Fiscal Failure Under Shimkus-GOP

Yes, our 21-year incumbent representative in Congress, John Shimkus, did vote for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would have allowed the federal government to raid the Social Security trust fund in order to balance the budget.

The bill was masked as a balanced budget amendment, often popular among budget hawks. This is ironic considering this Republican Congress has racked trillion dollar annual deficits for each year of the next decade. And, they’ve achieved this in less than a year and a half in control of both the Legislative and Executive Branches.

Here’s the play-by-play. 



We’ve seen this playlist time and time again with a GOP-controlled government.

Out of control spending, tax breaks without any benefits for workers and the economy, and ultimately the American people will get hit when the bill comes due.

It’s about time we throw them out and get back to work.

Failure is not an option because our communities are on the line.

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Middle East Diplomatic Vacuum

Now that the dust is settling after the military response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria, it’s a good time to examine the elements that would help and that are hindering progress in the country and the region.

The lack of a diplomatic presence in the region is harming our efforts considerably.

Regardless of the results of the missile strikes, without a diplomatic strategy there is no chance for success.

Add to that reality 25% budget cuts for the State Department and a mass exodus of career diplomats, the damage being done to our ability to bring to bear all of our tools is significant.

The ambassadorships in Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are all vacant with no nominees even slated. This signals disinterest in the diplomatic process as well as the region.  This is fostering a laissez-faire environment that Assad and Putin have been capitalizing on for well over a year, much like Putin did in Crimea and the Ukraine. 

A sadistic cycle has been churning in Syria for years. The Arab Spring saw hope flourish only to be met with violence, terror, and a vacuum that allowed ISIS to break ground. With years of patience and dedicated efforts by two administrations, the hold ISIS has there is nearly gone.

13 million Syrians are refugees, and no end is in sight for the civil war and violence that has become their daily lives. Barred from entering America, the burdens being placed on our allies in the Middle East and Europe are growing. 

Thankfully, our military always rises to the occasion when given achievable, short-term objectives. They deserve our respect and gratitude for always doing what is asked of them.

It would be better to only utilize our military as a last resort.

Increasingly in the Middle East, it’s our only resort. 

We have to change that by reinvesting in diplomatic efforts, reconnecting with our allies, and having Congress actually do their jobs instead of using every opportunity to avoid accountability and their constitutional responsibilities. 

  • Let’s actually have a robust debate on the House floor.
  • Let’s have our representatives go out into their districts and listen to what their constituents have to say.
  • Let’s have our elected officials listen to veterans who still aren’t receiving the care they deserve. 

We need all hands on deck instead of shortchanging our troops and expecting them to carry the load every single time.

By not even slating nominees for ambassadorships throughout the Middle East, we’re setting ourselves up for escalating conflicts and less communication.

It’s about time Congress stood up and demanded action.

From the hollowing out of the State Department to the continued struggles at the VA, when are the People going to hold Congress accountable?

Responding to Syrian Chemical Attack

This is the centennial anniversary of the armistice ending World War I, where chemical weapons were first used on a large scale.

And, 100 years later, the Syrian people have become victims of another chemical weapons attack.

The Assad regime has done this too many times.

When Assad did this during the Obama administration, I thought military action was justified. Congress flinched as did the President. When this happened last year, the Trump administration waited too long, allowing Assad to move his air force units elsewhere, making the strikes less effective.

As someone with a degree in Chemistry, I can attest to the destructive power of chemical weapons. I’ve seen firsthand what can happen when a bromine vapor cloud is unleashed in a laboratory. Chlorine gas is far more deadly.

There is a reason the use of chemical weapons is prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Convention. These weapons are designed to injure, kill, and terrorize people.

In the lab, the bromine cloud came right out of a flask. I’ll never forget it. Someone screamed, we all ran, and they had to go back in wearing suits to disarm it. It was intense.

Chemical weapons are far worse. These are designed to kill. You can’t breathe, you begin to choke, foaming at the mouth. If you’re lucky, the gas will penetrate your blood brain barrier. Why would this be lucky? Because then you enter a coma and might just survive.

It’s deeply disturbing to know this has been allowed to take place again on our planet to civilian populations.

By allowing these regimes to use these weapons without exacting an extremely high cost, we’re sending a message to other hostile regimes that we will look the other way while their innocent civilians are tortured and slaughtered.

This is not about politics. This is about safety and security. 

