Candidate Full Name:
5th Congressional District
Charlie Wheelan for Congress
Campaign Office Mailing Address:
2780 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614
Please tell us about yourself, your background and why you believe you are qualified to hold this office.
My name is Charlie Wheelan and I am a senior lecturer in public policy at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. I have written a book on economics for laymen called, Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science, which is used as a textbook at many universities and high schools. It has now been published in 10 languages. I was the Midwest correspondent for The Economist and have contributed to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and other publications. I am a frequent contributor to public radio and write a column for Yahoo! Finance called the Naked Economist. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Chicago, I was Director of Policy and Communications for Chicago Metropolis 2020, a business-backed civic group promoting healthy regional growth in the Chicago area. I live in Lincoln Park with my wife and three kids, all of whom attend public school.
Of all the candidates in this race, I have the most policy expertise when it comes to our most critical challenge: fixing the economy. I have a Master's degree in public affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. I have spent my entire adult life applying economics to contemporary problems in a pragmatic way. I am not a typical politician, but I understand how the political system works. My first job was as a speech writer for the Governor of Maine. More recently, I worked to enact legislation in Springfield during my tenure at Chicago Metropolis 2020.
I am also the only candidate with a strong background in foreign policy, having spent time on the ground in the Middle East, where I meet with diplomats and policy makers in conjunction with a program I teach at the Harris School. Other candidates may have roots in the Chicago political scene, but I am the candidate most qualified to take leadership on these national and global challenges.
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?
I have spent my entire career in and around public policy, and I have seen firsthand how pragmatic, well thought out government policy can make a positive difference in people's lives. As an economics expert, I was trained to believe that the less government intervention the better; that markets will correct themselves. But as a student of public policy, I have learned where the market fails and where appropriate government intervention is not only acceptable but required. For example, I support President Obama's stimulus package as a tool for correcting some of the dangerous negative feedback loops that are plaguing the economy. The housing bubble has spilled over to the rest of the economy. As each of us reacts rationally to bad times by spending less, and as banks curtail lending, the economy as a whole takes a hit.
I would like to apply this pragmatic approach to the key issues that most effect the residents of the 5th Congressional District: the economy, foreign policy, and transportation infrastructure. I believe that I have the mix of knowledge and experience that will allow me to make significant contributions to these issues as a member of Congress.
The current economic crisis is squeezing the middle class. What should Congress do about it? What specifically would you do if elected to Congress?
I am running for Congress primarily because my background in public policy and economics makes me uniquely qualified to address this challenge. Our economic policy going forward must have two components: 1) Immediate action to put Americans back to work; restore liquidity to the capital markets; improve investor and consumer confidence; protect homeowners facing foreclosure; tighten the social safety net; and otherwise deal with the current economic crisis. And 2) longer term efforts to improve the regulatory structure (without erring on the side of over-regulation) to strengthen the financial system going forward.
What are some of the main things you would do to help create jobs in Illinois?
The federal stimulus, if done correctly, should contain significant new investments in transportation infrastructure. These are investments that will make us more productive as a nation, as well as help create jobs right here in Illinois. The Chicago region, and the 5th District in particular, will benefit from an upgraded transit system. Our public transit systems are in desperate need of investment. In the future, dense metropolitan regions will enjoy a significant economic advantage from the efficient movement of people and freight. I was deeply engaged in this issue during my tenure at Chicago Metropolis 2020.
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?
As a commuter and Chicago resident, I felt the pinch along with everyone else this summer when gas prices went through the roof. The sticker shock as prices cleared $4.00 was enough to make all of us think twice about our travel plans.
However, as an economics expert, I have to say what no one else wants to: High gas prices can also have huge long-term benefits. In fact, I have publicly called for the institution of a carbon tax because I believe it is the most significant and powerful tool for changing behavior, conserving energy, and protecting the environment, including weaning ourselves off our dependence on foreign oil. Just as importantly, we need to ensure that the revenues from the carbon tax go directly back to the taxpayers in the form of an income tax cut.
We must also increase funding for the development and distribution of alternative fuels made from products here at home. Illinois is blessed with natural resources, including abundant corn and soy fields. Their potential use as fuel has only just begun to be unlocked. Wind, solar, and hydro power are also underutilized in this county and we must build the infrastructure to bring these forms of energy to our entire population.
Is there anything that can be done to make health care more accessible and affordable in Illinois? If so, what would you do?
I believe that the richest nation in the history of civilization ought to be able to provide health care to all of its citizens. Our current system has also become a source of anxiety for middle class families who fear losing their benefits when they lose a job. The American health care system is also a huge fiscal burden for small businesses and a threat to the competitiveness of large corporations whose international competitors do not have to pay large health care costs for their workers.
I support health care reform that incorporates all of the following:
• Universal coverage for all Americans, built upon the current employer-based system.
• Mandatory insurance coverage for those who can afford it.
• Government subsidies to enable low-income individuals to buy insurance coverage.
• Better data collection to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of different procedures.
• A cost-containment mechanism that limits reimbursement for the provision of care that is not cost-effective.
• Health care portability as we work towards universal coverage.
I would prefer a plan that is based on the current employer-based system, but would also support a single-payer system if there was a politically-feasible proposal pending in the House of Representatives.
Please state your general views about the war in Iraq.
I support President Obama's plan to withdraw our troops gradually over the next two years. However, the withdrawal should not have a specific timetable, as it would be a mistake to withdraw precipitously in a way that further destabilizes the country and the region. We should not compound our error of going into the country unwisely by withdrawing unwisely.
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.?
I believe in the value of a diverse and inclusive nation. To that end, I support a comprehensive immigration bill that includes both border enforcement and a path to citizenship for undocumented individuals who currently reside in the United States. I would also support increasing the number of visas granted to family members of U.S. citizens and permanent U.S. residents. Similarly, I support an increase in the number of HB-1 visas (those issued to highly-skilled foreign workers), in order to strengthen our workforce and move our economy forward.
What ideas do you have for improving our education system and for making our colleges and universities more affordable?
I believe that education is the single most important long-term issue facing our nation. Our collective skills determine our productivity, which in turn determines our wages and standard of living. The United States needs a systematic strategy for upgrading our "human capital" that stretches from early childhood education all the way to effective job training for unemployed adults. Increasing the college graduate rate (and other kinds of advanced training) as well as funding for college preparation and access, must be a priority. Better access to funding for college is an important part of that strategy.
However, it is important to recognize that money is only one barrier that keeps students out of college. Many are not prepared to do the work. Others drop out of high school or do not have college aspirations. Ironically, the best long-term approach to improving access to college would be expanded access to early childhood education, particularly for children from disadvantaged families. Research overwhelmingly supports the cost effectiveness of such programs. They change the trajectory of the students involved and make college a realistic option 14 years later.
What are your highest priorities for protecting the environment in Illinois?
Investing in public transit is probably the single most important thing we can do for Illinois' environment. These investments in public transit have a ripple effect across many other areas of environmental policy. A well-designed public transit system can cut down on congestion, improve air quality, reduce carbon output and help preserve green spaces.
I know what it takes to make things happen in the world of transit. I worked for several years as a Policy Director for Chicago Metropolis 2020, a regional organization that has worked aggressively to promote transit and smart development. During my time there, we published a report on the region that has become the blueprint for regional growth in metropolitan Chicago. It called for integrated land use and transportation planning, the development of regional cities, expansion of high speed rail, and placing affordable housing closer to jobs.
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