect the Chicago and suburban sections of the road and alleviate traffic on Cicero and Harlem avenues.

“Was there ever funding allocated for that? Will it ever happen? There has been a real influx of truck traffic on Sayre Avenue,” asked a Burbank man.

“That has been talked about for almost 50 years. The only money allocated was for an engineering study,” said Lipinski, adding that the total cost of the project has been estimated at between $300 million and $500 million.

“It is a huge issue but that is a big amount of money,” said Lipinski, suggesting that there might be a better chance of fixing “the absolute mess” on 71st Street and Harlem Avenue, where traffic backs up behind trucks turning into the industrial area.

Lipinski was complimented by a woman in the audience on his involvement in the Problem-Solving Caucus, a bipartisan group of legislators that recently changed several rules in the House of Representatives.

He said that until now, although there are 435 representatives, the Speaker of the House decided what bills would come up for a vote.

“But we worked on coming up with compromises on issues. Now, if we can get 290 co-sponsors for any bill, including 20 from each party, it is guaranteed a vote. Hopefully, will be able to make a difference and get some of these problems solved,” he said.

“You all know I have been one of the biggest proponents of sitting down and talking about these things. We need to, but we don’t compromise any more. People stake out a position and they refuse to give. They want everything or nothing. That is one of the biggest reasons why we haven’t done anything about the immigration situation,” said Lipinski

He agreed with Patrick Lash, of LaGrange, who urged him to work on a comprehensive infrastructure bill.

“Because it is something both Democrats and Republicans agree on, I am hopeful we can do that. I was told by the head of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that the plan is to have an infrastructure bill by the end of May. I would like to see it done before then. We need (improved) roads, bridges, public transit and sewers. It is a main priority of mine,” said Lipinski.

Maureen Reynolds of Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood called the townhall meeting “very eye-opening.”

“I didn’t really expect to hear from so many people in favor of the wall. They supported (Lipinski’s) pro-life positions, but they don’t seem to care about the lives of the people on the other side of the border. Most of them who want to come here are fleeing terrible situations.”

 

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