U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins and Democratic challenger Tobias Schilingensiepen, who are running to represent the 2nd Kansas Congressional District, were asked to respond to a series of questions about important issues. The questions and their answers are below.
1) Do you support making any changes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and if so, please explain what those changes are and why they are needed?
Social Security is a vital safety net for retirees, individuals with disabilities, and survivors who have lost a family member. We must strengthen and protect Social Security for those that depend on it for their livelihood. I support Social Security reform that does not change current benefits for those 55 years and older, and reduces the burden on future generations to provide them with certainty.
We must address Social Security sooner rather than later. According to the CBO, Social Security is now running permanent cash flow deficits, and the federal government had to borrow $37 billion last year alone to finance social security. According to the 2012 Social Security Trustees’ report Social Security’s Disability Insurance (SSDI) program will be unable to pay full benefits in 2016, and by 2033 seniors could see a 23% cut in their Social Security checks, or workers could see their payroll tax increase by 30%.
Medicare is a crucial program for seniors and we need to make sure it is around for future generations. There are more than 435,000 Medicare beneficiaries in Kansas, and only one plan saves Medicare for tomorrow and does not affect the benefits of anyone in or near retirement. That is the Wyden-Ryan plan, and that is the plan I support. The core of the Medicare debate is about which side is trying to take Medicare away. The fact is Medicare is already on the path to insolvency. Those who wish for “no change” are supporting a plan that will bankrupt Medicare. According to our independent and bipartisan panel of Medicare Trustees in their 2012 report, if we do nothing, Medicare will go bankrupt by 2024—that is only 12 years from now.
My opponent has no plan to preserve Medicare, but he does support the President’s healthcare law that takes money away from seniors today. Under this scenario, our parents and grandparents are at risk of ultimately facing a 26% benefit cut or 47% tax increase, according to the Medicare Trustees' report. This is because, instead of fixing Medicare, President Obama took more than $716 billion (according to the Congressional Budget Office) from Medicare to pay for his healthcare law. The administration had to show that their health care law did not cost anything and would be revenue neutral, but you cannot have money in the Medicare trust fund and pay for the new health care law at the same time.
In comparison, the bipartisan plan authored by Oregon Democrat Senator Ron Wyden and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan would have zero impact on those 55 and older, and it preserves and protects Medicare for future generations. It does not affect current retirees or those near retirement age—those that are 55 years and older—and it is a guaranteed benefit that preserves traditional Medicare as an option. Beginning in 2022, for those who are currently 54 or younger, when they reach retirement age, a new Medicare program would offer them a choice between staying with the traditional Medicare plan or a Medicare-approved plan similar to coverage offered to members of Congress. Any private plan that wishes to participate in this new program must at least provide benefits in line with the traditional fee-for-service Medicare, and the traditional program would be strengthened so that it can effectively compete in the new marketplace. This reformed Medicare program will include the strongest consumer protections in American government. To pay for these enhancements, the retirement age would be gradually raised by two years, and benefits would be slowly phased out to high-income earners.
Medicaid is an important service for low-income families. The state and federal government share the cost of providing medical services, but the current policy is a one-size-fits-all approach for each state. It is clear that the state of Kansas has a unique population with different needs than folks in New York or California, but states are not given the flexibility under the federal mandate to tailor coverage options to their unique residents.
Furthermore, the cost of Medicaid spending is projected to double, or grow annually by 7% from $260 billion in 2012 to nearly $560 billion, within the next 10 years.
I support Medicaid reform that allows states to tailor coverage to their unique populations. Indexing for inflation and population growth will also help control the cost. This way, low-income families get the coverage they need and not what the federal government mandates is adequate for all low-income families regardless of their situation or location.
