Democratic candidate for U.S. House (5th 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 federal government cannot continue on its current fiscal path. In the next two decades, we will face serious problems with our debt that our children and grandchildren will be forced to confront. The costs of an aging population and the unpaid-for Republican tax plan will continue to rise sharply, a fact that Congress must resolve.
To deal with this issue, we must have a long-term plan. Bipartisan solutions to our budget woes exist, but talk is cheap. They only work if members are willing to take tough votes. That's why one of the most important votes I have taken in Congress was for a long-term bipartisan budget plan with only 37 of my colleagues. Introduced by Republican Steve LaTourette and Democrat Jim Cooper, it was modeled after the Simpson-Bowles Commission deficit reduction plan.
The plan included the three "B's" I believe are necessary for any deficit plan. It was big, balanced, and bipartisan. By authorizing $4 trillion in deficit reduction through a mix of revenue raising and spending cuts, the plan was something that members of both parties should have agreed on.
Unfortunately, President Trump and Republicans in Congress have chosen to exacerbate the problem by passing a tax bill that will add $1.5 trillion to our deficits over the next decade. The Republican tax plan will do little to promote economic prosperity and the debt crisis created by these cuts, over 80 percent of which go to the top 1 percent, are being used by Speaker Ryan as justification to slash hundreds of billions from programs that benefit the most vulnerable among us.
In fact, I strongly opposed the Republican budget resolution calling for $1 trillion in cuts to Medicaid and $500 billion from Medicare. We have to be smart in our approach to deficit reduction or risk dramatically harming our economy. However, President Trump's "America First" budget would roll back the progress made under the Obama Administration and eviscerate our commitment to strengthen the middle class. By taking a sequestration-like approach to cutting spending, President Trump targets working families by dramatically reducing spending on cutting edge research, badly needed infrastructure improvements, and jobs training to compete in the global economy.
As the only Illinois member of the House Appropriations Committee, I've seen the harmful impact of cutting spending "across the board" rather than making targeted cuts where necessary and increasing spending on the programs that require it. Across the board cuts are an abdication of Congress' responsibilities, and represent an inefficient method of budgeting. Now more than ever we need to spend taxpayer dollars wisely and make smarter investments that will grow our economy and create jobs.
For example, we should be investing in Chicago's infrastructure rather than on duplicative federal programs or new tax cuts for the wealthy. For every billion dollars we invest in transportation infrastructure, 30,000 jobs are created.
The reason I joined the House Appropriations Committee was to fight for smarter investments and bring much needed federal dollars back to Chicago.
Can you identify any major federal expenditures or programs that you would eliminate?
Over the next decade, the U.S. will spend $400 billion to operate and upgrade our inefficient and wasteful nuclear weapons arsenal. Spending is expected to rise to as much as $1 trillion over the next three decades.
There is no use pretending that a large nuclear arsenal will protect us from our most immediate national security threats such as terrorism, cyber-attacks, or climate change. Every dollar we spend on nukes designed to fight a Cold War, is a dollar not spent on homeland security grants, intelligence gathering, or enhanced cybersecurity. The Pentagon itself concluded that the U.S. can sustain its security requirements even after a one-third reduction to our nuclear force.
That's why I've introduced numerous bills and amendments to significantly cut funding for various nuclear weapons systems that do little to keep America safe. Most recently, I offered an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2018 Energy and Water Development Subcommittee appropriations bill to cut almost $1 billion across the entire nuclear weapons account. I've also pushed for hundreds of millions in funding cuts for the unnecessary nuclear-armed cruise missile warhead (W80-4), as well as substantial reductions to the outdated B61 nuclear bomb.
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.
While we must be willing to reform parts of Medicare and Medicaid to ensure their continued existence and solvency, we must do so in responsible ways. Unfortunately, the recently signed Republican tax plan is providing the justification to move on to entitlement reform--Speaker Ryan said as much when selling the bill last month. Reducing our safety net programs has long been a priority for the GOP, but the fact that they aim to do it immediately after giving huge tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations while adding $1.5 trillion to the deficit is unconscionable.
If we want to get serious about reforming our entitlements, we could begin by replacing our fee-for-service model with a value-based payment model in an effort to reduce Medicare spending. In the United States, consumer driven and patient centered care is reshaping the healthcare landscape, empowering patients to make informed medical and financial decisions while simultaneously supporting providers. A value-based model would reimburse doctors and hospitals based on outcomes, as opposed to predetermined rates, helping to incentivize innovation and reduce overtreatment.
Medicare Advantage and Medicaid managed care plans have provided models for more coordination of care, which can help drive down costs. Congress also has the ability to slightly raise the Medicare payroll tax, which would further extend Medicare's trust fund as the number of beneficiaries continues to grow and beneficiaries live longer.