We don’t have to decapitate a regime. We don’t have to further entrench ourselves into Syria. We can unleash our Air Force and Navy on Syrian Air Force targets, decimating them, eliminating the threat to the civilian population. 

Image Courtesy Reuters

Waterways, Economy, and Mental Health

These are questions I was asked recently on the campaign trail.


Q: “Hillary Clinton said she wanted to invest $30 billion in the Coal Belt for clean up efforts and to restore the water quality in the Ohio Valley watershed.  What do you think about that idea?”

$30 billion isn’t going to do much if there aren’t standards applied throughout the region. The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission is likely to give up its responsibility on managing the river, which is a huge concern for me as this would leave the care of this vital resource to individual states. We need to provide stability and support to the Commission, be actively working with community members, officials, organizations, and businesses, and promoting this publicly to reverse this decision. 


Q: “What do you see as (the) greatest opportunity for economic development? What other opportunities do you see for economic development for (the) region?  What specifically would you do to help (southeastern Illinois) recover economically? What future do you believe the Progressive movement and the Democratic Party has in the United States has without the Coal Belt?”

After the deregulation of the coal industry in Illinois, we can’t compete with other states. Automation, bad business practices, and lack of union coal jobs all play a part in the decimation of coal in Illinois. However, under President Obama, coal production rose to 10% below 1970 numbers. Coal jobs did not correlate with the increase in production. Layoffs have been occurring not only in Illinois but in Western Kentucky as well. We need new industries.

Coal is vital for energy production as well as steel production. The technology has greatly improved, and America does it better than anywhere else. I wrote on this subject last November, https://gaither4il.com/coal-steel/.

Small energy companies as well as family farms don’t have a level playing field with their larger competitors.

The regulation and fee schemes are designed to squeeze them out of the market, and actually support bad behavior by the biggest companies. We have to correct those problems in order to keep more money and jobs in our communities.

Solar and wind farms are great industries that can create investment and job creation opportunities.

However, it’s not near enough to combat the job losses and unemployment numbers.

With all of our farmland, we should be growing hemp as we did during WW II.

25,000 products are made from hemp. We should be making these products here,  exporting these to other states and around the world, and become a new economic center in the Midwest. Currently, hemp oils are being sold in Illinois made from hemp grown in Kentucky and Massachusetts. It also combines with products we have here, like honey.

Another opportunity is to create new tourist destinations to drive money back into Southern Illinois.

Art communities have been very successful at creating linkages between farm and town, giving the square a facelift, providing artists housing, work, and a place to sell their work. Combined with our National Forests, State Parks, lakes, and more, these can create circuits for summer camping groups. Also, opening up the empty storefronts in our town centers can give property owners access to potential investors.


Q: “Mental health is a huge problem in rural areas.  The southeastern counties (are) no exception.  What, specifically, would you do to address rural mental health issues in those counties in Congress?”

This is a major priority of mine. I was recently the only Democratic candidate at a forum in Highland. The Republicans were all running for state representative and state senate seats. All of them wanted to cut the budget but were all for increasing access to mental health treatment. It didn’t make any sense to me how they could do both while cutting taxes, and I said as much.

There are a series of issues that we have to address here.

Providers and Access

There aren’t enough counselors, therapists, or social workers to meet the needs. Wait times are too long. If someone needs to see a psychiatrist, the wait times multiply quickly if a psychiatrist even is in the county.  Some counseling centers have the ‘Doctor in a Box’ option, but this simply doesn’t replace having the face-to-face interaction.

States are poaching our health professionals by offering free housing during the days and nights while they work there. The pay is better in these other states.

We have to be able to better compete as a region with pay, benefits, and housing. If we’re going to keep our brightest here, we need to pay them for their dedication. This will help bring specialists and other professionals to downstate Illinois.

High Costs, Health Insurance, Universal Healthcare

The high cost of healthcare in Illinois is part of the reason why we can’t better compete for the best and brightest, helping to stop the brain drain. There are a number of reasons for this.

The backlog of Medicaid payments is a serious concern for community healthcare and hospitals. As a state, we have to make healthcare a priority, especially for low income, people living with disabilities, seniors, veterans, and the chronically ill.

The current system is a broken bureaucracy that punishes work, creates undue amounts of paperwork for both clients and the state, and doesn’t serve the best interests of taxpayers or those who need these services. We have to fix this system, either by the state (which seems unlikely) or with federal guidelines and oversight. When states are unable to manage their Medicaid programs or unable to care for their citizens that these programs are funded to protect, Congress has a role to play.

