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WCHS students hurl questions at congressman
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Congressman Scott DesJarlais answered questions from all over the political spectrum Monday afternoon at Warren County High School as students were not shy about asking the U.S. representative his opinion.
DesJarlais, 47, began by giving students his background before opening the floor for questions.
DesJarlais grew up in Sturgis, S.D., a city known for its annual motorcycle rally. He moved to Tennessee in 1993 to practice family medicine. DesJarlais said he never had a strong interest in politics, but changed his mind due to conversations at his doctor’s office.
“I never had a desire to hold public office and never thought I would,” said DesJarlais. “But it seemed in talking with patients the conversations were more about serious problems going on in the world and not so much about sports or going hunting the way they used to be.”
DesJarlais said he decided he wanted to be part of the solution, but had never run for public office before. He said he knew very little about how to organize a campaign.
“I went to and bought several books on how to campaign,” admitted DesJarlais.
When he opened the floor, DesJarlais was greeted by an avalanche of questions. Topics ranged from Occupy Wall Street protests, to the national debt, to education, to Social Security and Medicare.
DesJarlais says one year into his first term, one of his biggest challenges was getting used to the frustration he experiences in Washington.
“You can work 14 hours a day, five days a week in Washington and wonder what you’ve done,” said DesJarlais. “It’s a very frustrating place to work. People need to work on passing legislation that’s good for the people, not good for themselves or good for their party. Voting against your party is a tough thing to do. I’ve voted against my party on several occasions and they don’t like that very much. It’s a lonely thing to do.”
When asked if he thinks political parties are helping or hurting Washington, DesJarlais says it appears they are doing more harm than good at the moment.
“We had an opportunity Friday to approve a balanced budget amendment that 75 percent of Americans are in favor of, but it’s something that didn’t get done” said DesJarlais. “When you look at Congress, it has a 90 percent disapproval rating and things like that are the reason why when parties aren’t working toward the good of the country.”
As for the future of the United States, DesJarlais says it’s going to take some significant action to change direction and steer America toward fiscal responsibility. He says the country has been enjoying programs it can’t afford and the result is $15 trillion in debt.
“We’re not even scratching the surface on what we need to do as far as cuts,” DesJarlais said. “It looks dismal. We’re heading down a path of insolvency and we may not be capable of doing what needs to be done to get out of it. When you look at Medicare, it was a program developed in 1965. The life expectancy for a man is now 12 years longer than it was in 1965.
“You’re also looking at a Medicare program where the average person pays in just over $100,000 over their lifetime, but they’re getting an average of $343,000 out of it. So for every $1 that comes in, $3 are going out so you can see how it’s not going to work.”
“But when we mention doing something about it, we’re villainized,” DesJarlais continued. “People act like we’re throwing grandma off a cliff and we don’t care about senior citizens.”
When asked about the state of Social Security, DesJarlais says he doesn’t expect the program to be able to handle the extra weight presented by Baby Boomers entering the rolls and by people living longer in general.
“Our government has proven it’s not going to handle the money wisely,” said DesJarlais. “For me at 47 and for you, I don’t think Social Security is going to be enough.”
DesJarlais said he believes the federal government should be scaled back – particularly when it comes to education. He says more money should be funneled directly to the states with limited federal intervention.
“I think we’d be a lot better off if we got the federal government out of the way for the most part,” said DesJarlais. “A lot of bureaucracy eats up federal dollars that could go to schools. Without all the bureaucracy, there could be more money for teachers, more money for classrooms, more money for auditoriums.”
When asked about which Republican candidate he supports for president, DesJarlais said he is frequently asked that question. He says it’s far too early for him to endorse a candidate, but he does admit the debates have been amusing.
“If you watch the debate skits on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ they don’t even have to change the words to get comedy,” said DesJarlais.