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Election 2012: Jan Schakowsky

The incumbent Democratic Congresswoman in Illinois 9th Congressional district is being challenged by Republican Timothy Wolfe.

 

Name:  Janice D. Schakowsky    

Running for: U.S. Representative, Illinois' 9th Congressional District    

Web: www.janschakowsky.org
Facebook: www.facebook.com/schakowskyforcongress
Twitter: @repschakowsky"    

Contact: Political Director, Alex Armour at 847-372-4382, alex@janschakowsky.org.

Age and birth date: 68, 5/26/1944    

Family: Schakowsky resides in Evanston, Illinois with her husband Robert Creamer. She has three children, Ian, Mary, and stepdaughter Lauren Creamer, and four grandchildren, Isabel, Eve, Lucy, and William.     

Education: She graduated from the University of Illinois in 1965 with a B.S. in Elementary Education.    

Occupation: U.S Representative    

Political party: Democrat  

Name of your campaign committee: Schakowsky for Congress  

Previous elected and appointed offices held: Illinois State Representative 1990 - 1998    

Is there any additional experience you believe qualifies you for the position?If your race is contested, how does this set you apart from other candidates? Before coming to Congress as an advocate for consumers and seniors, I started my public career in a successful effort to put freshness dates on dairy products in supermarkets.  I served as the program director at the Illinois Public Action Council, where I worked for more affordable energy prices, health care and consumer protections, and fighting for seniors as the executive director of the Illinois State Council of Senior Citizens.  Immediately before coming to the U.S. House of Representatives, I served in the Illinois General Assembly.  

My experience in those positions has given me insight into the needs of middle-class families and seniors, and also given me the policy and legislative tools to help solve their concerns.  (I still see myself as an organizer and advocate for people who need a strong supporter in the halls of power.)"    "My priorities are creating jobs, addressing income inequality, protecting Social Security and Medicare, implementing ObamaCare, improving college affordability and helping end the foreclosure crisis.
•    Jobs: In order to reignite the American Dream and rebuild the middle class, we must be aggressive in creating jobs – good jobs that provide adequate pay and benefits.  I introduced H.R. 2914, the Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act (link), to accelerate our fragile recovery by creating over 2.2 million jobs in areas critical to our communities and our economy – teachers, cops and firefighters; child development and health care workers, school construction and maintenance workers.  In addition, I support providing assistance to states and localities, so that they are not forced to lay off public employees.  The President included parts of my bill – on school building, jobs for youth, and putting teachers, firefighters, and police back to work – in his proposed American Jobs Act. I strongly support his bill and have cosponsored it in the House.

We also should stop using taxpayer dollars to subsidize companies that outsource American jobs and use overseas tax shelters to avoid taxation.  I introduced the Patriot Corporations of America Act to provide preference in federal contracts and lower tax rates for American companies that produce at least 90% of goods and services and conduct at least 50% of their R&D in the United States.  It would pay for this by eliminating tax breaks for companies that outsource jobs and profits.  My bill is part of the House Democrat’s “Make It In America” Agenda.

•    Income Inequality: Income inequality in the United States is at levels that we haven’t seen since 1928.  Between 1979 and 2008, annual income for the wealthiest 1% of Americans grew by $1.1 trillion, while the annual income for the bottom 90% declined.  More than 15 percent of Americans are now officially living below the poverty line – which for a family of 4 is just over $23,000 in income each year - and that number is growing.  I have introduced H.R. 1124, the Fairness in Taxation Act (link), to establish new rates for income over $1 million – starting at 45% and rising to 49% for income over $1 billion. My bill would raise over $800 billion over the next decade so that we can protect the important benefits of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and make additional investments in job-creating initiatives.  My bill will help us reverse course by asking the very wealthy to pay their fair share, raising the resources necessary to provide opportunity for all Americans
The current situation is the result of decades of policies, primarily the reduction of effective tax rates on the wealthiest Americans and profitable corporations that has brought federal tax revenues to a 60-year low.  As a result, we have cut back on needed investments in education, child development and child care, health care, infrastructure development, R&D, and innovation.  Many of the jobs that do exist provide insufficient wages and benefits leading to massive underemployment.  Finally, the erosion in union membership has had an effect, since union wages are nearly 28% higher, 34% higher for women, 31% for African American, and 51% more for Latino workers and members are more likely to have health care and pension benefits.  In addition to raising more revenues, we need to ensure that private and public workers are able to exercise rights at work.  