We’re still not negotiating prescription drug prices. We’re still not dropping state borders allowing insurance providers to go national. We’re still not protecting people from high deductibles and high premiums, both in the individual marketplace and from employer-based plans. The fee for service model is broken, and it is time for a new approach. We can do something about each of those issues on a bipartisan basis because there is broad bipartisan support.

Meanwhile, we can work to pass a public option where there are minimal choices for people. Universal healthcare won’t be a slam dunk before the 2020 election and will be difficult to get over the finish line afterwards. We have to fight to make healthcare more affordable and more accessible every day until we achieve that goal.

Education Pipeline

The way we help increase the number of in demand healthcare professionals is by increasing the size of programs that educate them. We have great colleges and universities throughout downstate Illinois that have counseling, social work, and other degrees focused on graduating professionals. Many of these programs have limited cohort sizes at any given time due to accreditation constraints, which are vital to maintain.

We must provide additional grants and scholarships for students as well as more funding for the programs themselves in order to increase the size of these departments, increasing the size of graduating classes. Linking grants and scholarships to staying in the region is useful in keeping that talent from fleeing the state.

On Tariffs and Trade

I’m all for a reinvigorated American-based steel industry. We need these jobs to come back to America. Our Union workers do a better job and our environmental standards have decreased emissions dramatically. Chinese steel doesn’t abide by such restrictions.

My response to any of these knee-jerk tweet and administrate actions is to remain cautious, keeping watch on actual implementation.

Certainly, this will increase the price of steel and aluminum. It will also increase the prices of anything made from both. Not only does that increase inflation risks but it could lead to layoffs in the manufacturing sector.

I discussed these very concerns with a machinist in Bond County last night.

These hard working Americans haven’t received wage increases in years and this will make certain they won’t for the longterm. 

Trade is vital. Making certain our trade policy is targeted in the best way to protect American jobs, grow good paying jobs, and increase wages is vital. These tariffs were not crafted with precision and a strategy to protect American workers.

Congress too often chooses to sit on the sidelines of trade, giving fast track authority to the White House.

We need to elect representatives that listen to workers, stand up for workers’ rights, and start doing their jobs. The people deserve nothing less than that. 

Firearms, Rights, Action

In the last two weeks and wherever I go, the issue of gun violence has been raised. It’s a serious problem in our country. We have to be honest with ourselves as a Democratic Party as well as with the members of the communities we visit.

For a few, some types of firearms are simply more important than children.

That’s just a reality that has been pounded into them by organizations supporting gun manufacturers and not the Second Amendment.

And, I’m a supporter of all of our rights not special interests.

To the majority of Americans, universal background checks should have been made law at least a decade ago. Yet, nothing meaningful can pass Congress.

To the majority of Americans, allowing assault-type rifles to be purchased by teenagers doesn’t make sense. Yet, nothing can even pass the Florida legislature where 17 just lost their lives in a school shooting. The shooter obtained his firearms legally even after threatening to shoot up the school repeatedly.

Before that, 49 people lost their lives in Florida in the Pulse nightclub shooting by someone who had threatened to shoot up a school in 2007. Also, red flags were raised when he pursued a career in law enforcement. Yet, he was still able to legally purchase a semi-automatic rifle.

People love their firearms. And, they have a right to own firearms.

Do they have a right to own any type of firearm?

That should be an open debate.

Some types of weaponry should have higher classifications, require more training and background checks, and have some sort of liability insurance attached to ownership.

There is even new 3D print technology that is able to reproduce the parts of some of these firearms. People can purchase many of these firearms without any registration and without any background check. Does that make any sense?

However, the majority of Americans may agree on what should have been done for years, they just don’t stand up and speak out about these issues in public and on social media. I get it. It’s not easy. The gun manufacturing lobby has done an amazing job using not for profit status to push propaganda that many have bought wholesale and perpetuate everywhere boastfully and loudly.

That doesn’t mean we sit down and shut up. 

There’s little Congress can do if they don’t hear from each of you. I’m not talking about party affiliation. I’m talking about Americans.

Call your local elected officials.

Show up at county board meetings and city council meetings.

Demand action. 

What are the chances that Congress is going to get its act together on guns when so many are in the pockets of the gun manufacturing lobby?

Start locally. Call your federal and state representatives.

Change starts with each of us. 

That’s why I’m running for U.S. Congress. To be the change I wasn’t seeing in Washington, D.C. and the change each of us deserves. Representation is for the People and by the People.

