Q&A with George Gollin, Democrat, Champaign, candidate for 13th District, U.S. House.
1. Do you favor repeal of the Affordable Care Act? If so, should Congress move quickly to approve an alternate health care program that would cover all or most Americans? What kind of provisions, coverage do you think it should include?
I do NOT support repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Let's break the discussion of ACA into two separate pieces. The roll-out was entirely unacceptable in execution. But we are Americans, and we fix problems rather than throwing up our hands and walking away. The enrollment software is now working nearly as well as intended, and the rate at which people are signing up for health insurance isn't appreciably lower than the targeted rate.
Access to affordable healthcare is a basic human right, and ACA brings us much closer to this than had been the case in the years before ACA.
2. Would you support a "single payer" health care program?
Yes. The advantages — in cost reduction, in the savings to small businesses, and other aspects — are substantial.
3. In view of the mounting federal debt, do you believe it is practical to call only for spending cuts? What share of federal deficit reduction should come from spending cuts and revenue increases? Please be specific about those shares, and about where you think cuts must be made and where revenue increases should be made?
No: it is not appropriate to address the federal debt only through spending cuts. A strong, growing U.S. economy requires a strong middle class, working in good, secure jobs with salaries that are sufficient to allow spending on necessities, durable goods, and some leisure activities. Returning the country back to full employment will increase tax revenues.
But spending cuts — in particular to programs that do not produce broad economic or other benefits for the United States — are an important part of any sensible economic recovery plan.
We spend too much on defense. In particular, expensive weapons systems that are plagued with cost overruns, and are of dubious utility in a 21st century war, should be scrapped. The F-35 is too costly, and is already plagued with cost overruns. Our standing military is overly large, and I am encouraged by Secretary of Defense Hagel's recent proposal to reduce the number of military personnel to roughly 440,000.
We should end subsidies to the oil industry.
Farm subsidies, such as the provision of federal funds for crop insurance, should be directed primarily towards single-family farm operations, and be reduced for large agricultural operations.
We should end what is described by economist Joseph Stiglitz in The Price of Inequality as "corporate welfare." As Stiglitz points out, "much of corporate welfare is far from transparent—perhaps because if citizens really knew how much they were giving away, they would not allow it." Included are corporate subsidies such as cheap credit, government loan guarantees, and relief from liability for the (potential) environmental damage wrought by the oil industry.
We should end what Stiglitz calls "government giveaways," in which resources properly identified as public assets are given over to corporations. Examples are the no-bid defense contracts awarded to Halliburton, the no-bargaining provisions in government acquisition of pharmaceuticals, and the handing over of the electromagnetic spectrum to broadcasters with minimal compensation to the public.
I do not believe a single metric—the ratio of spending cuts to revenue increases—can be used to describe any realistic economic plan. A good model for a budget that would return us to economic vigor is the Congressional Progressive Caucus's "Back to Work Budget." It emphasizes major infrastructure investment in its first years, at the cost of an initial increase in the deficit, to be followed by deficit reduction through the closing of corporate loopholes, reduction in military spending, and implementation of a more progressive tax system. So the ratio of spending cuts to revenue increases varies with time.
4. Do you support construction of the Keystone XL pipeline through the United States?
No. Credible environmental impact analyses indicate that the extraction of petroleum from tar sands is environmentally perilous; various analyses also indicate that there aren't that many jobs created by XL, and they are not jobs which will endure.
5. Would you support increasing the use of nuclear power for electricity generation?
Yes, and there is the potential for game-changing innovation in this area. I am a proponent of something called "accelerator-driven subcritical fission," which is a technique that could transmute radioactive waste from reactor spent fuel into safer material. Currently, spent fuel needs to be kept in vaults for 60,000 years while it cools off. The transmutation process turns waste into lighter nuclei — which cannot be used to produce nuclear weapons — with cool-down times of about 600 years. And with the past decade's progress in constructing energy-efficient proton accelerators, we are now able to release many times more energy from the transmutation process than is required to run the accelerator. So we have a new, alternative technology that is worthy of development for both eliminating radioactive waste and producing electrical power.