Medicare and Medicaid have been providing quality healthcare to America's seniors, disabled and low income populations for over 50 years. When considering reforms, it's important to recall a time when seniors had no way to pay for doctor visits, were making tough choices between food and medicine and were dying younger. Medicare and Medicaid have been directly responsible for increasing the length and quality of life for millions of Americans. These programs serve the most vulnerable among us. The dignity and certainty these programs provide cannot and should not be strictly limited to the wealthy.
What if anything should be the federal government's role in helping Americans obtain health insurance coverage?
Seven years of relentless and false attacks on the Affordable Care Act could not stop the American people from standing up and pushing back against the Republican effort to repeal the law. I was proud to vote for the ACA and I was proud to stand strongly against repeal efforts this past summer. The ACA has demonstrated that government can play an effective role in healthcare, especially insurance or other coverage.
The U.S. has the most innovative and groundbreaking healthcare system in the world — we are largely responsible for most major medical breakthroughs and our medical schools are the global gold standard. Chicago in particular is a major beneficiary of this system as home to world class academic medical centers. Investment in the research and development pipeline has paid dividends time and time again.
Yet despite these achievements, until passage of the ACA, the U.S. struggled to bring down the uninsurance rate. Now, as a result of the law, 25 million more Americans have coverage and the uninsurance rate is at a historic low. In the face of the Trump Administration's efforts to undermine the law and starve the ACA of its necessary resources, 2017 saw a record number of new beneficiaries signing up for coverage. This fact speaks directly to the demand made by the American people and the understanding, regardless of politics, that healthcare is a right not a privilege.
Additionally, healthcare costs have significantly slowed and more people are getting preventative services like cancer screenings, birth control, and primary care earlier. The ACA was built on the concept that prevention can saves lives and save money at the same time. In order for those gains to be felt across the entire country, Americans need to be insured. It is past time to finally move beyond the empty rhetoric of "repeal and replace" and support solutions that can further increase coverage.
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?
Congress can help create the conditions necessary to accelerate growth through a number policies, such as increasing investment in areas we know will deliver long-term value like research and development, infrastructure, and education; expanding exports though 21st century trade agreements that protect American workers; and passing comprehensive immigration reform that could help to boost GDP growth by over 3 percent in less than a decade.
Tax reform that simplifies the code, while making it fairer and more competitive also plays an important role in expanding growth opportunities. However, this can only happen if it's revenue-neutral--meaning that every dollar in tax cuts are paid for with a dollar in revenue for elsewhere. The Republican tax bill fails this basic requirement by saddling future generations with $1.5 trillion in additional debt over the next decade, significantly worsening our fiscal outlook. Because of this, analysts at Goldman Sachs estimate that the tax bill will add as little as 0.3 percent to GDP over the next two years and may reduce growth beginning in 2020.
Thanks to the leadership of President Obama, the U.S. economy is better off now than it was in 2009 at the height of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. However, too many hard working Americans are struggling to climb the economic ladder as wealth continues accumulate in the hands of the most wealthy among us. Despite record unemployment, wage growth is barely keeping up with inflation and too many have chosen to leave the workforce.
To make matters worse, over 80 percent of the tax cuts in the Republican tax plan will go to the top 1 percent while taxes go up for 86 million middle-class families. While tax cuts for corporations are made permanent, the comparatively minor benefit provided to the middle class expires. This redistribution of wealth from the least fortunate to those at the top puts downward pressure on demand and significantly slows economic growth.
To level the playing field and tackle income inequality, I've supported legislation to raise the federal minimum wage, require paid family and sick leave, and strengthen protections for women and minorities who suffer from wage discrimination. I've also been an outspoken advocate for the expansion of unionization and strongly oppose any attempts to weaken the right to organize at both the federal and state level. These policies will give working Americans the tools they need to compete fairly in today's 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's strength as a nation is being jeopardized by our broken immigration system. We need comprehensive immigration reform that will secure our borders, grow our economy, and provide hardworking immigrants an earned pathway to citizenship. That's why I was proud to introduce a House companion to the Gang of Eight immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013.
The failures of our legal immigration system have resulted in millions of undocumented immigrants in this country living in the shadows. Comprehensive immigration reform must provide an earned pathway to citizenship, giving undocumented immigrants the chance to get in line, pay fines and back taxes, earn legal status, and become productive members of our society.
In the interim we must also address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to ensure we do not subject innocent young people to deportation. I believe it was a reprehensible decision by the Trump Administration to end the DACA program without a reasonable solution already negotiated. I sincerely hope Republican leadership in Congress listens to the American people and brings a clean DREAM Act up for a vote before the March 2018 deadline.
