OTTAWA – Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, and Sara Dady met Monday at WCMY studios in Ottawa for their first sit-down debate.
Dady, a Rockford immigration attorney, is hoping to unseat Kinzinger in the 16th District in November, where he’s running for a third term. The district, which includes all of Lee, Ogle and Bureau counties, has been held by Republicans for all but 2 years since 1917.
Dady said people feel overtaxed but believes the real problem lies with taxpayers not seeing value for the taxes they pay. She pointed to crumbling roads, poor water quality and even the condition of nuclear plants as examples.
Kinzinger said he understood everyone feels overtaxed – noting that Illinois’s high tax rate is leading many people to depart for neighboring states – but he pointed to the success of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which he said has reversed the trend of businesses taking their headquarters overseas.
He said repealing the act and raising taxes would set the country back during a period of economic recovery.
Dady said the issue doesn’t lie with raising taxes – “Paying less in taxes mean we’ll see even less benefits,” she said – but rather with raising incomes and reinventing health care.
Kinzinger said he’s supported a wage increase in the past but believes $15 an hour is too high.
Dady said it can be hard to make a living, even as a middle-class family, pointing out that the child care and insurance can cost some families as much as $25,000 year.
“As soon as you make it to the middle class you slip right back into poverty,” Dady said.
Kinzinger said there are 175,000 people between the ages 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.”
Dady said that sometimes those programs can foster a misconception that people who can’t find a job are lazy, when they’re simply unable to find a job.
Kinzinger said he feels Republicans and Democrats have been working well together on this issue.
The recent omnibus bill increased funding for opioid issues by $6 billion and Illinois has gotten nearly $50 million in grants recently, he said.
He added it’s important to fully fund treatment centers in order to get users the help they need during that “magic minute” between coming off a drug and before the pull of addiction kicks in again, a task that be difficult in rural communities where treatment centers are hours away.
For Dady, the issue hit close to home. She said she experienced the pain addiction can cause a family when her cousin, a Marine, died 2 years ago from an overdose.
She said changing how the country views addiction is key.
Dady said addiction isn’t a criminal issue, but a health issue, and commitment is required both from families and federal government.
“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, pointing to universal health care as a way to get addicts the help they need.
Kinzinger believes federal funding can help, but most of the work must be done at the community level.
“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 a universal health care would lead to more positive results.
Dady said Kinzinger’s vote to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act, would have left 37,800 people in the 16th District without access to health care.
Kinzinger defended his vote, saying the repeal 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 said future health care reform 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 can focus on treating patients rather than running multiple tests to avoid potential lawsuits.
He said innovations in technology, like wearable tech that can detect heart problems and disease, also can help reduce health care costs.
Dady said the current system puts employers at the mercy of private health insurers that cuts into their bottom line.
She reiterated universal health care would improve economic growth and expand health care access.
“I believe health care is just as much a right as education in this country. Just as much as voting is,” Dady said.
Kinzinger said it’s important to enforce the border, whether through additional resources or border agents, not only to fight illegal immigration but also the influx of drugs.
He said the reality of the situation is that there are people in this country illegally but said they should be given avenues to become citizens and learn English rather than outright deportation.
He wants the immigration process to be “generous” but ultimately be based on job skills.
“That brings the kind of people we want here for the jobs we need filled in this country and the innovation we need in this country as well as family-based immigration,” Kinzinger said.
Dady said the current worker visa project does not work and is not tied to actual labor demands. She said border security will never work unless a lawful way is provided for people to come across the border. She suggested immigrants on student visas be allowed to stay and start their company in the U.S. as well as allow naturalized citizens to bring their parents to the country.
Kinzinger said the issue has become all the more difficult to solve because of a lack of bipartisan cooperation.
Kinzinger said he was one of the first members of Congress to support banning bump stocks as well as supporting raising the age to buy an AR-15 to 21.
He said it’s more important to enforce current laws than to ban more weapons and pass more laws.
Dady said she was all for supporting current laws, but noted that departments such as the ATF have not received federal funding since 1972.
She 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 a 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.
Kinzinger said he supported President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and discuss rethinking education.
He said one children can be one of the state’s best exports and that people must get past the belief that every student should go to college and instead look toward trade school and community colleges as other options for future success.
Dady reiterated middle-class wages are not growing at the rate they should be and threw her support behind unions as a way to bring up wages. She also referenced health care as being a huge anchor to economic growth.
She invited Kinzinger to four future public town halls, but no dates were set.
WANT TO LISTEN?
Go to shawurl.com/39cb to hear audio from Monday's debate.