Democratic candidate for U.S. House (16th 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?
When too many American families are being left further and further behind, we cannot simply boil down the country's economic health to the federal deficit alone.
We built the American middle class in the 1950s through government programs that dramatically expanded access to higher education and home ownership while making large investments in public infrastructure for generations to come. And it worked.
Making investments in the futures of working families paid off in the long run through greater human capital development and economic growth. Deficit hawks, then, have things exactly backwards. Cutting those investments in order to attack the deficit slows economic growth and consigns working families - or anyone else who is not already sitting on a stockpile of wealth - to be stuck in place.
Doubling down on working people and their futures by making meaningful investments in jobs, infrastructure, and higher education creates much more opportunity in the long run. The economic evidence is clear on this, and most evidence to the contrary has been shown to be untrue, if not outright falsified. To the extent that deficit hawks are acting in good faith, they should recognize what are the true causes of our current predicament.
Government spending increased in 2009 through outlays on TANF, unemployment insurance, and Medicaid because millions of American families lost their homes, savings, and jobs during the Great Recession. Many have not fully recovered, and we have done almost nothing to make sure that that kind of crisis doesn't happen again.
If we're serious about tackling the debt, we need to establish financial regulation to ensure that a financial recession doesn't happen again. The other factors driving our recurring deficits and climbing debt are, interestingly enough, Republican policy boondoggles that don't ever seem to enter the conversation.
We'd be in a much better fiscal position - not to mention a better national security position - if we hadn't spent over one trillion dollars invading Iraq. The massive giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry in Medicare Part D has been an albatross around our necks. If we allowed the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to negotiate drug prices, we would save at least 50% of the total costs of the program.
And, of course, the Bush tax cuts - which have not created meaningful wage growth and have pushed the middle class further and further behind - did their share of damage as well. The best thing we could do for our economy right now is tackle the corporate consolidation and monopolies that are killing small town economies, and take concrete steps to make sure that no financial institution can be "too big to fail." I look forward to working with deficit hawks on those issues once I am in Congress.
Can you identify any major federal expenditures or programs that you would eliminate?
Since 2003, the United States has spent more than $2.4 trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffered another trillion in economic losses from the Great Recession. Our fiscal position is a direct result of these decisions, not wasteful government spending.
We need to recognize that we cannot successfully use our military to build new countries abroad. Nor can we arm rebel groups whose true loyalties we cannot possibly know in advance. We need to draw down our military commitments in Afghanistan and use that peace dividend to help rebuild infrastructure and create jobs here at home.
We should not be throwing good money after bad at the Pentagon when we still can't provide lead-free drinking water to kids in Flint, Michigan. It's time to invest in projects here at home. Growing up working-class with a chronically sick parent, I know firsthand how tough it is when money is tight and believe that reinvesting in the middle class is critical.
There are millions of people just like me who would not have been as successful without that broad public commitment to creating opportunity. We can't continue to starve public services like education, healthcare, and access to affordable housing when so many Americans are falling behind. Those cuts only deepen our rigged economy and favor the wealthy few at the expense of the many.
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.
As a healthcare management consultant, I've had the opportunity to work with hospitals nationwide as they struggle with the exploding cost of prescription drugs and corruption in the private insurance industry. The simple truth is that Medicaid and Medicaid both provide a higher quality of care and do so at lower cost than any private sector alternative. We need to enroll more people in those programs, not fewer.
The Affordable Care Act represents the best case scenario for a system of healthcare that depends on private, for-profit health insurance. Medicare, despite the best efforts of both insurers (through Medicare Part C) and some physicians to game the system, has controlled costs better than its alternatives.
The way forward is clear: a universal, single-payer insurance system such as Medicare-for-All. That system would have at least 3 main benefits:
- Reduced cost: the cost of healthcare will not be contained as long as private insurers and Big Pharma are able to gouge doctors and patients. We pay $9,000 per year for healthcare in the United States for every man, woman and child; the next most expensive system in any developed country costs $6,000 per year. That $3,000 per year difference buys us worse health outcomes than any other similar country in the world.