Social Security must be preserved and not privatized. Tweaking some things, such as the payroll cap, will address the long-term sustainability of the program for current and future retirees. I do not support turning Medicare into a bunch of inadequately funded vouchers as my opponent does. Twice she has voted for the Ryan budget plan. She even voted for it in its most extreme form, which the Congressional Budget Office reported would make seniors pay $6,000 more every year for health insurance. Taking an ax to Medicaid and jeopardizing health care for the 48,000 children in the 2nd District who get Medicaid also isn't the answer. However, my opponent has voted to do that. I support fair and sensible reforms that bring down costs. Here's just one example of what we can do: We should allow Medicare to negotiate prices with drug companies. Today the VA health system can do that, and Medicare can't. Guess who pays less for prescriptions?
2) Much has been said about whether to raise taxes and make cuts to try to balance the budget. What would you support? Please be specific, including what taxes or budget cuts you would support in the 2nd Congressional District.
The current tax code is broken. It is too complex and impedes economic growth allowing fortunate individuals and organizations to game the system in order to pay no taxes. Pro-growth tax reform means a fundamental and comprehensive re-write of our outdated and burdensome code to lower the tax rates, simplify taxes for American families, unleash innovation and investment, and level the playing field for American employers and workers competing around the globe. Comprehensive tax reform will not tackle our debt and deficits by itself, we must cut spending too. Tax reform will help us improve the economy though, by supporting the economic growth that is needed to create jobs.
In August, the House passed legislation to provide a clear pathway to comprehensive tax reform in 2013 so we can create up to 1 million new jobs by making the tax code simpler and fairer. In 1986, Congress pursued tax reform by eliminating most special-interest deductions and loopholes and lowering the top income-tax rate to 28 percent from 50 percent. Economists found that the economic growth from the lower rates and the simplified code increased GDP by more than $1 trillion, and that a similar reform now could increase national wealth over the long term by $7 trillion.
Like I said, tax reform does not solve our nation’s out-of-control spending habits. The current administration ran a trillion dollar deficit each year for 4 years. Now the country is looking at an unprecedented $16 trillion in debt—that is a $50,000 burden on every man, woman, and child. This is not the legacy I want to leave for my kids.
In the House of Representatives, I have supported a budget that actually passed, which is more than the Senate has done in three years. Our budget eliminates hundreds of duplicative programs, reflects the ban on earmarks, curbs corporate welfare, and brings non-security discretionary spending down from $1.047 trillion to $1.028 trillion in FY13. It brings government spending to below 20 percent of the economy, a sharp contrast to the President’s budget, and reduces deficits by more than $3 trillion over the next decade.
This is what we need to do to get back to balance and pay off the debt. Everything must be on the table, and that includes the autopilot spending programs. We can cut spending and still grow the economy. This is not a trade-off, and in fact the stability it will bring by reducing the debt should help boost economic growth and job creation. Cutting Spending is about ending wasteful spending, making the government more efficient, showing respect to hardworking taxpayers, and making the tough choices today that save our children from even tougher choices tomorrow.
Cutting taxes won't get us out of this mess. That's been tried before, and it has failed. We can't afford to follow rigid ideologies in tackling the debt. We must identify wasteful spending and cut it. We must follow a practical, balanced approach based on shared sacrifice. Everybody needs to pay their fair share. But there are some things that are non-negotiable. I will protect Social Security and Medicare. I will not sacrifice this nation's elderly in order to give more tax breaks to millionaires. I do think that we can ask those who have benefited so greatly from our system to pay a little bit more. For that reason, I support eliminating the Bush-era tax cuts on incomes over $250,000. But what's really at issue is the debt, and the real way to deal with the debt is to grow the economy. I'll talk about this in more detail in my answer to the last question.
3) It seems there is little control over the amount of money in political campaigns anymore. Do you think steps are needed to reduce campaign costs or make sure voters are better informed? What do you think needs to be done, so that voters are better informed about who is paying for what during political campaigns?
I support transparency, so folks know who is paying for what. I also support free speech as one of the most sacred rights of U.S. citizens and what makes this country so unique. I am concerned that efforts to cap campaign spending would limit free speech of individuals to donate to the candidate of their choice. Depending on the limit, I think we would see highly organized big dollar donor could block others out of the process, particularly the smaller donors. That is an infringement on their Constitutional rights.