6. Would you support repealing the federal death penalty?
Yes. It does not work as a deterrent, is unjust in its application, and is significantly more expensive — court costs are astronomical — than a penalty which is capped at life imprisonment for capital crimes.
7. Do you think there is a need to further regulate federal campaign finance laws? If so, what kind of legislation would you propose? Would you favor a constitutional amendment to regulate campaign financing?
Yes. The Citizens United decision has been catastrophic in its impact, and I support a constitutional amendment to overturn it. I would favor strict limits on campaign contributions, both from authentic human beings and collective legal entities such as corporations. I would support legislation to require the identities of all political donors to be made public, and to require corporate shareholders to approve all lobbying expenditures made by the corporation. I would support public financing of all political campaigns for elected office. I would also support a significant increase in the resources provided to the Federal Election Commission for its enforcement activities.
8. Would you support a federal flat tax?
No — that is a regressive tax, and enormously and unfairly burdensome to those who are at the bottom end of the income spectrum.
9. Should Congress do anything to regulate the use of drones, either by the government or by private citizens?
Yes. We are really discussing several different categories of drone activity: armed military drones, unarmed surveillance drones used over foreign territory, domestic surveillance drones used by law enforcement, and civilian drones. Each of these categories needs to be controlled through clear, separately constructed regulations. And armed drones of any sort must never be used inside the United States.
A Congressional role in overseeing the use of armed military drones falls under the general responsibility of Congress to grant to—and remove from—the President the authorization needed to wage war. And the collateral harm associated with drone attacks (both in terms of civilian casualties and harm to the international standing of the United States) cannot be underestimated in its severity. I feel strongly that armed drones—if they can be used at all—are only to be operated in accord with international law.
Unarmed surveillance drones used for intelligence gathering abroad should be governed by the same regulations that apply to over flights of foreign territory by manned surveillance aircraft. Drones used by law enforcement agencies should be governed by the same rules that apply to the use of helicopters by local police forces.
Regulations governing the use of drones in civilian applications must be crafted with an eye towards safety—both to other aircraft and people on the ground—and privacy. The potential benefits of drone use—in agriculture, infrastructure maintenance, and other endeavors—are substantial.
Some of these regulations are properly left to the Executive Branch, but those touching on national defense and constitutional matters—privacy—are also to be addressed by the Legislative Branch.
10. Under what circumstances would you be willing to commit U.S. troops to foreign wars?
In general, participation in combat operations abroad should be done in accord with the requirements of U.S. and international law. And whenever possible, military operations should be done in coalition with other national governments, as was the case in the international response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
It would be appropriate to commit troops to a foreign war in the case of a direct attack on the United States or its territories by the foreign power against which the Congress would declare war.
It is appropriate for the United States to commit troops to limited peacekeeping and humanitarian operations that are overseen by the United Nations, but only when war planning includes an exit strategy and a post-combat management plan.
It is appropriate for the United States to commit its special operations forces to limited missions such as the rescue of U.S. nationals held hostage abroad, or the capture and forced extradition of terrorists like Osama bin Laden. These missions must be carried out in accord with the dictates of international law.
11. Do you support eliminating the estate tax?
No. The estate tax was intended to prevent a family that has become wealthy in one generation from expanding its economic power after several generations to (harmful) monopoly control of major sectors of the economy.
12. Is there a need to restrict the National Security Agency? How?
Yes. It must operate in compliance with U.S. (and international) law. The indiscriminate uptake of phone metadata by the NSA is a clear violation of our Fourth Amendment rights. Vigorous, attentive Congressional oversight is a must. The procedure used by the FISA court must be shifted to an adversarial process in which one side, with full access to all evidence shown to the court, can argue on behalf of those who are the targets of the NSA's data sweeps.
