LANNON - U.S. Rep James Sensenbrenner (R-Menomonee Falls) is no rookie when it comes to town hall meetings; in fact, he has held more in-person meetings than any member of Congress with more than 525 town hall events since 2013.
Since the start of the year alone, he's already held nearly 40. Despite the congressman's regular presence in his constituents' communities, every second of the meetings on Friday, March 3, across Waukesha County suburbs were accounted for with questions and concerns from residents.
Sensenbrenner started his day in Butler and traveled to Lannon, Sussex, Merton and Nashotah for 45-minute meetings where, virtually, no topic was off-limits.
One Lannon audience member who had also attended his Butler session said she kept hearing him use the line "the devil is in the details."
"Mr. Sensenbrenner you say the devil is in the details; I say the devil is in the White House."
Residents shared their concerns over the future of Medicare and Social Security benefits in Lannon.
“I’m concerned about the privatization of Medicare," said one Lannon audience member. "When you are 80 years old and have cancer, you don’t have the energy or the strength to fight the insurance companies. We’re at the mercy of these insurance companies.”
Sensenbrenner said the problem facing traditional Social Security benefits is "there are more older people that are drawing benefits and fewer younger people in the labor market to pay the taxes on those benefits."
The congressman said it's up to congress to make a change before 2033.
"If congress does nothing to change the formula on that, there will be an automatic 27-percent cut in Social Security benefits. In 2033, I will be 90 years old and I’m not going to be in Congress then. It’s going to be up to those who are in Congress to prevent the bottom from being pulled out from people who are on Social Security at that time.”
One man in Lannon asked Sensenbrenner about his take on global warming, climate change and what needs to be done to address the problem.
"I think there is a man-made impact on climate change; there is a scientific consensus that is the case, but there is no scientific consensus on how much human action impacts the climate," Sensenbrenner said.
He said the answer to the problem of climate change lies in the use of better technology.
"We need to have better technology to be able to reduce emissions," Sensenbrenner said. "We cannot put ourselves at a disadvantage to countries like China and India. If we raise our energy prices and they’re allowed to continue to do business as usual … then there’s going to be a great outsourcing of jobs to places like China and India. I will not support, under any circumstances, something that has that as a result.”
Village of Lannon Trustee and president candidate Jerry Newman was in attendance at the town hall meeting. He said he trusts Sensenbrenner's stance on immigration for a very personal reason.
"The Congressman helped my wife (who is originally from Indonesia) get a green card 13 years ago," Newman said. "It was quite a challenge. It took us five years to get a green card and many thousands of dollars, so I’m of course very anti people walking across the border. He’s been very helpful, and he does a fantastic job. I’m always amazed at his memory; he knows all these facts and figures. I give him a lot of credit.”
One of the final questions in Lannon for the Congressman was in regard to the current administration, and it generated a lot of unrest among the audience to the point where the Congressman announced his departure.
"Are you willing to stand up against some of the really ridiculous things that are coming from the White House, or are you going to be like most Republicans? I voted for you, so this can’t be a sore loser thing because I’m tired of hearing that line; this isn’t about sore losers. There are strange things coming from the White House to the point of being ridiculous; they cannot be trusted. I want to know if you are prepared to stand up for what’s right?"
Sensenbrenner reminded the audience that it was important to accept the idea that the President would remain in office for the next four years.
“When that first immigration order came out, I said it wasn’t right," Sensenbrenner said. "Sometimes, we do have a little problem getting press coverage when we say something is right or not right. I would just point out to you that the president has done lot of things by executive order."
In Sussex, audience members began shouting at the Congressman when he began leaving around 10:45 a.m. for his Merton town hall meeting, which was to start at 11:15 a.m.; they claimed he was leaving far too early to get to a village that was five minutes away from Sussex, and in essence, they were not given enough time to ask questions.
Sensenbrenner's communications director Nicole Tieman said the circumstances of his departure was due to his very busy meeting schedule.
"Normally, office hour sessions, such as the ones held today, are sparsely attended and end much more quickly than a traditional town hall meeting," Tieman said. "With that in mind, they are scheduled differently than a traditional town hall meeting, with less time allotted for each one. Although the Congressman has been holding frequent office hours and meetings since he was first elected, it’s only been recently that there’s been a significant uptick in interest.
"Unfortunately, that means that there is not always time to get to every question in the amount of time available. However, in addition to the many in-person meeting opportunities the Congressman provides, constituents are welcome and encouraged to contact our office by phone, email, or standard mail with any questions, concerns, or opinions they’d like to share with the Congressman. Every constituent who contacts our office and wishes to receive a response from the Congressman receives one in short order."