Republican candidate for U.S. House (10th 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?
The problem of rising deficits and debt has become impossible to ignore. It has quadrupled under both Republican and Democratic administrations. During the previous administration, it nearly doubled. As a father of three young children, it's staggering to think that by the time they cast their first votes, their respective share of the national debt is on course to exceed $70,000. Because our economic position in the global economy will remain unmatched for the foreseeable future, we are most likely able to delay the day of reckoning. However, our rising debt levels hamper our "fiscal freedom" - our ability to set short-term governing priorities, respond to the challenges of our time, and allocate precious taxpayer resources accordingly.
As a fiscal conservative, I believe in balanced budgets - including zero-based budgeting - but I also believe we need more than just arguments over how to divide the current revenue pie. We need leaders in Washington committed to supporting policies that will lead to explosive economic growth. The increased revenues from a period of sustained growth will help us tackle our short-term deficit and long-term debt problems so we can restore our fiscal freedom and control the future rather than just figure out how to pay for the promises of the past.
Can you identify any major federal expenditures or programs that you would eliminate?
If we were to adopt zero-based budgeting, every federal program or expenditure would have to be justified and voted on annually. This would move us away from recent budgetary practices, where federal spending is all jammed together in long-term continuing resolutions and put on auto-pilot. That may be easier for politicians in Washington, but it makes no sense as a budgetary practice designed to determine our priorities as a country.
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.
Politicians in Washington who demagogue the need to reform long-term entitlement spending like Medicare and Medicaid and refuse to deal seriously with what may be the most avoidable financial crisis in U.S. history are doing a disservice to their constituents in exchange for short-term political gain.
The projections cannot be ignored: Medicare's insolvency date is just over 10 years away and Medicaid, a program entering a 15th year on the Government Accountability Office's list of high-risk programs, continues to consume an increasingly massive share of federal and state budgets.
Medicare needs reforms that point the program in a more market-oriented direction. I do not think the current program should be changed for those who are at or near retirement age, nor does it need to be for a dramatic, positive step towards long-term solvency. We can honor our promises to our seniors and those close to retirement age while adjusting the eligibility age for younger folks like me a generation or more away from a retirement that will most likely come later in life as we live longer and the nature of the workplace changes.
In addition, we should give consumers more choice among competing coverage options by the transformation of Medicare into a defined-contribution model along the lines of today's Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D, preserving safety-net protections for lower-income seniors. Participating health plans would receive federal funding for Medicare benefits to enrollees, and seniors who select less expensive plans could pocket the difference while those who choose more expensive plans could pay extra out of pocket.
I believe free-market competition and consumer choice can work just as well in public programs as in the private sector, and traditional fee-for-service Medicare should be just one of many options on the menu.
Along with its budgetary impact, Medicaid is increasingly ill-serving both its primarily low-income consumers and the physicians who treat them. Similar to what occurred prior to the historic, bipartisan welfare reform of the 1990's, the federal government should start by studying some of the promising state-level Medicaid reforms of recent years in states like Indiana, Arkansas and Kentucky. Similarly, states are going to have to take the lead role in reforming Medicaid to give it a sustainable future.
Every serious, budget-conscious Medicaid reform plan envisions federal funding in a predictable, per-capita payment mechanism, as opposed to the fee-for-service system today. However, this transition needs do more than the Congressional plans offered recently to soften the blow for states, like Illinois, that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
What if anything should be the federal government's role in helping Americans obtain health insurance coverage?
Something as important, and complex, as health care should not simply be handed over to the government. I profoundly disagree with Congressman Schneider's recently expressed openness to either a "Single-payer" or "Medicare for All" option.
The goal should be first and foremost to empower individual consumers and foster innovation (not Uncle Sam's forte), not to expand federal control over a system that has been government-dominated for decades. Outside of its historic, widely-accepted role in ensuring that some form of care is available to children, the elderly and poor, we should be constantly looking for ways to pursue market-oriented reforms instead of top-down governmental decision making. Recent reform proposals that would have substituted a system of tax-credits for the failed system of mandates is a good example of a reform that's consumer oriented and respectful of individual decision-making.
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?
Our economy has been stuck in a slow grind since the turn of the century and we need to jumpstart it. I will support policies in Washington that can create the explosive economic growth we need to grow our way out of our short and long-term fiscal problems. I have outlined a number of priorities to enhance American prosperity.
First on that list has been the need to overhaul the tax code, including tax cuts for hardworking, middle-class taxpayers and major, pro-growth business reforms that will help create thousands of jobs. Unlike my opponents in the primary election and Congressman Schneider, I have been a vocal advocate for historic tax cut legislation just passed by Congress and signed by the President. Not only are the vast majority of taxpayers in the Tenth District going to see lower taxes this year and into the future, but the many small and large businesses throughout the district are going to be far better off than had the tax code status quo been maintained by status-quo politicians like Brad Schneider. We must continue to reduce the regulatory burden suffocating job creation and business investment.
