We kick off a new series on WNIJ this morning: the Friday Forum. Today, we catch up with two members of the U.S. House from northern Illinois, just as the 115th Congress is getting underway.
Republican Adam Kinzinger represents the 16th district, which stretches from the Wisconsin state line to the Indiana state line. It includes portions of Rockford, DeKalb, and Dixon. Democrat Cheri Bustos represents the 17th district. She just started her third term representing the western Illinois area that runs along the Mississippi River and reaches into portions of Rockford and Peoria.
Ask any lawmaker from this region what they think is the most critical issue, and you’ll probably hear this: Jobs, jobs, and jobs.
Bustos and Kinzinger agree their focus in Congress this year is getting people in northern Illinois back to work. Bustos says understanding that helped her win in an election that was tough on her party. She says everything evolves from decent jobs: “good schools, strong families -- it’s what makes a community strong and it’s what makes a state strong.”
Kinzinger says his district has a rich history of manufacturing and can continue to be a world leader in that area. He says that we “need to figure out ways to marry up education opportunities with jobs in the district."
"Whether that’s introducing kids in high school or even middle school to opportunities in manufacturing and giving them that opportunity to see what you can do around your home," Kinzinger says, "to have a good middle-class income for your family is very important.”
Kinzinger sees manufacturing and aerospace as just two of the economic drivers for the region. There’s energy, which he says doesn’t get a lot of attention in the district. There are four nuclear power plants in the region, and half of Illinois’ energy is from nuclear power. Kinzinger says, “So if it’s fossil fuels or innovating for the 21st century, there are big opportunities for the 16th district in Illinois to be a driver for the country.”
Bustos says her district has had more than its share of jobs outsourced to other countries; she cites manufacturers Maytag and Sensata. She says the incoming Trump administration will have to “put its money where its mouth is” when it comes to creating jobs. She says so far, Trump’s tactics for job creation are closer to corporate welfare. Bustos points to legislation she has proposed that would remove incentives to move jobs overseas and another plan to look for overseas customers while making products in Illinois and the U.S. “Again, we have to hold the Trump administration accountable for what they promised he would achieve after he was elected,” Bustos says.
One of those promises from the president-elect is repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. Bustos says the ACA isn’t perfect, but needs to be fixed, not thrown out. She says prescription drug costs will increase an average of $1,000 a year for seniors. “We’ll go back to the days when insurance providers could discriminate against women by charging more for basic care,” Bustos says. “There used to be lifetime limits. Those will go back in place again. Kids up to the age of 26 could stay on our insurance. I have three sons who were beneficiaries of that. It would also bring back denial of care based on preexisting conditions. That affects 5.5 million Illinoisans.”
Kinzinger says the Affordable Care Act is doomed because it makes health insurance unaffordable for too many people. But he likes a lot of aspects of it and says Republicans have a lot of good ideas he can’t wait to get to work on. For him, the next big question is “How do we go to next level? Maintaining people’s coverage, but understanding that we want the quality to improve and the cost to come down.” He wants “truth in billing, expanded health savings accounts,” and expects more responsibility for life decisions that affect the quality of life and health care costs.
Donald J. Trump will lay his hand on a Bible and take the oath of office a week from today.
Kinzinger says it’s going to be very different from last the eight years. Bustos says her governing philosophy is to find a place to start a dialogue, then find common ground.
Cheri Bustos says she’s good at reaching across the aisle and has entered this new world with an open mind – but she says she’s not seeing any hopeful signs from the nation’s next president.
“First and foremost, we are public servants,” Bustos says, “and I’m not sure Donald Trump understands that at this point. I was willing to give him a shot, I was looking for that pivot point where he would stop these bizarre tweets and start looking and acting presidential. I’m still waiting for that pivot point.”
Adam Kinzinger is very interested in foreign policy and says that, for the most part, he’s excited about how America’s role can change under the new administration: “I think you are going to see under the new administration a president reasserting America’s role in the world," he said. "Where I do have concern and caution is Russia. I think Russia is one of the chief strategic competitors to the United States and will affect our well-being. That’s one area of caution and one area I will continue to hold any administration -- like I did President Obama and as I plan to do with President Trump -- accountable if we find ourselves ceding ground to the Russians. Like I said, I’m excited to work with the president-elect. I’ll work with him when I can and oppose him when I must.”
No one is heralding the 115th Congress as a new era of bipartisan cooperation. But Democrat Cheri Bustos says the Illinois Congressional delegation has a secret weapon: monthly meetings in U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin’s office. They get together and talk about what is important to the state of Illinois. There’s one agenda item: “What can we do to work together?”
Republican Adam Kinzinger says there’s too much to lose at home when you fight with your neighbors. He says they leave their partisan stripes at the doorat those meetings. He says the Rockford Airport is a great example of the delegation’s cooperation. He’s sure it can be the state’s third airport and increase cargo traffic. “There are specific areas we can all work on," Kinzinger says, "and our delegation does a really good job of that.”
Next week, WNIJ's Chase Cavanaugh speaks with State Senators Steve Stadelman and Dave Syverson about the 100th Illinois General Assembly.