The Chicago Tribune's editorial board asked Mark Kirk and Alexi Giannoulias questions pertaining to the most pressing issues facing our country. You can find all the questions and answers (the Tribune's on-line page includes the answers from LeAlan Jones (Green Party candidate) and Mike Labno (Libertarian party candidate) here: http://elections.chicagotribune.com/race/us-senate/
Please read and make an informed decision on Tuesday- if you haven't made that decision yet in early voting.
The following are highlights of Alexi Giannoulias and Mark Kirk's answers to certain questions from the Chicago Tribune's on-line election page:
What is your view of the $787 billion federal stimulus plan approved by Congress and President Obama? Is a second stimulus plan needed?
ALEXI GIANNOULIAS: I supported President Obama's recovery effort as a way to stop the hemorrhaging of jobs and to stabilize the economy. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reported that the stimulus created between two and five million jobs and raised the level of real GDP by between 1.7 percent and 4.5 percent. I do not believe we need a major second stimulus, but I have supported smaller and more targeted recovery efforts like the recent jobs bill that helped save 5,700 teacher jobs in Illinois. We cannot let this recession destroy our education system and put our next generation at a competitive disadvantage with their global peers
MARK KIRK: I opposed the stimulus and do not support a second one. My opponent supported the stimulus and said it should have been even bigger. Since the stimulus bill became law, Illinois lost more than 177,000 jobs. National unemployment remains at 9.5% after we were told the stimulus would cap unemployment at 8%. I supported a skinny stimulus targeted toward infrastructure and small business support - not the wasteful budget busting stimulus we received. We need a new approach. That is why I put forward a Small Business Bill of Rights that would: Protect secret ballots in union elections Lower health costs in lawsuit reforms and interstate competition Lower energy costs with credits for efficient equipment and hybrids Permit children to continue business with low/no death tax Exempt small businesses from capital gains tax for 10 years Make immigration laws easy to comply with Create a Patent Office fast lane for small business innovation SBA to limit federal paperwork for small businesses to 200 hours annually Prevent AMT from taxing the middle class Reduce the deficit to encourage jobs and improve credit This plan is endorsed by the National Federation of Independent Business - the voice of small business in Illinois.
The federal tax cuts approved during President George W. Bush's tenure are set to expire. Should they be extended?
ALEXI GIANNOULIAS: Tax cuts should go to those who most need them and are most likely to put the extra income to use. The Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans were unnecessary and irresponsible; I would allow the cuts for households making over $250,000 to expire while extending tax cuts for low- and middle-income Americans. This has very practical implications. As a stimulus measure, the wealthiest tend to save any new income, whereas low- and middle-class Americans immediately use that money to put food on their table, pay their mortgage, and send their kids to school. For overall economic growth, the tax rates under President Clinton ushered in an unprecedented era of economic growth and fiscal responsibility. Instead of maintaining those reasonable tax levels and using the revenue to continue paying down our debt, the Bush-Kirk economic philosophy resulted in trillions of dollars of new debt to provide relief to America's wealthiest citizens. We simply cannot afford to add another $750 billion to the nation's credit card.
MARK KIRK: Illinois families are not under taxed. I support tax relief for all Americans. In the teeth of the Great Recession, the last thing we should do is raise taxes. I believe current tax relief should be extended.
President Barack Obama sent additional U.S. troops to prosecute the war in Afghanistan, with a gradual reduction in military strength beginning in July 2011. Do you support the president's move? Explain.
ALEXI GIANNOULIAS: I supported the President's decision to increase troop levels as part of a larger military and political strategy to defeat the Taliban insurgency and permanently expel al Qaeda from Afghanistan. We are seeing some signs of success with securing areas in the south now under Taliban control and strengthening Afghan security forces. From the start, I have said that our military presence in Afghanistan should be aimed at rooting out the terrorists responsible for 9/11. In order to achieve that, we must make reasonable strides toward giving the Afghanis an opportunity to develop a government that works, and training and enabling the Afghanis to secure their own borders and to keep al Qaeda and the Taliban out of the region themselves. I do not believe that there is a purely military path to victory in Afghanistan. We need an integrated approach, which includes refocused civilian efforts and international diplomacy as well as military options. Critical to all of this is a flourishing democracy that is not rooted in corruption. I have been saying all along that this is not, and should not be, an open-ended commitment. We are dedicating billions of dollars and thousands of American lives to the country and our commitment cannot continue indefinitely. Our drawdown should proceed as planned next year.
