On The Record
Why are you the best candidate for Senate?
Iím running for re-election to continue working to expand and lift up the middle class. As the Senateís Assistant Majority Leader, Iíve secured billions of dollars in federal funding for economic development projects in Illinois. And Iíve worked across the aisle with my Republican colleagues including Sen. Mark Kirk to tackle complex issues including efforts to reduce the federal deficit and national debt. There is more to be done. Our country and my state are facing tough economic challenges, and Illinois needs a Senator who will continue advocating for them and not special interests.
The U.S. faces a $17 trillion (and rising) debt burden. Can this debt be paid down without raising taxes? Where can spending be cut?
The deficit has been cut in half since President Obama took office. We have cut spending and allowed certain tax cuts for the wealthiest to expire. We are moving in the right direction, but an aging population and the strain that will put on Social Security and Medicare as well as tax loopholes that allow the wealthy and corporations to get out of paying their fair share of taxes will challenge our ability to sustain this kind of progress. Sustaining this progress cannot be achieved by only cutting spending or raising revenue--it will require thoughtful changes to both revenue and spending. I served on the Simpson Bowles Fiscal Commission and voted in support of the proposal that would have reduced the federal debt by more than $4 trillion through a combination of spending reductions and revenue increases. Although the proposal failed to obtain enough votes to force a vote in Congress, six of us ó three Democrats and three Republicans ó continued working together for another two years on a plan that would contain costs and increase revenue to reduce the debt and put the country on a more sustainable fiscal footing.
Where do you stand on immigration reform?
Our current immigration system is broken. I worked with a bipartisan group of eight senators last year to write a comprehensive immigration reform law that would strengthen the security of our borders, crack down on employers who violate our immigration laws, give people who have lived in the U.S. and not committed any serious crimes ó including young people whose parents brought them to this country illegally ó a chance to earn their citizenship and improve the visa system to protect American workers and assist employers in need of specialized skills. The Senate passed our comprehensive reform bill, but unfortunately the House has refused to even consider it. Updating our immigration laws will be good for national security and for our economy. But itís also important for immigrant families who are broken apart or who live in fear. Itís time to fix our laws so that millions of people who live here without documentation can come out of the shadows, register with the government, submit to a background check, learn English, work legally, pay taxes, and begin to earn their way to citizenship.
What can be changed or improved about the Affordable Care Act? If you favor its repeal, what yould you replace it with?
No; the Affordable Care Act provides millions of Americans access to affordable, comprehensive health insurance coverage. I'm finding people, as I go across Illinois, who, for the first time in their lives, have an opportunity for affordable health insurance for their families. However it is not a perfect law. I am eager to work with members of Congress from both parties to find ways to improve the law, including simplifying the paperwork for mid-sized employers to comply.
Approval ratings for Congress are far from ideal, and that's largely because of partisan rhetoric and the inability to compromise. If elected, will you be willing to reach across the aisle and work with members of the opposite party to resolve this country's many issues? Explain.
Neither party can govern effectively on its own, and where we have been able to make positive change itís been a shared effort by members of both parties. Last summer, I approached Senator Lamar Alexander, who shared my interest in preventing an interest rate hike for student loan borrowers, and we soon had a small bipartisan group in the Senate working with the White House and the House of Representatives to negotiate a compromise that would be enacted into law to reduce federal student loan interest rates for borrowers. In 2009 and 2010, I worked with then-Senator Judd Gregg and a bipartisan group who wanted to update the food safety system at the Food and Drug Administration. And we did, even though neither of us thought the law that was enacted was the perfect way to improve the system. We can make policy changes that both parties agree are good for the country, but we have to be willing to listen to each other and make compromises. Right now, I am working with Republican Senators on several legislative priorities: Senator John McCain to advance an international treaty recognizing the rights of people with disabilities, with Senator Mike Lee to improve the sentencing laws for non-violent drug offenders, and with Senator Mike Enzi to allow brick and mortar retailers to compete more fairly with on-line retailers.
No Child Left Behind and the Common Core State Standards are education initiatives that have Ė†and will Ė dramatically impact students in this area. What specifically do you think those impacts should be? If not with Common Core, how do you propose improving U.S. education performance vs. foreign countries that are doing much better? How do you view the state of education in the U.S. and Illinois? And what if anything would you look to change?
We must ensure that each and every child has the opportunity to learn and thrive no matter where they live and public charter schools have increasingly become an important part of that effort. Iíve worked with Sen. Kirk to introduce bipartisan legislation which make the expansion and replication of successful charter school models eligible for federal funding. The All Students Achieving through Reform (All-STAR) Act would also encourage states to be better regulators of charter schools by giving funding priority to states and other entities that require detailed performance reports. Illinois, like 44 other states, has chosen to adopt the Common Core learning standards for K-12 education. This is the first year these states are teaching to a new set of standards, and the transition is not without some challenges. The premise of bringing more consistency to local and state education curriculum makes sense. Whether this is the right approach or the best way to implement the approach will become more clear as school districts and teachers adapt to the new standards.
What role should the U.S. play in regards to the ongoing conflicts throughout the Mideast, including conflicts instigated by terror groups?
I agree with the President's current proposal for Afghanistan, but ultimately we should see how the now-disputed Afghan election is resolved before assessing our final military presence. American servicemen and women, and many civilians, have given their lives in what is now the longest war in US history. The Afghan people must take over the long term security of their own country. In Iraq, a war I voted against, the American people paid dearly in terms of lives and treasure. Thousands more returned home with devastating injuries. The entire war was based on a false premise that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. And despite all the effort made by so many brave Americans and others, the Iraqi political leadership largely squandered the opportunity given to build a new modern democratic nation. No amount of American military personnel or money can solve that problem for the Iraqi people. I believe President Obama is correct in conducting limited military to protect American interests in Iraq and pushing back ISIS, while demanding that the Iraqi parliament form a more inclusive and effective government, including a military that can secure the nation. The United States has many important diplomatic and security interests in the Middle East, including the security of key allies such as Israel and Jordan. Yet, the US cannot also solve age old divisions over religion and colonial borders. It can only help nations willing to help themselves build more open and tolerant societies.