Daniel William Lipinski
Democratic candidate for U.S. House (3rd district)
Responses to our questions
The U.S. government is now $20 trillion in debt. To address that historic level of public indebtedness, the country would need to raise revenue and/or decrease spending. What is your position on the budget and debt?
Last summer, the Congressional Budget Office projected that our public debt will surpass 91% of GDP by 2027 and in three decades it will reach 150% of GDP if we do not make any policy changes.
These projections were done before the Republican tax bill was passed which will add about $1.5 trillion in debt over the next ten years. This is unacceptable. Throughout my time in Congress I have been a leading proponent of bipartisan efforts to forge a balanced plan to reduce our long-term debt. In March 2012, I helped bring to the floor of the House a budget that would have cut deficits by more than $4 trillion over 10 years. This plan was based on recommendations from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform -- the Simpson-Bowles Commission -- and contained a mix of revenue increases and spending cuts. Only 38 members had the courage to support that budget blueprint after leaders in both parties whipped their members to oppose the plan.
Little progress has been made on reducing long-term debt in the past few years as Congress has focused on partisan politics and not on solutions. I have continued to be involved with the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and the Campaign to Fix the Debt in order to work on bringing people together to address our long-term debt in a responsible manner. When addressing our debt, all options should be on the table.
Overall, our budget problems must be tackled through a mix of revenue increases and spending cuts. The only way to do this will be a bipartisan approach that eschews political gain for the good of our nation, but Washington is failing to embrace this approach.
Can you identify any major federal expenditures or programs that you would eliminate?
There are two specific areas where I would begin to reduce federal expenditures, the Defense Department weapons acquisition system and our farm support programs.
The DOD budget is nearly $600 billion (FY17 was $593 including the Overseas Contingency Operations budget). Much of this spending is in support of our ongoing conflicts around the world, and to provide vital pay and benefits to our servicemen and women. However, billions are wasted annually in our development and procurement of new weapons systems. We have a woefully inefficient acquisition system, prone to abuse and waste, that must be reformed. The DOD itself has estimated that it could save over $100 billion in 5 years if certain reforms were put in place.
But fundamental reform is not just tinkering with the current acquisition system but changing the way national security organizations and solutions are thought about, organized, built, and deployed. I helped this process move forward with an amendment to the FY18 Defense Authorization Act which funds a program that teaches and applies an innovative mindset to more quickly adopt, adapt, and deploy technology to improve national security (see Hacking for Defense in accomplishments question below).
While we move toward fundamental reform of the acquisition process, one program that I have supported cutting is the Long-Range Standoff Weapon, a nuclear-armed, air-launched cruise missile. I supported Congressman Quigley's amendment to the FY17 Defense Appropriations bill which sought to cut funding for this missile. Estimates of savings from cancelling this weapon system range from $15 billion to $30 billion. Modernizing instead of developing and procuring new missiles would cost a fraction of this amount. While the U.S. must maintain an effective and modern deterrent, the nuclear cruise missile does not significantly improve our deterrent capacity especially as the Air Force begins to procure a new stealth bomber known as the B-21.
I also support reform and reductions in our farm support programs. The U.S. needs to help out farmers when bad weather or disaster hits, but many modern farms are corporate owned and there are fewer and fewer family-owned farms remaining. We need to focus farm support on disaster-type situations and not simply maintaining prices. Farm safety net programs were revised in recent years with the intent of reducing reliance on the federal government, but their design has still left taxpayers on the hook for pricing losses and not just natural events. Estimates of savings from reforming crop insurance range from $15 billion to $25 billion over ten years.
Medicare and Medicaid costs continue to spiral. How can these programs be restructured to control costs and avoid collapse? Be specific about your willingness to change or reduce future benefits.
For decades, Medicare and Medicaid have brought quality healthcare to seniors, the disabled, and those less fortunate. To ensure that these programs can continue successfully, we must address the fact that increased healthcare costs and our aging population affect their long-term sustainability.
