Metro-East News

Candidate Profile: Mark Kirk

NAME: Mark Steven Kirk

AGE: 57

IMMEDIATE FAMILY: Mother: Judith Kirk; Stepmother: Beverly Kirk

OCCUPATION: Illinois U.S. Senator

OFFICE SOUGHT: U.S. Senate

PARTY: Republican

PREVIOUS ELECTED OFFICE: U.S. Representative, 10th Illinois District, 2000-2010

Q. What changes, if any, should be made in the Affordable Care Act?

A. In August, the Illinois Department of Insurance submitted rate increases to the federal government that for some types of plans average 43 percent to 55 percent. We see that government funded health care is not cheaper, or better, than private competition. Government can encourage competition across state lines to lower prices, permanently repeal the Cadillac tax and the medical device tax - a tax that could cost more than 11,000 jobs in Illinois if implemented. We also can not afford another taxpayer funded bailout of insurance companies when they cannot afford to cover new enrollees, a provision known as the "risk corridors" program. With interstate competition in insurance, Illinois would no longer be dominated by one insurer. Instead, residents could buy competitive health insurance from any state in the nation. The best way to lower overall healthcare costs is to increase competition and bipartisan reforms, not one-party solutions. A replacement to the Affordable Care Act should include utilization of telemedicine technology, which would increase access to specialists and improve health outcomes. The only FDA-approved treatment for an ischemic stroke, for example, is tPA therapy -- but only about 5% of stroke victims receive this treatment because of a rural limitation in Medicare. That’s why I introduced S. 1465, the Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine (FAST) Act, which would allow Medicare to reimburse for telestroke technology, regardless of where the services are rendered. I’ve also introduced bills to incentivize nurse-midwives, OB-GYNs, and optometrists to practice in areas where there are shortages. Illinois residents shouldn’t have to travel hours to get maternity care or vision care. These changes will help us reduce the physician shortage, improve care, and reduce costs in ways that Obamacare hasn’t.

Q. What are you views on the Trans Pacific Partnership?

A. Exports are a lifeline to the Illinois economy and pro-free trade means pro-Illinois. One third of the cornstalks you see in Illinois are bound for customers overseas. So the entire Illinois economy depends on the exporting of that product. And in Illinois, we didn’t just export the corn and beans, we export the machinery to harvest these crops. American agriculture depends on export growth. Since 1989, the value of the U.S. agricultural exports nearly have quadrupled and are valued at $152.5 billion. Trade agreements are the reason Illinois farm exports in corn, soybeans and grains doubled in the last decade with the expansion of the new markets in Asia and Central America. Overall, 44 percent of the grain grown in Illinois if for the export market. Illinois is the second leading state exporter of soybeans. The Trans-Pacific Partnership – a free-trade agreement with the Pacific Rim countries, including such countries as Australia, Chile, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore – can buy more Illinois food and products. The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, which represents more than 4,000 manufacturers throughout our state - know more trade means more jobs in IL. The partnership economies represent more than 50 percent of Illinois corn volume and 18 percent of soybean exports. New partnerships for Illinois farmers and manufacturers are crucial and I will not to let party bosses in Washington dictate my role in supporting the Illinois economy.

Q. Granite City Steel had to lay off its workforce. What should be done to get them back to work? What can Congress do to help those workers?

A. Illegal steel dumping by China is unacceptable. We have seen the ramifications right here in Illinois and these unfair practices must end. In May, I called on the U.S. Trade Representative to stop the illegal and unfair trade practices and the illegal import of mislabeled steel products. China should not be allowed to export steel with prices 20 to 50 percent lower than their competitors. I will fight for Illinois steel workers and hold China accountable for steel dumping and ensure that they are held responsible for cheating.

Q. On what issues do you disagree with your party’s nominee for president and how would you approach those issues if you both were elected?

