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Sara Feigenholtz: Biography and Questionnaire

Interview

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Location: Chicago, IL


Sara Feigenholtz: Biography and questionnaire

1) Would you have voted in favor of the TARP legislation approved by Congress in 2008? Do you think Congress should approve a stimulus package this year? Please assess the competing proposals from the Obama administration and Democrats and Republicans in Congress. What should be the priority in a stimulus package, if you support one?

When the Troubled Assets Relief Program was approved in the fall, there was one priority on the minds of Congress and the Bush Administration -- act swiftly to prevent our financial system from total collapse. Further compounding an already bad situation was the absence of a handbook from which our leaders could seek guidance. The only thing they knew was that inaction would be disastrous.

Given the urgency of that moment in our history, I would have supported TARP as part of a larger effort to stabilize the mortgage crisis and get credit flowing again.

There were, however, serious flaws with the version that eventually passed. As the former Treasury Secretary began doling out billions in tax dollars, it became clear that little had been done to ensure that these billions would be well-spent. TARP's lack of transparency and failure to mitigate foreclosures was a serious breach of the public trust and confidence. The American people -- and the residents of Illinois' 5th Congressional District -- simply cannot afford such miscalculations in the future.

I am encouraged by the TARP reform package recently passed by the House, which calls for greater accountability on the part of TARP beneficiaries. It sets restrictions on bonuses for the executives of participating firms, makes foreclosure mitigation mandatory, demands greater transparency by forcing banks to report how government funds are being used and closes other existing loopholes. If elected, I will work to ensure that any future federal assistance to any sector of our economy comes with full transparency, accountability and the expectation that it will be repaid. Regarding the proposed stimulus package, we clearly need fast and effective federal action to boost our economy, restore confidence in our future and put millions of Americans back to work.

I support President Obama's focus on rebuilding our nation's infrastructure, which is the cornerstone of this economic stimulus package. The investment in roads, bridges, mass transit and high-speed Internet lines will create jobs immediately and build the foundation for a competitive economy in the future. We must ensure, however, that such projects are both timely and strategic.

I am encouraged that President Obama and Congress have made energy and environmental issues a priority in this stimulus package. This will foster the development of a domestic green economy and could create between 3 and 4 million jobs over the coming years in new technology and renewable energy industries.

As we move to protect and create millions of new jobs, I want to ensure that we invest in our human as well as our physical infrastructure. As chair of the House Human Services Appropriations committee, I have seen the effect of the national economic downturn on our service providers -- both public and private. A majority of these service jobs are performed by women, many of them single parents. Any plan to stimulate the economy and keep people at work must include the millions of workers who provide the services on which our children, seniors and disabled citizens rely. An infusion of dollars to bolster Medicaid funding and other worthy programs -- including a proposed $3.2 billion for Children and Family Services Programs and $4 billion for preventative care -- will help Illinois providers and those they serve to withstand this economic storm.

2) President Obama supports increasing U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan. Do you support a deeper U.S. involvement there, and toward what goal?

The security situation in Afghanistan is dire and deteriorating each day. Violence is at an all-time high, and the nation's insecure borders now serve as a terrorist breeding ground. The United States must pursue a foreign policy geared toward quelling the bloodshed, curbing the ambitions of a resurgent Taliban and preventing the Afghan government -- and its already strained security forces -- from buckling under its own weight.

We have deployed some 34,000 American troops to fight a resilient insurgency that is growing stronger each day. My first priority is to ensure the safety of American soldiers and provide them with the resources and funding they need to win the fight against Al Qaeda and to capture Osama bin Laden, who is thought to be hiding in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. I support efforts by President Obama to encourage our NATO allies to contribute more troops to the mission of eradicating Al Qaeda from Afghanistan.

Any "surge" of troops to that country, however, must be accompanied by a new strategy to support local governance and development aimed at weaning villagers away from Taliban influence. The U.S. must also push the Afghan government, under Hamid Karzai, to fight widespread corruption. These reforms are the only way to ensure that Afghanistan can be stabilized for the long-term and that the U.S. troop presence can be reduced.
3) Should Congress expand government-funded health care to cover all citizens? How exactly should a government health care program be structured? Please explain what steps you would take to contain costs.

