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Congressional candidates differ on education, the deficit
Republican incumbent Judy Biggert and Democrat Joseph Shannon are vying for a 2-year position for the 13th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The 13th Congressional District covers all or parts of Aurora, Bolingbrook, Burr Ridge, Clarendon Hills, Darien, Downers Grove, Hinsdale, Lisle, Naperville, Oak Brook, Oakbrook Terrace, Warrenville, Westmont, Willowbrook and Woodridge.
The following is an edited transcript of their answers to questions posed by the Daily Herald. Some of the answers have been trimmed to meet the requested 150-word maximum.
Q. Do you favor any changes in Social Security? If yes, what changes and why? If no, why?
Biggert. I am opposed to so-called "privatization." Instead, we should consider proposals that give young people who are just entering the system some control over how a small portion of their Social Security payroll taxes are invested. This option should not be mandatory for any workers - young or old.
I oppose any proposal that allows the federal government to invest Social Security funds in the stock market. The problems with this proposal are numerous, from the partial nationalization of major businesses to the risk that investment decisions will be driven by political considerations, not revenue-generating considerations.
We must explore ways to reform Social Security. If we do not, one thing is certain: those just entering the work force today will end up contributing more and receiving significantly less from the Social Security program when they retire. We cannot shortchange our children and grandchildren in this way.
Shannon. We should strengthen Social Security, not undermine and weaken the program. I oppose Social Security privatization that drains away money from the Social Security system and would cut Social Security's guaranteed benefits.
The first step to protecting Social Security is to stop the assaults launched against Social Security by the privatization advocates. The next step is to get our fiscal house back in order and grow the economy. I support measures to help Americans save for retirement while not jeopardizing Social Security. I support strengthening private pension plans and encouraging more Americans to save for retirement.
I will work to create universal pension accounts that workers can take from job to job without losing their savings. These plans would be an add-on and would not divert payroll taxes or jeopardize Social Security's guaranteed benefits.
Q. What changes, if any, do you advocate in U.S. energy policy? Please explain?
Biggert. High energy prices have hit us hard, and as chairman of the Energy Subcommittee, I continue to press to reduce our reliance on oil and natural gas and instead encourage the use of clean, efficient technologies like nuclear power, renewable fuels and hydrogen.
A bill I've introduced would do just that. Approved by the Science Committee and scheduled for House consideration in September, H.R. 5656 supports the development of:
-Biofuels from cellulosic feedstocks, or feedstocks other than corn.
-Technologies for hydrogen storage onboard vehicles.
- Widespread use of solar and wind power.
It also supports:
-Energy-efficient building incentives.
-Deployment of solar cells and Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles, which can go 20 to 40 miles without using gasoline.
-Recycling nuclear waste into fuel and demonstrating clean coal technologies.
-Creating a "cooperative extension" program to encourage the use of new energy technologies.
Shannon. The Energy Bill passed by Congress last year featured massive giveaways to big oil at a time when the industry was already reaping record profits. Legislation containing a real energy plan should focus on conservation, alternative fuel technologies, and renewable power sources. These are the kind of steps that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, improve our environment and create jobs at home.
As a member of congress, I will work to promote an energy policy that makes sense for the future of America, one that stimulates the development of renewable energy sources. The present leadership focuses almost exclusively on oil and natural gas as our energy answer. However, oil and natural gas are finite.
Further, there is a high price for our dangerous dependence on these resources. Service men and women are putting their lives on the line to make sure we have a steady flow of oil.
Q. Has No Child Left Behind improved education? Explain. Do you favor or oppose any changes to this law? Please explain.
Biggert. Enacted just five years ago, NCLB is working. Illinois' scores for 9 year-olds in reading and math show what we are seeing nationally - record performance by all students and a narrowing of the achievement gap.
As a former school board and PTA president, I know how hard it is to get it right for all children, regardless of their individual challenges. But schools here in the 13th District are putting their NCLB data to work in identifying best practices and targeting resources. I continue to support them by encouraging flexibility and fully funding NCLB. Annual federal education funding has increased by more than one-third since NCLB became law, from $17.4 to $23.3 billion, and I want that trend to continue.