In addition, we need to make a commitment so that no one in this country goes hungry.  Almost 50 million Americans are food insecure, meaning they sometimes don’t have enough to eat.  In the wealthiest nation on earth, that is simply unacceptable.  The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) works to ensure that children have enough food to grow, that underpaid and underemployed workers have the means to feed their families, and that seniors don’t have to choose between food and medicine.  As a past participant in the Fighting Poverty with Faith Food Stamp Challenge, I know how difficult it is to eat a healthy diet on just $1.50 per meal – the average SNAP benefit.  Nonetheless, SNAP prevents chronic hunger for nearly 50 million Americans, and we must protect it from reckless cuts proposed by Congressional Republicans.
•    Social Security: Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit and, by law, cannot borrow to pay benefits.  The Trust Fund currently has a surplus of $2.4 trillion which will go up to $4 trillion, and without any changes the program can pay out full benefits until 2037.  As a member of the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, to ensure that Social Security can pay full benefits for the next 75 years, I put forward a plan that would eliminate the wage cap on the employer side and raise it to cover 90% of aggregate wages on the employee side and establish a small legacy tax on wages above the cap.  Those recommendations would result in surplus funding that can be used to improve the extremely modest benefits that are now provided.  

My plan specifically rejects cuts to already modest Social Security benefits to achieve long-term solvency.  The average Social Security retirement benefit is only $14,000 a year ($2,000 a year less for women).  Six in 10 seniors rely on Social Security for the majority of their income – 1 in 3 for 90% or more.  Raising the age of eligibility (the current age for full benefits is already being increased to 67 years), lowering the initial benefit or reducing the cost-of-living adjustment will threaten the economic security of millions of Social Security recipients.  

•    Medicare:  Medicare is an American success story.  The program provides critical benefits for more than 40 million seniors and more than 8 million citizens with disabilities.  While we need to improve Medicare, it is important to realize the critical role that it plays in providing health care in a cost-efficient manner.  Medicare’s per capita spending increases have been lower than the private sector over the 1969 to 2009 period and are projected to grow by 3.5% between 2010 and 2019, compared to 5.4% for private insurance.  Medicaid’s recent cost growth is mainly because it has picked up the cost of coverage for children and families who lost private insurance during the Great Recession.  We need to address the underlying causes of health care inflation – but simply cutting back on Medicare and Medicaid by cost-shifting to individuals and families, businesses and state and local governments is not the answer.  
Instead, we need to look at ways to make health care more efficient, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act makes many improvements, including new tools to go after fraud and abuse, new emphasis on prevention and wellness, elimination of overpayments to private Medicare Advantage plans, better care coordination, and a focus on improving patient care, rather than encouraging overuse of technologies and services that don’t add value but result in higher payments.  
We can do more to lower costs.  I am the sponsor of H.R. 999, the Medicare Prescription Drug Savings and Choice Act, which would create a Medicare-administered Part D drug benefit, to compete with private plans.  Like the public option (which I also strongly support), it would expand choice and lower costs.  I also support requiring that Medicare negotiate for drug prices, using its market power to negotiate for deep discounts as the VA does.   
•    Implementing Obamacare: As I discuss in a question below, I played a key role in crafting and passing the historic Affordable Care Act, and am committed to protecting the benefits it provides and working to further improve our health care system so that all Americans have access to the care they need.

•    College Affordability: A college degree has provided a ladder of opportunity for generations of Americans to reach secure middle class status.  According to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, college graduates earn an average of 84% more over a lifetime than high school graduates.  A quality college education has also become important to build the 21st century workforce that America needs to remain competitive in the global marketplace.  We have a responsibility to help students afford a quality, college education.  I will continue to support programs such as the Pell Grant Program, which has expanded access to postsecondary education for millions of low- and moderate-income students.  It is also important that we ensure student loans remain affordable for students and graduates.  I am committed to efforts that maintain in-school interest payments on subsidized Stafford loans for undergraduates and that ensure that student loan interest rates do not increase.  I also support access to affordable loan repayment options, including the Income-Based Repayment program which allows borrowers to repay their student loans based on their current salary.

•    Foreclosures: I have co-sponsored “Foreclosure Workshops” in my district so my constituents could meet with housing counselors, lenders, and experts.  It is there that I have painfully witnessed the desperation and the disintegration of the middle class, the loss of hope and home.  I have been working with my colleagues in the House to put forward legislation to assist homeowners facing foreclosure.  I am a cosponsor of H.R. 363, the HOME Act, which would enable homeowners with a GSE-backed mortgage to refinance their mortgage by extending their mortgage term to 40 years and waiving all fees or penalties from the original or adjusted mortgage.  I am a cosponsor of H.R. 1477, the Preserving Homes and Communities Act, which would prevent lenders from foreclosing on a property without a good-faith effort to restructure the loan.  I am also an original cosponsor of Rep. Maxine Waters’ Principal Reduction Act, which would allow underwater homeowners to reduce the principal owed on their home to 90 percent of the current value.  

