RACINE COUNTY — Immigration, Social Security and tariffs topped a list of concerns from 1st Congressional District constituents who phoned-in to a town hall listening session held by U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil Tuesday night.
The teleconference-style sessions allow residents to ask Steil questions about issues they cared most about, while giving the Republican congressman an opportunity to update them on new laws and other things going on in Washington, D.C., and the district.
Journalists were invited to listen but were asked to refrain from asking questions in deference to constituents.
During the 38-minute session, Steil fielded calls from six people, including a resident of Janesville, who operates a veteran-run business and was critical of the 15 to 20 percent tariffs on products that he relies on for his promotional printing business.
“A lot of our products are simply not made domestically. There is no option to get it domestically,” he said.
Steil call China “the real culprit” in trade, saying Europe, Canada, Mexico and the U.S. need to band together to address the problem.
“We have to ultimately bring these barriers to trade down so that a company like yours can take their product and trade them freely, fairly and reciprocally,” he said.
Steil said an improved trade agreement with Canada and Mexico will benefit dairy farmers, with fairer access to ship milk to the countries.
“Ultimately we’ve got to get that to be true for all these countries,” he said, including the European Union.
Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security
Another participant said she was concerned about how Steil would work to keep Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid viable.
“Those are obligations by our government. We’ve got to be there to make sure we uphold those agreements,” he said.
Steil said that in looking at overall spending in the U.S., “we are way out of line right now.” He said legislators must “dramatically alter” the way they analyze spending overall to address funding for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
“We also have to keep looking at ways to deliver Medicare as efficiently as possible, look for that opportunity to deliver a high quality product at the most effective way that we can,” he said, adding he’d continue to look at whether waste, fraud and abuse were taking place.
“I’m committed to making sure those programs are available for seniors today in retirement and those approaching retirement age,” he said.
Steil was also asked about plans to improve the complicated “legal” immigration process and how people coming from other countries can come to the U.S.
“We have a broken legal system and a broken illegal system,” Steil said.
Currently, said Steil, the legal system doesn’t properly account for skilled workers for dairy farmers, for example.
“We have a really complicated process,” he said. “There are many people that arrive here, trying to do it the right way, are unsuccessful and ultimately, try it the other (illegal way).”
He said if the U.S. had a system that was easier to navigate “we could really improve where we’re at.”
Steil said he continues to work with colleagues to make the process more efficient and to tie workforce needs with the legal process.
Prior to the town hall questions, Steil said while he continues to tackle the larger issues, he has worked across the aisle with Democrats and talked about two bills which he authored and gained bipartisan support, including one that has passed to assist small businesses gain access to capital for expansion and employment purposes.
“Really not the transformational change that we need, but sometimes you have to step back and be happy to get the small win,” he said.
The other bill he is working on with U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., addresses human trafficking, an issue that law enforcement continues to deal with in southeastern Wisconsin, most recently in Racine County, he said, where authorities broke up an agricultural trafficking ring in May.
The bill currently has 40 sponsors.
“We’re going to keep building this up. I hope to have this be my second bill that crosses the (party) line,” he said.