Tammy Duckworth is glad to be back working for the entire population of Illinois.
She has just completed her first three months as a U.S. Senator, following her defeat of Republican incumbent Mark Kirk last November.
Duckworth spent three years as director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs before moving to Washington D.C. as Assistant Secretary for Veterans Affairs under President Obama. She returned to Illinois in late 2011 and won the Illinois 8th District U.S. House seat the following year.
“The population that I served dropped down to just one little Congressional District,” she says. “Now I get to serve the entire state again. My role is to really support and fight for the depth and breadth of issues around Illinois.”
She is especially pleased to be working on agriculture policy and manufacturing in addition to her particular interest in education.
“It’s a little bit like going home for me,” she says.
She hasn’t set aside her desire to work on the behalf of military veterans. A veteran of the Iraq war, where she lost both legs and suffered severe arm damage when the helicopter she was co-piloting was hit by a rocket, Duckworth considers veterans’ issues “her life’s work.”
“I will be working on veteran’s causes for as long as I am able to get up and get out of bed every day,” she says.
One such cause arose recently in the now-stalled American Health Care Act, intended as a replacement for Obamacare.
“(It) was going to result in a tax increase on veterans and a reduction in services for veterans had it gone through,” Duckworth says, “and I was glad to be able to bring attention to the fact that it was going to exclude about eight million veterans from accessing the subsidies for health care.”
She said her focus always will include veteran homelessness, the needs of women veterans, expanding care at the Veterans Administration, and supporting veteran entrepreneurs.
Duckworth says that the federal budget needs to get early attention. “It affects everything,” she says, “and the budget that the president put forward is one that isn’t going to allow for us to do so many of the things that he promised he would do but also that we need to get done.”
An infrastructure investment bill is high on her list, she says, along with education and healthcare research. But all three of those issues are cut under the current budget proposal, Duckworth adds.
She is working on educational programs tied to manufacturing, trying to provide free community college education. Duckworth also has teamed up with Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin to expand the Pell Grant program and to allow student loan debt to be refinanced.
She is clear about her intention: “… so that we can grow the workforce that will help us create the next century’s economy the way we should.”
Comprehensive immigration reform also should be a priority, according to the junior Senator from Illinois. “To have 11 million undocumented persons living in the United States is not exactly the best situation for our national security,” she says.
Duckworth wants a path to some sort of legal status for the undocumented, and she believes that immigration reform will be a big boost for the U.S. economy.
“Whatever happens,” she adds, “I’m going to fight as hard as I can to protect the ‘dreamers’ and to protect the DACA kids while we wait to try to get immigration reform moving forward.”
Duckworth has introduced legislation to provide mandatory training for local police forces on issues of race, gender and religious identities. The bill also would require an independent investigation of any police force when there is any type of police-involved shooting resulting in death or injury to civilians.
In an effort to get beyond the hyperpartisan gridlock in Congress, Duckworth looks for issues where she can work across the aisle. She teamed up with Republican Sen. Todd Young of Indiana to pass a bill on funding for metropolitan planning agencies.
“I keep trying to find things like that that I can work on so we can find somewhere to agree and try to repair some of these relationships,” Duckworth says.
While her seat is safe until the 2022 elections, Duckworth sees a role for herself in the midterm Congressional elections coming up next year – to get the accurate facts out.
“We’re not operating in a time where the truth seems to be valued,” she said, “and I think the voters deserve that.”