Furthermore, the Trump Administration's push to fulfill hardline campaign promises on immigration continue to harm American citizens and immigrants alike. This includes three versions of an unconstitutional travel ban to predominantly Muslim countries, an unnecessary border wall, and the decision to withhold police and first responder grants from jurisdictions that are deemed "sanctuary cities." These policies undermine our homeland security priorities and inhibit the ability of those protecting us to do their job.
Immigrants have come to Chicago for generations to make a better life for themselves and for their families. They helped build our skyscrapers, contributed the hard work necessary for our industries to prosper, and established vibrant civic and religious organizations. Immigration reform should not be a partisan issue. It is time for Congress to put politics aside and allow a vote on immigration reform. Every day we fail to pass immigration reform is another day that American families are torn apart, and we deny basic rights to thousands living in detention.
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?
While it's true that North Korea's nuclear ambitions continue to provoke and destabilize the Asia-Pacific region, President Trump's inability to refrain from immature name calling and saber-rattling has undermined our efforts to bring stability to the Korean peninsula. I have been to the fragile demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea, and received classified briefings from top military and intelligence officials on the ground. Those meetings confirmed my belief that any loose talk of military action by the Trump Administration risks a confrontation that would ignite another devastating war in the region and lead to the deaths of millions of innocent civilians and our service members stationed there.
Instead, I have urged and supported the hardening of economic sanctions against North Korea, particularly on the country's energy sector, and continue to push for greater cooperation from China, which is essential for creating the economic pressure needed to fully isolate North Korea and force Kim Jung Un to the negotiating table. At the same time these sanctions are only as effective as our ability to lead a united effort to crack down on violators, as was recently the case with the seizing of ships attempting to transport oil to North Korea. As we exploit North Korea's growing reliance on international trade, the cost of Pyongyang's actions will continue to increase.
Furthermore, the U.S. must continue to reassure our allies through coordinated policy and messaging, as well as an acceleration of missile defense deployment in the region. That requires consideration of additional Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) units to support South Korea and Japan, as well as a strengthening of existing Ground-Based Interceptors to shore up the defense of the U.S. homeland. In the end, a diplomatic route is the only practical option to avoid a catastrophic confrontation.
ISIS is contained in Syria and Iraq but terrorism remains a threat. What are your priorities in keeping the country safe?
Losses that ISIS has suffered on the battlefield have unfortunately done nothing to make the threats they pose less dangerous. Now, ISIS is getting creative, adopting terrorist tactics across a wider area, continuing its push into Europe, expanding to Northern Africa and inspiring attacks in the U.S.. More than terrorist activity on the ground, the spread of extremist ideology and the recruitment of lone wolf actors are simultaneously the most important and difficult threats to protect against. Combating these threats takes a coordinated, non-military strategy.
Now more than ever, the intelligence community needs cooperation from our allies to share intelligence. Because of my position on the House Intelligence Committee, I see first hand on a daily basis the indispensable work our intelligence community does in keeping us safe. We must strengthen our intelligence gathering and sharing capabilities and reject the President's continued attacks on the FBI, and the intelligence community more broadly.
Second, we must ensure that our intelligence community is working alongside all levels of law enforcement to increase security and awareness here at home.
Third, we must respond to terrorists' evolving and sophisticated use of technology, such as encrypted communications and their on-going exploitation of social media. Major social media companies must be compelled to do more as it relates to hate speech, propaganda and terrorism recruitment. A coordinated anti-terrorism effort between government and industry is necessary and overdue.
Protecting soft targets in Chicago remains a top priority. That's why I offered an amendment to this year's Homeland Security Appropriations bill that would have increased funding for programs like Transit Security Program grants and Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grants which are designed to help cities like Chicago better secure soft targets.
Congress must also work harder to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of dangerous people, including individuals inspired by ISIS, by enacting common sense gun legislation. Just in recent months, there have been reports that ISIS is encouraging "soldiers" to exploit weaknesses in U.S. gun laws.
It is crucial that we avoid using inflammatory rhetoric, which does little more than fan the flames of hatred and will not keep America safe. ISIS has established a sophisticated and effective propaganda machine. Unnecessary and provocative rhetoric from American public officials, often distorted and taken out of context, makes its way into recruitment materials targeted towards terrorist sympathizers. In fact, the intelligence community has warned that terrorists actually hope to stoke an increase in xenophobia, nativism and prejudice in the Western world.
