A number of national and local issues were discussed at the first debate between the 16th Congressional District candidates.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, and immigration attorney Sara Dady, D-Rockford, met Monday at WCMY studios in Ottawa for their first sit-down debate.
The pair answered a number of questions provided by news director Rick Koshko and reporter Ethan Kruger, of Ottawa’s WCMY radio station, as well as from news editor Derek Barichello, of The Times newspaper.
[To listen to the full debate, click here.]
Income tax bill
The candidates agreed on some topics, but did not see eye-to-eye when looking at the income tax bill.
Dady agrees the country feels overtaxed but believes the real problem lies with the taxpayer not seeing value for the taxes they pay.
Dady noted she’s hit just about every pothole while driving across the 16th District’s 14 counties and in addition to road work there are some communities where water is not clear and the infrastructure of nuclear plants is crumbling.
“Paying less in taxes mean we’ll see even less benefits,” Dady said.
Kinzinger understood everyone felt overtaxed as the state of Illinois has a high tax base that is leading many to depart for neighboring states.
Kinzinger said the tax bill has achieved its goal of reversing the trend of businesses taking their headquarters overseas.
He added any effort to repeal the act and raise taxes would set the country back during a period of economic recovery.
Dady said the issue doesn’t lie with raising taxes but instead with raising incomes and reinventing health care.
When the topic of a minimum wage increase was addressed, Kinzinger said he's supported a wage increase in the past but believes $15 an hour is going too high.
Dady said it can be hard to make a living even as a middle-class family and described how a family with kids could lose more than $25,000 a year through child care and insurance costs.
“As soon as you make it to the middle class you slip right back into poverty,” Dady said.
Dady also referenced programs to help those on benefits get jobs as making those on benefits look "lazy" when it can be difficult to find a job.
Kinzinger said there are 175,000 individuals between the age of 18 and 49 without children or disabilities that can be served by helping them get a job or getting them into a program to help them receive a job.
“We’ve got to quit looking at work in this country as a curse,” Kinzinger said. “Work is not a curse. Work is a benefit, a privilege and an honor to have a job.”
The two also discussed the opioid epidemic, which affects a number of communities throughout the 16th District.
Kinzinger said he feels Republicans and Democrats have been working well together on this issue.
The recent omnibus bill increased funding for opioid issues by $6 billion and the state of Illinois has gotten near $50 million in grants recently, according to Kinzinger.
He added it’s important to fully fund treatment centers as it’s important to get a user to a treatment facility during the “magic minute” between coming off a drug and before the addiction kicks in again, which can be difficult in rural communities where treatment centers are hours away.
Dady noted Winnebago County has the highest rate of overdoses in the state and she personally experienced the strife it can cause a family when her cousin, a U.S. Marine, died two years ago from an overdose.
She said changing how the country views addiction is key.
“We don’t tend to think of mental health issues as a medical issue but it is and it needs to be covered by insurance. We need to have access to treatment,” Dady said.
She added consistent treatment through universal health care could help addicts get the assistance they need.
Dady said it’s a health issue, not a criminal issue, and commitment is required both from the families themselves as well as the federal government.
Kinzinger believes some funding can help the issue, but most of the work must be done in the communities themselves.
“A lot of people look to the federal government to solve everything and I think we can solve funding issues to some extent, but the community has to begin talking to young people,” Kinzinger said.
Dady equated Kinzinger’s response to Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, which she called “not real policy” and reiterated that permanent medical treatment through a universal health care would lead to more positive results.
Dady referenced Kinzinger’s vote to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act, which she said would have left 37,800 constituents without access, as a sign of backward momentum when it comes to increasing medical options.
Kinzinger said he supported the repeal as he said it would have driven costs down in the long term and sparked innovations.
He noted he routinely hears from constituents who say their premiums and deductibles have “skyrocketed.”
Kinzinger noted future efforts could go toward implementing Truth in Billing so it’s clearer when a bill needs to be paid upfront rather than receiving hundreds of bills as well as tort reform so doctors who run multiple tests to avoid potential lawsuits can focus on treating patients.
Kinzinger also noted the rise of new devices, such as wearable tech that can detect heart problems and disease will soon bring the cost of health care down.
Dady said the current system is one that puts employers at the mercy of private health insurers that leaves them with significantly fewer profits.
She reiterated a universal health care system could improve economic growth and give access to those who need health care.
“I believe health care is just as much a right as education this country. Just as much as voting is,” Dady said.
The pair also were asked for their thoughts on immigration policy.
Kinzinger said it’s important to enforce the border, whether that’s through additional resources or border agents, not only to mitigate illegal immigration but also the spread of drugs.
He added the reality is illegal immigrants are in the country and he said they should be given avenues to become citizens and learn English rather than outright deportation.
He wants the immigration process to be “generous” but ultimately be based on job skills.
“That brings the kind of people we want here for the jobs we need filled in this country and the innovation we need in this country as well as family-based immigration,” Kinzinger said.
Dady said the current worker visa project does not work and is not tied to actual labor demands. She added border security will never work unless a lawful way is provided for them to come to the border. She suggested an immigrant in the United States on a student visa be allowed to stay and start their company in the U.S. as well as allowing for naturalized citizens to bring their parents to the country.
Kinzinger said it’s an issue he’s been dedicated to that’s been made difficult by the two parties not working together. He added border control is still needed first and foremost.
“Once we have a secure border we can enforce a system which brings in the people we want in and keeps out the ones we don’t,” he said.
The two came relatively close to seeing eye-to-eye regarding the gun regulation.
Kinzinger said he was one of the first members of Congress to support banning bump stocks as well as supported raising the age to buy an AR-15 to 21.
Kinzinger said it’s more important current laws are upheld than to ban any other weapons.
“Let’s enforce the laws in the books before we start talking about new laws,” he said.
Dady said she was all for supporting current laws but noted that departments such as the ATF have not received federal funding since 1972.
Dady said she understands the desires and rights of gun owners, but “reasonable” limits should still be considered.
“I understand people want to have a gun for hunting a home protection and I think that’s great and I have no problem with that and I think a majority of Americans don’t, but I think it’s unacceptable that we’re not protecting our children and communities in a responsible way,” Dady said.
The candidates were asked to discuss any additional topics and Kinzinger took his time to both show support for President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and discuss rethinking education.
Kinzinger said one of the state’s chief exports is “our kids” and that it’s important the state empowers the trades and vocational programs. He said it’s important to “get past the belief” every student should go to college and instead look toward trade school and community colleges as other options that lead to a good living.
Dady reiterated middle-class wages are not growing at the rate they should be. She suggested supporting unions, which have traditionally increased middle-class wages, as a start to improving wages across the board. She also referenced health care as being a huge anchor with regard to economic growth. Dady said any cost savings to employers would go right back into the paychecks of workers.
Dady welcomed Kinzinger to four future public town halls, but dates were not set. Koshko also invited the two to return for a follow-up debate later in the campaign.