Bachelor's Degree, Economics and Political Science, University of Wisconsin - Madison
On the Record
Now that the Supreme Court has OK’d most of President Obama’s health care reform act, what should Congress’ next steps be to make sure as many citizens as possible have access to more affordable health care?
Here are some important indicators for members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, including the U.S.: • We spend more per person on health care than any other developed nation. • Our life expectancy is lower than all other OECD Nations except for Estonia, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Turkey. • Only Mexico, Turkey and Chile exceed our infant mortality rate. • The U.S. ranked 11th out of 11 nations (i.e. the poorest showing), on unmet need due to cost. Rosy claims about the U.S. health care system are usually based on anecdotes about wealthy foreigners coming here for treatment. We do high tech medicine very well, but very expensively. Sadly, if you are not wealthy or well-insured, things aren’t so bright. 1) The first step that should be taken is for the House to get serious about implementing the Affordable Care Act rather than continuing an apparently endless string of show votes to repeal. 2) Reintroduce a public insurance option. Such an option would provide even greater flexibility for consumers, and would, by most reasonable estimates, result in a further savings. 3) Add a prescription drug benefit to traditional Medicare and allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, as is already the case with Medicaid and the VA. These changes would result in reductions in both out-of-pocket and Medicare care costs.
Unemployment across the U.S. remains above 8 percent. What should Congress be doing to spur job growth?
The unemployment rate would be substantially lower had not so many state and local government layoffs occurred, in part due to the effects of the economic downturn and in part because of reduced federal revenues. Small businesses need easier access to capital, tax advantages for those companies that offshore jobs must be eliminated, and international trade agreements must include human rights and wage protections for workers in other parties to the agreements, thereby reducing the financial incentives for offshoring. Efforts to erode collective bargaining rights at home must cease, and the elimination of wage inequality based on gender is long overdue. The Administration’s Jobs Bill addresses many of these issues, as does the Senate’s Rebuild America Act, but progress has been stalled by Republican members of both Houses. America’s infrastructure is crumbling, with roads, bridges, public water systems and schools in urgent need of repair or upgrade. There is work that needs to be done, and there are workers who need jobs. Those concerned about burdening our children with debt would do well to read the American Society of Civil Engineers’ infrastructure report, which shows that the estimated cost of the needed work is mounting rapidly, rising by $500 billion between 2004 and 2009 alone. We need action on the Administration’s Jobs Bill and the Senate’s Rebuild America Act.
Is it possible for Congress to stop deficit spending and start paying down the national debt without raising taxes? Be specific in your explanation.
Of course it is possible to stop deficit spending and start paying down the debt without raising taxes. The necessary follow-up questions are whether doing so would be good for the country, and whether we would recognize the nation that emerges from such an exercise. The reasonable approach to debt and deficit control is a combination of budget cuts and increased revenues. If we leave defense spending, Social Security and Medicare for current or soon-to-become beneficiaries out of the equation, the depth of federal budget cuts necessary to achieve the stated goal would shift much cost to state and local governments for many remaining programs; programs such as, for example, transportation, K-12 education, water treatment, and various health care services, which account for about one-third of federal non-defense discretionary spending. Examples of non-defense discretionary programs that would have to be cut include functions as the National Institutes for Health, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, national parks, food safety, border protection, Medicaid, SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), assistance for disabled veterans, and a range of programs that are targeted to low-income people. This is an unacceptable future scenario. Of course, if we are willing to pay substantially more in state and local taxes to make up the difference, perhaps it would work.
What, if anything, should the U.S. be doing to help stabilize Syria?