Now that tax reform is accomplished, the time is also ripe for a 21st century Infrastructure upgrade. Infrastructure is critically important here in Illinois, and our state and congressional district could see a huge boom from fixing our crumbling roads, bridges, rail and waterways.
We also need to accept the reality that 95% of the world's consumers live outside of the US, and international trade is a net benefit for our country - especially our state and congressional district. Brad Schneider put his finger in the air when the political winds shifted in 2016 on international trade, and he shares blame with Democrats and Republicans in Congress who set the table for the President's unfortunate withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. At a time when free-trade is under attack, I will be a fighter for small businesses, manufacturers, workers and consumers.
Finally, part of growing our economy means we need to grow it for everyone. As the first in my family to graduate with a 4-year degree, I intend to be a vocal advocate for strengthening technical and vocational training so more folks can graduate high school or re-enter the workforce ready to work in jobs that are desperately seeking them. We also need to ensure that college is affordable for everyone who wants to go so students don't graduate overburdened by student debt and with inflated credentials in the form of degrees that don't lead to jobs they want.
We can also enhance American prosperity by helping young families with both parents in the workforce. Both my wife and I work while raising three young kids. Neither of us want to give up our careers, and in today's economy we shouldn't have to. That means everything needs to be on the table in the 21st century, including encouraging increased workplace flexibility to taking a look at federal family leave policies.
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?
Our immigration system is broken, and it's the foremost example in this country of how partisan opposition in Washington D.C. thwarts what the majority of the American people would consider a good solution to a national problem. A little bit of bipartisan compromise on this issue would go a long way.
First, I would support what should be a simple bipartisan compromise that would have the support of the vast majority of Americans - allowing the Dreamers to remain here on a path to citizenship in a legislative package that includes real, enhanced border security measures. A functional Congress should have been able to pass a measure like this within days of the White House meeting between President Trump and Democratic leadership.
Second, if we have demonstrated a serious approach to border enforcement (which should not be viewed as a "compromise" but rather a legal obligation on the part of the executive branch), we can move on to the difficult question of what to do with the non-Dreamer, undocumented adult population. If we have achieved operational control over our borders, we can then look at ways to allow law-abiding immigrants to earn legal status in exchange for stepped-up enforcement on individuals here who should be considered for deportation.
Perhaps more importantly, the time has also come to reform our legal-immigration system. We need to update our immigration laws to better reflect our country's economic needs, in particular as it relates to labor-force growth and its effect on economic growth. Except in cases of refugees and asylum, we must deemphasize extended-family unification as an organizing principle of immigration policy, gear our system towards economic contribution, and favor higher-skilled over lower-skilled immigration, especially for those who have come here to study and wish to remain and apply their skills. I would support a legislative effort that eases the legal immigration process while changing how we prioritize who comes here. Businesses should be willing to accept and implement serious workplace reforms to verify that new hires are living in the U.S. legally for the increased ease and availability of "high and unique skill" immigration.
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?
The threat from North Korea and the Kim Jong Un regime will almost certainly come to a crisis point in 2018. While Democratic and Republican presidents have made good-faith but ultimately ineffective efforts to negotiate for the last 25 years, the Kim regime has patiently proceeded along the path of nuclearization, becoming significantly closer to a full-on nuclear power in the last few years under the Obama administration's "strategic patience" approach.
This is not merely a problem for the Korean peninsula or our Pacific allies, but the Kim regime's strategic and economic ties to bad actors across the world, like Iran, Russia and Syria, and its support for international terror, mean that what North Korea has today could be sold tomorrow. Seeking to contain the Kim regime is the worst of all options. He is totally irrational, and we have little understanding of North Korea's closed society and governmental decision-making process, making intelligence-gathering exceedingly difficult and deterrence exceptionally risky.
We need to aggressively confront North Korea in numerous ways. First, we need to make clear that our long-term strategic goal is the peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula and act accordingly. As our last diplomatic option, the Chinese need to be seriously tested on whether they would like to see reunification occur by the inevitable and catastrophic collapse of North Korea, or a managed, international process taking their strategic concerns into account.
Second, we must continue to put a total economic squeeze on North Korea similar to our pre-2016 sanctions policy on Iran. The Kim regime and its international enablers need to know that they can either do business with the U.S., or they can do business with the regime, but not both.
Third, we must begin to challenge North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile tests using both covert means to disrupt their program and overt acts to confront their missile tests through enhanced missile-defense options. We have the capability to demonstrate to the North Koreans that the peninsula is to be considered a "no test" and "no fly" zone.
Finally, it is in the category of good news if the Kim regime believes there exists a credible military threat as a last resort to a North Korea with deliverable nuclear weapons.