I know what it is like to be the underdog. In my first campaign about four years ago, I was out-funded by my opponent 3-1, but I am still standing here today. This is because Kansans are smart. They know how to sort through the rhetoric, the negative advertisements, and the barrage of information to pick the candidate that will work for them.
The Citizens United decision was clearly one of the worst decisions the Supreme Court has ever made. I support The Disclose Act, which would require donor names to be released. I also support putting an end to the fundraising circus that enables members of Congress to sit on a committee that's supposed to regulate a wealthy corporation in the morning and then accept checks from that corporation's lobbyists over dinner in the evening. If elected, I will propose capping campaign spending at $500,000 per election. My opponent has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from big banks, finance and credit companies, and insurance companies, and voted for their interests and against consumer protections for the people of the 2nd District. Voters should ask: Who are you representing? Your district or the wealthy corporations that pay your way?
4) Congress' approval rating is at a historic low. Why is that, and what would you do to improve it?
If Congress does not act: taxes will go up for everyone, the President’s health care law will become the law of the land, and the sequester will cause massive defense cuts. I voted to prevent ALL of these things, but the House of Representatives cannot tackle these problems alone.
There are tough choices to be made ahead—very soon. We need both parties to work together so Congress can get down to business, and I have a record of working across the aisle to get things done. I co-authored bipartisan legislation to repeal a provision in the president’s healthcare law that currently requires a doctor’s prescription in order for consumers to use their health savings accounts to buy standard over-the-counter medications like Advil. This summer, I voted for a bipartisan drought assistance package to help those ineligible for crop insurance, and have repeatedly demanded Republican leadership bring a 5-year farm bill to the floor. I supported a bipartisan solution to the Medicare crisis authored by Oregon Democrat, Senator Ron Wyden, and Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, which passed with the House budget.
Bipartisanship is the only way we are going to be able to solve the biggest problems of our day, but we need leadership in order to do that. This is why I am running for Congress. I will never compromise my values, but I want to use my experience, working with Republicans and Democrats to pass good legislation, to get this economy back on track and people back to work.
Today Congress seems more focused on scoring political points than tackling the nation's problems. Is it any wonder that the institution's approval rating is down near 10 percent? Americans aren't stupid. They know when something is broken. We must change the way Congress works. I believe solutions must always come before politics. As simple as it may sound, the first step in doing that is for representatives of all political parties to sit down and talk. If elected, I plan to reach out to the rest of the Kansas delegation and ask them to meet me once a week for breakfast. Republicans and Democrats can't learn to solve problems together until they get to know and respect each other.
5) What is your top priority, and, if elected, what would you do to achieve it?
Sometimes folks forget there are two main components to being a member of Congress: constituent service and federal policymaking. Constituent service, helping people navigate the bureaucracy and getting them the help they deserve, has always been my top priority. I work for Kansas, and that means helping my constituents is the most important part of my job. Whether you need help with unemployment benefits, Social Security benefits, or veteran’s benefits, my staff and I treat each request like it was from one of our own family members.
That being said, after meeting with constituents in all 25 counties and listening to concerns around the district, it is clear that jobs and the economy is the top issue on Kansans' minds. We need to continue to promote job creation by helping to create an environment for economic growth through comprehensive tax reform. This means simplifying our complex and burdensome tax code, so that we can provide certainty, fairness, and more opportunities to both employers and employees.
My top priority is to bring jobs to the 2nd District. There are many things we can do. Here are just a few examples: We must stop encouraging corporations to send jobs overseas. It's long past time to do away with the tax benefits that reward wealthy corporations for outsourcing American jobs. To grow the economy, we must also create the best-educated workforce in the world. Today 3 to 4 million jobs are going begging because workers aren't trained to fill them. We must provide financial support for Kansans studying at vocational-technical colleges, community colleges and universities so they can get the skills they need to fill these jobs. We must also make targeted, measured investments in infrastructure. We must continue the wind energy tax credit, which is particularly important to creating a thriving wind energy industry in Kansas.