- Improved fairness: over half of Americans get health insurance from their employer. Thanks to recent Supreme Court decisions, employers have become more and more able to — determine what kind of healthcare their employees receive. Women who happen to work at religiously conservative businesses should not be sentenced to worse standards of care than others. A single-payer system removes those considerations, and it will unleash small business creation and job growth by removing an administrative burden.
- Higher quality: Only Medicare holds doctors and hospitals accountable for the quality of care they provide. When patients suffer avoidable complications, Medicare will withhold reimbursement in order to promote better standards of care. Unlike the private insurance industry, Medicare has the incentive to invest in longer-term wellness. That difference is reflected in both Medicare’s better patient outcomes and greater cost-effectiveness.
What if anything should be the federal government's role in helping Americans obtain health insurance coverage?
Unlike other candidates or members of Congress, I have worked in the healthcare industry. Having spent years traveling the country helping hospitals big and small, I know what works from direct personal experience. This isn't a philosophical question about the role of government in our society. There is no value judgment to be made about the relative worth of different arguments on either side of the issue. This is not a choice between equally valid alternatives. Our choice in the healthcare debate is between solutions that work and solutions that don't. The healthcare programs overseen by the federal government - Medicare, Medicaid, and even the Veterans' Administration - simply do a better job of providing more effective care at lower costs than the privatized alternatives.
Our choice, then, is whether we want to keep doing things the way they've been done, or whether we want to do things better. "What should be the government's role?" is the wrong question to ask. The right question to ask is whether Congress should continue to force Americans into a broken system that doesn't work, takes money out of their pockets to give it to wealthy insurance executives, and lets their bosses meddle in some of the most deeply personal experiences of their lives. The answer to that question is no.
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?
Many parts of the country, and the 16th District, are still suffering the lingering effects of the financial crisis and recession that began in 2008 - quite the opposite of American prosperity. Roughly 10 million Americans left the labor force, and because they were never able to find work again, are no longer counted in our usual employment statistics.
Rockford, Illinois was one of the ten hardest-hit metro areas in the country by the foreclosure crisis when adjusted for population. Neither major political party has made their recovery a priority. We're still struggling with long-term unemployment across the district. Acknowledging this reality and taking steps to ensure we strive for American prosperity will be two of my priorities in Congress.
My economic plan starts with wage growth. We have to increase the minimum wage. I will work to demand the Justice Department enforce antitrust laws, reward companies that hire 80 percent of their workers in America, and invest in job retraining programs. We must support strong investments in projects that repair our crumbling infrastructure while also creating jobs.
We need to address a number of specific areas in order to build an environment that promotes job growth as well as real wage growth for the working class:
Financial regulation: Congress must reinforce the authority and support the independence of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Bolstering the CFPB requires increasing its investigative and rule-making powers and altering its director's term limits to insulate him or her from presidential interference. The CFPB can level the playing field for small businesses, which are the primary source of new job growth.
Enforce antitrust policy: Corporate consolidation inhibits competition, drives down wages, and stifles innovation. Enforcing antitrust law requires holding the Department of Justice accountable and staffing it with leaders who take their role in safeguarding the private trust seriously. If elected, I will be a leader in cracking down on corporate mergers that undermine consumer interests.
Minimum wage: In real dollars, median wages have hardly budged since the mid-1970s. Fixing wage stagnation starts with increasing the federal minimum wage to $10, and joining the broader Fight for Fifteen. The single most important thing we could do to spur real economic growth is to support a fair wage for working people. Regressive corporate tax cuts that just put more money toward executives' stock options do nothing to move the real economy.
Strengthen unions: Both private and public-sector unions built the middle class. Unions drive higher wages, better healthcare, and lower unemployment. Congress must continue to support prevailing-wage laws that keep working families afloat. As the only candidate in my race to have been a union member myself (through the Michigan chapter of AFT), I am ready to be a champion for working Americans in Washington.
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?