While healthcare spending growth has slowed, including for Medicare and Medicaid, health spending still continues to grow faster than the economy as a whole. Moreover, while the Medicare trust fund insolvency date has been extended from past estimates, the trust fund is still expected to become insolvent by 2029. More must be done to get healthcare spending under control and ensure we can keep the promises we have made. Lowering health care costs, in general, will cut the costs of these government programs.
During my time in Congress, I have been a strong proponent of reforming healthcare delivery systems while ensuring that we keep our promises to beneficiaries of programs like Medicare and avoid benefit cuts. I have advocated that the government do more to promote and incentivize reforms to bend the healthcare cost curve, such as accountable care organizations (ACOs), bundled payments, and medical homes. Both public health programs like Medicare and the private sector have now had more experience with delivering care in these new ways, and we should use the data we've gathered to make effective changes more widespread.
That's why I'm deeply concerned by recent decisions of the Trump Administration to roll back cost-saving initiatives under Medicare, including canceling bundled payment reforms for costly cardiac care and hip fracture procedures, and scaling back a bundled payment initiative for hip and knee joint replacements. This pushes Medicare away from paying doctors for better quality care instead of more low-quality procedures, and takes Medicare in the wrong direction. I'm closely monitoring the next steps the Administration takes on this issue.
Congress should also provide additional resources to Medicare to combat waste, fraud, and abuse, as well as allow Medicare to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies on the prices paid for drugs. This last change could save as much as $156 billion for the government and $27 billion for seniors over 10 years. After slowing for a few years, increases in prescription drug costs are expected to surge again.
What if anything should be the federal government's role in helping Americans obtain health insurance coverage?
Regardless of anyone's overall position on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it was clear the pre-ACA individual and small group health insurance market was unsustainable and in critical need of reform. I did not vote for the ACA because of significant flaws in the legislation, but since it became law I have opposed repeal but have fought for revisions that would make it work better and not raise our federal debt.
Unfortunately both parties refused to take this position, with Republicans demanding repeal only and Democrats not wanting to admit there are problems with the law. I took this position because I believe that the federal government does have a role to play in helping Americans get health insurance coverage. Since implementation of the ACA the uninsured rate has fallen from a high of 18.2% down to 10.3% in 2016. But the only significant change made to the law since its enactment was the repeal of the long-term care program which would have been a major contributor to increased debt after two decades.
With the failure of Republicans' "repeal and replace" bill, it is finally time Congress turns to reform of the ACA. In the immediate near future, the best thing that Congress can do to promote health insurance coverage is to work to stabilize the ACA markets, bring down costs, and enact policies to keep premium growth under control. In 2017, I helped lead the development of bipartisan legislation by the Congressional Problem Solvers' Caucus that would help accomplish these tasks.
The biggest reason for the 2018 premium spike for insurance through ACA markets is that President Trump stopped making cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurance companies. CSR payments are required under the ACA to help low- and moderate-income individuals pay for out-of-pocket costs such as deductibles, but a flaw in the law did not directly fund them. As a result, the President had the ability to stop the payments unilaterally.
According to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, failure to pay CSRs is driving up premiums on benchmark health plans an additional 20% in 2018, and that will rise to 25% in 2020, making insurance even less affordable. In addition, the CBO says that if CSRs are not paid over the next ten years we will add $194 billion to our federal debt because the cost of ACA premium support will rise significantly.
The Problem Solvers' plan would also create a dedicated stability fund for states to facilitate reinsurance programs or other methods of paying for high-cost enrollees. The ACA had a reinsurance program for three years but it ended after 2016. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that reinsurance reduced premiums for ACA plans by 10% before 2017, so reinstituting the program should have a similar impact.
Enacting this plan would bring stability to the market right now, give more Americans confidence in the care they can get, and provide the foundation for Congress to enact further reform of our healthcare system in the future.
Economic growth has been steady but wage growth is slow. Are you content with the state of the economy? What is your recipe for enhancing American prosperity?
In all the commotion that's been going on over the past year, what's largely been missing is a focus on how we're going to produce more good-paying jobs and give the middle class a needed boost. Unemployment rates are low but wages have been rising very slowly and are still below pre-recession levels.
