Before the economy can really take off, the federal government must get out of the way of business.
That was the common theme voiced by all four Republicans in the 11th Congressional District primary race as they explained their views on tax reform, the minimum wage and other issues to a room filled with Naperville-area business leaders.
"I have lived with burdensome government regulations," Hinsdale businessman Bert Miller said during the Friday forum hosted by the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce. "I'd like to work real hard to make those less burdensome."
Miller is one of four GOP hopefuls in the March 18 primary to decide who will advance to the November election and challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Foster. The three other candidates are Chris Balkema of Channahon, Ian Bayne of Aurora and state Rep. Darlene Senger of Naperville.
The 11th Congressional District includes Naperville, Aurora, Woodridge, Lisle, Darien, Bolingbrook, North Aurora, Plainfield and Joliet.
Miller, who owns Phoenix Closures in Naperville, began Friday's forum by saying he knows what businesses need to grow and hire new workers.
"We don't have enough jobs in this country," Miller said. "Washington needs to get out of the way."
Miller cited the Keystone pipeline as one example of a project that would benefit the country if the federal government simply allows it to happen.
"Manufacturing in the 11th Congressional District is one of the top employers," Miller said. "This particular (project) would create 40,000 jobs nationally and would get our steel mills working and a lot of our people working."
If elected to Congress, Senger said her top priority would be to push for an overhaul of Obamacare.
"That's going to be one of the biggest things that we have to now fix and change and do over again in Washington," said Senger, adding that the Affordable Care Act in its current form is "totally destructive and broken."
Bayne said Americans are suffering because of Obamacare. But he insists the law must be repealed -- not fixed.
"You cannot fix Obamacare because it's fundamentally flawed," said Bayne, who is a private investigator. "Repealing Obamacare is something that's essential."
When it comes to the nation's tax system, all four candidates agree it must be reformed.
Balkema said he would like to see tax loopholes closed as long as the corporate income tax rate could be reduced to around 25 percent.
If that happened, Balkema said, it would help prevent U.S. companies from taking their money overseas.
"We are on such a verge of a manufacturing boom," said Balkema, who is a Grundy County Board member. "If we get the regulation out of the way and we get the corporate income tax rate ... reduced, the trickle down that we talked about in the 1980s would be dwarfed by what we would see happening now."
Miller said the amount of taxes American companies pay is one reason products made in this country are not competitive on the world market.
"The U.S. tax code is 75,000 pages long," he said. "What do we need to do? We need to make it simpler, and we need to make it fairer."
Bayne said he believes it would make a lot of sense for the nation to have a flat tax.
"The only way to achieve fairness in the tax code is to have a straight, flat solution," he said.
On the issue of the federal minimum wage, three of the candidates -- Balkema, Bayne and Senger -- said it shouldn't be increased.
"We have to allow a set of parameters to be put in place for the economy to grow," Balkema said. "If we continue to restrict that by arbitrarily telling employers what the wage needs to be, it's only going to force more jobs overseas, which is what we want to reverse."
Senger said minimum wage isn't as important as workers being able to make enough money to support their families.
"If you are going to have a good living wage, you need to have a government that stays out of business and lets businesses do the things that they need to do to pay that employee."
Miller said he would support increasing the federal minimum wage if lawmakers "come up with a reasonable number." However, he said future changes to the minimum wage should be tied to the rate of inflation. That would prevent the issue from being "a political football," he said.
While it's vital for the country to have a skilled workers, the candidates agree the federal government should play a smaller role in education and workforce development.
Senger said decisions about curriculum should be made at the local level.
"How you train individuals in Chicago is going to be different from how we work with people in the suburbs," she said. "So we need to have our own local ways of developing our workforce."
Balkema, who is a former school board member, said it's absolutely advantageous to have local control.
"The federal government needs to get out of the way of education," he said. "We need to let the local folks that are controlling the school boards, controlling the schools, have the ability to write and create the curriculum that's going to allow the kids to shine."