Candidates in the 11th Congressional District agree the Simpson-Bowles debt plan may be a starting point to build a federal budget and cut or eliminate ongoing deficits. But the difference between Democrat Bill Foster and Republican Judy Biggert lies in where they are willing to compromise.
Biggert said she has problems with the Romney-Ryan budget plan, but it succeeds in a key area where Democrats have failed.
"What you need is a budget," said Biggert, a Hinsdale resident. "The president had a budget, which was actually voted down by both the Republicans and the Democrats. The (Democrat-controlled) Senate has never come out with a budget in over three years. That makes it very hard to have a starting point to get together."
Foster, who lives in Naperville, agrees the Democratic budgets of the recent past have failed to address deficit spending.
"There ought to be a 10-year plan for how we pay down the deficit," Foster said. "The Democratic budgets have simply offered plans to grow our debt more slowly. I voted against the Democratic budget every single time I was in Congress for that reason."
The Romney-Ryan plan pledges to help balance the budget by closing tax loopholes. But Biggert said she wouldn't support any of the tax loophole cuts that have been mentioned so far.
"They really haven't come up with very many," Biggert said. "The ones that would have been mentioned, and I would not be for, are the charitable gifts and the mortgage interest deduction. I think that those are popular for everybody."
But Biggert does support extension of the Bush tax cuts for all income levels. She cites a study by the accounting firm Ernst & Young that says letting the tax cuts expire for incomes more than $250,000 would cause the loss of 750,000 jobs. The study was funded by Republican-friendly business trade associations.
"We would be raising taxes on the job creators," Biggert said. "The problem is that so many individuals that pay taxes (with incomes more than $250,000) are really the small businesses. They have said raising any taxes is going to be a burden. They are not going to hire more people."
Foster was a supporter of extending the Bush tax cuts when he was in Congress two years ago. He has said he voted to extend the cuts because of the struggling economy at the time. That's a vote he now views as a "mistake." Foster now supports extending the Bush tax cuts only for earners with incomes below $250,000. Foster said he's found the Bush tax cuts to contain a hollow promise.
"They were sold to the country as something that would produce jobs," Foster said. "In the eight years following the passage of the Bush tax cuts the total jobs created in this country was zero. They did succeed in skewing the wealth very heavily toward the top. Our economy is only healthy when the middle class is healthy. The real job creators are customers. And customers come from the middle class."
Foster said he views the $250,000 income threshold for extending the cuts as a starting point -- not a hard number -- for negotiations on the budget.
Both candidates also agree the Simpson-Bowles debt plan, named for fiscal reform commission leaders Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, contained a formula that may be the best framework for budget debate. The plan calls for addressing the federal debt with a formula that is roughly three parts of budget cuts to one part revenue/tax increases.
Biggert said she'd look at that formula, but, when pressed for what revenue enhancements she'd support, Biggert named only cuts. Biggert has signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge to oppose any tax increases. But asked specifically if she only supports budget cuts to address the deficit, she appeared to soften her pledge.
"We have to find the right revenue raisers, too," Biggert said. "But if you throw them out early on, then people are going to start saying that's my bailiwick."
As far as cuts, she supports ending federal oil and gas subsidies, including for ethanol.
"I think that those can stand on their own now," Biggert said. "I've also had trouble with the farm bill and the mega-conglomerate farmers having these subsidies all the time."
That's an area where the two candidates agree. Foster is also in favor of ending subsidies to large corporate farms. He'd go a step further and take a look at all federal subsidies.
"Subsidies are very dangerous things in terms of distorting the economy," Foster said. "The first, second and third answers should be 'no' to subsidies. Then, if there's a really strong economic case, you have to look at it."
Foster also supports cuts to the nation's war on drugs in favor of funding research that could make that war, and the associated law enforcement and incarceration costs, a moot point. He believes scientists are close to creating prescription drugs that would erase all cravings for illegal opiates.
The candidates split, however, when it comes to cuts to the military.
Foster said a "more efficient" military would bring federal dollars back to Illinois because the most logical defense reductions are to "unneeded military bases and weapons programs that the Pentagon doesn't even want." The problem, he said, is Republican support for that plan is nonexistent because many military bases are located in the most conservative parts of the southern United States. That said, reductions to the military's budget "are a natural thing when we're winding down two of the longest wars in our history."
Biggert said unrest in the Middle East is still high, making military cuts dangerous.
"We really don't want to have to cut our troops," Biggert said.
Budget: Candidates split on military spending