As for specific changes to the law, I and fellow members of the House Education Committee are holding hearings on what works best and what we can improve.
Shannon. Washington's No Child Left Behind legislation is leaving millions of schoolchildren behind. Its combination of confusing federal mandates and gross under-funding threatens to undermine creative state and local efforts to improve our schools.
Our current leadership in Washington has taken its eyes off the prize in education. Our nation's greatest competitive advantage has been our commitment to the idea of quality public education for all. But the ideological agenda in Washington has been throwing away our educational advantage. Washington has placed under-funded federal mandates on public schools. At the same time, Washington has been reneging on our commitment to help more students gain college degrees.
My educational priorities in Congress will include the following:
1. Make sure our children are technologically literate.
2. Assisting school construction.
3. I will work to provide our schools with the crucial assistance they need to meet high academic performance standards.
4. Enhance higher educational.
Q. Please list the three or four most important elements of your preferred immigration reform and explain what objectives these changes would achieve.
Biggert. (The attacks on) 9-11 raised the stakes. We cannot be safe from terrorist attacks if we do not protect our borders from illegal immigration. I supported reforms that will:
-Establish control of all borders and ports through increased military support; more port of entry inspectors and K-9 units; and more physical barriers with state-of-the-art surveillance technology.
-End "catch-and-release" through mandatory detention for anyone attempting to illegally cross our borders; requiring all illegal immigrants apprehended at borders to remain in custody until removal from the country; and increased funding for new detention space and state and local assistance.
-Promote international policies to deter illegal immigration and protect valid claims of asylum.
My office assists hundreds of legal immigration applicants each year. They play by the rules and follow the law, and it is they who should first be served - not those who entered illegally.
Shannon. Congress should do its job to make sure the administration enforces immigration laws on its books. The record of the administration and this Congress the past 6 years is abysmal. The incumbent in the 13th District was elected in 1998. The incumbent estimates that "3.7 million illegal immigrants entered the United States between 2000 and 2005 - more than in any other five-year period in our nation's history."
This historic illegal immigration happened on the watch of this administration. Between 1999 and 2003, work-site enforcement operations were scaled back. The number of employers prosecuted for unlawfully employing immigrants dropped dramatically to four in 2003. In total, the Bush administration fined three companies in 2004 for violating immigration law, while the previous administration fined over 400 companies in 1999.
It is the federal government's job to secure our borders, but under the Bush administration the issue of illegal immigration has only gotten worse.
Q. Please explain your views on current federal spending as appropriate and necessary or not. If you have concerns about particular areas of spending, please cite those.
Biggert. Thanks to the boost the tax cuts gave to the economy, revenues grew by 14.5 percent in 2005 and are expected to increase by 11.6 percent in 2006, cutting the deficit in half, to $260 billion. We don't tax too little, we spend too much.
Mandatory spending on entitlement programs, which has grown six times faster than discretionary spending, must be tackled. I supported the act that slowed its growth by one-tenth of one percent through reforms, like cutting the windfall profits made by student loan companies.
I also want to repeal entitlements like the farm bill, which costs $200 billion and returns our farmers to subsidies and government management of agriculture.
My Medicare bill can crack down on the waste, fraud and abuse that is costing taxpayers up to $20 billion a year. It strengthens the enrollment process, expands certain standards of participation, and reduces erroneous payments.
Shannon. The wasteful spending in Washington, D.C., continues to go unchecked while our national debt spirals out of control. The federal government has grown dramatically since 2000 with the Bush administration running the show. Washington is in desperate need of a tough-minded budgetary attitude. Since George Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress came to power in 2001, we have gone from a record surplus to an enormous deficit spiraling out of control.
In 2007, I urge ending corporate welfare. I will join the growing bipartisan effort to stop this fiscal and economic insanity in Washington. Special corporate interests are increasingly using lobbyists to make money for them through legislation rather than earning it the old-fashioned way - in the marketplace.
Senator John McCain has estimated that more than 100 questionable corporate welfare loopholes existed at a cost to U.S. taxpayers of $65 billion a year.
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