Americans are understandably concerned for their safety, but we must not allow fear to lead to overreaction, bad policy, or unintended consequences. Instead, we must focus our resources on what really keeps America safe. President Trump's unscripted social media attacks, the Muslim travel ban, assertions that the intelligence community is part of a "deep state" and a lack of coherent Middle East strategy all contribute to this danger and must be rejected.
Should the U.S. continue to abide by the terms of the nuclear agreement with Iran?
After careful deliberation, I voted in favor of the JCPOA, commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal. This vote was one of the most consequential of my Congressional career. Ultimately, I believe the world is safer as a result of the deal and I have closely followed Iran's compliance efforts. As it relates to Iran's nuclear program, Iran is complying and is gradually disassembling parts of its nuclear program, specifically selling off excess "heavy water" and dismantling nuclear reactors, all while increasing access to both IAEA observers and the international community, broadly.
While I continue to support the deal, it's important to keep in mind the narrow intent of the agreement and acknowledge it as a first step towards improving our diplomatic relationship with Iran. As seen recently, the Iranian people and moderate actors in Iran are exhausted by the current regime and thirst for inclusion in the international community.
The JCPOA agreement does not set terms specific to ballistic missile testing. While Iranian missile tests do not technically violate the agreement, they are certainly counterproductive and undermine the broader, long term goals of the JCPOA.
Sanctions relief has been provided only in direct relation to Iran's nuclear program and is required in order to meet our commitments under the agreement. Sanctions on Iran remain in place due to a host of other issues ranging from terrorist financing to human rights abuses. It is important to remember that the JCPOA is not a peace treaty; it is a narrowly tailored agreement meant to delay and ultimately eliminate Iran's ability to develop and use a nuclear weapon. We should continue to view Iran with a skeptical eye and maintain sanctions unrelated to the nuclear deal, as they've proven to be a highly effective diplomatic tool. To that end, I voted in December in favor of the Iranian Leadership Asset Transparency Act.
I remain steadfast in my commitment to provide military and diplomatic support to our regional allies, especially Israel. Unfortunately, President Trump's failure to certify Iran's compliance with JCPOA is unnecessarily provocative. There is no debate that the Iranian regime presents many challenges to this Administration, just as they did the previous administration. I continue to believe that JCPOA was a landmark and historic agreement; it provides on-the-ground access to international observers for the first time in a generation and opens up new avenues for dialogue with Iran's political leaders, most importantly moderate voices.
The opportunities the nuclear deal presents must not be squandered due to politics. The international community has made clear that there is no "better deal" and if the U.S. ultimately walks away from its commitments under JCPOA, we will be walking away alone. Other countries will step in to fill that leadership vacuum, potentially acting against U.S. interests. Scrapping JCPOA could have a ripple effect on future nuclear agreements, most notably with North Korea and Russia. Despite its limits, JCPOA is working and the world is safer for it.
What is your position on the continued presence of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan?
I supported the drawback and withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan as initially laid out by President Obama. But I've always believed that troop levels should be re-examined in response to advances by the Taliban. We have a responsibility to support the Afghan government's fight against the Taliban, which effectively remains at a stalemate. A resurgent Taliban will mean a safe haven for militants and terrorist organizations like ISIS to plot additional attacks around the world.
However, after 16 years of fighting this war, the loss of thousands of lives, and the trillions of dollars spent, we should be reassessing our strategy. Unfortunately, President Trump has nearly doubled the number of American troops on the ground without any clear, coherent plan and, consequently, committing our men and women in uniform to an open-ended war. Any decision to significantly escalate the war in Afghanistan requires that Members of Congress fulfill our constitutional responsibility to deliberate and negotiate a new authorization for the use of military force.
We should not commit more service members to this war using a 16-year-old authorization. For too long, Congress has abdicated this fundamental duty, and any criticism of this administration's strategy in Afghanistan must be met with a willingness to debate and vote on one ourselves. Ultimately, any sustained presence in Afghanistan should require active participation from our NATO partners, renewed commitment from the Afghan government to root out dysfunction and corruption, and a political solution that brings stability back to the country.
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 strongly support expanding background checks to all firearm transfers and the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, which included restrictions on magazine capacities. When it comes to preventing gun violence, the status quo is no longer acceptable. Whether a sale is online, at a gun show, between neighbors, or at a licensed dealer, the process to purchase a firearm should not differ.
I experienced this first hand when I visited a gun show in Indiana. The ability to purchase a semi-automatic rifle with no questions asked is not only disturbing, it is nonsensical. Lax gun laws in Indiana drive much of the unprecedented violence we see in Chicago. According to the Chicago Police Department, 20 percent of all crime guns come from Indiana.