I support the goal of providing health care coverage to all Americans. This is important to millions of Americans, many of them working or recently unemployed, who currently lack coverage. It is also important to the future competitiveness of our nation, since health care costs are burdening many of our domestic industries while businesses in other countries don't bear those costs.

The question is how best to achieve the goal of health coverage for all. I believe the most practical approach is to build on the framework already in place. This means allowing workers and families to stay with their employer-based provider if they prefer, or to enter into a national health insurance exchange along with those who don't have employer-based care. It means allowing seniors the choice between nursing homes and assisted living centers or the much less expensive option of in-home care. It means providing Medicare patients the choice to buy generic prescription drugs at a lower cost. Ultimately, we can help pay for a system that covers all Americans by taking steps like these to bring more efficiencies and reduce the skyrocketing cost of health care.

As the daughter of a doctor, I believe that the needs of doctors and patients should drive the health care debate. Most doctors I talk to today share the belief that all Americans should have access to quality health care, regardless of their ability to pay. But they are bogged down by policies from insurance companies and HMOs that encumber their ability to practice medicine as they see fit. The goal of this Congress must be to make health care accessible and affordable to every American by bringing all the stakeholders to the table and building on the system already in place. I am eager to be a constructive part of that debate.

4) Give us your views on tax policy and entitlement spending. Should marginal tax rates be raised for people who earn more than $200,000 a year? Should the inheritance tax be abolished or extended? What difficult steps would you take to control the costs of Social Security and Medicare?

I have always believed that how we care for our seniors is a reflection of who we are as a society. Restoring the financial solvency of long-established entitlement programs, including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, is unequivocally a top priority for me.

Addressing the Social Security system will first require that we get our economy back on track. We need to pursue a vigorous strategy for job creation, which will result in more workers paying into the system. Currently, only the first $100,000 or so of income is subject to the Social Security payroll tax. Congress may want to consider raising or eliminating that cap as part of a plan to guarantee the long-term solvency of the Trust Fund. It is clear, however, that steps extrinsic of government action must be taken to provide future retirees with the stability they need. Moving forward, we must seek to help Americans save more for retirement. I support proposals to promote employer-sponsored savings plans -- such as 401(k)s -- as well as tax credits to encourage working families to put more of their income into savings plans.

Medicare faces a more immediate threat to its solvency than does Social Security, and some aspects of the program need to be reevaluated. For example, HMOs currently are provided with a multi-billion dollar subsidy to participate in the program that is wholly unjustified and insupportable. In addition, the method by which prescription drugs are tiered is arbitrary and varies greatly from one plan to another.

Clearly, the large tax cuts of the past eight years, aimed mainly at the very wealthy, are a large part of the reason for our historic levels of debt. As we work to get our country back on track, I do not believe that a total repeal of the Estate tax is viable. I also believe that the Bush tax cuts, which disproportionately benefited the very wealthy, should be allowed to expire. If elected, I will work with President Obama and the Congress to implement tax policies that, above all else, provide needed tax relief to middle class families.

5) Whom did you support in the 2006 primary and general election for governor? Please explain the reasons for your support.

In 2006, I supported the nominee of my party. I took this position because I believed he was better than his primary and general election opponents on the issues of greatest concern to me -- namely, access to health care and the provision of human services. I was troubled by what I had learned of Governor Blagojevich's political practices, but he had not yet been formally accused of criminal wrongdoing. And I certainly was not aware of the behavior illuminated by the FBI tapes. Somewhere along the way, Governor Blagojevich lost his moral compass.

Throughout my 14-year career in public office, I have held myself to the highest ethical standards. I have consistently supported all efforts aimed at campaign reform and more ethical government. I will continue to do so if elected to Congress.

6) Do you support a constitutional amendment to allow voters to recall public officials? How would you have voted on the recall amendment that was approved in 2008 by the Illinois House? Please explain your thinking.

Like most Illinois residents, I believe the pattern of abuse demonstrated by our former governor necessitated his removal from office -- this is why I voted to impeach him last month. There was no question that he had become incapable of governing and the state needed a change in leadership. I believe impeachment was the appropriate remedy in this case.