MARK KIRK: I served in Afghanistan twice. Failure in Afghanistan is not an option. We tried to ignore Afghanistan in the 1990s. According to the 9/11 Commission, this led to the attack on our homeland. I supported President Obama's decision to surge to Afghanistan. To succeed in Afghanistan, we must train the Afghan police and army to provide for its own security and deny the narco-Taliban its primary source of funding - heroin. Our goal should be a stable and secure Afghanistan, which provides for its own security and cannot again become a base for launching attacks against the United States. In my view, this goal is achievable. However, I do not believe the administration's 2011 deadline is realistic to fully train and equip the Afghan army and police. I have great confidence in General Petraeus and the courageous men and women who serve under his command.
The Obama administration has sponsored renewed peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian authorities. Do you support those talks, or do you have other ideas to bring peace to the region?
ALEXI GIANNOULIAS: I was pleased to see the peace negotiations begin again after a year and a half hiatus. There is no substitute for direct negotiations that allow both parties -- rather than international pressure or preconditions -- to determine the outcome. Israel has repeatedly proven throughout its history that it is willing to take tangible risks for the promise of peace. I remain cautiously optimistic. I support a two-state solution, with the Jewish State of Israel and a moderate Palestinian State living side-by-side in peace. These efforts are crucial to securing Israel's safety and provide an important step towards diffusing radicalism in the Middle East. The international community should continue to isolate Hamas while supporting moderate Palestinian leadership. The United States' first commitment in the Middle East must be the security of Israel, our strongest ally in the region.
MARK KIRK: The U.S.-Israel alliance is an extraordinary relationship based on our shared democratic values. Israel is our strongest ally in the Middle East and a bastion of freedom and justice in a volatile region. Our vital interest in a stable Middle East is threatened by Israel's adversaries as well. Like the United States, Israel seeks to live in peace and security. We should stand by our democratic ally in that just pursuit. Peace cannot be imposed from the outside - it must be achieved through direct negotiations by the parties themselves. Peace in the Middle East is founded on U.S. and Israeli strength, not weakness. When we have been strongly united, we built peace with Egypt and Jordan. Making Israel weak or distant from us isn't realism - it is dangerous delusion that sets the stage for conflict. Hamas must give up its armed struggle and accept Israel's right to exist, not just rhetorically, but in a meaningful way that develops the trust and respect necessary for Palestinians and Israelis to coexist peacefully.
Do you agree with the health care reform legislation approved by Congress and signed by President Obama. What, if any, aspects would you change or would you seek its repeal? Do you have an alternative?
ALEXI GIANNOULIAS: In the richest country on Earth, no American should die or be forced into bankruptcy because of a lack of health insurance. It was not a perfect bill, which is why I support targeted changes. Congress should begin by passing legislation that would require health insurance companies to provide more information to consumers on healthcare prices, empower federal regulators to sign off on premium increases, and strip insurers of their exemption from antitrust laws to allow more competition. I would have also pushed to give the Secretary of Health and Human Services the ability to negotiate bulk drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, which would save an estimated $156 billion over the next ten years. The head of the VA has this ability and it has dramatically decreased drug prices; studies have shown that Medicare Part D insurers charged prices 58% higher than the VA for 20 commonly prescribed drugs.
MARK KIRK: After listening to thousands of people across Illinois in dozens of live and telephone town hall meetings, I heard clearly what we need: lower health care costs, lower taxes and more jobs. That is why I authored the Medical Rights and Reform Act (H.R. 3970) to lower costs, insure those with pre-existing conditions and protect seniors on Medicare without raising taxes. Our centrist Medical Rights and Reform Act would: Enact the Medical Rights Act (H.R. 2516), ensuring that Congress shall make no law interfering with decisions you make with your doctor; Save money by reducing expensive defensive medicine with lawsuit reforms; Grant Americans the right to buy insurance coverage from any state in the union if they find a plan that is less expensive for their family or small business; and Not raise taxes, add to the deficit or hurt seniors who depend on Medicare. Unfortunately, Speaker Pelosi rejected these centrist reforms. Instead, Congressional leaders adopted a new trillion-dollar spending program that will burden our children with tremendous debts while raising taxes, cutting Medicare services and putting thousands of Illinois jobs at risk. I voted against the final healthcare bill because it cost too much, imposed 10 new federal taxes and cut more than $500 billion from senior health care under Medicare. In addition, it ignored lawsuit reform, which is critical to lowering the cost of health care. I support efforts to protect Illinois families and employers from the new taxes and cuts to Medicare contained in the health care bill while still expanding coverage and lowering costs. That is why I signed Congressman Wally Herger's motion to discharge committees from the consideration of legislation (H.R. 5424) to repeal and replace current law with the reforms I outlined.
