An Interview with Ray LaHood
Ray LaHood, candidate for the 18th Congressional District of Illinois, chats with IBI about the relevant issues of the day, including healthcare reform, the UAW strike, the future of the economy, the importance of agriculture, and much more.
In your view, what are the top concerns of business owners and managers throughout the 18th Congressional District?
A business-friendly economy is very important to the business people I talk to.
Over a long period of time, local people have worked very hard to provide a good infrastructure and a business climate which will attract business and maintain the businesses and jobs we have. Good tax policies and friendly local governments are important.
I also think local business people are concerned with what’s happening nationally with healthcare. All the business folks I’ve talked to indicated that if Congress passes employer mandates and requires every business to provide healthcare, it would be very, very difficult for them to continue to operate. In some cases, they might have to lay people off; or they might allow employment to fall below the threshold that a law might require, because they simply could no afford it.
We have to be realistic with what we do nationally in healthcare reform, so we can continue to have small businesses that are able to keep their margin of profit and stay open. We need to develop health reform policy that makes sense and doesn’t hurt small businesses.
Generally, I’d say most business people I talk to feel pretty good about the way things are going in central Illinois. They feel good about the fact that, in spite of the UAW strike, business that provide products and services to Caterpillar are still producing, because Caterpillar is still manufacturing and distributing its world class machinery and engines. Ten years ago a UAW strike would have meant a lot of these businesses would have curtailed production because there would have been no products to provide to Caterpillar.
We’ve come a long way in the last ten years, in building and attracting new businesses and maintaining existing businesses. We’ve been able to attract businesses that have provided employment to help offset the effects of a UAW strike.
I think people feel pretty positive in spite of the strike; but they’re very concerned about what’s going to happen with national healthcare, and they don’t want some big bureaucratic, federalized system imposing a lot of rules and regulations on the business community.
What are the greatest needs in the 18th District, concerning business and economic development?
The business community is always concerned about good transportation. In order to have a community that’s attractive to business, we must offer good infrastructure and a good road system. I’m very supportive of the proposed Peoria-to-Chicago highway. It’s critical for our community. We were helpful in getting the $3 million in federal funding for the feasibility study; and we want to be helpful in terms of the designation of the most desirable route an din getting the actual funding for the road.
In addition to jobs and a strong economy, we need a community that offers aesthetic appeal. As a member of the Heartland Water Resources Council, I think we must focus on the river and the Peoria riverfront. The Illinois River runs the length of the 18th District – from Hennepin to Beardstown. The river is very important. It’s a priority for me – not only for transportation of agricultural products, but also for recreation, in terms of really having a downtown riverfront that will attract people and businesses to this area. I want to be part of the community leadership that develops a strong riverfront plan. There are many communities that don’t have a natural resource like our river. We should really make it work for the community; and it will take time and careful planning to do that.
You have declared an interest in being on the House Agriculture Committee. What kinds of agriculture initiatives would you favor? Where to you stand on farm subsidies?
The district has a long tradition of representation in the Congress on behalf of agricultures. Paul Findley, who represented Springfield and Jacksonville, was the ranking member of the Agriculture when he left Congress in 1982. Ed Madigan, who represented the Lincoln and Logan County area, was the ranking member of the agriculture committee just prior to becoming Secretary of Agriculture. Bob Michel served for 25 years on the Appropriations Agriculture subcommittee. So we’ve had a strong voice for agriculture in this district, and I want to continue that tradition.
We produce more ethanol in this district than any district in the country, with ADM, Peking Energy, and Midwest Solvents. That’s good for our farmers and it’s good for our local economy. We have to pursue policies that will increase ethanol production.
I supported NAFTA; I support GATT. Even though there are some problems, overall these trade agreements are good for central Illinois. I want to be a strong spokesman for agriculture and other industries that export products from central Illinois. I can do that as a member of the Agriculture Committee.
Exports in general are very important to our district. Caterpillar is the number one exporter in Illinois and the third-largest exporter in our country.
Farm subsidies have been a part of the Farm Bill, and in 1995 the Farm Bill is up for reauthorization. If I’m on the Agricultural Committee, I’ll have a lot to say about what’s in that Farm Bill. I would have to look very carefully at subsidies, and balance them with available resources and what is really needed. I would look to our farm community for guidance and counsel, since they are the experts in agriculture. I intend to continue the agricultural advisory committee I’ve set up, which would be helpful in giving me feedback on the problems in agriculture, particularly with the Farm Bill coming up next year for reauthorization – something that’s critical for our district.