I am less confident about the wisdom of allowing the recall of public officials, which is why I voted against such a provision in the Illinois House. Recall has not worked well in other places, like California and Wisconsin, where public officials are often targeted for making unpopular decisions. I would retain the penalty of impeachment for those officials who, like Governor Blagojevich, engage in unethical behavior or become incapable of governing. But I think voters' unhappiness with an officeholder's performance is best remedied through their vote at the next scheduled election.

7) Do you think the U.S. Senate should have accepted the appointment of Sen. Roland Burris by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to a vacancy in the U.S. Senate? Should the legislature have called a special election?

I was very displeased that Rod Blagojevich chose to disregard the will of the public, President Obama and the United States Senate by appointing Roland Burris to fill the vacant Senate seat. I supported a special election to fill that seat, not only because of the taint surrounding a potential Blagojevich appointment, but to ensure greater transparency and public input in determining President Obama's successor.

8) Whom did you support in the 2006 primary and general election for president of the Cook County Board? Please explain your thinking.

During the 2006 Primary I supported Commissioner Mike Quigley for President of the Cook County Board. I respected his dedication to public life - and still do - and felt the County would be well served by his leadership. After he withdrew his bid for that post, I supported Commissioner Forrest Claypool. I did not officially endorse or support any candidate for the general election cycle.

9) Should the 1-percentage-point increase in Cook County's portion of the sales tax be repealed?

I don't believe the one-percent increase would have been necessary had Cook County Board President Todd Stroger agreed to cut the fat out of the budgets he has overseen to date. The problems facing the Cook County Board are structural and in large part due to excessive patronage, unnecessary contracts and the impulse of the majority of Board members to exploit taxpayers rather than reform the government they oversee.

The one-percentage-point increase has done little to bolster delivery of vital human services and basic functions of government. Service providers continue to shut their doors due to funding constraints and county government is no more effective than it was prior to enactment of the sales tax.

Ultimately, the people who suffer most are the business owners of Cook County as their, customers flock to neighboring counties or to the Internet for their purchases. Cook County cannot afford to lose business in this fashion while burdening its citizens with the highest sales taxes in the nation. The one-cent County sales tax should be repealed.

10) Tell us: What have you done? What are your specific accomplishments in government or public service? What difference have you made?

Having served 14 years in the Illinois House, and six years as chair of the House Human Services Appropriations committee, I have a record of fighting to expand access to health care for women, families and the uninsured. I sponsored the FamilyCare law with then-State Senator Barack Obama to provide health care for working families who couldn't afford it. I fought to require insurance companies to cover the cost of mammograms for women over the age of 40 (previously 50), and convinced those same companies to cover contraceptive services for women. (Interestingly, they chose to cover Viagra and other ED drugs almost immediately after they came to market, while women's contraceptives remained uncovered for 40 years.) I championed the All Kids law to expand comprehensive, affordable health care coverage to all children in Illinois who need it. I shepherded the expansion of the Community Care program to provide seniors with the option of staying in their homes longer to avoid premature nursing home admissions, which is more cost-efficient and dignified.

I am particularly proud of my accomplishments with respect to women's rights and human rights. I passed Illinois' equal pay for equal work law to guarantee fairness in employment practices. I also spent nearly a decade working to pass the Human Rights Act, which protects against unfair discrimination based on (among other things) sexual orientation.

I worked with House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego on a stem cell research funding bill to help find cures for diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

I was able to get these things done by avoiding the finger pointing and political gamesmanship that often dominates Springfield. That's allowed me to work with both Republicans and Democrats to get real results for those most in need. At this very difficult time in our history, we need to rise above partisanship, build consensus and deliver for people. That's how I've worked in Springfield, and it's the type of leadership I'll bring to Washington.

For my efforts, I have been honored with the endorsement of your editorial board in my previous reelection campaigns for State Representative of Illinois' 12th District, including the recent 2008 General Election. I am the same woman with the same values and the same motivation to serve my constituents by putting community before politics. I hope to earn your endorsement once again as I work to become the first woman to represent this Congressional District in Washington.

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