U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Western Springs, has served in Congress for 12 years, representing Illinois' 3rd District.
Lipinski generally is known as one of the more moderate to conservative Democrats in Congress. He argues that he can act independently with a more pragmatic approach, that is representative of his constituents.
As Congress was on its July 4 recess, Lipinski sat down with reporter Alex Ortiz at Lipinski’s Lockport office to talk about the health care debate, his record with the 3rd District and what he worries about in our current political climate. Below is an edited version of the conversation.
Ortiz: What are you hearing from your constituents? What are they saying?
Lipinski: I think there is a lot of frustration that certainly has been seen for a number of years. The 3rd District is a more pragmatic, very focused on everyday life. The extreme ideologies don’t play as much. It’s people who are concerned about “What’s going to happen? What’s the future for me and my family?” President [Donald] Trump’s election concerned many people. Some people were excited by it and the possibility of change. I think there’s been a lot of frustration that some people who may have been excited by a change with President Trump being elected have been disappointed that he may have changed the way he communicates and the things that he says, but he hasn’t really changed the ways of Washington.
Ortiz: Do you think there are still areas for political compromise considering the amount of polarization we’re experiencing?
Lipinski: I’m still hoping for an infrastructure bill. It’s something that’s not a partisan issue. Democrats and Republicans agree that we have a lot of important infrastructure problems that we really need to fix. I’m focused to a large extent on transportation because I’m on the Transportation Committee, but there’s also water and sewer infrastructure, which is in great need in my district. It’s very tough having the funding to be able to take care of that. I think it’s something that can really bring people together.
Ortiz: You voted against the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and against the House repeal bill in May. You say you want to improve the ACA. Philosophically, what should the government’s role in health care be?
Lipinski: Well, philosophically, I was not opposed to the idea of the Affordable Care Act back in 2010. I made it very clear that I was not coming from a Republican perspective that this was a government takeover of our health care system and the idea that the government should not be helping people to purchase health insurance. I agreed that this is something we should be doing, and that it would be helpful, and that more people would be able to purchase insurance. But at the time, I said I don’t see this succeeding. I see problems coming down the line that it’s going to be more expensive than was promised. It does nothing whatsoever about cost. So my concern was not we shouldn’t be doing this (and) this isn’t the proper role for government. It was I don’t think this plan was going to work. Afterwards, I said I’m opposed to repealing this. It’s in place now. Let’s work on fixing it.
Ortiz: So you’ve drawn a challenger in Marie Newman. There’s a lot of energy on the left. Are you worried about something similar happening in 2018 that happened in 2010 with more moderate members of Congress losing their seats to challengers?
Lipinski: I think that there is definitely energy on the left, although I’ve seen that energy drop a little since the first couple months of the year. A lot of the energy is anti-Trump. I’m happy that (Democratic) party leadership is saying we need to be more than just anti-Trump. We need to have ideas about where we want to go. In the 2010 election, you didn’t see as much in the primaries as you did in the general election, where more Republicans came out than Democrats because they were really riled up. I’m hopeful that that’s the case again (but) for the Democratic party and we can have a good year because we are very much in a hole. But for me, I am who I’ve always been. I think people appreciate the work that I’ve done. I’ve always had issues with people on either extreme who are not happy because I’m not far enough left or far enough right. But like I said, I think it’s a more pragmatic district. In the (2016) primary, Bernie Sanders won my district easily. But very few people look at my district and immediately say, “Well, that’s a Bernie Sanders district.” In my district, the trade issue was very significant, and I have always been very out front and leading against the Trans-
Pacific Partnership. I think my more independent way of doing things and really focusing on my district really serves me well. I’m not the left wing, so people there are not going to be happy with me. But I think in general they like the fact that I’m not part of the status quo.