13. Do you believe that federal sentencing rules for non-violent drug offenders are too harsh and that judges should have more leeway in setting sentences?
I believe the sentencing tends to be too harsh. The traditional aims of a sentence imposed by the Court are described in the United States Criminal Code and are threefold: punishment, deterrence, and protection of society from those convicted of crimes. It should be left to the discretion of the sentencing judge to determine how to best satisfy these aims, and (if appropriate) include the collateral harm to a defendant's family in the sentencing calculation.
14. What should the United States do to revise its immigration system? Do you favor granting amnesty to illegal immigrants already here?
I support the aims and methods proposed in the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform bill, and would like to see the House act on it. The Senate bill provides a path to citizenship for undocumented residents who have not violated other laws, have been in the United States continuously, pay taxes, and pay a fine. I support fast tracks for children who have been brought here by their parents, and for immigrants serving in our armed forces.
15. As the 13th Congressional District representative, what would you do to block disposal of PCBs and other hazardous chemicals at the Clinton landfill?
The disposal of PCBs (and other toxic chemicals) is regulated by the federal Toxic Substances Control Act, which is administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Last May, Senators Vitter and Lautenberg introduced Senate Bill 1009 which, if passed, would further weaken TSCA by reducing the perils of litigation in state court faced by those who cause environmental damage. I would sponsor countering legislation which would not allow weaker federal regulations to supplant stronger state regulations. I would support legislation which would oblige the operators of landfills to bear the full costs of mitigating any environmental damage caused by their landfills (including contaminating the local aquifers), and disallow the owners to flee from this obligation through bankruptcy.
16. Do you believe in climate change/global warming, and if so would you vote for legislation that would mandate reductions in levels of global warming pollution by 2020 or 2025?
The scientific evidence supporting the role humans play in climate change is clear, compelling, and alarming. I would support legislation mandating significant "reductions in levels of global warming pollution by 2020."
17. Is a constitutional amendment needed to define marriage as only between one man and one woman?
No. I support marriage equality: the right of couples to marry, regardless of the gender of the participants.
18. Should the federal government continue to provide production tax credits for clean energy projects, such as wind energy?
19. Do you think the federal government has gone too far in trying to protect the United States in the aftermath of 9/11? If so, what should be done?
One of the most important functions of the government is to keep us safe from internal and external perils. The 9/11 attacks came about when disturbing failures by our intelligence services to share information allowed the hijackers to carry out their plans unimpeded. And the Bush administration's response — to fabricate evidence in order to launch an invasion of a country not responsible for the 9/11 attacks — was an extraordinarily damaging path for the United States to follow.
You ask if I think that the "federal government has gone too far." I would say it is not a matter of too far (or not far enough), but rather of direction. Our response to the attacks has not necessarily made us safer in the long run. A good example is our use of armed drones in the Middle East and southern Asia to assassinate suspected terrorists. The fury in Pakistan over collateral civilian casualties from the United States' use of armed drones in counter-terror operations has immeasurably damaged our respect, and ability to influence events, in the rest of the world.
I suppose the NSA's indiscriminate collection of confidential data is a response to 9/11; it is a clear violation of our right to protection from illegal searches.
The last three chapters of the 9/11 Commission's report discuss in-depth steps the United States should take to protect itself from further attack. I would recommend implementing the Commission's recommendations.
I would advocate for a return to a policy of hewing to international norms and international law: we should close the Guantanamo detention center, cease using torture during interrogations, and grant to all in captivity the basic rights of habeas corpus and direct confrontation of all witnesses and evidence used in a detention hearing.
There is more, of course.
20. Are you willing to vote for an increase in the federal gasoline tax to fund more infrastructure improvements? If not, how else can we afford to pay for needed highway, mass transit, railroad and airport improvements?
21. What do you think your Number One priority, as the representative of the broad and varied central Illinois district, is in Congress?
Returning the district, and the country, to full employment.