Making sure that a timely, certain roadmap to citizenship exists is deeply personal to me. After surviving two civil wars in his home country of Pakistan, my father, Mati, came to Chicago from Karachi with $30 and a single suitcase to his name in 1972. He became an American citizen while putting himself through college. My father's story should not be extraordinary. We need to do what we can to make this kind of American success story the rule rather than the exception.
Congress's continued inaction on immigration reform, and in particular, in extending and securing DACA, is inexcusable. Thousands of Americans have already faced illegal and dangerous threats of deportations and that will continue because of congressional inaction. Immigrants are not political pawns; Dreamers are children and families who have made valuable contributions to our nation, and have every right to strive to achieve the American Dream.
As a second-generation immigrant, I know how damaging it is to discriminate against someone on the basis of their citizenship. A person's circumstances at birth or as a child should not determine their ability to pursue the American Dream. All that said, large employers have been able to use uncertainty on immigration policy and the vulnerable position of undocumented workers in particular to hold down wages. Any comprehensive immigration reform bill has to be pursued in conjunction with a defense of workers' rights and a living wage.
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?
This week, we saw President Trump attempt to conduct nuclear diplomacy on Twitter. That should be immediately disqualifying for office. While North Korea's clear violations of international law cannot be ignored, sending these direct threats of military action (in the middle of the night, no less) without any thought of recourse pose serious ramifications for our men and women in uniform. Our troops can't afford to be led by someone so completely disinterested in even the rudimentary basics of geopolitics and diplomacy.
Ultimately, we have to recognize how we arrived in this mess. We had negotiated a plausible roadmap to peace without nuclear proliferation under the 1994 Agreed Framework. That agreement was torpedoed by a Republican Congress who tried to drive from the back seat and change a deal that, as far as our intelligence services could determine, North Korea was compliant with. (We've seen the exact same dynamic begin to play out with Iran, which we'll come to below.)
At the same time, American foreign policy has undermined our historic commitment to nuclear non-proliferation. We have to offer any country that willingly gives up a nuclear program or any other program developing weapons of mass destruction a security guarantee. Otherwise, the only plausible reaction of any dictator in a dangerous neighborhood is to build a nuclear deterrent - that is the only truly secure path available to them in a world dominated by a single superpower in the United States. Our intervention in Libya in 2011 sent the wrong message. Colonel Gadhafi had given up his nuclear program in a bid to rejoin the global community. Instead of rewarding that decision by shuttling him out of the country when mass protests erupted, we led an air war to depose him as quickly as possible. Other leaders, like Kim Jong Un, saw that sequence of events, and reacted accordingly. Indeed, we know from our own intelligence services that North Korean leadership has specifically cited the Libyan case to defend their own race to develop a working nuclear weapon.
If the United States wants to address North Korea's threats of nuclear proliferation, we cannot rely on military force at the expense of diplomacy. The military losses North Korea have already imposed on our key allies South Korea and Japan are already unacceptable. Secretary of State Tillerson's offer to sit down with North Korean leaders without any preconditions is our safest way forward. Leading in foreign policy means putting your interests ahead of your feelings, and that means negotiating without preconditions in this case. We can and should continue to press China, Russia, and the rest of historic six-party group to apply their own pressure to Kim's inner circle in the meantime.
ISIS is contained in Syria and Iraq but terrorism remains a threat. What are your priorities in keeping the country safe?
Congress's failure to live up to its responsibilities under the Constitution to help manage our foreign policy has had disastrous consequences. As a former professor of American foreign policy and an occasional consultant to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, I think it is extremely important for Congress to lead on these issues and to take a longer-term view of American interests.
The threat from international terrorism is real. But we need to reappraise how we confront the challenge. As Gen. Stanley McChrystal once observed, we can't "kill our way out" of the problem of international terrorism. The civilian casualties from our military operations create new terrorists faster than we destroy the old ones. The "insurgent math," McChrystal said, can never truly add up.
