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Talking, listening: DesJarlais visits local constituents

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

(Photo)
Congressman Scott DesJarlais answers a question during a Town Hall type meeting held at Pope's Café.
(T-G photo by Jim Davis) [Order this photo]
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-South Pittsburg) pushed for conservative ideas, especially when it comes to debt and spending, but he also endorsed dialogue that transcends party lines and labels during a public meeting Monday at Pope's Café on the Shelbyville square.

It was not DesJarlais' first visit to Bedford County, but it was the first official constituent meeting here since Bedford County was moved into the 4th Congressional District effective with the new session of Congress.

'Gridlock'

"It seems like we've been dealing with an awful lot of gridlock in Washington," said DesJarlais, noting Congress's poor approval rating.

Constituent Charles Cooke asked DesJarlais about President Barack Obama's use of executive orders, saying that it's defeating the system of checks and balances between the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

"I think we've come around to the point where we've got one -- executive," said Cooke.

DesJarlais said that Obama might be motivated by frustration with the inter-party gridlock, but said he's concerned about abuse of executive orders and said that if Obama issues an order that threatens the Constitution -- DesJarlais mentioned the Second Amendment -- he will oppose such an order, up to and including calling for impeachment. DesJarlais serves on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Recess orders

The president recently had some of his recess appointments nullified. A recess appointment refers to some types of presidential appointment which would normally require Senate approval but which can be made single-handedly in some cases when Congress is not in session.

Last October, the Congress remained in "pro forma" session, never actually adjourning even though its members had gone home on break, specifically to prevent such appointments, said DesJarlais.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Obama has made 32 recess appointments, compared with 171 by George Bush and 139 by Bill Clinton.

Fiscal cliff

DesJarlais said that recent back-and-forth about debt and spending issues amounts to "generational theft," leaving future generations with the consequences of the current generation's poor financial habits.

The most recent action pushes back the automatic spending cuts referred to as the "fiscal cliff."

"I'm not certain why three or four months [from now] is going to be any easier than it is right now," said DesJarlais. He said he opposed last year's plan raising the federal debt ceiling by a trillion dollars and relying on a so-called "supercommittee" to propose spending cuts and said it was a "lonely day" on which he broke ranks with other Republicans.

"Lo and behold, the supercommittee failed," said DesJarlais.

DesJarlais said that the administration had called for a "balanced approach" to the nation's fiscal crisis, but hasn't enacted spending cuts to match increased revenue.

"Politicians don't like to deal with tough issues," said DesJarlais. "Entitlement spending is driving our debt." Politicians are reluctant to take the blame for cutting benefits to large numbers of voters.

Elder care

DesJarlais said that longer life expectancy is changing the economics of care for the elderly. He said Social Security benefits have to be assured for those now on retirement or about to get there, for whom it's too late to make alternate plans, but younger citizens need to be prepared to retire later and make other adjustments.

"People can deal with change," said DesJarlais. "They just need to be spoken to like adults." He said it would take "shared sacrifice and some open, honest discussions" to resolve the crisis.

If the automatic "fiscal cliff" cuts to the military and to entitlement programs are allowed to take effect, it will touch many Americans.

"It'll have an impact," said DesJarlais. "People are going to feel these cuts."

DesJarlais said the current federal workforce is "bloated" and that there should be a hiring freeze, allowing normal attrition to reduce the workforce. He said he himself cut his own staff budget by 5 percent one year and 6 percent the following year.

'No Labels'

DesJarlais was asked about his involvement with "No Labels," a bipartisan group founded by the CEO of Panera Bread which encourages members of Congress to work together across party lines. DesJarlais said he attended an event with former Shelbyville resident U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper and has had productive discussions with Cooper on fiscal issues.

DesJarlais said that each party's platform and talking points often omit important facts and figures, and so it's important for members of opposing parties to talk together and learn more about a situation.

Constituent Wayne Hitchcock expressed some skepticism that bi-partisan dialogue might result in compromise of principles.

"We've got to find some way to move things forward," said DesJarlais, but said dialogue doesn't compromise his commitment to conservative principles like personal responsibility.

"I can tell you, you're going to hear a lot more noise out of me this year," said DesJarlais. He said that in his freshman term, he was frustrated at how many issues were decided in closed-door meetings, with party leaders then telling their delegations how to vote.

Term limits

DesJarlais, a physician by trade, said he favors congressional term limits and that he believes the country needs more "citizen legislators" as opposed to career politicians.

DesJarlais criticized the president's health care law but said that if it is to take effect, it needs to be improved. He said it does nothing to address the cost of quality of care and puts into bureaucratic hands powers that more properly belong with doctors and patients.

Health care paperwork has increased dramatically over the past decade, requiring a larger and larger share of a health care professional's time, DesJarlais said.

DesJarlais, who also serves on the House Agriculture Committee, said he would continue to be available to address regulatory issues in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.

Foreign issues

On foreign issues, he said the U.S. didn't belong in Benghazi, Libya, where a U.S. diplomatic mission was attacked in September 2012.

"It was a place we didn't need to be," he said. He said the host nation failed to protect the mission but also that the U.S. failed to implement a fast response team in time.

"These people were expecting help that never came," said DesJarlais.

He questioned the construction of a new embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, which he saw during a recent trip with the Oversight committee. DesJarlais said he wasn't sure why the U.S. needed to be there either.