ISIS is contained in Syria and Iraq but terrorism remains a threat. What are your priorities in keeping the country safe?
Ten years ago, I switched careers to follow my passion to shape U.S. foreign policy in a way that keeps our country and allies safe. Unfortunately over the last few years, too many elected officials have let party politics dictate when and how they react when our security and that of our allies is at stake. Through my leadership in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Republican Jewish Coalition, I have spent the last 10 years of my professional life traveling across Illinois and other Midwestern states working with both Republican and Democratic lawmakers for bipartisan U.S. foreign policy outcomes -- like crippling sanctions against Iran -- while educating hardworking Americans of all races, religions and political affiliations to engage in shaping U.S. foreign policy.
We've seen what happens the last 8 years when we lead from behind - our allies question America's commitments and our adversaries sense weakness and lack of resolve. We must end our bipartisan flirtation with the notion that it's time for US disengagement, and elect leaders committed to the reality that our leadership is just as crucial to the security, prosperity and freedom of the American people today as it's always been.
One of my top priorities in Congress would be to correct the mistakes of the last few years by adequately resourcing our military to meet the challenges ahead and reverse its hollowing out based on short-term budget politics in DC. I encouraged members of Congress to forego defense sequestration at the time it was enacted, and I have opposed it ever since.
ISIS's acts of terror and unspeakable cruelty were a shock across the Middle East and the world, but they were never the long-term strategic threat in the region. That threat was and remains Iran's pursuit of a nuclear-weapons capability, hegemonic ambitions and regional destabilization, and state sponsor of terrorism that has killed more Americans than any group other than Al Qaeda. The United States must more forcefully confront Iran's aggression, actively support regional allies, and especially now that ISIS has been rolled back, more actively engage in ending the Assad regime in Syria to roll back Iranian influence and thwart their strategic goal of a "land bridge" from Tehran to the Mediterranean, taking away the largest terrorist breeding ground in the world.
Along with confronting North Korean and Iranian ambitions, we must continue to stand with our NATO allies and check Russian revanchism and aggression across the world. To my pleasant surprise, there is no longer any doubt that on a policy basis we have finally taken a much tougher stand against Russia over the last year than at any point in the previous administration - expanding sanctions; striking Putin's allies and interests with missiles in Syria and sanctions in Chechnya; and finally selling lethal arms to our allies in Ukraine. We must continue to confront Putin's geopolitical aggression as well as his continued attempts to interfere in our democratic process and that of our allies across the world.
Should the U.S. continue to abide by the terms of the nuclear agreement with Iran?
For ten years, I was privileged to work alongside Republicans and Democrats here in the Tenth District to enact legislation that would prevent Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapons capability. Unfortunately, as I have argued publicly since the day of its announcement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or Iran nuclear deal, legitimizes Iran's program and, even under a best-case scenario, puts Iran on an internationally-sanctioned glide path to a nuclear weapons capability less than a decade from now.
The terms of the agreement - its problematic sunset clauses; its lack of "anytime, anywhere" international inspections of key military sites to determine the possible military dimensions of Iranian nuclear activity and their adherence to the agreement; and its failure to adequately curtail Iranian ballistic missile activity and regional aggression - are not in the long-term national security interests of the United States. That's why I was proud to work hard alongside so many folks in the Tenth District to prevent the adoption of this disastrous agreement via the previous administration's end-run around Congress and the American people.
While I remain skeptical about whether there is ultimately an acceptable deal to made with the current Iranian regime, the administration's recent decision to "decertify" was a necessary first step that gives the administration, with input from Congress, the opportunity and the leverage to re-negotiate the deal so it will actually serve America's best interests, not just Iran's. If this cannot be achieved, precisely because the terms of the agreement are so terrible and will ultimately imperil the United States and endanger our allies, we must immediately reinstate the sanctions that were bringing Iran to the table in the first place, as well as seek to enact even tougher sanctions that would all but freeze Iran out of the global economy.
The Tenth District has yet to hear a clear position from Brad Schneider on this critical issue. Instead, from the announcement of the Iran deal in 2015, we have been offered weak generalities and indecisiveness instead of forceful leadership. Even though the deal so plainly failed to meet his publicly outlined conditions for acceptance, he spent the most critical weeks in the legislative fight to prevent its adoption under radio silence so as not to upset his party leadership. He then flip-flopped to "100% support" of the deal for political advantage in the midst of a tough Democratic primary race against a pro-deal opponent.
Finally, despite continued Iranian violations of both the letter and the spirit of the agreement, Brad Schneider recently supported legally re-certifying that Iran was complying with the deal and that it is "vital to the national security interests of the United States." At the same time, he called for its amendment, a purely political attempt to have it both ways because renegotiating the multiple, disastrous flaws in the agreement absent increased U.S. leverage will simply never happen in the context of the JCPOA and its adopting UN Security Council Resolution.