Explain your stance on abortion, including whether you would vote for more or fewer restrictions while in office.
ALEXI GIANNOULIAS: I believe abortion should be safe, legal and rare. The decision to have an abortion is a deeply personal and difficult one. I am committed to protecting a woman's right to choose under Roe v. Wade, and oppose any efforts that would override that right. As a U.S. Senator, I will support more funding for preventive initiatives aimed at reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies, including greater access to contraceptives that curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and comprehensive medically-accurate sex education programs that teach safe sex methods. Preventing unwanted pregnancies would reduce the number of abortions and result in fewer unwanted births and their long-term consequences.
MARK KIRK: I am pro-choice and oppose federal funding of abortion.
What rights, if any, should be granted to same-sex couples? Should they be allowed to marry? Should civil unions be legalized? Explain.
ALEXI GIANNOULIAS: All Americans, regardless of sexual orientation, are part of the American family, and that the federal government should extend the same rights and responsibilities to all of its citizens. I have been a strong and vocal advocate for marriage equality. I believe that marriage as a religious institution should be governed by people's faith and the tenets of their religion. But marriage as a civil institution should be equal for all people, with all legal rights and responsibilities. All Americans in committed, long-term relationships should enjoy inheritance rights, hospital visitation rights, equal pension and health care benefits, and all of the other legal protections government affords married couples. I would also push for the full repeal of the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act."
MARK KIRK: I support civil unions and oppose gay marriage.
Please explain whether you believe further restrictions are needed on gun ownership, use and possession.
ALEXI GIANNOULIAS: I respect the Second Amendment rights of gun owners, and support common sense laws that keep guns out of the hands of criminals and children who shouldn't have them. No one needs a semi-automatic weapon on the streets of Chicago, and no convicted felons or domestic abusers need a weapon anywhere in Illinois. These are not questions of constitutional rights - they are questions of public safety and common sense. We should heed the call of law enforcement officials by closing the loopholes that allow criminals to evade background checks before purchasing weapons, make guns childproof, and fight efforts to allow concealed weapons on our trains and in our national parks.
MARK KIRK: I support the Second Amendment and sensible measures to reduce gun violence.
Immigration reform remains a controversial issue. How should the United States deal with undocumented immigrants?
ALEXI GIANNOULIAS: Our immigration system is broken. The system that oversees the immigration process is weighed down by bureaucracy and lack of funding, and businesses using illegal hiring practices are not being held accountable. The United States needs common sense and comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders, protects the rights of all workers and modernizes our legal immigration programs. My parents left Greece because they believed in the promise of America. That promise is slipping away from immigrant families today. It is important that we place the nation's 12 million undocumented immigrants on a responsible path to citizenship. We must be realistic. There are approximately 12 million undocumented workers in this country. They are not going to disappear. Many of these workers have been here for years and have deep roots in their communities. We must be fair and practical while we resolve the status of undocumented workers in this country. For those workers who are here without documentation, we must allow them to come out of the shadows and register with the government. They should get no special preference and must submit to the usual immigration standards: complete a background check, pay a fine for entering the country illegally, learn English, pay taxes, and wait in line to become a citizen. Reform must include provisions like those in the DREAM Act, so that we are not tearing apart families. And we must improve our visa process so that we're not bringing the best and brightest here to study and then kicking them out once they have their diploma.
MARK KIRK: One of the primary duties of the federal government is to control the border and know who is entering our country. Border security equals homeland security. Most illegal drugs and nearly all foreign drug gang members illegally cross our borders. With Mexican drug cartel violence continuing to threaten our border, the urgency for comprehensive border security has never been greater. Last year, I voted to provide $10.1 billion for customs and border protection, including funds for border security fencing, infrastructure, technology, facility construction, border patrol agents and the Southwest Border Counterdrug Initiative. I previously voted to fund unmanned aerial vehicles, ground-based sensors, satellites, radar coverage, and cameras. I will continue to fight for stronger security until the federal government and our border states can certify that we are in control of the border. With such a certification, I believe other reforms are possible. But until we control our border, hold employers accountable and properly engage Mexico, no immigration reforms will work.