We have to confront a number of sacred cows of our Global War on Terror. We can't keep relying on some of the world's cruelest human rights abusers, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to be our partners against terrorism. Working with people like Abdel el-Sisi makes us complicit in their crimes, and that complicity means that we cannot hope to win hearts and minds of ordinary people whose cooperation we need to root out and destroy groups like ISIL once and for all. "Moral authority" isn't just a buzzword among human rights activists. Moral authority is a primary source of legitimacy, and therefore power, in international politics. When we throw that away by supporting people like President al-Sisi, we make the work of counterterrorism astronomically more difficult for literally no discernible reason.
By a similar token, we need to stop arming "moderate rebels" abroad in the hope that they will do our dirty work for us. American advisors have provided small arms, portable rocket launchers, and even heavy vehicles to Syrian rebels. More heavy weapons have ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda and the Nusra Front in Syria than were ever actually deployed against Bashar al-Assad's regime. We need to recognize that we cannot successfully use our military to build new countries abroad. We need to stop arming rebel groups whose true loyalties we can't possibly know in advance.
Finally, we need to be realistic about what is and isn't an existential threat to the United States. ISIL cannot destroy us, but climate change and the effect of climate change in politically-fragile parts of the world might. The Pentagon is well aware that conflict and mass migration in the wake of climate change wrecking traditional patterns of food production is a much bigger danger than handfuls of radical terrorists. We need to meet those challenges with leadership and vigor.
Should the U.S. continue to abide by the terms of the nuclear agreement with Iran?
The Joint Cooperative Plan of Action, or the "Iran nuclear deal," remains our best hope for building long-term security in the Middle East. We must prioritize peaceful development and reward good behavior if we are serious about building a just and lasting peace in the region.
The JCPOA is self-enforcing by design. Iranian leadership understands perfectly well that its own security interests are better served by re-integrating with the global economy than they are pursuing a nuclear weapon; violating the JCPOA would damage their own strategic interests. Both the State Department and Energy Department were satisfied with the safeguards that the JCPOA put in place against weapons-grade uranium refinement by Iran, and the ability of the inspection regime to detect any cheating. All responsible parties agree that Iran has complied with its obligations under the agreement. There is simply no credible factual basis for scaremongers like Rep. Adam Kinzinger and Sen. Tom Cotton to claim that Iran has not complied with the agreement.
The JCPOA also fulfills a longer-term strategic need for the United States. We have to rebuild the international nuclear non-proliferation framework that began to fray when Congressional Republicans refused to live up to our end of the 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea. The failure of the United States to adequately reward other countries that gave up their nuclear or other non-conventional weapons programs in the past, such as Libya, has substantially harmed our own security interests.
That said, we cannot ignore the obvious about Iran's government: the country's human rights record is, for the most part, abysmal. The same criticism of the human rights record of Iran could be leveled at some of the United States and Israel's long-term security partners in the region, such as Saudi Arabia. Our unwillingness to part ways with our most cruel, despotic allies has eroded our moral authority and undermined the effectiveness of sanctions lodged against human rights violators. It would serve us well to start holding our friends to the same (or, ideally, higher) standards than their rivals.
What is your position on the continued presence of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan?
The conflict in Afghanistan is now entering its 17th year. We're staring at the very real possibility that there will be American troops stationed in Afghanistan who had not even been born when the September 11th attacks happened.
Rep. Kinzinger's soundbites on CNN or FOX News should not be mistaken for solidarity with our men and women in uniform, much less any kind of meaningful leadership on the issue of Afghanistan. I know that I'm the only candidate in this primary field with the expertise and qualifications to speak to this critical issue.
As a whole, Congress has largely abdicated its Constitutional role in determining when and where our military gets deployed. The result of that abdication has been an open-ended blank check for war, waged by presidents who are not directly accountable to any other political authority.
