2018 Congress District 14

Election 2018 candidate: Lauren Underwood, 14th Congressional District Representative

Lauren Underwood, Democrat for 14th Congressional District representative
Lauren Underwood, Democrat for 14th Congressional District representative

Name: Lauren Underwood

Age: 32

Town of residence: Naperville, IL

Office sought: US House of Representatives, IL-14

Party: Democratic

Website: www.underwoodforcongress.com/

Questions: 

1. What are the key differences between you and your opponent? 

I’m a registered nurse. I’ve spent my career expanding access to quality, affordable healthcare for families across the country. My opponent is a career politician who has repeatedly voted to jeopardize healthcare for folks in our district. That’s exactly why I’m running – because this community deserves better.

I was working for a Medicaid managed care company in Chicago when I found myself at my opponent’s one and only public event of 2017. During that spring, Congress took a series of healthcare repeal votes. I was watching the debate closely as a healthcare professional and a woman who was concerned about her own healthcare coverage. During that springtime public event more than a year ago, my opponent made a promise. He promised that he wouldn’t support a bill that didn’t provide affordable coverage options for people with pre-existing conditions. That promise was important to me and I took him at his word.

Just a few weeks later, he cast one of the deciding votes for the American Healthcare Act, a version of repeal that would have made care unaffordable for those of us with pre-existing conditions. 

I was very upset. Not only had he cast a vote that would harm his constituents, but he had broken his word. And I’m not willing to accept that. This community deserves better.

A representative should be transparent and honest about their votes, and make themselves accessible to our community. That’s what I’ve done throughout this campaign and that’s what I vow to do when I’m elected to Congress.

2. The amount of state and local taxes that can be deducted on federal returns was capped this year at $10,000. Illinoisans pay some of the highest property taxes in the country and recently were hit with a state income tax hike to boot. How will you work to protect residents from double-taxation? 

Tax reform should be simple and fair, putting the middle class and small businesses first. The Republican tax plan referenced in the question does the opposite -- it overwhelmingly favors corporations and the wealthiest few, all while exploding the national deficit. 

Unfortunately, our representative did not stand up for us when we needed him -- he voted with his party to pass the bill.

Economic growth must touch all of our families – not just the wealthiest Americans. My opponent will argue that Illinois families are feeling the benefits of this plan, and that’s true for the wealthiest among us. But for the middle class, wage growth is flat, and the majority of small business owners will not be able to hire new employees or give raises as a result of the Republican plan (Businesses for Responsible Tax Reform data).

Under the Republican plan, families are seeing higher tax burdens all across the 14th due to the cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction. Nearly half – 48.6 percent – of the households in the 14th claimed the SALT deduction in 2014 (Tax Policy Center data).

In 2015, the average SALT deduction in the 14th District was $14,453 (Government Finance Officers Association data). That puts local filers a good $4,000 over the new $10,000 SALT deduction cap. 

For too long, middle class families across northern Illinois have been overburdened with tax hikes from Springfield. Our community deserves a leader who seeks real solutions to create jobs and improve our local economy. Instead, my opponent once again put politics ahead of thousands of families in our community. From Antioch to Warrenville, folks spoke out against the Republican Tax Plan and we were ignored by our representative. That’s unacceptable.

3. Do you believe any additional federal gun control measures are warranted? If so, what? If not, why not?

A decade after five students were killed and 17 injured at Northern Illinois University (NIU) with legally purchased firearms, our community is still waiting for common sense congressional action on gun violence. I have been devastated by the lack of political courage on this issue, and am particularly disturbed by my opponent’s inaction.

We need universal background checks for all gun sales -- this is a proposition that 94 percent of voters support, according to a 2017 Quinnipiac survey. The current system includes loopholes that make it easy for people with criminal records and dangerous mental illnesses to buy guns. In the tragic example of NIU, two of the weapons used to perpetrate the murders were purchased legally less than a week before the attack.

My opponent has consistently voted against common sense measures to close gun safety loopholes, including a measure to prevent individuals on the ‘no fly terrorist watch list’ list from buying a firearm and a measure to keeping guns out of the hands of people deemed mentally ill by the Social Security Administration.

In the face of gun violence, my opponent consistently offers his thoughts and prayers. We need action.