A. I have spent my life building bridges to advance the US economy and national security. That’s why I find Donald Trump’s belief that an American-born judge of Mexican descent is incapable of fairly presiding over his case is not only dead wrong, it is un-American. As the Presidential campaign progressed, I hoped the rhetoric would tone down and reflect a campaign that was inclusive, thoughtful and principled. I oppose the Democratic nominee but also cannot support Donald Trump’s statements and attacks on Hispanics, women and the disabled- like me. It is absolutely essential that we are guided by a commander-in-chief with a responsible and proper temperament, discretion and judgment. Our President must be fit to command the most powerful military the world has ever seen, including an arsenal of thousands of nuclear weapons. After much consideration, I have concluded that Donald Trump has not demonstrated the temperament necessary to assume the greatest office in the world.

Q. The unemployment rate is 4.9 percent in the country and 6 percent in Illinois. What does that say about our economy? What would you do to improve our economy?

A. The fundamental difference in this senate race is that I believe Washington should spend less, tax less and borrow less money. My opponent wants to tax more and spend more, putting us deeper into debt. We need a simpler, fairer and more broadly based tax code that encourages companies businesses to compete in the free market. The U.S. has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world, driving many American jobs overseas. Lowering this rate will encourage economic growth and incentivize companies and investors to stay in the United States.

Q. What would you do to protect Scott Air Force Base from closing or from cutbacks?

A. As Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, I oversaw investments to improve Scott Air Force Base (SAFB), including $84.1 million for the recent construction of Defense Information Systems Agency’s Global Operations Command, the largest cyber operations center in the U.S. I also led the Illinois delegation fighting for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to SAFB. The Agency made the wrong decision so I will continue to look for opportunities to grow Scott and bring those jobs to the region.The men and women who serve at SAFB are major players in every significant U.S. military operation around the world. Scott is home to TRANSCOM, 375th Air Mobility Wing, 932nd Airlift Wing (Air Force Reserve), and 126th Air Refueling Wing (Air National Guard) making Scott AFB critical to the Air Force's overall mission. The base also includes U.S. Deployment and Distribution Command, Eighteenth Air Force, 635th Supply Chain Operations Wing, Defense Information Systems Agency, Air Force Network Integration Center and part of Air Mobility Command. All of these operations make a strong case for Scott to see growth, not closure, should another BRAC be approved by Congress in the future.

Q. The country's debt is growing as the nation continues to run a budget deficit. How would you balance the country's budget? At what point, if any, does the continued deficit spell disaster?

A. I support a grand bargain, like Simpson-Bowles, to reform the tax code and our entitlement programs in a balanced way, protecting both seniors and a pro-growth economy in order to confront our national debt. The Simpson-Bowles Commission was a bipartisan compromise to benefit the American economy, not special interest groups. That is why I authored S. 3061, the bipartisan Fiscal Responsibility Act (FiRE Act) with Senators Manchin and Perdue. The FiRE Act would create a bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility every four years to identify policies to shrink the deficit of the federal government and achieve long term fiscal sustainability. We don’t need more politicians in Washington who ignore tough decisions and legislate with higher taxes so government can spend more. I have consistently voted to cut federal spending and believe Congress should enact a Balanced Budget Amendment to the US Constitution in order to stop the cycle of deficit spending and tax hikes. Illinois has learned this lesson of tax and spend governance. Controlled spending is the way to attract business and investment to Illinois.

