Bill Foster Q & A

1) What is the No. 1 issue in your district and how would you address it?

As I have been talking with families across this new district, I hear the same concern:  we need jobs, but Congress is a mess and doing nothing to invest in regular people, small businesses, and innovation.  I’m running because the chaos and dysfunction coming out of Washington can’t go on. The agenda coming from Congressional Republicans that ends Medicare, cuts progress and jeopardizes the American dream can’t continue.  Our seniors need to know that Medicare and Social Security will be there for them and that their retirement is secure. Illinois families need to have the confidence that their children will enjoy the same success and competitive edge that they did and that our communities will be strong enough to support generations to come. Everyone knows we need to cut down on spending, but we can’t do it at the expense of Illinois’ long term economic growth. We need to invest in cutting edge research and emerging industries—whether that’s technology or national laboratories—and we need to find smart solutions to boost our manufacturing and create good jobs.

2) How would you promote job growth in your district?

First, I believe we need to support American manufacturing, because we are at our best when we build things, and we become weaker when we are just a service economy or bankers to the world.   I know American manufacturing can succeed, because I’ve lived it.  The manufacturing company my little brother and I started now produces most of the theater lighting equipment sold in the U.S. It exports a large fraction of what it manufactures and employs hundreds of people in the Midwest with good jobs and good benefits.  To this end, we should stop rewarding companies who ship jobs overseas and instead reward companies who actually keep jobs and hire here at home.

Secondly, I believe we must ensure that future trade deals have the best interests of America’s middle class at heart.  We can compete with any country in the world if we have a level playing field, and I will insist that any trade deals in the future do not put American workers at a disadvantage.  One of the crucial mistakes of the last decade was agreeing to China’s ascension to the WTO without an agreement that China stop cheating on Intellectual Property, stop using capital controls for abusive mercantile purposes, and stop manipulating the value of its currency.

We should look at tax credits to help small businesses that are hiring, to give them incentives to grow.  I would also support the repatriation of the more than $1T in foreign corporate profits on a reduced-tax basis, as long as this was explicitly linked to a commitment to use the money to create U.S. jobs – for example by providing a repatriation tax credit proportional to the increase in the U.S. payroll taxes of a corporation.  This approach avoids repeating the ill-advised repatriation tax holiday of the Bush administration that cost taxpayers billions of dollars and created essentially no new U.S. jobs.

Finally, I believe we need to help the housing market.  Too many middle class families are struggling and under water on their mortgage thru no fault of their own.  To that end, I believe we should allow responsible homeowners to refinance their mortgages to take advantage of lower rates even if their home has lost much of its value.  The housing market is a huge part of our economy, and getting it going again will go a long way toward creating jobs.

3) Should the federal government cut spending and where?

Every serious proposal has had a combination of spending cuts and revenue increases and that is the approach we will need.  The Simpson-Bowles compromise was 3 parts spending cuts to 1 part revenue increases; when Ronald Reagan had to re-balance the budget he compromised on 3 parts revenue increase to 1 part spending cuts.  While I’m willing to compromise on the exact figures, what I’m not willing to do is ask the middle class to do all of the sacrificing and trying to balance the entire budget on the backs of Social Security and Medicare recipients. We must have a shared sacrifice from all if we are going to get this problem under control.

Pledges taken by politicians that they will never compromise on issues of this importance to our country’s future are corrosive to our democracy and are a primary source of gridlock in Washington.  I was very disappointed to see that every member of the Illinois Republican delegation to Washington, including my likely opponent, has taken the Grover Norquist pledge to refuse to compromise on how to balance our budget.  I am pessimistic that Washington will function properly as long as politicians taking these sorts of pledges remain in office.

Some specific spending cuts:   1) I believe that subsidies to millionaire farmers should end.   2) The lifetime cost of the next-generation manned fighter plane is $1.4T – six times the inflation-adjusted cost of building the Interstate Highway system over 40 years – while unmanned drones can perform the same missions at a small fraction of the cost.   3) Our country spends $300B per year – $3T per decade – on costs related to drug abuse, while there are very promising antidote drugs undergoing development and field trials that deaden the craving for both opiates and alcohol.  The federal government should aggressively promote their rapid development and deployment.

On the revenue side, I do not support raising taxes on middle class families.  I am willing to see the tax rates for the very wealthiest among us go back to the rates they were under President Clinton, a time when both the very wealthy and the middle class prospered.  I believe we should end subsidies to the oil companies.  I believe we should simplify the tax code, and am generally supportive of most types of tax reforms proposed by the Simpson-Bowles committee.    I am also very concerned about the effect on economic growth of the distributional effects of proposed tax changes.  One of the lessons of recent decades is that economic growth is highest in countries with a thriving middle class, due to the higher return on investments made by the middle class compared to investments made by the wealthy, as well as the increasing propensity of the wealthy to move their investments offshore.

4) If Republican, which GOP presidential candidate do you support?

n/a

5) Give an example of something you’ve done that is bipartisanship in nature.

Ethics are not a partisan issue, and we need to make sure our leaders are held to the highest standard.  Within hours of being sworn into Congress March 2008, I cast the deciding vote to ensure the creation of an independent ethics panel to investigate complaints against members of Congress.  In the same vein, I co-sponsored an amendment with Republican Mark Kirk that would have prevented then Governor Rod Blagojevich from spending stimulus funds.

6) Name one good policy idea that comes from the opposing party.

The high-risk health insurance pool in the Health Care reform bill was originally part of Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s platform when he ran for president.

7) How do you define family values?

Family values in my book means doing the things necessary to help middle class families.  For the last decade, every lever of government has been flipped to help the super wealthy and big corporations, and it's become harder and harder for middle class families to get by.  I want to reverse that, so government works for ordinary families, not just those who are wealthy and well connected.

8) What are your thoughts on the healthcare law?

Those who would repeal the bill have yet to explain how they would cover the millions of people who were uninsured before this bill passed – including the forty thousand who die every year because of a lack of health insurance.  Those who would repeal this bill would be giving back to big insurance companies the power to deny insurance to children with pre-existing conditions, and to drop people’s coverage when they get sick.  Now is not a time to go back.

What we must do is to bend the cost curve or we will be drowned in an avalanche of health care related spending.  Many provisions in the health care reform bill – such as electronic medical records and bundled care payments – are already starting to bend the cost curve in ways that will benefit both the Medicare program and health care costs for younger Americans, and must be allowed to continue.

9) Who is your political role model?

I believe in fiscal responsibility, and have often described myself as a Paul Simon Democrat.

Another of my heroes is Sen. Paul Douglas, and here is one reason why.  During the financial crisis, we heard testimony on predictions from various computer models of the economy about what would happen with different policy responses.  Being a scientist, I asked to see the formulas inside the model.  It turns out that, buried deep inside those computer models, is something called the “Cobb-Douglas production function” – a fundamental contribution to economic theory made by the one and same Sen. Paul Douglas, and an idea which is still in use in computer codes 80 years later.   This gives you some idea how far the level of debate in Congress has fallen towards what passes as political discourse today.

10) What’s on your iPod?

The contents of every CD I ever owned, (including lots of old junk I will never listen to again), classical music, and books on tape that I listen to mainly when travelling.