Your voices matter. It’s about time your voices are heard.

Q & A on the Main Issues

Healthcare

I have extensive experience and policy positions on healthcare. The far left positions of universal healthcare or Medicare for All do not address the structural problems that face the citizens of the 15th District. We have serious access issues in many of our counties and communities. 

What does access mean? Many residents are forced to travels hundreds of miles to see specialists that they can’t find at community and county hospitals. Also, Medicaid isn’t accepted at many healthcare providers.

Many are demanding universal healthcare, but when it passes our district’s residents will still have most of the problems they experience today.

We have to:

  • expand educational grants and scholarships for healthcare professions that are in demand
  • provide temporary lodging for healthcare professionals to provide care in rural districts on a regular basis
  • work to better integrate the various healthcare systems in the 15th.

This won’t be solved with a single talking point.

Infrastructure Repair

I also have discussed infrastructure on the campaign website as well as on the trail. We have to think bigger than just roads and bridges, which are in need of a massive overhaul. The lack of broadband access in our communities keeps local businesses from finding new outlets for their products and services. Also, the lack of connectivity is a disincentive for new industry and business for relocating to our district.

The infrastructure involved with water, power generation, and the power grid are all in need of a serious upgrade. These all will create new jobs for the economy of today and tomorrow. Unfunded mandates too often fall on rural communities. For examples, schools are mandated to test for lead but receive no funds to fix any issues found.

Education

The states have been starved of resources from the federal government since the Bush era. In Illinois this is exacerbated by the state’s regressive flat income tax. As a Congressional representative, we should be focused on providing retraining programs for workers left behind by our economy in the last three decades. Also, retooling and expanding both K-12 and higher education to include education, training, and skill-based opportunities for the jobs that are in demand locally and regionally will help stall the brain drain.

Social Security

This is another area I have extensive experience in managing and policies to move Social Security forward into the 21st Century. Many low income recipients haven’t received a real cost of living increase in a decade.

Just this year there was a 2% increase that was matched with a Medicare premium increase, wiping out the benefit increase. These seniors are strapped for cash and spend most if not all of their earned benefits each month in their communities.

We should expand the program, which will boost local economies.

How do we do that?

Increase the income cap.

Also, those on SSDI and SSI . . . we need to make it easier for them to get back to work without fear of losing their benefits, especially their medical coverage. This will decrease their medical costs, increase their expendable incomes, and help transition them off of the program over time.

Food Stamps

Food stamps nearly pay for themselves. For every $1 spent on SNAP it creates $1.76 in economic output. Everyone knows a story of someone abusing SNAP, but we don’t end a good program that feeds people in need because of a few bad apples. The continued decimation of the SNAP program with ever increasing food prices has led to increased food security. This is why many of our students go to school hungry.

That’s unacceptable. 

Medicaid

Medicaid is a vital program for low-income residents. It’s terribly mismanaged, and because the state doesn’t pay its bills on time, many healthcare providers no longer accept it. We have to fix the administrative problems, decrease the bureaucratic nightmare, and make it easier for healthcare providers to accept Medicaid. Work requirements overburden an already underwater bureaucratic system. Making it easier for those on Medicaid to get back to work should be the objective. The spend-down program is one of the worst programs the state could utilize. It places paperwork burdens on both patient and the state.

We have to do better.

Medicare

Medicare is an example of a program that saves money, provides healthcare, and is an earned benefit people count on when they become disabled or after they retire. The high cost of prescription drugs is creating problems for the sustainability of Medicare Part D. We have to be able to negotiate with drug companies, including purchasing drugs from reputable sources across our borders and overseas.

Seniors and those living with chronic illness shouldn’t be forced to travel into Mexico or Canada to purchase drugs at a cheaper price than they can get at our own pharmacies.

The Budget

The Republican tax reform bill blew a massive hole in deficits and debts for the foreseeable future, in the tune of trillions of dollars. The tax cuts for workers and small businesses were great, as these go right back into our local economies. The 14% permanent tax cuts for corporations, however, were fiscally irresponsible and not attached to any guarantees for jobs, wages, and repatriation of overseas money.

The Pentagon is often ignored when it asks for various defense programs to be cut because members of both parties want to keep those jobs in their districts and states. We can repurpose those jobs in innovative ways.

By creating a robust, energized economy that is focused on raising wages, increasing opportunity, and reigning in excessive spending, we can increase revenue and bring the budget back in line. Under President Obama, we were heading in the right direction. Now, we’re back on the wrong track.