When we rely on military force at the expense of diplomacy at nearly every turn - as we have in Afghanistan - we make ourselves less secure. While the geopolitical implications of our continued involvement in Afghanistan are far-reaching, they have also hit us harder at home than many realize. As we discussed in reference to several other foreign policy questions, when we invest in unnecessary conflicts abroad, we neglect to invest in working families at home. The billions of dollars we've spent on bridges, roads, dams, and schools in Afghanistan that in the best case are never used and in the worst case are used by the Taliban could have also been spent investing in ongoing, successful projects in communities struggling to rebound from the Great Recession. We could have used just $6B to eradicate homelessness, or put millions toward increasing the quality of care for veterans' hospitals and the number of Pell Grants and scholarships. There is a laundry list of better ways to use our money than to continue to pursue a futile nation-building project that we cannot possibly hope to complete.
Our continued military presence in Afghanistan serves no American security interest and, if anything, further delays the day when Afghanis can be responsible for their own affairs. Drawing down our troops in Afghanistan is critical in reassessing our priorities here at home.
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 long-term goal of creating safe neighborhoods for every American kid, irrespective of social class or race, requires us to take the "states' rights" arguments favored by conservatives at face value and demand that Illinois be able to set their own standards on gun sales and magazine limits.
Establishing a unified, federal background check system is a great long-term goal, but given that people like Stephen Paddock are perfectly capable of passing any background check, we need to think bigger. A functional federal background check system is certainly important, but insufficient; background checks do not stop mass shootings, self-harm, and accidental gun deaths.
In fact, violent crime only accounts for about one-third of all gun deaths. The remaining two-thirds of gun deaths happen in accidents or suicides. We should grant the Centers for Disease Control and other public health agencies the authority to gather the data necessary to treat gun violence as the safety epidemic it is. We should also address the most glaring loopholes around transferring guns across state lines and evading background checks at gun shows.
In the long term, we need to address the economic and legal framework that sustains crime, gun-related and otherwise. We need to end our property tax-based system of school funding that only perpetuates inequality, support mentorship programs and other after-school programs to provide at-risk kids a nurturing environment, and rebuild local infrastructure. Ending the carceral state and the prison-industrial complex by focusing on rehabilitation, ending the preponderance of felonies for petty crimes in communities of color by ending the war on drugs and providing high-quality affordable housing for prisoners who have served their time will help end the cycle of violence.
Should the U.S. government take steps to curb emissions of greenhouse gas? If so, what steps? If not, why not?
There's a clear, scientific consensus around catastrophic climate change. Yet climate denialism means that we are still fighting to curb rising temperatures and decrease greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, we are losing our position as a scientific and technological trailblazer to China, which does not have a fossil fuel lobby restricting passage of key environmental policies to help Americans live on a warming Earth. The U.S. government not only has a moral obligation but also an economic incentive to establish itself as a global leader on decreasing greenhouse gases and cultivating alternative energy solutions.
In the 16th Congressional District, fully funding environmental regulation is the only way to protect our greatest economic asset: our pristine farmland. However, without strong federal protections, our district and state, which is a breadbasket for the world, will fail. We have clean air and water because of the hard work of activists and leaders in the 1960s and 1970s. Short-sighted Republican politicians have put those gains at risk simply because they don't remember how things used to be.
Thankfully, towns across the 16th District have already taken matters into their own hands. Local governments are investing in wind and solar as alternatives to fossil fuels and greenhouse gases. Embarking on this transition is a great step in protecting our communities' environmental and economic futures.
We should continue to rely on nuclear energy as an important stop-gap as we complete the transition to renewable energy sources.
If elected to Congress, I would fight to appropriate the money necessary for the EPA to protect Americans' access to clean air and water. Second, I would work to pass a carbon tax to make sure that the costs of pollution are borne by the people creating that pollution rather than the rest of us. We need to increase incentivizes to transition to renewables. We also need to make investments into battery technology and modernization of our national power grid in order to cement our transition to renewable energy sources.
Tell us something about you that might surprise us.
On the day I filed to run for public office, I found out I was selected to compete on Jeopardy! Unfortunately, I had to turn it down, but maybe someday!
If you are an incumbent, tell us the most significant accomplishment of your current term.
I am not an incumbent.