The solution involves instituting policies that help grow good-paying jobs. I have focused on promoting job growth through rebuilding our transportation infrastructure, boosting manufacturing, and facilitating the development of technological innovations. I am our state's most senior member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee because I know how critical a good, efficient transportation system is for individuals to get to work and for businesses to create more jobs.
Building and repairing transportation infrastructure, whether it is roads, public transit, rails, airports, or waterways — all of which are prevalent in my district, immediately creates jobs, and I have been successful in bringing back hundreds of millions of dollars for specific projects and helping increase levels of federal funding for all these modes of transportation. Since President Trump has not delivered an infrastructure plan, Congress needs to come together on a bipartisan plan that eliminates the shortfall in the highway trust fund and dedicates more funding to our nation's infrastructure.
I have also been a champion of manufacturing which produces high-quality jobs and has a significant multiplier effect in creating additional jobs. Thanks to a bill I authored, every four years the presidential administration will need to create a plan to promote American manufacturing; the first one is required to be published in May and will be the first American manufacturing strategy since Alexander Hamilton.
I have been able to add and strengthen Buy American provisions in a number of bills in the Transportation Committee so that our taxpayer dollars create American jobs. I have also fought for better trade agreements that help American manufacturers. I will continue this work and more to lead in promoting manufacturing jobs.
Finally, I will continue my work on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee to facilitate the creation of jobs through technological innovation. I helped establish and expand the Innovation Corps program, first at the National Science Foundation and now throughout the government, to provide university, national laboratory, and government researchers with the necessary skills and tools to take their ideas from the lab to the market, enabling greater small business job creation. With Argonne National Lab in the district and many great research universities in the vicinity, I will continue to work on ways to advance American research and technology and facilitate the creation of new small businesses and jobs.
We must keep America at the forefront of research and technological innovation and I will continue to focus on maintaining a robust federal role in funding education and research and in facilitating innovative programs that boost our economy.
If you could fix longstanding problems with this country's immigration system tomorrow, what would you do? What is your position on the future of DACA and the Dreamers?
America is a nation of immigrants. Throughout our history, most immigrants have been hard-working people who come here to make a better life for themselves and their families. Congress should act on immigration reform in a comprehensive manner.
Despite some of the rhetoric we have heard recently, it is not only impossible to remove all unlawful immigrants it is not in the best interest of our nation to try to do so. Congress should develop legislation that continues to allow immigrants to contribute to and become a part of our nation, while also stopping illegal immigration, protecting American workers, growing the economy, and not driving up the national debt.
My immediate priority on immigration is to ensure Congress addresses the needs of immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and had been provided temporary relief under President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Earlier this year in anticipation of possible action by the new administration, I co-sponsored H.R. 496, the BRIDGE Act, which would protect DACA recipients from deportation and give them work authorization for an additional three years. In addition, I have signed the discharge petition to force a vote on H.R. 3440, the Dream Act, which would provide these immigrants a pathway to citizenship.
In September, the Trump Administration announced it would begin to dismantle DACA and fully end it in 6 months. After House Democratic Leader Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Schumer announced later that month that they had made a deal with the President to protect DACA recipients from deportation while increasing border security, the House Problem Solvers Caucus formed a working group to develop the details of such an agreement. I'm one of the ten members of that working group and we continue to work to come up with a proposal to give DACA recipients a pathway to citizenship while strengthening border security without funding a wall. I am hopeful as we enter the new year we will be able to find a bipartisan solution for these immigrants and that that solution can then lead the way to further action on immigration reform.
North Korea's nuclear weapons program represents a direct threat to the security of the United States and its Pacific allies. How should the U.S. confront or contain Kim Jong Un's regime?
North Korea presents an increasing and alarming threat to the United States and its allies. Clearly, North Korea's development of new and more capable intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons is a danger to the United States, and its rhetoric is belligerent. However, I think that the United States and President Trump should undertake all possible measures to avoid a conflict and deter North Korea rather than provoking the country and its leadership and risking a potential miscalculation or even intentional conflict.
