Candidates vying for the 9th Congressional District are offering different solutions for dealing with entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, in light of a federal budget deficit that's topped $1 trillion for the fourth straight year.
The race pits incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky against political newcomer Timothy Wolfe.
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Wolfe, a 59-year-old Republican from Arlington Heights who runs his own tax and accounting practice, claims Schakowsky believes nothing should be done to the entitlement programs. He argues Social Security was established as a supplemental program but has become an integral part of a person's retirement.
"The plan has gone too far, in my opinion," he said. "Having a benefit is fine, but I think the benefits can be excessive. Life expectancies are much longer now than they were in the (1930s), so we need to change the retirement age."
Wolfe said he is in favor of making the retirement age and the age for Medicare eligibility the same.
"My normal retirement age is 67, but I can take Medicare at 65," Wolfe said. "So if retirement age were moved to 70 at some point, that's where Medicare should start. You can't change the game for people who are in retirement or maybe even five years away from retirement. There would have to be a phase-in period."
Schakowsky, a 68-year-old from Evanston, said the Medicare guarantee would be cut under the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan budget proposal, which also would repeal key parts of the Affordable Care Act.
"It would end Medicare as we know it," said Schakowsky, who's held the 9th District seat for 14 years. "That would cut education (spending) by 20 percent. Cut Medicaid by over $800 billion. All in the name of not reducing the deficit as much as giving tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans."
A strong proponent of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, Schakowsky said the law will "go down in history as one of the great achievements along with Social Security and Medicare."
She said Democrats are willing to discuss Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security spending, but not when Republicans are pushing for tax breaks for the richest Americans.
"I think that's symbolic of where the Republicans want to take us in the next four years," she said.
Schakowsky introduced the Fairness in Taxation Act, establishing new tax rates starting at 45 percent for people with annual incomes of more than $1 million and up to 49 percent for people who earn more than $1 billion. The measure, she said, would generate significant dollars toward deficit reduction.
"We don't need to cut the guarantee of Medicare, put seniors in the not-so-welcoming arms of the insurance companies to go out with a voucher and a program that's estimated to cost them about $6,000 more a year," Schakowsky said. "This is one of the most successful programs, way lower overhead than private insurance. We can have sensible deficit reduction, and still protect the programs that are so important to the middle class and those who aspire to it."
Wolfe said any measure he proposes would ensure the middle class and the most needy don't lose benefits, while reducing benefits for people who make more money.
The newly drawn 9th District includes parts of Arlington Heights, Des Plaines, Glenview, Mount Prospect, Niles, Palatine, Park Ridge, Prospect Heights, Rolling Meadows, Rosemont and Wheeling, as well as areas east of the Tri-State Tollway.