Candidate Profile: Tammy Duckworth

NAME: Tammy Duckworth

AGE: 48

IMMEDIATE FAMILY: Husband: Bryan Bowlsbey; Daughter: Abigail Bowlsbey

OCCUPATION: U.S. Representative, 8th Illinois District

PARTY: Democrat

PREVIOUS ELECTED OFFICES: U.S. Representative, 8th Illinois District, 2012-2014, 2014-present.

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

A. It’s time for Congress to accept that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is settled law. We cannot go back to the days where one medical emergency or accident could send a person into bankruptcy or debt for the rest of their life and insurance companies could deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions. Instead of wasting time and millions of taxpayer dollars on countless failed attempts to repeal it, Congress should begin working together on productive efforts to improve the law. In Illinois, hundreds of thousands of people who did not have health coverage now do thanks to the ACA, and our state’s uninsured rate has dropped almost in half, from 15.5 percent to 8.8 percent. It is equally clear that the ACA is far from perfect, so I support fixing flaws that drive up costs, reduce competition and limit Americans’ access to the law’s protections and benefits. For example, I was a proud cosponsor of the bipartisan PACE Act to protect small businesses, and am proud when the President signed it into law. I also support the bipartisan effort to repeal the Medical Device Tax, which needlessly burdens hospitals and patients with additional costs. Congress needs to act on common-sense reforms like these to reduce overhead costs for both medical providers and their patients – many of whom are still struggling to afford their treatment. I’m confident that the ACA has made a positive impact on the lives of millions of Americans and I will continue to work to improve the law.

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

A. I do not support the Trans Pacific Partnership because the current agreement fails to protect American industry, hurts local businesses and their hardworking employees. The TPP lacks tough regulations to prohibit countries like Japan or South Korea from manipulating their currency, which increases the cost of American goods on the market. TPP also fails to include stricter rules of origin so that partners can’t cheat by slapping a “Made in Vietnam” label on products that are largely manufactured in another low-wage country, like China — which defeats the purpose of the labor and environmental standards the US trade negotiators advocated for in the first place. We can’t allow our foreign partners to maintain this unfair advantage in the global economy. We need an aggressive and ethical trade policy with China to protect American manufacturing. As Senator, I will fight to ensure future agreements require all partners to comply with trade provisions in no uncertain terms. While Mark Kirk voted to pass the Trade Promotion Authority – which limited congressional oversight of the TPP and other trade deals – I fought for a level playing field that promotes ethical, competitive trade practices. That’s an important difference for Illinoisans that I’ll bring to the Senate.

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. We need stronger trade agreements that put American workers first. In Granite City, more than 2,000 steelworkers and their families were told over the holidays that the plant was closing down. Subsidized steel imports continue capture nearly 30 percent of our steel market here at home, while domestic steel mills are only operating at 70 percent capacity. That’s unacceptable to me. We need tax breaks for companies that bring jobs home, and we need to close tax loopholes for companies that ship jobs overseas. As Senator, I’ll push for fairer trade policies that will help Illinois workers compete globally, rather than keep us at the mercy of foreign currency manipulation and steel dumping. Congress must also invest in American infrastructure, which will increase economic growth by sustaining well-paying transportation industry jobs and create new employment opportunities for thousands of hard-working Americans.

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 am proud to support Secretary Hillary Clinton to be our next President, but I’ve never been afraid to stand up to my own party for the good of my constituents, and I’ve consistently demonstrated that since arriving in Congress. Secretary Clinton and I don’t always agree on the use of military force abroad; and I have had no problem standing up for issues I believe in across party lines. I was one of 16 Democratic Members who crossed the aisle to vote in favor of passing the VA Accountability Act out of the House despite strong opposition from my own Party. I was one of 37 Democratic Members who voted to adopt the final conference report on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016, despite strong opposition from the Administration and Democratic Leadership, and I was one of 40 Democratic Members who voted to pass the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, despite similar opposition from the Administration and Leadership. More recently, I was one of 48 Democratic Members who bucked my party and crossed the aisle to vote in favor of passing the Defense Appropriations Act, 2017. As a Senator, it would be my responsibility to work for the people and not along party lines. My record shows I have no qualms approaching disagreements on policy with members of my own party.