Seoul is within 35 miles of the border with North Korea, and is targeted by countless artillery and other weaponry, while most of Japan is in range of North Korean missiles. Tens of thousands of American military personnel and their families reside in South Korea and Japan, and would be imminently at risk if a conventional conflict were to break out between the U.S. and North Korea, not to mention the millions of South Koreans and Japanese civilians who could be harmed if fighting broke out. But at the same time, North Korea has hidden its conventional weaponry and missile systems well, so it appears unlikely that the United States could take them all out quickly if we chose to act preemptively or otherwise.
That does not mean that the United States should kowtow to North Korea's threats. We can and should continue to expand and improve our missile defense arsenal, something that I have long supported. Not only can this aid in the defense of American soil and military bases, as well as our allies, it also serves as a deterrent — if Kim Jong-un thinks his missiles might get shot down but he still faces a counter-attack if his effort fails, it increases the likelihood of discouraging him from an initial attack.
We must continue to pursue diplomacy directly with North Korea, indirectly through intermediaries like China and Russia, and to encourage multi-party talks. Reportedly, the U.S. State Department has engaged in unofficial talks with North Korean diplomats, and this should continue, instead of the playground name-calling and bluster that has more publicly reflected U.S. posture towards North Korea. We should also increase American and UN sanctions on non-humanitarian imports into North Korea, and better enforce the sanctions currently on the books — for instance, if we determine that Russian or Chinese vessels are smuggling oil to North Korea, we should permit seizure of those vessels, penalize owners, or even sanction the owners' nation.
Ultimately, the President needs to keep Americans safe, and it is nearly impossible to forecast what actions Kim Jong-un and North Korea will take in the future. Their missile and nuclear break out during the last few years has been largely a surprise, so discounting any heightened threat from North Korea would be folly. The United States should continue to maintain a strong military presence in the region, and be prepared to react if North Korea poses an immediate threat of armed conflict.
ISIS is contained in Syria and Iraq but terrorism remains a threat. What are your priorities in keeping the country safe?
In regard to threats of terrorism at home, it is important that we continue to provide local law enforcement and federal counter-terrorism agencies with the tools that they need as they protect us. But we cannot allow the threat to facilitate the removal of vital civil liberties. That is why we need to continue to re-evaluate federal laws that have been put in place to foil potential terrorists to make sure that we are protecting civil liberties.
Specifically when it comes to threats from ISIS, the self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria has largely been defeated but this does not mean that the threat from terrorism at home has ended. The United States must continue to work closely with our allies and regional partners to take away ISIS sanctuaries that still exist around the world. We must also coordinate our intelligence and law enforcement resources and agencies to identify individuals who may have fought with ISIS and who are returning to Europe, the United States, and elsewhere, and bring those people to justice before they may commit attacks.
Self-radicalization appears to be the greatest threat that we now face. Law enforcement must pursue positive outreach and communication with Muslim communities in America to help prevent, or identify, any radicalization of individuals who reside here. As I have heard from local Muslim leaders, radicalized individuals are a great threat to their communities. I applaud the work that is being done locally by mosques and Muslim community groups to prevent radicalization.
Should the U.S. continue to abide by the terms of the nuclear agreement with Iran?
I did not support the JCPOA agreement with Iran when it was settled in 2015 because I thought that it gave Iran too much in exchange for too little. Indeed, since then Iran has conducted new missile tests, increased their support for Hezbollah and other terror groups, and is violating the human rights of its citizenry. Furthermore, the agreement sunsets within the next decade, effectively permitting Iran to develop nuclear weapons after that.
But at the same time, according to the IAEA Iran has largely adhered to the agreement and has not conducted any major violations of the JCPOA. Most of the funding that had been withheld from Iran based on sanctions has been released to the country, so that point of leverage is lost, and few if any European partners would join at this time in an effort to shelve the agreement, nor would Russia. So at this time casting the deal out would not lead to an improved situation.
Instead, we must continue to push for the IAEA to have full and unfettered access to all sites in Iran, so that we can be assured that Iran isn't hiding illicit nuclear work at sensitive sites like military facilities. We should also continue to enforce and increase sanctions against Iran and groups like the IRGC for their involvement in exporting terrorism, supporting the Syrian regime, and abusing the human rights of its citizens. And we need to have a robust intelligence capacity with regard to Iran so that if they are abusing the agreement we will know and can share that information with allies in the EU and UN to reimpose nuclear sanctions and, if necessary, reassess the JCPOA.
