Leslie Coolidge

Demographics

Democrat

54

Barrington Hills

Master's Degree, Accounting, New York University

Bachelor's Degree, Government, Harvard University

CPA, Retired from KPMG LLP

Divorced

Terric Stephens - stepson, 34

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?

The Affordable Care Act has made good progress in expanding health care access to millions of Americans. Next steps should focus on reducing health care costs while improving care both for Medicare and Medicaid patients and for the American people as a whole. We should reward patients and physicians who choose treatments based on “comparative effectiveness,” which would minimize the need to pay for high-cost but low-effectiveness measures. Tremendous efficiencies can be built into the health care system with an across-the-board mandate for conversion to electronic record-keeping. When the Medicare drug benefit was implemented, the federal government was specifically prohibited from negotiating the price of prescriptions. Medicaid faces no such restrictions. If Medicare could also negotiate drug prices as Medicaid does, it is estimated that the cost of Medicare would drop by at least $112 billion over 10 years. We should also work to stop the widespread Medicare fraud in the system. The GAO estimates that $48 billion of Medicare reimbursements went to “improper payments” in 2010, amounting to 10 percent of the total Medicare payout in the year. Congress should encourage innovation and research focused on continuous improvement in care at reduced cost.

Unemployment across the U.S. remains above 8 percent. What should Congress be doing to spur job growth?

There are several steps Congress should take to improve job growth. We must spur consumer demand to encourage private businesses to invest and hire. Congress can directly create jobs by contracting the repair of deteriorating bridges, roads and schools. Beyond these infrastructure improvements, I propose giving all businesses incentives to create jobs, such as tax credits for the salaries of first-year employees. The Research and Development tax credit should also be made permanent to spur American companies to develop new technologies. A study by Ernst & Young shows doing this will add 130,000 jobs to the U.S. economy just in the short-term. And to sustain long-term growth in our economy, we must also insure we have a highly-educated and creative work force capable of excelling at the jobs available today as well as those of the future. Community colleges, in particular, can help with this task. Students will benefit greatly if community colleges expand their focus on programs which provide the advanced skills necessary for success in today’s workplace. Many technical jobs in the United States are actually going unfilled because of a lack of qualified workers.

Is it possible for Congress to stop deficit spending and start paying down the national debt without raising taxes? Be specific in your explanation.

The first step to reducing the deficit is to grow the economy. The deficit will go down significantly when the unemployed and underemployed begin paying taxes on increased earnings and businesses which currently lack confidence begin to invest. I favor a balanced approach with both spending cuts and revenue increases on the table. As a CPA, I am trained to understand the facts behind the numbers. We first need to carefully analyze what we are spending our money on with a goal of cutting wasteful and unnecessary costs. For instance, now that the war in Iraq is over, spending on military contractors should drop precipitously. And a thorough analysis of spending is certain to uncover waste and fraud that can be eliminated. As for revenue increases, we need to make sure that everyone is paying their fair share. At the moment, the burden of taxes falls too heavily on the middle class and that has to stop. I know that the nation cannot afford to continue the tax breaks for the wealthy. According to the Center for American Progress, using CBO figures, the Bush tax cuts for upper-income taxpayers alone will cost the treasury almost $900 billion over ten years.

What should the U.S. be doing to help stabilize Syria?

I believe Syria will only be stabilized once President Bashar al-Assad and his murderous regime no longer control the country. After the atrocities committed by the Assad government in Daraya – where hundreds of men, women and children were killed – National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor correctly called them, “the latest horrible evidence of Assad’s brutal crackdown and wanton disregard for human life.” Vietor also said of Assad, “He has lost all legitimacy and every day that goes by, it becomes more urgent for the international community to press him to leave power so that a political transition can begin.” The challenge is how to make this happen. I believe the United States is correct in providing humanitarian and communications support to those opposing the Assad regime. I also believe the United States is correct in drawing “a line in the sand” against movement of chemical or biological weapons by the regime. We must continue working with the international community – as was done in Libya – to pressure Assad to leave power. While I do not favor direct military intervention in Syria, we must provide as much support as possible to help the Syrian people win and prepare for a post-Assad government.

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.

Yes. I believe that I am in a unique position to be a leader in the effort to ease gridlock. I am a CPA and CPAs are trained to be problem solvers, not advocates for a particular ideological position. I have a lot of experience negotiating with clients on financial matters and resolving disagreements through dialogue and compromise. That is not to say that I would never take a firm position, but it would be based on an understanding of the facts and the needs of 6th District residents, not on political orthodoxy. We need more people in Congress willing to work together to solve problems. You cannot compromise with people whose only response is to say “no.” We should be willing to consider all options to produce results. But I believe you can reach across the aisle to develop relationships with people who believe that finding solutions to our pressing problems should be our top priority. I admire the women in the Senate who meet together regularly for dinner and promote civility on a bipartisan basis. I believe that reasonable people can craft sensible solutions to complex problems when we focus on the needs of the people we serve.

What should Congress do in regards to Social Security?

Social Security is a critical part of our economy, giving seniors the ability to support themselves in retirement and giving them money to spend with American businesses. Social Security will only get more important as time goes by because many private sector companies will not be providing traditional defined benefit pensions in the future. I am confident that I can help analyze the financial underpinnings of this successful program that keeps millions of seniors from falling into poverty. We must carefully examine the projections and assumptions on which Social Security is currently based before doing anything that could undermine the safety net that the program represents. Social Security can be made solvent for many years in the future by adjusting certain aspects of it, such as raising the maximum earnings subject to Social Security taxes, currently $110,100.

With all of the issues surrounding the economy, immigration reform has taken a back seat. What should the federal government be doing?

We should focus on finding a path to legal status for hardworking, employed people who are already here. Most would prefer to be paying taxes and buying homes, contributing to our society and helping our economy. I think we can get a better handle on immigration by bringing illegal immigrants out of the shadows with a reasonable path to legal residency. We must also address the “brain drain” issue. Many talented immigrants come to the U.S. to study science and technology - then leave after they receive their education. Our laws should encourage these leaders to stay in the U.S. and contribute to our economy and our quest for innovation. I support development of a new visa system which allows individuals specifically needed by U.S. employers to enter the country without “cheating the system” -- along the lines of the H-2A agricultural visa program. I strongly support the President’s directive to stop deportation of undocumented immigrants who are in college or the military. Immigrants who were brought here by their parents as children do not deserve deportation. They should be allowed to serve our country in the military or become productive taxpaying members of society by furthering their education.

Outside of jobs and the federal deficit, what are the one or two most important issues in the 6th Congressional District, and how do you plan to address them?

My top priorities, as outlined earlier in this questionnaire, are growing the economy in the 6th Congressional District and strengthening Medicare and Social Security for 6th District residents who depend on these programs. However, there are many other issues that Congress must address. One of my core issues is environmental protection. This is particularly important in our district, which features open, natural spaces that must be preserved. Unfortunately, our environment, including clean air and clean water, is under assault as never before by Congress. Our children and grandchildren deserve to grow up in an environment that will not poison them and with a climate that is conducive to health. Congress seems bent on rolling back the environmental laws that were put in place to solve a very real problem we faced in the 20th Century: the inability of polluting businesses to take into account the external costs of their actions when it came to the harm they were doing to the environment. With their attempts to gut the EPA and allow polluting businesses free rein to do anything they please, Congressional leaders have shown a disdain for anything that would protect the 6th District’s natural resources from exploitation.