Requiring mandatory background checks and providing adequate funding for the National Instant Background Check System is just one step to address these loopholes that plague our gun laws. Elected officials must also stop cowering to the gun lobby and address the gun violence epidemic our country is facing.
That begins with reinstating the Assault Weapons Ban that lapsed in 2004. Mass shootings in Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, Orlando and Las Vegas -- just to name a few -- have demonstrated all too clearly the need to regulate this style of weapon. The type of firearms that fall into this category are not used for hunting or sport, they are weapons of war. The original ban included certain types of ammunition that I believe should be banned again. A magazine capable of holding 100 rounds far exceeds everyday use. To put this in perspective, the military only uses 30-round magazines with their semi-automatic M16 issued rifles.
As Anthony Scalia stated in his opinion of the District of Columbia et al. v. Heller case, "the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited." I do not disagree that Americans have the right to bear arms, but weapons used on the battlefield should not be among them. There is no one size fits all solution to the gun violence epidemic, it will take a combination of small pragmatic measures. I look forward to continuing the fight for gun violence prevention and finding ways to keep firearms out of the hands of individuals who wish to do us harm.
Should the U.S. government take steps to curb emissions of greenhouse gas? If so, what steps? If not, why not?
Climate change, driven by increased atmospheric carbon thanks to man-made emissions primarily from the burning of fossil fuels, is one of the most complex challenges we face. Unlike other issues, climate change has the potential to impact all areas of our society and economy- from housing and transportation to food security, immigration and national defense.
The U.S. must do its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with what science demands to limit atmospheric changes as much as possible. That's why I believe the United States should rejoin the Paris Agreement. While cities like Chicago, some states, and many businesses have done an admirable job in addressing emissions, the federal government is uniquely suited to tailor the nation-wide approach we'll ultimately need.
As Vice-Chair of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Caucus, I've championed the sorts of approaches that will both safeguard our natural resources and ensure long-term sustainable economic growth. Those positions have helped me earn 100% ratings from the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters in their annual legislative scorecards.
Meanwhile natural gas prices have dropped dramatically as new methods of extraction have become commonplace, and it is increased competition from natural gas that is primary driver of the decline we've already seen in coal. Rather than trying to artificially prop up the coal industry, we should allow the market to function and focus on assistance, like job training and education, for coal communities and prioritize investments in research and development and energy innovation.
Additionally, as more Americans do their shopping online, shipping has become a key component of our national economy. Freight transportation by rail is cleaner and more efficient than by road, but shippers frequently opt to use the roadways anyway. By investing in our rail systems to eliminate slowdowns and make rail more attractive, we can get more trucks off the roadways, reducing congestion and emissions.
Ultimately, because climate change is an economy wide problem, it requires an economy wide solution. By placing a price on carbon emissions we can leverage the free market to address the climate crisis. Carbon pricing is an even-handed, low regulation approach that will encourage innovation and reward companies and consumers for making low-waste decisions that will benefit everyone. We've already seen some significant bipartisan support for a carbon price and I hope that momentum continues. I've already voted for a carbon price once in my congressional career and I believe we can get to that point again.
We must push for urgent action to address the climate challenges we face and reduce emissions. It is our moral obligation act.
Tell us something about you that might surprise us.
Despite recent shoulder surgery from an old hockey injury, I continue to play hockey in a league every weekend.
If you are an incumbent, tell us the most significant accomplishment of your current term.
As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I have used my position to prioritize funding to support critical infrastructure investments in the Chicago area. If Chicago is to remain a global hub for transportation and business, then we must find ways to secure federal funds for the many projects taking place around the city. Even in this divisive political climate, I was proud to work with Republicans and gain the bipartisan support needed to finalize a $1 billion funding agreement to begin the modernization of the Red and Purple lines. Projects like CTA's Red Purple Modernization are significant capital investments that require federal funding but will pay huge dividends to Chicagoans as 100 year old rail corridors are updated to be able handle current and future ridership demands.
I am equally as proud of my efforts to enhance our national security as a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. I have used my position on the committee as a platform to warn the public of security vulnerabilities at soft target locations throughout the country. These easy to attack, but difficult to defend sites have become the preferred targets of lone wolf terrorists and include sports stadiums, crowded streets, concert venues, and more.
I have also used my position to raise awareness around the cyber security weaknesses exposed during the recent Presidential election. We must do everything we can to protect the integrity of our elections, which is why I successfully blocked House Republicans from eliminating the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) in the Fiscal Year 2018 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act. While the EAC plays an important role in supporting state and local election officials' ability to carry out free and fair elections, I will continue to push Congress to provide the resources states need to replace outdated voting equipment, hire experienced cybersecurity experts, and carry out elections free from outside interference.