Many (often) well-meaning pieces of legislation have been passed by Congress in the past few years, which have added to the cost of doing business – from ADA, to the Clean Air Act, to the Civil Rights Act of 1992. Many businesses feel they are being strangled by government overregulation. How can our government balance social and environmental concerns with a healthy, growing, job-creating economy?
The first thing I believe is when Congress passes any kind of a law, it ought to make sure Congress itself have to abide by that law. This business of Congress passing a law and them exempting itself is wrong. If Congress has to abide by the same laws small business people so, it will soon learn how crazy some of the laws are.
The biggest complaints I hear are about OSHA. Since the Clinton administration has taken office, the overregulation and the burdens that OSHA has placed on small businesses have increased dramatically. I’m going to fight hard for businesses who are faced with OSHA coming in and telling them they have to spend enormous amounts of money to meet some ridiculous regulations. Many of these regulations are very costly and destroy jobs.
I think it's wrong for the federal government to be doing this, and I hope to be a strong voice for those who, in many cases, are being harassed by agencies like OSHA, the Department of Labor, and the EPA. Sometimes these bureaucrats don’t’ understand what it takes to make a buck and employ people.
The other big area of concern is the EPA, particularly as it relates to water quality standards, especially in small communities which don’t have the resources to meet some of the ridiculous standards set up by the EPA. I’m going to be the one who will fight hard for small communities concerning rules and regulations.
The Clinton administration’s whole philosophy is about regulating people – how the government can run things. Their concern is always that the government run things, rather than letting the people do things..
Are there any aspects of the federal government you think might be better managed by the private sector?
Some people have suggested that we privatize some of the things we are doing now at the federal level. The postal service now is a separate agency, which gets its appropriation from Congress. I’m not sure about the accountability of such a situation. For example, Congress has no jurisdiction over the postal service other than to approve the appropriation. We’re all aware of some of the problems the postal service is having, but it’s difficult for Congress to now step in to try to correct some of those problems. That’s a case where I’m not sure if has worked the way it should have.
Some people have suggested we could privatize the way Social Security, Medicare, or Veterans’ benefits are administered. Frankly, I’m not ready to subscribe to that just yet. Two things that seem to work fairly well right now in our government are the Social Security system and the Medicare system. The Social Security system is going to have some financial problems in the future, and Congress is going to have to deal with that, but right now it appears to be solvent until about 2010.
Your opponent, Doug Stephens, says he would represent the interests of business in the 18th District well, because he is a small businessman who knows how to create jobs and manage a payroll. What are your thoughts about that?
The Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce interviewed both my opponent and me. He came down, generally, on the side of labor on the key issues affecting business, and I came down on the side of business. I’ve been involved in this community and have been a part of a team over the past ten years that has worked very hard to create jobs and a climate where businesses can do well. Doug Stephens has been a lawyer for the last 15 years, doing workman’s compensation and unemployment compensation work – actually making his living off small businesses, rather than on behalf of small businesses.
He has made his money by filing claims against small businesses. These business have had to pay in order for him to make his living. He’s never served on any boards of organizations that have anything to do with promoting business. Every few years he comes out of his law office and decides he wants to run for Congress. He has had no involvement in trying to assist our community in having a good business climate. I hope people will look at my experience as a community activist.
Stephens’ whole thinking supports labor unions. He’s made his living catering to labor unions. I think people in the know, who have looked carefully at his background and my background, have determined that Ray LaHood will best represent the interest of business, and the men and women who work in this community. We need someone who has been involved in the community, with a record of problem-solving and making things happen.
Doug Stephens is known as organized labor’s candidate. Apart from your support of small business, why should the average working man or woman vote for you over your opponent?
I know the concerns of the working class, and I represent their interests. I was born and raised in this community. My father was a saloonkeeper and restaurateur. He went to Manual High School for two years, and although he didn’t get a high school degree, he realized the value of education. He emphasized to us the value of hard work and taking personal responsibility for what you do. I have learned from my parents that hard work, determination, and a good work ethic are the things that can make you successful.
I worked my way through high school and college, meeting my wife while at college. Kathy and I both worked our way through college; nobody paid for our college education. I think I can related to people who are trying to make a living while sending kids to college, like Kathy and I are doing. We’re helping three kids get through college at present.
I can relate to people who are working hard every day, paying their taxes, playing by the rules, and trying to do what’s right for their families and communities. I will rely on my community experience, my congressional experience, and my personal experience, growing up in Peoria, to represent the people of the 18th Congressional District in Congress.
One of the top concerns of Peoria area citizens is the continuing UAW strike. What is your perspective on that confrontation and what, if anything, should a congressman do to help resolve the situation?
First of all, this strike by the UAW is a bad thing for this community. It has pulled families apart and has caused a lot of anxiety within the community. It doesn’t give us the kind of image we want around the county and around the world, in terms of being able to attract business.
