U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais said in a recent interview that after about eight stops at different businesses and industries in the district, “I noticed a new theme has kind of come up. They’re having a real problem finding skilled labor to fill jobs.”
In an effort to fill those positions, he pointed to Motlow State Community College, a two-year college in Smyrna, that is taking its mechatronics program into high schools. Mechatronics combines mechanics, electronics, digital information, automation and robotics.
DesJarlais said robots do particular tasks in automotive plants, but someone with a two-year certificate in mechatronics can maintain the robots and earn $60,000 a year. That is for skilled labor. But for lower skilled jobs, he said the federal government is one of the biggest competitors to filling $10 to $12 an hour positions because it is difficult to entice people off unemployment for $10 an hour.
“As a result, they’re having to pay more and they’re having trouble filling those spots,” he said.
The consensus among voters in 2012 was that the burdensome federal government should just get out of the way and relax some regulations. In recent tele-town hall meetings, the No. 1 concern was “Obamacare” (the president’s health care plan) and its future. No. 2 was jobs and the economy, and third was debt and deficit.
“There has been a lot of diversion in the last year from IRS targeting, Benghazi and things going on in the Middle East,” he said. “We reach out through tele-town halls to know what’s going on in the district because oftentimes, what we’re doing in Washington doesn’t parallel with what’s on the minds of people back here.”
He agreed that the federal government has failed to get out of the way and he is not shocked by the 90 percent disapproval rating of Congress.
“What shocks me is the 10 percent who do approve because I don’t know who they are,” he said. “I think people are frustrated in general with Washington whether you’re Republican, Democrat, Libertarian — it’s just gridlock.”
DesJarlais also expressed frustration by Congress’ failure to pass a bipartisan farm bill for the second year in a row.
“It makes it out of the Agriculture Committee onto the floor and then falls apart,” he said. “Agriculture has always been considered kind of a nonpartisan committee. We all need to eat. We couldn’t even do that, that’s how bad it has gotten.”
Congress now faces another debt ceiling, and yet another continuing resolution at the end of September.
“Now there’s a lot of talk about tying a continuing resolution to defunding Obamacare. Many people want us to defund Obamacare, but part of the problem with it, is when it was passed, it was passed with mandatory spending,” he said. “If we shut down the government because we can’t reach an agreement on a continuing resolution that defunds Obamacare, it doesn’t necessarily defund the program because it is mandatory spending.”
Though tying funding to a continuing resolution would make certain aspects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act more difficult, the fight facing Congress is what to do with health care in exchange for continuing to fund the government another year without a budget.
“I don’t know what options will be on the table. People ask how I’m going to vote and I tell them I will vote very conservatively. I haven’t voted for a continuing resolution yet, but maybe we’ll get a balanced budget or something that would entice me to vote for it,” the congressman said.
The problem with the health care law is that before its passage, he said 75 percent of the people rated their health care as excellent. While technology has driven up the cost of medical care and the cost continues to go up, DesJarlais still believes the private market should compete for consumers.
“When the government does things, it’ always more expensive, less efficient and it never seems to work,” he said.
There were an estimated 30 million uninsured people in America before the law was passed and according to DesJarlais, there will still be 30 million uninsured people in America. The difference is that it will be a different population set.
“They’re shifting the burden to the younger, healthier people,” he said.
Rather than pay much higher insurance premiums, he thinks most young people would opt for the much cheaper penalty attached to their tax returns. Currently, people who cannot afford health insurance would probably qualify for Medicaid or TennCare and people in the middle can get some form of health insurance whether it is catastrophic or through a health savings account.
“Instead, they are trying to shift the cost to others to make it more affordable. The 30 million who are uninsured now, that the president said would get insurance, are going to turn into 30 million other people. We’re still going to spend $2 trillion on this program over 10 years and still be in the same place as where we started,” he said.
Businesses in the service sector, such as fast food, are cutting full-time employees’ hours to part time to avoid paying health insurance, which forces people to hop from one part time job to another, the congressman said.
“I appreciate those guys working because a lot of people just draw unemployment checks rather than even try,” he said.