OTTAWA – 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 Derek Barichello, news editor of The Times newspaper.
Income tax law
The candidates agreed on some topics, but did not see eye-to-eye when looking at the income tax law.
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 roadwork, there are some communities where water is not clear and the infrastructure of nuclear plants is crumbling.
“Paying less in taxes means 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 law has achieved its goal of reversing the trend of businesses taking their headquarters overseas.
Any effort to repeal the act and raise taxes would set the country back during a period of economic recovery, he said.
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 receiving benefits get jobs as making those receiving 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 who can be served by helping them get a job or getting them into a program to help them find 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 spending law increased funding for opioid issues by $6 billion and the state of Illinois has received about $50 million in grants, Kinzinger said.
He said it’s important to fully fund treatment centers because getting a user to a treatment facility during the “magic minute” between coming off a drug and before the addiction kicks in again 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 said 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 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 to health care, 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 said 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.
Dady said 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 in this country. Just as much as voting is,” Dady said.
The two came relatively close to seeing eye-to-eye regarding the gun control.
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 years old.
Kinzinger said it’s more important current laws are upheld than to ban any other weapons.
“Let’s enforce the laws on the books before we start talking about new laws,” he said.
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 or 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.
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.