Patch sat down recently with the two candidates running in Illinois' 9th Congressional District, Democrat Jan Schakowsky, the incumbent, and Republican Tim Wolfe, to get information on their views.
Our questions, and Rep. Schakowsky's answers, follow.
Patch: As you go around the 9th district, which issues are people talking about the most? What is it that has people worried or concerned?
Schakowsky: Issues related to the economy are clearly the main thing. People in my district are concerned about issues such as health care, housing foreclosure and being able to send their kids to college. Seniors are very worried that Republicans want to cut their Medicare and Social Security, and there’s always lots of various immigrant issues. The district is very immigrant rich and our office is well known for trying to help people get visas and deal with immigration status and concerns. I always hear a lot of that at events.
And I would say the other thing I’m hearlng lately is from women who are very concerned about attacks on women’s rights and women’s reproductive health. They’re amazed that in the year 2012 there’s all this threat to the availability of contraception. They’re completely outraged by the remarks of Todd Akin, which have underscored the attack on abortion even in cases of rape or incest, forcing women to bear the child of their rapist.
And just in general, this overall war on women that is taking place. That includes economic issues and the failure to pass the paycheck fairness act. Equal pay for equal work—that still seems to be controversial.
And we’re hearing that, by the way, from independent and formerly Republican women, too.
(Schakowky elaborated on other issues, such as jobs and health care, elsewhere in this interview.)
How are you addressing those issues in Congress?
Schakowsky: I'm a very active member of the pro-choice caucus in the House of Representatives, and I've worked very hard in the development of the Affordable Care Act, which I proudly call Obamacare because Obama does care, and to protect access to contraception and to protect women’s right to have a legal abortion, through exchanges that’ll be set up in 2014.
And just to fight back against the dozens of bills that would seek to limit women’s rights to contraception and abortion and even in vitro fertilization. It’s just an amazing succession of bills.
What's the best way to get the economy moving again?
As a member of the Simpson Bowles Commission, I offered my own plan that protects Social Security and Medicare while while balancing the budget and getting rid of the deficit. I’ve been a supporter of the president's plan to end the Bush tax cuts.
(A recent press release stating Schakowsky's opposition to the Simpson Bowles plan, which she says would reduce the deficit by unacceptably taking away from seniors, the middle class and low-income families, can be found here. This site also describes the alternative she proposed.)
What is the best way to stimulate the creation of jobs?
We do that by making investments in infrastructure and funding education, so we have an educated workforce. Making those kinds of long-term investments.
The other thing is, government can help to create jobs. My bill would have hired more teachers, firefighters and police. Lots of public sector workers are being laid off.
Having them paying in to taxes, we could reduce our deficit. We can do much better to create new jobs.
(Schakowsky made reference to her jobs bill, which her website says will create more than two million jobs within two years, to be paid for by raising taxes on millionaires and billionaires, eliminating subsidies for oil companies and eliminating loopholes for companies which ship jobs overseas.)
I’ve been actively involved in all these issues. It’s been a tough session with Congress because the Tea Party has been holding most of the Republican representatives hostage. Republicans have been sabotaging the economy.
Despite that, 4.5 million jobs have been created and we’ve had 27 months of straight job growth, no thanks to Republicans.
What approach do you favor to provide health care to citizens?
Serving as a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which was the principal author of the Affordable Care Act (sometimes called Obamacare), it has a number of provisions, some of which are less well known, such as protections for people in nursing homes and prescription drugs and protecting and expanding the benefits of Medicare.
Far from having benefits cut, we actually, expanded those benefits, mainly in preventive service, and by sharing the cost of prescription drugs for seniors.
Improving Medicare was a high priority of mine.
(A summary of Schakowsky's actions and positions on health care can be found here.)
What can be done to prevent random shootings such as the one at the Batman movie in Aurora, Colo.?
Schakowsky: This is a district where the notion of sensible gun legislation is quite popular. It's been frustrating that for several years now in Congress, the very idea of passing any kind of regulation of firearms, including automatic weapons, has not surfaced in any serious way. One would have thought that with mass shootings in schools and with Gabbie Giffords and on the streets of Chicago every weekend, and throughout our country, that we would do something to control the number of guns, the size of the magazines, the use of automatic weapons.
The NRA (National Rifle Association) right now has a hammerlock hold on Congress, and until people organize and say enough is enough, I don’t see us passing even the most modest legislation to regulate guns. Why anybody needs a weapon that can shoot 100 rounds in a matter of seconds is beyond me. U saw right in mg one of stores that has sold the most guns is right there—sun-times.
Ilinois is the only state that does not have the right to carry a concealed weapon. We’re the ony ones. The danger is obvious. And parts of the solution are obvious. We could make our communities safer. But the NRA typically won’t hear of it.
Many college students are getting into tremendous debt, and will be saddled with these debts as they graduate into a sluggish economy. What can be done about this?
Schakowsky: Let me just say student debt now exceeds all credit card debt and all auto loan debt. However, the income over your lifetime is higher if you’ve graduated from college.
One of the things, and we just had a meeting with the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, is identifying the companies that need employees and then identifying people who need jobs where either their skills or interests match those jobs-- and helping to subsidize employers to train people to do that job. I met with some manufacturers in the district who have done some hiring under a program like that. People were pre-screened...to be trained at their companies, and they have hired dozens of people. It’s a pretty successful model.
I was involved in making sure the interest rates on Stafford loans didn’t double, and, along with Rep. Quigley and Sen. Durbin, we held a forum on student loans, hearing testimony from some young people on how difficult life is because of the high cost of a college education, and hearing from Attorney General Lisa Madigan on problems with for-profit institutions, some of which are engaged in fraud.
Due to partisan politics, it has become increasingly difficult for political parties to work together, compromise and get things done. What can be done about this?
Schakowsky: People who have been in Congress 30-some years have never seen this. This is a new phenomenon. People in the Tea Party came to Congress with the idea they would not compromise. They have held Republicans and the entire House of Representatives hostage. They think compromise is a dirty word. They’ve signed the Norquist pledge of "not one penny in new taxes."
It is not the Democrats who have dug their heels in the sand. A number of the Republicans who have been more open to compromise have been threatened in primary elections and several have lost those primary elections. Norm Ornstein at amer enterprise institute wrote a book w Thomas manning, a right leaning institution wri editorial in wash opost said let’s be honest it’s the republicans. And of course compromise is our business. Nobody gets 100 percent of what they want. They’re holding Republicans' feet to fire. That’s the gridlock.
Are there any other issues you'd like to comment on?
Schakowsky: We have a very robust public services offices for the district--constituent services. We’ve been able to save or recover our contituents $2.5 million in checks, refunds and benefits they’ve been unable to get on thir own. We help a lot with immigration issues. We’ll cut through the red tape. We take enormous pride and put a lot of time and energy into helping constituents, regardless of party, and helping people solve their problems. People should not hesitate to call our office –we can help with Social Security problems, mail delivery and more.
Also, international politics is of great interest to me, including women around the globe and the safety and security of Israel. I serve on the intelligence committee in Congress. I am concerned about the balance between security and liberties.