The debate over spending, taxes and how to get the sluggish economy pumping again may be taking place in the nation’s capital, but it was also the basis of a local conversation in Skokie on Friday.
U.S Senator Richard Durbin and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky were among the panelists at a legislative forum hosted by the Skokie Chamber of Commerce. Both talked about the need to make changes in the U.S. tax code if the country was going to see a balanced budget once more as well as getting the unemployment rate down.
Durbin laid out some specifics at the Evanston Golf Club talking about the work of the 12 member super committee composed of members of both chambers that was created as part of the deal to hike the debt ceiling after a prolonged debate earlier this year.
Durbin, who is not a member of that group, said the report from that committee is expected within days on how to cut the budget between $1.2 and $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years on top of a 12 percent spending cut that Congress has already enacted.
Durbin warned that if an agreement was not reached, automatic cuts would be put in place that would go after medical research, college aid and even to the point of fewer call takers at the Internal Revenue Service.
The assistant majority leader also talked of the greater problems in terms of balancing the federal budget, noting that expenditures are currently outpacing incoming revenue. He called for changes in the tax code to bring in more money for government even if it might appear to change some popular tax write-offs.
“I think there is room for us to deal with revenue by taking a look at the tax code,” Durbin said. “If we could reduce some of the credits and deductions and in the process bring down marginal rates, people would see that as a positive.”
In reaction, Pat Brady, the chairman of Illinois Republican Party, agreed with Durbin that changes need to be made to the tax system in place and the ultimate goal is to get people working again.
“We need to jumpstart the economy. If you had more taxpayers, you would have more revenue,” Brady said. “We need to focus on tax reform.”
Durbin also talked about the ever escalating cost of healthcare. With 10,000 Americans reaching the age of 65 every day now, the government has serious questions about how to handle entitlements, he said. Some changes might have to be made to very popular programs that will put politicians at risk, but the senior senator from Illinois was not sure whether those changes could be made.
“Whether we can engage America and businesses is unknown,” he said. “You can’t get from here to where we need to be unless you put it all on the table.”
Durbin did not rule out a tax increase, but Schakowsky talked more openly about raising the rate on people who earn more than a million dollars a year. Schakowsky wants to do that before changing entitlement programs.
“Unless we are willing to cut the hair off the head of millionaires and billionaires we should not be touching Social Security benefits and Medicare benefits,” Schakowsky said.
Schakowsky, now in her eighth term of representing Illinois 9th Congressional District, was apprehensive about the upcoming report of the super committee.
“A bad deal is worse than no deal,” she said, mentioning that she has sent and a jobs program into Congress.
But Brady was not impressed by Schakowsky’s economic proposals.
The tax on millionaires is class warfare and they are trying to pit one side against the other. "Jan Schakowsky is out to the left and out of the mainstream,” Brady said.
So how did the people who came out to the breakfast feel about what they had heard from their congresswoman?
“I was impressed that Jan Schakowsky came out here and didn’t pull any punches and spoke her mind,” said Skokie resident Brad Rosen. “Perhaps everything she had to say wasn’t the most popular thing to say to a business community, but she spoke with what she believes and I was impressed with that.”
While Rosen appreciated her candor, he did not agree with her.
“We need to be attacking the deficit in a very serious way and Jan seems to think that getting jobs on the table is the foremost priority and I think we have to attack both at the same time.”