My hope is that the two parties will work out their differences and sign a contract. I say, if they need assistance in doing that, we have well-trained people at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Board. Politicians should not be involved in this strike; politicians do not have the expertise. I’m certain that Caterpillar officials don’t want Doug Stephens trying to negotiate a settlement to the UAW strike, and I’m certain the UAW doesn’t want Ray LaHood involved in it. Politicians should stay out of labor negotiations, and I have stayed out of it.
Now, Doug Stephens has already tried to involve himself in the labor dispute. He circulated a letter to a number of attorneys all over this community asking them to sign an ad that could go in the newspaper, criticizing Caterpillar for unfair labor practices. When confronted with that letter, he first denied it; when the letter was produced, he then admitted that he wrote it.
Stephens stood up at an United Auto Workers labor rally at the Bradley Fieldhouse and criticized Don Fites and Caterpillar for the dispute, and laid all of the blame on the company. He takes advantage of every situation to criticize Caterpillar. Now, that’s a natural thing for him to do because he is a labor lawyer and he does represent UAW members. He has made a lot of money as a lawyer representing UAW members over a long period of time. So it’s natural.
I say let the people with the expertise be involved in getting the two parties back to the bargaining table. It’s only to the benefit of our community that this thing be settled. I don’t know of a person who wouldn’t want this thing settled tomorrow if it could be; but politicians should not be involved. I disagree with the kind of involvement he has had, and I think it’s wrong.
When Stephens suggested that former President Jimmy Carter come to Peoria and help negotiate a settlement, at first I thought he was making a joke, but it appears he was serious about it.
It appears that major healthcare reform is dead in this Congress. If you are elected in November, what kind of healthcare reforms might you push for in the next Congress?
I’ve always felt we should try to fix the things that are wrong with healthcare and our health insurance system, but I also believe that most people in central Illinois have access to good healthcare. We’ve been fortunate in this community to have good hospitals, doctors, and health delivery systems.
For those Americans who don’t have health insurance, I think we are smart enough to figure out a way to provide it. We can do that just like we’ve done in other situations. I often use the example of car insurance: when someone has a bad driving record and can’t get ordinary insurance, they go into some kind of a risk pool. I believe Americans are smart enough to figure out a way to take care of those who need health insurance. We’ve done it in our own community. The Peoria Area Labor Management Council devised a system to do that, and federal government wasn’t there telling them how to do it. Smart people in the local community figure it out for themselves.
People who have a pre-existing condition or catastrophic illness should not be cut off from their health insurance; I think that’s wrong. We need a system whereby people who have a history of health problems can have the opportunity to buy health insurance.
We need tort reform. Many doctors are practicing defensive medicine – prescribing two or three procedures which might be unnecessary – because they are afraid a patient or family member is going to sue them. This has driven up malpractice insurance for hospitals and doctors. We need a camp of about $250,000 on non-economic awards.
I favor 100 percent deductibility for those people who pay thousands of dollars for their own health insurance.
I favor paperwork reform. Many doctors and hospitals are employing numerous people full-time just to shuffle papers and collect information. We ought to be able to get a system where we can collect enough information on three or four sheets of paper.
Let’s fix the things that are wrong with the current system; build on the system that we have. I am totally opposed to what Clinton, Gephardt, and Mitchell are attempting to do. Mitchell’s bill is 1400 pages of bureaucracy, rules, and regulations – with employer mandates and 16 new taxes. It’s a job-loser. I’m opposed to employer mandates and new taxes; I thin they would mean a loss of jobs, as companies laid people off and closed their doors if required to pay for health insurance.
We can find ways to improve our healthcare system without placing a burden on business – those who are providing the jobs. And we should do that.
Most experts agree that the biggest budget problem our nation faces is the growth of entitlement spending – Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, AFDC, Earned Income Credit, etc. – financed by personal and corporate taxes. How can the U.S. government get a handle on controlling entitlement spending, and controlling the deficit in general?
I would have voted against President Clinton’s National Service Program, for one thing. This big entitlement program for college students is a monumental mistake. During the first year, 100,000 students received a stipend of $5,000. If young people want to do public service, they should do it; they shouldn’t have to be paid to do it. To say we are going to pay college students’ tuition if they do public service is the wrong approach. It takes away the real incentive for public service – to be involved in your community.
The federal government doesn’t have the money to provide this entitlement for college students. It’s a typical Clinton approach to getting people involved – give them money. Well, we don’t have the money to do it. This is an entitlement that will continue to go up and up every year, and we simply cannot pay for it. It’s not the type of thing the federal government should be financing.