Q. What changes, if any, need to be made in entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare?

A. No current beneficiaries should face reductions in their Medicare benefits. As part of a long-term budget deal- like Simpson-Bowles- beneficiaries are protected from the budget shortfall. A grand bargain reforms the tax code and our entitlement programs in a balanced way, protecting both seniors and a pro-growth economy in order to confront our national debt. The Simpson-Bowles Commission was a bipartisan compromise to benefit the American economy, not special interest groups. That is why I authored S. 3061, the bipartisan Fiscal Responsibility Act (FiRE Act) with Senators Manchin and Perdue. The FiRE Act would create a bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility every four years to identify policies to shrink the deficit of the federal government and achieve long term fiscal sustainability. We don’t need more politicians in Washington who ignore tough decisions and legislate with higher taxes so government can spend more. I have consistently voted to cut federal spending and believe Congress should enact a Balanced Budget Amendment to the US Constitution in order to stop the cycle of deficit spending and tax hikes. Illinois has learned this lesson of tax and spend governance. Controlled spending is the way to attract business and investment to Illinois.

Q. Should the U.S. Senate hold confirmation hearings on Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland? If it did hold confirmation hearings, would you vote to confirm Garland?

A. I met with Judge Merrick Garland because it is my job. We had an important conversation about his role in earlier court decisions and discussed being from Illinois. I have been outspoken in my support for the Supreme Court confirmation process, calling for Senate hearings, urging other senators to meet with Judge Garland, and supporting an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. The Senate’s constitutionally defined role to provide advice and consent is as important as the president’s role in proposing a nominee, and I have continued to oppose efforts by my colleagues to block this important process from proceeding.

Q. What qualities, characteristics, or viewpoints do you want to see in future Supreme Court nominees?

A. Any member of the Supreme Court must be prepared to offer clear guidance to our soldiers in the battlefield on the rules of capturing, detaining, and interrogating enemy combatants. The Court must address the substantial Constitutional questions around holding and interrogating detainees and the rights afforded to detainees held abroad, in Guantanamo Bay, and in the United States. Opinions on these matter must be “soldier proof” to give the military men and women clear, succinct, and unambiguous standards of conduct. Additionally, members of the Court must respect the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution. The Tenth Amendment is a core principle in the Founding Fathers’ original constitutional plan for the national government to possess only those powers delegated to it. The Court must maintain this separation of federal and state power by checking federal laws and regulations that reach too far into the states’ zone of autonomy.

Q. The cost of college, and student debt itself, can be a large obstacle to people getting an education, or having a firm financial footing after graduating. What should be done to make college more affordable?

A. Making college more affordable is critical for the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs to keep America a leader in the global economy. My work and support has resulted in $3000 for every student through Pell Grants and Stafford Loans. I voted twice for Pell Grants for low-income students, most recently in the omnibus appropriations bill that gives students $200 additional dollars above the previous year’s award. I also voted in support of the Budget Control Act of 2011, which increased appropriations for federal Pell Grants in 2012 and 2013. I supported the president’s proposal in 2013 to reform student loan rates by creating a cap and setting it to the Treasury rate, saving students over $2,000 for the life of their loan and ensuring the loan rate will never increase. Finally, I joined several colleagues in an effort to reauthorize the Perkins Loan program last fall to give students manageable loan repayment options, such as public service in lieu of repayment. I have also authored legislation to create “401(kids)” accounts to help parents save for and invest in their child’s future. These tax-free college savings accounts will encourage investing in the future, teach kids about saving and help students avoid the burden of student loan debt. ​

Q. Why should people vote for you?

A. I have always put Illinois ahead of party loyalty because I look for solutions and common ground. Voters deserve to have a centrist thinker who can build coalitions, and independence is a rare commodity in Washington. Every day, I look through the lense of what helps Illinois, not any party or leader dictating how I vote. The VA has become a corrupt, political and bureaucratic mess on many levels – the more we learn, the worse it is. As Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, I am confronting the VA at every level. I stand with those who shine light on the corruption, like at Hines VA Hospital. Too many of our health care workers are failing our vets, and the few who stand up to protect them are ignored and punished. I have enacted new laws to protect whistleblowers from retaliation and firing. Congress should also be focused on putting our nation on a responsible fiscal path by cutting wasteful government spending, eliminating duplicative and unnecessary federal programs and avoiding tax hikes that stunt economic growth and make it harder for working families to get by.

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