What is your position on the continued presence of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan?
The war in Afghanistan has gone on for too long. However, considering the U.S. and international investment, the brave lives lost in the fight, and our strategic commitment to the region, we simply cannot prematurely pick up stakes and leave before the government of Afghanistan is able to maintain stability. If we do, we will soon be looking at another terrorist safe haven like we recently made efforts to eradicate across Iraq and Syria under ISIS control. For our security and that of our allies, that cannot occur.
I am glad the current administration listened to the Pentagon and our military leaders on the ground and made clear in 2017 that we will not repeat our mistake in Iraq and prematurely withdrawal from Afghanistan under a politically motivated timetable. The previous administration's decision to surge troops into Afghanistan while simultaneously announcing a withdrawal date simply signaled to the Taliban that a couple years of patience would allow them to fill the vacuum we left behind. That's exactly what occurred.
As we move forward and try to win America's longest war, it is imperative that the Commander-in-Chief regularly consult with Congress, speak to the American people, and in a serious way define what victory will look like and the commitments - in troops, money and diplomatic capital -- necessary to bring it about. I have long believed that a serious leg of a victorious strategy in Afghanistan will have to include a more confrontational diplomatic engagement with Pakistan. Pakistan must be on notice that their double-game of collecting billions of dollars in U.S. security assistance to fight terror, while often sponsoring or turning a blind eye to the problem to keep the spigot open, is going to end.
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.
I am a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment and was raised in an environment of near universal gun ownership among rural homeowners and sportsmen. It is because of this, not in spite of it, that I am also a supporter of universal background checks on all gun purchases, a position supported by the vast majority of American gun owners and folks on both sides of the partisan divide.
There are other opportunities for Congress to act in a bipartisan manner to keep Americans safe without unconstitutionally infringing on the 2nd Amendment rights of responsible gun owners. I would support legislation introduced by Republican Carlos Curbelo and Democrat Seth Moulton to ban the sale of bump fire stocks. Automatic-fire weapons are heavily restricted and nearly impossible to obtain under federal law, so it is only common sense to ban a device that allows that regulatory distinction between a semi-automatic and automatic weapon to be effectively erased.
Most importantly, instead of endless political grandstanding, we need to focus our efforts on the areas where we can have the greatest effect with the lightest burden on law-abiding gun owners - that is, strongly enforcing existing gun laws against "straw purchasers" and new federal legislation to combat gun trafficking and severely punish those who engage in straw purchasing for any reason whatsoever.
Should the U.S. government take steps to curb emissions of greenhouse gas? If so, what steps? If not, why not?
At this point, it is indisputable that climate change is occurring as a result of human activity, in particular greenhouse gas emissions. However, there remains a good-faith public policy disagreement on the short and long-term risks of climate change, its imminence and scale, and the feasibility - economic, political and otherwise - of various potential solutions. We need climate solutions that can bridge partisan divisions and strengthen our economy while protecting our environment. As on so many issues, these criteria are hard to meet when we rely on heavy-handed regulation and executive-branch and federal-agency micromanagement. Policies enacted by executive fiat are simply erased when partisan control changes.
Instead, while free-market economics and technological innovation work their magic over time, I think the best opportunity for the federal government to curb greenhouse gas emissions in a comprehensive, market-based way is through tax policy, something along the lines of a federal tax credit for zero-emissions energy sources like nuclear, wind, solar and hydro. Ending the inefficient subsidies, while eliminating the federal tax burden (ultimately borne by consumers) on these energy sources and reducing it for traditional energy providers as they reduce their own emissions, will both reduce rates for hardworking Americans while rewarding and incentivizing growth and innovation for the cleaner energy of the future. While we work towards a more comprehensive approach, we should pursue opportunities for smaller-scale legislative victories that could pass in a bipartisan manner.
No matter the action we take here in the United States, developing nations across the world are unlikely to follow suit. Thus, we should first devote resources to researching how to mitigate and adapt to the effects of a changing climate. No matter the action we take here in the United States, developing nations across the world are unlikely to follow suit. Nuclear energy being the largest source of zero-emissions energy, Congress should spur research into next-generation nuclear. Finally, we need to take our changing climate into account when we move on a 21st century Infrastructure package.
Tell us something about you that might surprise us.
As a small-town kid growing up in a home where finances were often a bit tight, I had an eclectic series of jobs before coming to Chicago for law-school in 2003: delivering firewood, selling frozen meat door-to-door, bailing hay, roofing barns, building swimming pools, cleaning crew at a sports arena, substitute teaching, telephone line installation, playhouse theater catering, and shoveling cow manure (that one could come in handy in Washington).
If you are an incumbent, tell us the most significant accomplishment of your current term.