Unfortunately the Republican Congress has decided not to take up any legislation to assist homeowners struggling to pay their mortgage. Due to the inaction of House Republicans, my Democratic colleagues and I have encouraged the Obama Administration and federal agencies to take any measures available to them to protect homeowners without the consent of Congress.  For example, the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) has been restructured to allow underwater homeowners with Fannie GSE loans – regardless of how far underwater they are – to lower their interest rate as long as they are current in their mortgage payments.  However, that is just a small step, and just a drop in the bucket in terms of what we need.    

The Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire at the end of this year. Do you believe that all of the cuts should be extended, some, or none? Explain. I support extending the existing tax cuts for middle-class and low-income families and allowing the tax cuts for income over $250,000 to expire.  I strongly believe that Congress needs to make fiscal responsibility a priority, and I support rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse in federal spending in order to bring down the deficit.  However, we also need to raise more revenues in order to pay for the priorities we have as a nation.  Those priorities include safe food and water, defense and homeland security, education and infrastructure, and other investments that help build economic growth and opportunity for all, including health care and a strong social safety net.  As we evaluate our nation's needs and look to how more revenue can be raised, I think we should first ask more from those who can afford to pay more.  The middle class and those who aspire to it have already been sacrificing for years, while nothing has been asked from the wealthiest Americans.  One reason we’ve seen such a dramatic increase in income inequality is that low  tax rates on high incomes have enabled the rich to take a disproportionate share of economic growth.  Allowing tax rates for income over $250,000 to go back to what they were under President Clinton is a straightforward and reasonable way to raise badly-needed revenues.    

We currently expect to have troops home from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and 30,000 troops were being brought home this year. Do you agree with the timetable for the Afghanistan war troop drawdown? Why or why not? And how should the U.S. continue to combat terrorism going forward? I support President Obama’s decision to begin to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.  I do not believe that we can achieve our goals in Afghanistan through military means, nor do I feel that further involvement of U.S. troops will improve our national security.  I support ending the war and bringing our troops home and have urged the President to accelerate his timeline for troop withdrawal.  I concerned by the recent suggestion, by U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, that the 2014 deadline for the full withdrawal of U.S. troops could be extended.  I believe we must bring our troops home as swiftly and safely as possible.  

The threats we face in Afghanistan are both real and serious.   As we reduce our military footprint in Afghanistan, we need to invest in diplomatic and economic engagement with the Afghan people.  Among other priorities, I support increased outreach to Afghan civil society, investment in women, development of infrastructure, and strengthening the rule of law.  Instead of focusing our discussion on troop levels, we need to devote greater attention to our diplomatic and humanitarian efforts to build infrastructure and capacity, to fight corruption, and to promote peace and development in Afghanistan.

Victory in Afghanistan will not mean a defeat of global terrorism, as terrorist groups have become extremely mobile, seeking out lawless regions of the world.  As a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, this issue will remain a priority for me.  I think we need to direct greater attention to places like Yemen and Somalia, where rule of law is weak and terrorist cells can thrive.  

Do you believe the Affordable Care Act should be repealed? If so, what measures for health care reform would you support? If not, why not? Absolutely not.  As a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, I played an important role in crafting the Affordable Care Act, and my number one priority has always been health care for all Americans.  Obamacare is already making a big difference in improving the quality of care, the security of coverage, and access to medical services for my constituents and health care consumers are the country.  
In my district alone:

•    219,000 children and adults have access to free preventive services – diabetes and cancer screenings, blood pressure tests, and birth control and family planning.  
•    5,300 young adults have insurance because they are allowed to be covered on their parents’ policies.
•    7,500 seniors have received $5.3 million – an average of $710 per senior – in drug discounts.
•    480 small businesses have gotten tax credits to help pay premium costs
•    Insurers have to spend at least 80 cents of every premium dollar on health care – instead of spending up to 40 cents on overhead, marketing and CEO salaries.  They also have to publicly justify premiums increases of 10 percent or more.
•    And we’ve received $8.6 million in public health grants to ensure that we have the community health centers, hospitals and health providers we need to provide care
There are more benefits to come – health coverage for over 30 million Americans through an expansion of Medicaid and state-based exchanges, an end to pre-existing condition exclusions for adults and gender-rating for premiums, and expansion of home and community based services in Medicaid to meet growing long-term needs.  Cook County has requested a waiver to allow it to move early to provide Medicaid coverage to cover currently ineligible adults (which will otherwise occur in 2014 under the law).  Hospitals, physician groups and small businesses are already moving to take advantage of innovation grants that will allow them to improve quality – focusing on the value of the services they provide, not the volume.  
Obamacare has now been upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.  But with Republicans continuing to push for full repeal, my constituents are still worried.  Many people have contacted my office with their concerns that we will go backwards:  doctors, nurses, hospitals, small business owners, families with children living with disabilities, women, local officials and our governor.  Taking away what is already in place and working will be very hard for repeal proponents.  
Congressional Republicans have concentrated on repeal – and haven’t exactly been out front about what they propose as a replacement.  We know, however, that bans on pre-existing condition exclusions and lifetime caps without universal coverage would mean premiums so high that few could afford them.  (The sicker, older and riskier the pool – the higher the premiums – which is one reason why very large corporations pay less than small businesses where one of the employees is a cancer survivor.)  On the other hand, we know that the Republican majority favors vouchers, limits on state insurance regulation, and high deductible plans.  
While we will continue to improve the law – working with patients and providers – I am working specifically on three improvements.
First, I support inclusion of a public option in the Exchange – a publicly accountable choice that, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, would save $88 billion over 10 years.
Second, I worked successfully to include provisions in the Affordable Care Act to require that health insurance companies disclose and publicly justify unreasonable premium increases. Unfortunately, the law does not give HHS the ability to stop increases from taking effect in the 24 states, including Illinois, that lack rate modification authority.  I have introduced H.R. 416, the Health Insurance Rate Review Act, which would give HHS the authority to regulate rates in the states that currently lack that authority.  
Third, while the Affordable Care Act is a significant step forward on the path to health equity, much work remains to address existing disparities and to ensure that all communities have equal access to a healthier future.  For that reason, I am a cosponsor of the Health Equity and Accountability Act, which complements and builds on the health equality efforts included in the Affordable Care Act.

The U.S. annual budget deficit for fiscal year 2013 is projected to be $901 billion, down from $1.4 trillion in fiscal year 2009. About 82 percent of the federal budget in 2011 was related to entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, defense spending, and mandatory spending such as interest payments on existing debt. This leaves only about 18 percent of the federal budget as discretionary spending. What should be done to further reduce the budget deficit? The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has identified three major causes for our current debt and deficits:  the unfunded Bush tax cuts, the unfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Great Recession.  I believe that there are three key steps to take to achieve fiscal balance while protecting the middle-class – both those in it and those who aspire to it, helping American businesses succeed, and keeping our country strong.
First, we need to create good jobs and promote economic growth.  Spending cuts that create unemployment simply add to our fiscal problems.  Slashing needed investments in education, transportation and infrastructure, and cutting-edge innovation will have both immediate and long-term consequences, undermining our ability to remain an economic leader in the 21st century.  
Second, we need to cut unnecessary spending, including spending on outdated and ineffective weapons systems.  We need to improve government procurement efforts to get the most value for our dollars and eliminate waste, fraud and abuse wherever it occurs.  But we cannot simply slash the vital programs that support millions of Americans.  Social Security does not contribute a dime to the deficit.  The program has a $2.7 trillion surplus that will grow to $3.1 trillion before beginning to shrink, and even after the trust fund is depleted in 2033, it could still pay out three-fourths of benefits without making any changes at all.  A few simple revenue changes – such as eliminating the salary cap on payroll taxes on the employer side and raising it on the employee side to historical levels – could easily restore sustainability to the program.
Medicare and Medicaid’s costs have grown faster than the economy.  But that is because health care costs have grown faster than the economy.  Medicare and Medicaid are actually far more efficient and have lower administrative costs than private insurance companies.  And Medicare's per capita spending has slowed substantially to the point where it is now projected to actually grow slower than the economy overall. Over the coming decade, the rate of average annual per capita spending is projected to be 3.5 percent according to the Congressional Budget Office.  Meanwhile, private insurance plans are expected to grow at a rate of 5.4 percent.  
The Medicare provisions of the Affordable Care Act are replete with provisions from cutting fraud to improving the efficiency of health care delivery that will lower costs – without shifting costs to seniors and people with disabilities or ending the Medicare guarantee.  These programs need to be given time to work.  High health care costs are obviously a concern that we need to continue to address – but cutting Medicare and Medicaid is the wrong solution.  Bringing down federal health care costs requires bringing down health care costs throughout the entire system.  Simply cutting federal health care spending will mean that seniors and individuals with disabilities, consumers, and employers will have to pay more.
Third, we need to reform our tax code to be simple, fair and to raise sufficient revenues to fund national priorities.  Federal revenues are at their lowest levels in 60 years, which prevents us from making needed investments.   To achieve necessary revenues, we should ask those who can contribute more to do so.  I believe we should eliminate tax breaks for companies that outsource jobs overseas and for oil companies and other highly-profitable corporations that do not need taxpayer assistance.  
As a member of the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, I put forward my own proposal to achieve primary budget balance by FY2015 (link).  My plan included $200 billion in job creation investments over two years (including infrastructure, education, domestic manufacturing and green jobs initiatives); cuts in defense, non-defense and mandatory spending; and additional revenues.  I have also introduced H.R. 1124, the Fairness in Taxation Act (link), which would raise more than $800 billion by creating new tax brackets for income over $1 million, starting at 45% and rising to 49% for income over $1 billion.

