Candidate Full Name:
5th Congressional District
Tom Geoghegan for Congress
Campaign Office Mailing Address:
PO Box 1145
Chicago, IL 60690
Map of 5th Cong. Dist. Map of 5th Cong. Dist.
Please tell us about yourself, your background and why you believe you are qualified to hold this office.
As a labor attorney for the past 30 years I have committed myself to representing the needs of everyday working Americans. My career was founded on the principle, taught to me by my legal partner and mentor Leon Despres, that your practice should follow your politics and your politics should follow your practice. When the votes have been cast and the cameras come off the picket lines, I have been there, fighting for real protection, to enforce and fix our well-intentioned laws.
I have fought to recover lost pension benefits and health insurance arising from plant closings. I have represented local unions including nurses, truck drivers, steelworkers and railroad workers. I have worked with the Teamsters for a Democratic Union to require greater rank and file democracy. I have represented women and older workers fighting against sex and age discrimination. I helped conclude a case to require a charitable hospital in Chicago to provide free or reduced care for the uninsured. I have fought to reform the political process in the hearing room and the polling place.
I have also worked most recently on the battle against payday lenders. When the legislature was unable to reign in the lenders, I took on the case to require the State of Illinois to enforce laws against payday lenders.
As Don Rose said in the Chicago Sun-Times, "That's typical of [Geoghegan's] successful fights for poor and working people ? translating the ideas? into tangible action."
It is not that I have the best ideas for addressing the most severe economic breakdown in a century or that I have a plan for restoring economic security to the middle and working class. My record of accomplishments on behalf of working Americans demonstrates my capacity to turn these ideas into action.
Our economy is in shambles, the middle and working class is shrinking, and millions are out of work or underemployed. But in the midst of this very real crisis, there is great opportunity. We have an obligation to take advantage of this era of reform and change by transforming big ideas into strong action.
Please tell us your general views about the role of government and some of the most important things you would like to accomplish in office?
First, I want to expand Social Security, our public pension system, to replace, not overnight but in stages, the private pension system which has collapsed. Social Security now pays about 38 to 39 percent of your working income. In other developed countries, it averages 65 percent. That's where our fiscal stimulus should be: a commitment to reach this goal, a public pension that ordinary working people can live on.
Second, we have to move to single payer health care program, at least in phases: we might begin with extending Medicare to children, but the government should ultimately be the single payer for all. That's not because single payer is the only ethical and efficient way to protect us all. It's also because it is crucial to making us competitive globally. Through single payer and expanded Social Security, the goal is to pick up the "non-wage" labor costs that employers now have to pay. That's already how other countries out-compete us: they have the government pick up these non-wage health and pension costs.
Unless we have government pick up the costs of pensions and health care, our companies can't compete, and we'll go on piling up huge trade deficits. We'll have debacles like GM, which has collapsed in part because of the health and pension costs that the federal government should have been paying all along.
For years, the conservatives have said: "We can't do this. The money isn't there." Well, the money is there. It was there for the Iraq war, a colossal waste of money, and for the bailout, the first half of which has been a colossal waste as well. If we have the government pick up non-wage labor costs with the use of general revenues, we will make it cheaper and easier for our companies to hire. This is, in fact, the best and most realistic approach for a long term recovery.
Finally, we have to put limits on returns to financial firms. We should re-enact the usury laws, the interest-rate caps that were in place in America up till the 1970s. We need to stop the rates of 30 to 35 percent, the hidden fees, the hundreds of ways that banks pull our money out of industry and into gambling and speculation.
The current economic crisis is squeezing the middle class. What should Congress do about it? What specifically would you do if elected to Congress?
The Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) has been a failure. We have given $700 billion in tax money, and many of the banks want more. The Federal Reserve has printed over a trillion dollars and given the money to - well, we do not know which banks. Sooner or later, the government will be required to take over at least the insolvent banks or force these bad banks into receiverships. The government should also obtain representation on the board of directors of banks that do not require takeover but have received bailout funds and Federal Reserve help.
It's an outrage that the banks that taxpayers bailed out are raising the interest rates they charge consumers and dragging more of them into court. When the government eventually takes over the insolvent banks and takes action to re-capitalize them or start new ones, it should use its to cut credit card rates in half ? no more than 15 to 17 percent ? and start cancelling debt where consumers have paid back principal and a reasonable rate of return.
With this same authority, the government should put special priority on extending credit and even investing in our manufacturing firms which are globally competitive. In general we have to focus on direct write-off of private consumer debt and greater investment in manufacturing, even if that results in lower rates of returns than banks have received from recent financial speculations and gambles.
Indeed, the banks we bail out should follow a golden rule: Just as their own debts have been forgiven or written down by taxpayers, they need to write down the debts of our citizens in appropriate cases.
I support the President's stimulus package but would like to see changes. We definitely need to spend money to get the economy moving. However, as set out above, I would like to see greater emphasis on directly cancelling private consumer debt rather than using public debt to stimulate the economy so as to work off this private consumer debt indirectly. There is a great danger in using public debt as a means of bringing down private debt, especially in a country which has a large structural trade deficit.
That brings me to the big issue at the heart of the current economic crisis ? the chronic and serious trade deficit which has drained the Midwest of industrial jobs.