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. Improving the economy begins with investing in the real engine of our economy: working families and small businesses. This means that we can jumpstart Illinois’s economy and create jobs by taking advantage of the tremendous resources we have at our disposal — natural, capital, and human — as well as being smart about making the right kinds of investments in our future, and in our people. If we’re serious about growing our workforce, we need to make a serious investment in our nation’s infrastructure. This is also why I support the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank, and I support an adequately funded long-term transportation bill that would create 2 million jobs, paid for in part by restricting corporate tax inversions--a move that could recover $40 billion over the next decade. Growing our economy isn’t just about creating the jobs, we also have to make sure that there are qualified workers for those job openings. As a nation, we need to ensure all Americans have access to a quality and affordable education. I’ve heard from manufacturers in my own district that they have jobs to fill, but can't find applicants that bridge the so-called “skills gap.” I introduced the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Opportunity Act to help address this gap by enabling students to use their federal student aid on career and technical education programs that provide them with the skills and knowledge they need for jobs that are hiring right now. When it comes to our tax code, we need to institute reform that puts hardworking families first. We simply can't ask our Veterans and low-income seniors to pay more taxes while large companies exploit corporate loopholes at the expense of the middle class. This is why in addition to supporting the President’s plan to limit corporate inversions, I also believe that we should give tax cuts to companies that bring jobs back home, rather than protect companies that ship American jobs overseas, as Senator Kirk has.

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

A. Ever since I was recovering at Walter Reed, I've made supporting servicemembers and Veterans my life's mission. As the only member of the Illinois Congressional Delegation with a voice on the Armed Services Committee, I know Scott Air Force Base — and its 13,000 personnel and support staff — aren’t just critical to Southern Illinois’ economy, they’re an essential part of our nation’s defense system. Scott is home to some of our nation’s most premier commands including the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, a major Combatant Command in Transportation Command, and the Defense Information Systems Agency’s (DISA) Global Operations Command Facility is literally the operational backbone of DOD’s network. I enjoyed discussing the importance of these commands, base readiness and our nation's security needs with Colonel Laura Lenderman at Scott this year. As Senator, I’ll continue to impress upon my colleagues and Air Force and DOD officials about the critical role Scott Air Force Base plays in our nation’s defense. I’ll also advocate for modernization projects that strengthen and increase Scott’s importance to DOD while helping improve surrounding communities and insulating the base from cutbacks. A good example of this and a project I’ll push for is a new gate at Cardinal Creek. Improvements like this will not only improve the overall development of the base and increase the base’s anti-terrorism abilities, but will also positively impact local communities by reducing local traffic congestion and help community partners like Mid America Airport.

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. Cutting wasteful spending, fraud and abuse has been one of my top priorities as an elected official, because I know that Congress must serve as a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars. In Congress, I’ve targeted waste in the Department of Defense, such as the flawed and costly procurement process of the F-35 fighter jet. As Illinois’ only member of the Armed Services Committee, numerous provisions to cut waste in military spending that I’ve introduced have become law, like my provision to eliminate duplicative camouflage uniform procurement by requiring all military branches to partner when developing new camouflage patterns. A 2015 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found it will save taxpayers approximately $4.2 billion over five years. In addition, when DOD auditors found $900 million worth of excess Stryker vehicle parts and components in a warehouse in 2013, I introduced an amendment to limit funding of the Stryker vehicle until the Army could come up with a plan to recoup that money, a plan they then developed. Responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars is something I take personally as well, and I’m proud that I’ve returned almost $370,000 in unused office funds to federal coffers since taking office in 2013. And when Congress couldn’t come together on a compromise to reduce the deficit, leading to the harmful sequestration that slashed funding across for critical programs across the board, I was the first Member to give back 8.4 percent of my own pay, which was the same amount those programs were cut through sequestration. That amounted to almost $10,000 of my salary that I sent back to the Treasury. During sequestration, I also joined a bipartisan group of legislators to introduce the Giveback Deficit Reduction Act, which automatically returns unspent Congressional office funds to the Treasury for deficit reduction. It’s also important that we develop policies to cut wasteful spending without leaving our most vulnerable behind. Middle-class families, seniors and those living with disabilities depend on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to make ends meet and lead their lives with dignity. By rooting out waste and fraud in these programs, we can strengthen them. I’ve cosponsored the bipartisan PRIME Act with Congressman Roskam, parts of which were passed into law, to do just that. I hope to continue this kind of work in the US Senate.