What is your position on the continued presence of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan?
I know that Americans have grown tired of a conflict that has lasted almost 17 years and which changed from a pursuit of the terrorists responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001, to a larger operation. I also know that the U.S. can't be the security guarantor for Afghanistan forever. But rather than determine a somewhat arbitrary withdrawal approach we should have always allowed conditions on the ground to determine our course of action. President Trump's decision to change course and to increase American troops reflects levels reflects that realization.
I think that the way ISIL grew in Syria and Iraq should be a lesson that extremist groups can quickly overwhelm fractured and poorly trained military forces. We should bolster security in Afghanistan in a manner that will enable them to maintain their own security and stability into the future, such that the American blood and money spilled in that nation isn't for naught and we do not have to send more troops in to root out terrorists.
Do you support a unified, federal background check system for gun sales? Do you support magazine limits or a ban on certain rifles? Describe, briefly, your position on how to balance safety with the Second Amendment.
Our communities and families have borne far too much pain from senseless gun violence. One step we need to take is to do more to keep guns out the hands of criminals and those suffering mental health challenges. While the vast majority of gun owners in the U.S. are responsible individuals who are not threats to their community, any irresponsible, unstable, or dangerous individual with a gun poses a great risk to others and to themselves.
I have strongly supported measures to improve our background check system, and I am a co-sponsor of H.R. 4240 to require background checks on all gun sales, including at gun shows and between private individuals. We must also do more to maintain sufficient information in these systems about who cannot or should not be allowed to buy a weapon. Many states and even some federal agencies are not updating their systems with sufficient criminal background and mental health status information, and that leaves background checks less able to prevent gun sales to risky individuals. That's why I opposed H.Con.Res. 40 and H.R. 1181 which would weaken the federal background check system.
I also support limits on the size of magazines. Large magazines make it too easy for individuals intent on massacring large numbers of people to fire off a substantial number of rounds without reloading or taking time to change weapons. Unfortunately, there are so many detachable magazines that are already available and it is becoming much easier to create these so a ban would not end the availability. But a limit on magazine size would be a deterrence to would-be killers and would not put an undue burden on gun owners.
Recently, I helped introduce the Automatic Gunfire Prevention Act (H.R. 3947), which prohibits the manufacture, possession, sale, and transfer of devices designed to convert a semi-automatic weapon into the near-equivalent of a fully automatic machine gun as was done by the killer in Las Vegas. Automatic fire guns are already very strictly limited so this bill is simply in line with current federal law.
Our laws must also be updated to prevent and increase penalties for gun trafficking and straw purchases (H.R. 1475). Too many of the guns involved in crimes in Chicago and elsewhere get into criminals' hands through 'straw purchases,' where a person with a clean record buys firearms for someone who would get blocked. We must also better prevent individuals from selling or transferring guns with the intent of subverting the background check system or other gun restrictions.
In the current Congress, I have voted three times against efforts to undermine reasonable regulation of firearms. I opposed legislation that would undermine Illinois rules on concealed carry permits (H.R. 38) and two bills that weaken the federal background check system and make it more difficult to stop people with mental illness from getting guns (H.Con.Res. 40 and H.R. 1181).
Should the U.S. government take steps to curb emissions of greenhouse gas? If so, what steps? If not, why not?
The U.S. Government should take action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. We made strides in this regard under the Obama Administration and as a first step we need to defeat the Trump Administration's efforts to roll back these policies. Despite rhetoric justifying recent Administration actions, reducing these greenhouse gas emissions and growing American jobs is not a zero-sum game. There is an increasing market around the world for clean energy technology and the country that leads the way in developing and manufacturing this technology will benefit with significant job growth.
