Sen. Obama at Joliet town hall
By Mary Baskerville - KANKAKEE DAILY JOURNAL
U.S. Sen. Barack Obama told an enthusiastic crowd of 1,300 in Joliet on Friday that their issues are important to him.
"I especially enjoy coming to Will County because I think this is one of those areas that is really representative of what is best in Illinois," he said. "It's a growing area. It's an area full of working class people."
At his 57th town hall meeting since being elected, Obama said the meetings help him stay in touch with local issues. "When I come here, I just feel like this is sort of the heart of what America's about. I think a lot of people feel that way, which is why your traffic is so bad."
Before the town hall meeting, Obama met with most of the elected officials from the region and heard concerns about how federal regulations on radium in groundwater are enormously expensive for small communities.
"Hearing directly from people about what their concrete issues are, I can then go back to work with my staff and, hopefully, improve the laws so that they're more responsive to the people back home," he said.
In early 2006 at a similar meeting in Morris, he first learned of concerns about tritium water leaks at the Braidwood Nuclear Station.
On Friday, he reported on his bill to require nuclear companies to report such radioactive releases to surrounding communities within 24 hours. It passed committee last week and "will pass" in a full Senate vote this week, he said.
Will Township trustee Glenn Ginder of Peotone and Will County Farm Bureau manager Mark Schneidewind attended in hopes of thanking Obama for his support of lock and dam improvements for barge shipping and to urge more production of biofuels.
Schneidewind also wanted to encourage anything that would create "an economic and reliable source of natural gas," important to farmers to keep the cost of drying crops affordable.
D.C. out of sync
Throughout the state, Obama said, he hears concerns about education, health care, energy, and jobs, -- but said, he is frustrated by the lack of action in Washington.
"There is a mismatch between the priorities I hear from town hall meetings in Republican districts and Democratic districts, and what is being debated in Washington."
"We haven't tackled the issues that are really going to make a difference in terms of what type of America we're going to be passing on to our kids."
Still, the 45-year old Obama said he is moved by walking into the Senate and sitting in a beautiful mahogany desk autographed by previous members, including the late Bobby Kennedy and Paul Simon.
"It really gives you a sense of the sweep of history and it reminds us that our democracy has been our most precious treasure and it's what has allowed each generation to successfully make things a little bit better for the next generation
"So its a very humbling experience."
Americans are concerned with jobs moving oversees, he said. "We can't stop all of it, but one thing we can do is make sure the tax breaks aren't going to companies that are going oversees. Let's save the tax breaks for companies that are investing right here at home."
The Patriot Corporations Act he introduced will encourage companies "doing right by their employees and investing here in the U.S."
"I'm a big believer in labor unions just to give working people a fair shake," he said. "To give them a little bit of leverage in the work place.
While U.S productivity grew over the past two decades, "the overwhelming chunk of that productivity has ended up in the form of corporate profits. . . not in terms of higher wages and salaries.
"We can't separate the issue of labor strength from manufacturing strength."
Imagine what would happen if Canada's minimum wage was $100 per hour. Americans would sneak across the border, he said, because there would be "such a gap in opportunity." That's similar to the reasons people sneak here from Mexico.
"It's not fair if you don't have control of the borders that just some people are going to come illegally and some others who are waiting in line are not able to come."
Employer sanctions and verification are needed to "create a virtual border," he said.
"Employers have gotten off scott free when it comes to the immigration papers. There have been very few prosecutions, very few enforcements."
Obama said the 12 million undocumented workers already here can't be sent back: "It's not going to happen. We're not going to go round them up."
"We should give them a pathway to citizenship," he said. "But it shouldn't be easy." He supports an 11-year plan that calls for them to pay a significant fine, learn English and not have a criminal record. Some are advertising it as amnesty, but Obama said: "I just think that's the realistic solution to the problem."
"The estate tax applies when people leave an inheritance of more than a $2 million per individual and $4 million per couple." In 2009, that becomes $3.5 million for individual and $7 million for couples.
Essentially, that makes death tax-free for 95.5 percent of the population, he said.
"Repealing the tax would cost "one trillion dollars, with a T, one trillion dollars," he said. "The only way you can eliminate the estate tax is to make up for the trillion dollars."
Obama said there are only three options to make up the money: Borrow the money, raise taxes on 99.5 percent who don't pay the estate tax, or cut a trillion dollars of services.
"Here's the one single thing that we could do that's most important to eliminate the Iranian threat. We could pursue energy independence here in the United States," Obama said.
"... Part of the reason Iran is able to pursue nuclear weapons is because oil has been at $70 a barrel and even though we don't directly import oil from Iran, we drive up the price because we consume 25 percent of the world's oil, even though we only have only 3 percent of the worlds oil reserves... so what happens is that we are making Iran richer all the time."
Obama said wider use of E85 fuel, (85 percent ethanol) will require investment in infrastructure. "We've got to get serious about energy independence."