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

A. While we have to address our budget issues, we can't do it on the backs of our seniors. We can improve Medicare by combating fraud, allowing negotiations over prescription drug prices and aligning incentives so we are paying for quality of care rather than quantity of care. As Senator, I will protect Medicare because I firmly believe it is not a giveaway – people paid into Medicare and they have earned these benefits. I am also committed to strengthening and protecting Social Security and Medicare so they remain intact for generations to come and will continue opposing Republican privatization efforts. As Senator, I will always be willing to work with my colleagues to find common-sense solutions – and I am open to the possibility of lifting the current Social Security cap. I firmly believe that millionaires should not be paying a smaller percentage of their income into Social Security than middle-class families. If, for instance, we returned to the way the law was structured in the 1980s, that would go a long way to reducing the shortfall.

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. Let’s be clear: the Republican Senate majority is hoping to delay the nomination so President Trump can pick a Supreme Court Justice, which obstructs the basic tenets of our Constitution. The American people deserve a fully-functioning Supreme Court. The bottom line is that Majority Leader McConnell, who my opponent voted for, should let the Senate do its job by holding hearings and a vote on Judge Garland’s nomination. In Congress, I’m proud to have helped introduce the SCOTUS Resolution to remind our senators of their constitutional duty. If Republicans don’t want to support such a qualified nominee, they can vote against him--but they should hold a vote.

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

A. We are in a moment in which we are facing some of the most pressing legal questions of our time, especially when it comes to voting rights, women's rights and organized labor. Our next President should appoint a Justice with a brilliant legal mind and a strong history of sound judicial decisions. A Supreme Court justice should also have the measured judgement to make nuanced and informed decisions that best reflect our nation’s values, and our promise to protect civil liberties for all Americans. As a whole, I would like to see a Supreme Court that looks more like our nation with more diverse nominees, and I would hope that each Justice has a deep understanding of our laws, and a deep love for our country.

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. I relied on Pell Grants, student loans, work study and a lot of waitressing to pay for college, and I wouldn’t be where I am now without it. Failure to deal with the rising cost of college poses a serious threat to both educational opportunity and economic activity at large. With 40 million Americans facing mounting debt, fewer dollars are going into consumer and housing markets that power national growth, ultimately stagnating economic recovery nationwide. I introduced the In The Red Act to allow individuals to refinance their student loans at lower interest rates, which would save billions of dollars in interest for more than 24 million student loan borrowers. The bill also provides necessary financial support to offset the rising cost of education. To adjust for the rate of inflation, the In The Red Act bolsters funding for Pell Grants, providing 9.2 million students with an additional $1,300 in financial aid. By closing a tax loophole that allows corporations to write off executive bonuses as business expenses, millions of Americans can attain access to new educational opportunities. I am also a proponent of President Obama’s plan to offer deserving students the opportunity to receive a two-year degree from a community college at no cost. Providing all Americans with the opportunity to receive a higher education is an investment in the future of our economy, and our country.

Q. Why should people vote for you?

A. I am running because we need to do better by working and middle-class families in this state and across the country. People who are working harder than ever before, it is becoming increasingly difficult to make ends meet. For far too many families, the cost of a college education seems out of reach, and a secure and dignified retirement seems unobtainable. As a nation, we have to do better, and we will do better. This election is then a clear choice between two very different records in government. I am proud of the work I have done to make education more affordable, cut wasteful government spending and serve our Veterans. At the end of the day, I am always going to put working families first and I believe that lifting each other up doesn’t cost nearly as much as leaving our fellow Americans behind. As Senator, I hope to continue to build stronger communities – and a stronger country – through commonsense solutions that work to open up opportunities for all Americans, not just a select few at the top.