I also believe that the welfare system needs to be reformed; we have a lousy welfare system. We reward people for living away from their spouses; we reward people for having more children. We should give people an opportunity to be trained, get a G.E.D., and learn how to get a job; then at some point say ,”That’s it – no more welfare check.” I think we ought to provide some childcare support while they are training, but eventually they have to be weaned. We can save billions of dollars by reforming our welfare system.
The Social Security system seems to be solvent until 2010. The Medicare system, although it is a very expensive system, works fairly well. I think, however, we have added a great many benefits over a period of time which have made Medicare something other than what was intended when it was initiated in 1965. The same is true in the Veterans Administration programs. We have increased the magnitude of these entitlements to the point that they are very costly.
Addressing the deficit is important; a balanced budget is important. I am for a balanced budget amendment; I am for the line item veto, which my opponent opposes. When congressmen put non-germane, frivolous amounts of money in bills, which have absolutely nothing to do with the issues, we must give the president the same authority 43 governors have, to cross them out. And we have to elect people to Congress that are willing to make tough votes.
You differed with Congressman Michel on several issues, including term limits and gun control legislation. Could you comment on these differences?
It’s been a privilege for me to have worked for Bob Michel for 12 years. I’ve learned a lot, and he’s a wonderful person to work for. He’s represented this area well, as indicated by the fact that he’s been reelected on 19 different occasions. I agree with him on many things. I think he has tried to be fiscally responsible and represent a conservative point of view, just as I hope to.
I disagree with the way the Congressman voted on the assault weapons ban. I don’t think banning assault weapons is going to lead to a decrease in crime. I think we ought to have tough penalties for people who commit crimes with guns.
I favor term limits because I think we need to give people with new and fresh ideas the opportunity to come into government and solve problems. We have had one-party rule in the House of Representatives for some forty years. It’s the reason we have many of the problems we have in our nation today. The Republicans have not had the chance to get their ideas across the legislative process. Bob Michel has never chaired his own committee or subcommittee; he has been in the minority for 40 years.
I think term limits would allow for the “citizen legislature,” people coming to Washington and presenting their ideas, then at some point going back to their communities and letting someone else have the opportunity to serve. I don’t’ believe our founding fathers ever dreamed we would have people serving for as long as we have. Their idea was to get business people, teachers, and entrepreneurs to come to Washington, solve some problems, and then go back home and let someone else do the same thing. Term limits would allow for that.
I want to continue to provide needed services to people in our district, and I think we have had a very good record in that regard. When people have no place else to turn, they want to feel they can turn to their congressman. I have the expertise to help them solve their problems, knowing where the levers of government are and what doors to open. I have a distinct advantage here over my opponent who has never been involved in solving problems in government.
You also favor reducing congressional staff and House committees. Why is that necessary, in your view?
We have far too many committees in Congress. This has proliferated over the last 40 years of one-party rule. Just about any Democrat can be a subcommittee chairman now. That’s the reason a lot of legislation never gets passed; it’s bottled up in some subcommittee. Let’s reduce the committees by one-third and reduce the committee staff by a third. We will not only save money, we will make the process more efficient. It’s impossible for congressmen to serve on all of these subcommittees; there are just way too many. We can get the job done with a streamlined committee system, while reducing the cost.
One of the issues people say they are concerned about is pork-ridden bills passed by Congress – except when it’s their pork. Some people would call the new Robert H. Michel Bridge a pork-barrel project. Some people would call the proposed Peoria-to-Chicago highway a pork-barrel projects. How would you balance the need to deliver the goods to your district with the need for fiscal responsibility to the country as a whole?
The litmus test for me is, “Will it provide jobs? Will it provide a good climate for jobs?” Infrastructure is very important – good roads, bridges, sewers and water systems. All of these thing not only create jobs, but help attract business to communities.
If you listen to people like Dave Ransburg of L.R. Nelson, or Jerry Stephens of RLI Corp. – who have expanded their companies in Peoria when they could have gone elsewhere – they have done so because they have believed in the local business climate.
The reason an area like Bloomington-Normal is booming is because they have good transportation structures. They have a good work environment and friendly business climate.
We need to put our focus on the Illinois River, riverfront development, and the infrastructure. These things will create jobs, and I plan to be our in front promoting them.
I have been part of many job-creating projects in Central Illinois over the last 12 years – things like the new Air National Guard based at the Greater Peoria Airport (which means a lot of jobs for the area), the Pekin Prison (creating 300 area jobs), and the new I-155 expressway from Morton to Lincoln.
I have worked on these projects – as well as, on my own time, with helping put a new Catholic high school together, with the Bradley Alumni, The Children’s Hospital, the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Council – because I believe in this community. IBI