The second amendment to our constitution clearly outlines a right to bear arms: that’s not what’s at issue here. This is about an epidemic of gun violence in this country and palpable fear in schools across this district. Our children are literally marching for their lives: we must respond with legislation.

Congress must embrace common sense gun safety measures, the people of IL-14 already have.

4. What is your opinion on the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election? Would you vote to impeach President Trump?

Free and fair elections are foundational to our democracy and we must fully investigate the interference in our 2016 election. We’ve known for a while that our state board of elections here in Illinois was penetrated by Russian hackers in 2016, compromising the personal information of thousands of Illinois voters. Hackers appear to be readying to do the same thing during our forthcoming midterms and our leaders have put few substantive measures in place to protect our elections. My opponent has voted numerous times to block congressional investigation into Russian meddling and voted against election security funding. 

Free and fair elections are vital to our democracy, as is voters’ confidence in our elections. This is not a partisan issue: it’s an American issue. 

Special counsel Mueller has a distinguished record of service to our country and has shown himself to be measured and thoughtful throughout his investigation. Unlike my opponent, I support legislation to protect the special counsel from the president’s threats of political interference. The special counsel should be allowed the time he needs to fully investigate the interference in our elections. Efforts to impeach the president before the Mr. Mueller finishes his work are premature.

5. Do you agree with the Trump administration's approach to immigration policy? What is the proper way to enforce America's immigration laws?

Immigrants have been vital to the cultural fabric and economic success of America since our nation's founding. I'm proud to say that the 14th District is home to more than 1,700 entrepreneurs who immigrated to this country. World-class science organizations like Fermilab attract the best and brightest researchers from around the globe. 

Our policies must honor and recognize the value and dignity of all of our immigrant communities and I strongly condemn the divisive rhetoric and anti-immigrant policies that have become commonplace under this administration.

Simple, structural barriers such as the president’s proposed border wall will not solve this complex, multi-faceted problem, nor will the termination of the DACA program or the practice of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border solve this issue. As I write, hundreds of migrant children remain separated from their parents. As a health professional, I know the trauma inflicted upon these kids will likely last a lifetime. 

Yet, Republicans in Congress have done nothing to hold administration officials responsible for implementing this policy without a plan to reunite families. This is an unacceptable dereliction of duty.

Our immigration system is broken––we need comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders, offers a solution for young DREAMers who only know the United States as their home and offers hardworking immigrants a pathway to citizenship. My opponent, in contrast, has voted at least 18 times to block consideration of the DREAM Act and voted in favor of ending the DACA program in 2015. He has had eight years to demonstrate he’s serious about fixing our immigration system and has nothing to show for it. It’s time for new leadership on this issue.

6. Please tell us your position on abortion. Should it be a matter of federal law, or should states be free to regulate it as they see fit?

The Supreme Court ruled on this issue in 1973, and confirmed that a woman’s right to choose is ensured under her constitutional right to privacy.

Women have the right to access the full range of reproductive health care services. One of the core values I hold as a nurse is the patient’s right to autonomy -- that includes a woman’s right to choose what it right for her body. These rights are under attack in Washington. I will always fight for a woman’s right to determine her own future.

A woman’s right to choose is not the only critical reproductive rights issue we face: young people should have access to age-appropriate, medically accurate information and answers to their questions about sex and relationships, without being shamed or judged. My opponent, in contrast, consistently advocates for abstinence-only sex education. Data consistently shows these programs are ineffective. 

Families are the backbone of our society; therefore, it is essential that women and men have the freedom to plan the family they want. In order to do so, families need access to affordable child care, paid family leave, and the full range of reproductive health services.

7. What role should the federal government play in America's healthcare system? Should the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) be repealed?

I’ve spent the past year traveling across the seven counties of the 14th District, and the most pressing issue I hear about is the lack of affordable healthcare. I’ve heard from seniors who struggle to pay for their prescription medication and families who have mortgaged their homes to pay for a loved one to go to rehab. 

I worked on the Affordable Care Act (ACA): I’ve read the law, I understand it, and I know how to fix what doesn’t work. I propose three central reforms to lower costs:

Stabilizing healthcare premiums by properly funding and implementing the ACA’s risk adjustment provisions -- that will bring affordable coverage and greater options to more middle class families;  Lowering out-of-pocket costs by adjusting eligibility for tax credits in order to include more middle class families in assistance programs; and Lowering drug prices -- the U.S. government is the nation’s single largest payer for health care, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). We must leverage that strength to negotiate fair prices for the middle class. 