There is one legitimate way that government can stimulate our globally competitive industries that will also have the effect of keeping consumers out of debt. That way is the assumption by the government of non-wage labor cost ? or put another way, the provision by the government of a real public pension people can live on (yes, an increase in the Social Security pay out) and the provision of health care through a single payer system. Other high wage countries that compete successfully have learned this lesson. By assuming the costs of pensions and health care, the government avoids debacles like Chrysler and GM as well as less noted firms. Based on the experience of our competitors, I believe that the takeover of such non-wage costs by the government would lower labor costs, expand employment and allow us to remain competitive.
Furthermore, with tougher financial regulation and even a return to a form of interest rate caps on banks, we can discourage the flow of so much cheap money from Asia into the financial sector and direct it into the manufacturing that can help reduce our frightening trade deficit.
In short, while I support a stimulus bill, I believe that ultimately the government should use expanded authority over the banks to get Americans out of debt and direct investment into manufacturing. We got into this crisis by allowing too much private or consumer debt; we will not get out of it simply by piling up public or governmental debt as the stimulus initiative ultimately will do.
What are some of the main things you would do to help create jobs in Illinois?
I supported the stimulus bill that has come out of Congress, with reservations. There should have been even greater funding for unemployment insurance ? and there was no need for the tax cuts. In a short time, I believe the President should go back to Congress to get at least some additional funds to completely stop the layoffs of state and local employees. The need to stop such layoffs is crucial to preventing the economic crisis from spiraling out of control.
In the longer term, I believe by providing better public pensions and single payer national health for all, the government should assume or take over the non-wage labor costs that private employers now pay. This assumption of such obligations will lower labor costs and expand employment, especially in manufacturing. Such lowering of labor costs would create more jobs in the Midwest generally and Illinois in particular.
What do you think can be done to bring short-term stability to gas and energy prices? Also, what do you think is the best strategy - to both affordably and responsibly - provide for the nation's future energy needs?
I'm strongly in favor of conservation and the use of rail and mass transit as an alternative to the automobile. I have long argued for heavy investment in infrastructure to decrease carbon emissions and global warming. In a 2008 American Prospect column, Going Nowhere Fast, I argued that China and foreign countries holding our debt should get Kyoto credit for infrastructure investments that reduce carbon emissions and fossil fuel consumption in the U.S. I strongly favor both a carbon and gasoline tax, with the receipts to be used for aiding those who would be most adversely affected by higher energy prices.
From 1977 through 1979 I was on the staff of the Policy Office of the newly created U.S. Department of Energy did not agree with Department positions at that time on nuclear power; I thought the development of synthetic fuels to be impractical and unwise. Long before global warming became an issue, I was already convinced that conservation was the primary policy we should be pursuing.
Is there anything that can be done to make health care more accessible and affordable in Illinois? If so, what would you do?
We should "re-enact" Medicare ? for everyone. We should take our single-payer health-care system and just make it wall to wall. Aside from its merits, people also understand it, while they don't really understand any of the health-care plans. One thing that Ronald Reagan proved is that people like big, simple ideas: In his era, the big simple idea was tax cuts, and in ours, the big simple idea should be "Medicare for all adults," and "national coverage of children, too."
Please state your general views about the war in Iraq.
I was against the war from the beginning (Slate.com, 2/13/2003) and I agree with President Obama that American troops must leave. We must work with Iraqi government to bring our troops home and support the timetable endorsed by the Iraqi government.
What are your thoughts on how to deal with illegal immigration? Also, what do you think should be done about illegal immigrants who are already here in the U.S.?
We need to have a path to citizenship for economic refugees. But in all these proposed tests of good citizenship, an obvious one is missing ? a requirement that new citizens register to vote. It's especially in the interest of progressives to say: 'If you want to be a citizen, persuade us you're going to be a citizen and vote. Don't show us your bank account. Prove to us you're going to read a paper, follow current events, and take up the responsibilities of democratic self-government.
What ideas do you have for improving our education system and for making our colleges and universities more affordable?
I believe the provisions in No Child Left Behind for holding local schools accountable for failure to meet state learning standards is fundamentally unfair. States like Illinois do not even adequately fund the learning standards they impose. I would require full funding by the states by any learning standards that they impose on local districts. I am strongly opposed to a pay to the test standard. I recently filed a suit against Governor Blagojevich to require the appointment of members to the Education Funding Advisory Board (EFAB), with the goal of increasing funding for the public schools.
To make college more affordable, I support increasing the Pell Grants. I have written at length about the problem of increasing student debt. While a college degree should lead to higher wages and long term economic security, a significant debt burden undermines these goals.
What are your highest priorities for protecting the environment in Illinois?
I believe that we must use the stimulus package to dramatically increase our energy efficiency as a nation. I would also be a strong advocate for both an aggressive renewable energy portfolio standard and an energy efficiency portfolio standard like we have in Illinois.
Don Rose, Chicago Sun-Times
Thomas Frank, Wall Street Journal
Katha Pollit, The Nation
Hendrick Hertzberg, The New Yorker
James Fallows, The Atlantic
The Nation Magazine
California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee
Teamsters Local 743
Progressive Democrats of America
Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC)
Students for a New American Politics PAC
Greater Chicago Caucus