EAST CHICAGO — At his first scheduled town hall meeting Friday, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky tackled myriad regional and national issues including steel imports, infrastructure, the new tax laws and the cleanup of arsenic- and lead-contaminated soil in the city’s residential neighborhoods.
More than 30 residents gathered at the East Chicago Council chambers at City Hall for the 10 a.m. meeting with the 1st District congressman.
“We remain a nation at war,” Visclosky said in his opening remarks, citing the need for support for the thousands of troops currently in the Middle East, Afghanistan and South Korea.
As the ranking member of Congress’ Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, he said the defense budget is $660 billion. The Trump administration removed five “Buy America” portions from the defense appropriations bill.
“I was able to restore those portions,” Visclosky said.
Answering a question from the audience about the increase in steel imports, the congressman said the military utilizes American-produced steel.
“Almost half of the steel that goes into aircraft is poured in Northwest Indiana at ArcelorMittal,” he said.
However, he said, three factors play into whether American-made steel is used by the military — excessive cost, the product isn’t available or if it involves a national emergency.
“It’s a national emergency if we can’t provide steel,” Visclosky said, adding that American steel also could be used for infrastructure such as sewer projects.
The congressman also said he vigorously supports the South Shore West Lake Corridor and double-tracking projects. Not only will it reduce travel time for Northwest Indiana residents going to and from Chicago, he said, it also will help attract new investments.
Visclosky said he’s frustrated with the nation’s fiscal policies, including the new tax bill that he didn’t support. Although households making $49,000 to $86,000 will see a 1.6 percent cut in income taxes, that cut is only temporary, he said. The corporate tax cuts of 40 percent are permanent.
“This will add $1.1 trillion to our national debt,” Visclosky said. “Our young people are going to pay for this the rest of their lives.”
Several people raised questions about the cleanup at the USS Lead Superfund site in the now-vacant West Calumet Housing Complex and the arsenic cleanup at the DuPont site.
“My heart goes out to those who have had to move out of their homes,” Visclosky said, adding that he supports the EPA efforts. However, he questioned why someone would build a public housing project on a known Superfund site.
Getting those industries responsible for contaminating the environment to pay for remediation takes time and too often meets with little success, he said.
“I wish the law would change to clean it (the site) up first then go after payment,” Visclosky said.“If we don’t clean up the legacy of the last 100 years, it won’t be a good place to live.”