 
In 2010 the federal government war on drugs cost about $15 billion, according to a report by the Cato Institute. FBI crime statistics state that 1.6 million people were arrested for drug offenses. Some public officials such as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle have publicly stated that our approach regarding drug crimes wastes law enforcement resources on non-violent offenders. What do you think of our federal policies regarding the war on drugs? I believe that the War on Drugs is the wrong approach to this problem facing our society and has pulled law enforcement away from tackling challenges like the gun deaths plaguing Chicago neighborhoods.  Drug addiction is a disease; therefore, the answers we should consider are prevention, education, and treatment.  These solutions have been shown to be more cost-effective in reducing illegal drug use in the United States.

""Reduction of supply"" efforts have produced few results with a great cost in terms of money and lives.  I agree that individuals arrested for possession, and not sale or production of illegal drugs, often face consequences far in excess of their crime.  In addition, unacceptable racial disparities persist in our prosecution of drug-related offenses, and our emphasis on criminalizing drug use has undermined entire communities and torn families apart.  I support the decisions by the cities of Evanston and Chicago to ticket – rather than arrest – individuals found to possess small amounts of marijuana.  

We need to overhaul our federal drug policies.  I oppose mandatory minimum sentences, which not only tie judges’ hands and prevent them from considering individual circumstances, but also often generate unnecessarily harsh sentences and increase racial disparities in sentencing.  Instead of focusing on punishing all drug users, I believe we need to increase assistance to those suffering from addiction.  I support initiatives to provide treatment counseling and other alternatives to incarceration.  Advancing those alternatives to our current law is not only the compassionate thing to do but is also cost-effective, as incarceration of these individuals is very expensive.

I am a cosponsor of H.R. 2306, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011.  The federal ban on marijuana is just one example of how our current drug policy has failed to prevent abuse.  Thousands of Americans are arrested each year for marijuana-related offenses and, while those offenses are often no more serious than possession for personal use, the arrest has lasting repercussions, affecting the individual's ability to pursue higher education or to seek and hold a job.  In addition, the U.S. federal ban on marijuana continues to fuel drug wars in Mexico, funding Mexican drug cartels to the tune of billions of dollars annually.  Ending federal bans on marijuana would give states the opportunity and responsibility to pass appropriate laws regulating and taxing marijuana, just as they currently do for alcohol and tobacco.
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Name one policy that the leaders of your party supported that you disagree with and name one decision or policy from the opposing party that you did agree with and why? Even though many members of my party supported them, I strongly opposed the recently-approved Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea because they continue to rely on the NAFTA trade model that has proven disastrous for the U.S. workforce.  While trade can be a valuable tool to bolster our economy and strengthen our ties with foreign allies, we must utilize a trade model that benefits U.S. businesses and workers, protects the environment and global human rights, prevents the exploitation of foreign labor, and does not undermine the U.S. regulatory framework.   

An initiative first launched by President George W. Bush, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), is a great example of an opposing party’s policy idea that I have embraced and consistently supported.  PEPFAR plays a pivotal role in the provision of HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care efforts – with the ultimate goal of improving health outcomes and strengthening health systems.  PEPFAR funding has made a significant difference.  In Fiscal Year 2011, PEPFAR directly supported HIV counseling and testing for more than 40 million people, provided care and support to nearly 13 million people, including over 4 million orphans and vulnerable children, and directly supported life-saving antiretroviral treatment for more than 3.9 million men, women and children.  The United States has a responsibility to lead the fight against HIV/AIDS by containing the spread of the virus, helping to provide treatment, and investing in a cure.  It is critical that we continue to meet that responsibility.

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