Additionally, we must invest in comprehensive mental health care for our communities. 

Fixing the ACA will require the Congress to properly fund the program. We have seen a cavalier sabotage of the law by Congressional Republicans. These reckless policies have increased uncertainty and volatility in our healthcare market, to the detriment of the 37,000 hard-working people in the 14th District who have have health insurance through the ACA marketplace. These actions represent politics at its worst.

The reforms I have outlined provide a net savings that create new efficiencies in our healthcare system while incentivizing patients to take advantage of important preventive health care services. Keeping our families healthy in not only the right thing to do -- it saves money.

8. What is your stance on international trade? Do you agree with the tariffs imposed by the Trump Administration in the name of national security? 

Our trade deals must serve to protect American workers and improve access to foreign markets for American goods – this administration is failing on both fronts and our representative has done little to repair the damage. Illinois’ agricultural industry employs nearly one million people and our state’s agricultural exports alone support more than 64,000 jobs (Illinois Farm Bureau). 

As a result of the president’s reckless trade war, and Congress’ unwillingness to exercise oversight over this administration, prices for locally produced commodities like soybeans, corn and pork have dropped dramatically. Illinois is the top soy producer in the United States and the second largest exporter of soybeans in the country. In July, our local soybean farmers were facing the lowest average prices for their product in ten years (Wall Street Journal). This is a problem entirely of Washington’s creation and our farmers are paying the price. If we don’t correct course quickly, our farmers may well lose export market share to competitors. 

The Trump administration has created a disaster for our local economy and is now attempting to mitigate the damage with $12 billion in taxpayer-funded aid. A one-time payout is no substitute for a smart trade policy. Further, it’s the height of irresponsible governance to create a crisis only to attempt to reduce the damage with hard-earned taxpayer dollars. As the president of the Illinois Farm Bureau stated, the aid package will not make farmers whole in the face of continued trade tensions and the economic and marketing damage caused by these tariffs will continue as long as they’re in effect, and likely, far longer.

We deserve better than the recklessness we’re seeing out of Washington. We need a representative who is willing to stand up for our local producers.

9. What’s your assessment of the job the federal government does in caring for military veterans? How can services be improved?  

The nearly 36,000 veterans in our community have sacrificed immensely for our country. We must honor their service by ensuring they have access to quality healthcare, mental health services and opportunities to thrive in civilian life. We need to do better.

Our veterans return home from service at a much higher risk for suicide than the general public. I support expanding access to mental health services for our veterans. The VA also suffers from a critical provider shortage -- Congress must take immediate steps to fund the VA at levels that will allow the agency to hire the medical professionals our veterans need. This means we must end budget sequestration.

Further, the VA must begin implementing and enforcing the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act to stem the crisis of suicide among veterans.

We need to do a better job of integrating veterans into civilian life once they return home: I see great opportunity to expand federal veterans business outreach programs and allow veterans to apply their educational experience in the military towards a degree at a vocational school or technical education program. 

Finally, I have been disturbed to read news reports about personal friends of President Trump wielding influence over decisions at the VA. This is one area where Congress appears to be taking its oversight duties seriously -- this matter must be investigated fully.

10. Is there an important issue in the federal government that has not received adequate attention? How would you solve it?

There are a number of bipartisan issues that require more attention at the federal level, and yet we’ve seen little progress out of Washington.

For too long, we have seen no movement on a range of economic security issues that predominantly affect women. These include paid family and sick leave, affordable child care services and equal pay. We need representatives who are willing to put their political capital on the line to fight for these issues, not merely offer supportive rhetoric.

In addition, we must rehabilitate our infrastructure. From rehabbing highways and bridges, to supporting Metra commuter rail stops for DeKalb and Kendall counties, infrastructure investment can improve our quality of life and public safety throughout the 14th district while stimulating significant job growth. 

These proposals are supported on both sides of the aisle. I welcomed the the president’s campaign commitments to infrastructure investments and a paid family leave policy and was disappointed that those pledges proved to be nothing more than political rhetoric.

The country needs new leaders who can put partisanship aside and make progress on the issues that matter to our community. 

We should elect leaders who are accountable to their communities, not corporate donors. It’s time for Washington to get back to work for the middle class.

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