Kofi Annan’s proposal for a settlement to be negotiated by a group consisting of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Iran, Turkey, and representatives of the Arab League appeared to offer a chance for bringing to an end the conflict and stabilizing the situation, but that plan has all but collapsed. Egypt has proposed a new plan that seems to offer some promise, including the departure of Assad and not least the fact that it is a plan to be negotiated by regional players – Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Syria. Given national and sectarian tensions in the region, this plan may come apart as well, but it is attractive because of the fact that it places the responsibility for stabilizing the region with the leading regional actors. Any solution that lacks the support of these Middle Eastern states is unlikely to take hold or, should it gain any initial ground, to last. If the solution is perceived as being imposed from outside the region it will likely be doomed from the start. Unilateral action by the U.S. would only serve to deepen resentment in the region and is out of the question, particularly given the Nation’s experiences over the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Congress’ approval ratings are abysmal, and that’s largely because of all the partisan rhetoric and the inability to compromise. If elected, will you be willing to reach across the aisle and work on compromise with members of the opposite party to resolve this country’s many issues? Explain
Congress’ dismal approval ratings are well-deserved. The problems facing the Nation are serious, and addressing them requires equally serious people committed to meaningful discussion and debate. Sadly, the House of Representatives is dysfunctional, deadlocked by a group of members who appear to be far more interested in proving that government is inept than in working to enable it to better serve the people, even going so far as to vote against proposals that originated with their own party. Such conservative thinkers as Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and David Brooks, to name two, place the blame for gridlock in the House squarely with the Republican majority. Obstructionism is not governing, but one can hardly expect those who hold government in disdain to be good at practicing the art. Democracy lies in striking a balance between opposing interests, and in its unwillingness to even try to do so, this House has been an abject failure. I am committed to engaging in serious dialogue and debate with those with whom I may disagree. However, I expect that there will be those in the next House membership, as among the current membership, who will continue to speak in vague terms of un-American activities and attitudes, who will voice a fundamental distrust of science, and who will continue to mouth the outworn nonsense that “government is the problem,” no matter what the issue. With these I recognize that I may have difficulty. Should they wish to engage in serious discussion, however, they will find in me a willing partner.
What should Congress do in regards to Social Security?
It is important to recognize that Social Security is solvent through 2033, according to the Trust Fund’s most recent report, and will continue to be able to cover 75% of benefits after that. While that seems to leave us 20 years to solve any fiscal issues the Program may have, it is a fact that the sooner we act, the less dramatic any corrections will need to be and the more gradually they can be phased in. The size of the long-term problem is comparable to the amount of revenue that would be lost to the government were the Bush tax cuts on top earners – those making over $200,000 per year for a single earner – made permanent. The point of the comparison is simply to illustrate that arguing that the Social Security shortfall constitutes a crisis while the tax cuts are affordable is inconsistent. I support raising or eliminating the payroll cap. Raising it to the 90% level would reduce the projected shortfall by about 35%. Eliminating the cap would eliminate the shortfall and, according to the Social Security Administration, would keep the program solvent for another 75 years. I am opposed to privatization. I am opposed to raising the retirement age, generally defended as being justified by life expectancy increases, but which would amount to a penalty on lower income workers among whom such life expectancy increases are far less significant, and who are likely to be more dependent on Social Security in retirement.
With all of the issues surrounding the economy, immigration reform has taken a back seat. What, if anything, should the federal government be doing?
The Nation does need immigration reform. Specifically, the immigration system should be updated and modernized through such undertakings as smart border technology; employment verification; the guarantee of worker protections so as to curtail the incentive for some employers to engage in a race to the bottom that disadvantages American workers and threatens the well being of immigrant workers; and an updating of immigration policies and visa processes, particularly where they threaten the cohesiveness of families. We should engage in a serious effort to register undocumented aliens and to either enter them into paths to permanent residency or citizenship processes, where appropriate, or to deport them when called for. Our foreign policy must include provisions for dealing with other nations whose internal conditions effectively encourage their citizens to flee to the U.S.
Outside of jobs and the federal deficit, what are the one or two most important issues in the 14th Congressional District, and how do you plan to address them?
Beyond jobs and the deficit/debt, I hear most often about the failure of Congress to act in a manner consistent with the seriousness of the Nation’s problems, an issue I addressed in response to Question 5. Part of this failure lies in the unwillingness of members of Congress to take every opportunity to counter the intentional dissemination of falsehoods that affect how people perceive the issues facing the nation. People have told me that their primary concern is FEMA “internment camps” apparently intended to house those who oppose the Administration’s policies in one area or another. Others fear the President’s plan to disarm them, sometimes as part of a larger plan to turn the United States government over to the United Nations. I have heard outrage concerning the “fact” that 100 million Americans are now on welfare. We hear that voter fraud is a major problem in the country, all evidence to the contrary, and see new laws to address the “problem” that will lead not to a more accurate measure of the popular will, but instead to the exclusion from the democratic process many who have a fundamental right to vote. There has always been and there always will be some segment of the population that is receptive to such myths, but I do believe that the problem is becoming more serious. It is the responsibility of our elected representatives to correct those falsehoods in discussions of public policy, and too many are failing to do this. I pledge that I will seek the truth, speak the truth and, when I have gotten it wrong, I will explain to the people of the 14th District where and how I got things wrong.
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John Jung Jr.