Besides fighting Trump Administration policies, there are also many actions we should be taking to fight climate change. We should keep the Obama-era Clean Power Plan (CPP) in place. The CPP established the first-ever nationwide limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and was the result of years of scientific research and stakeholder input. Under the Trump Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of repealing the CPP, with no replacement plan in place for complying with its legal requirement to regulate carbon dioxide pollution. I joined 24 of my colleagues in the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in sending a letter to EPA Administrator Pruitt, urging him to keep the CPP in place.
We also need to continue funding research and development in clean energy technology such as the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, its Energy Innovation Hubs, and its high-risk, high-reward research program, ARPA-E. The Trump Administration has proposed cutting all of these programs and I am leading my colleagues in the fight to keep them funded, including circulating a letter to protect the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, an Energy Innovation Hub based at Argonne National Lab.
One new policy tool that the government should make better use of to find innovative ways to fight climate change is federal prize competitions. I will soon be introducing a bill called the Challenges and Prizes for Climate Act that will create a series of competitions around climate change and clean energy, and will encourage the private sector to enter their best technologies and ideas to win cash prizes. This is a great way to harness the ingenuity of the public to address pressing problems.
Climate change is a real threat and the longer we wait to take action, the worse the consequences will be. We have witnessed in recent years that reducing greenhouse gas emissions need not and has not come at the expense of our economy and jobs. We need to act on the recommendations of scientists and take immediate action to reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Tell us something about you that might surprise us.
My first policy activism was when I was about 10 or 11 years old and I wanted to stop Japanese tuna fishers from killing dolphins. I wrote a petition to the Japanese government along with a friend of mine and we gathered signatures. We collected signatures outside of Jewel, at Brookfield Zoo, and other places around the area. I don't remember how many signatures we got, but we sent a number of sheets to the Japanese Embassy in Washington, DC. That was before "dolphin safe" tuna existed but I'm not going to take full credit for that corporate policy change.
If you are an incumbent, tell us the most significant accomplishment of your current term.
I authored a bill in the House, and Senator Duckworth introduced the Senate companion, that repealed a USDOT rule that would have required Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), federally-required local transportation planning groups, to consolidate with nearby MPOs. The bill passed was signed into law in May. Forcing MPOs to merge would have caused significant delays and disruptions in getting important transportation projects completed. Locally, this rule would have required an MPO bigger than the state of Massachusetts, representing over 11 million people and encompassing 21 counties and over 520 townships and municipalities in three states, stretching from southern Wisconsin to northern Indiana. Repealing this rule was a good government measure that will eliminate red tape which would have impeded local transportation improvements and it saves taxpayers an estimated $240 million over the next 3 years.
I authored an amendment included in the FY18 National Defense Authorization Act — which was signed into law — that funds programs that revolutionize the way national security challenges are thought about and solved. This is critically important as the companies that have traditionally supplied the Defense Department cannot produce innovations fast enough to face evolving challenges and companies that excel at innovation are generally not focused on defense. One such program that has already been successful is Hacking for Defense which was developed in Silicon Valley and is taught at eight universities around the country. It teaches and applies an innovative mindset to more quickly adopt, adapt, and deploy technology to improve national security.
I was able to add two amendments in the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee to the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) Improvements Act. One reauthorizes a program I created at NIH in the 2011 SBIR reauthorization and expands it to the NSF, DOE, and NASA. The program funds technology transfer centers at universities that find and fund research that has good potential for commercialization. In just two years, 30 patent applications were filed and seven new companies formed through the three centers funded by NIH through the 2011 bill. The SBIR/STTR bill also includes language I authored to help small businesses, especially start-ups, use their funds where they know they're needed most, for technical assistance, creative approaches to problem solving, and other types of guidance needed in today's marketplace. The bill passed the House and awaits action in the Senate.
At the very end of the last Congress in December 2016, the President signed into law the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act which contains a number of my provisions to improve economic competitiveness. These provisions include: language authorizing the Innovation Corps program that teaches scientists how to turn their discoveries into entrepreneurial, job-producing businesses; my bill directing the National Science and Technology Council at the White House to coordinate a U.S. strategy for international science and technology cooperation in order to help address key global challenges; and my bill expanding and improving cyber security and related research programs at the NSF and NIST.