- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 28, 2014

MILWAUKEE (AP) - U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Menomonee Falls Republican, faces Democrat Chris Rockwood, an engineer from Wauwatosa, on the Nov. 4 ballot. The Associated Press asked them to answer the same 10 questions in 130 words or less. Their responses follow.


Question: The latest favorability rating for members of Congress is 13 percent. What would you do to improve the functioning of the body?

Sensenbrenner: Congress must work through the partisan gridlock plaguing Washington to improve our economy and restore Americans’ trust in their government. Some members must learn that compromise is not a four letter word. I will continue to use my seniority to accomplish common-sense, bipartisan solutions to our nation’s problems. Among them are: ending bulk collection of Americans’ data by the NSA and increasing transparency of the government’s surveillance authorities; modernize the Voting Rights Act (VRA) because I believe preventing voting fraud and aggressively combatting voter discrimination are entirely consistent goals; reforming the U.S. Criminal Code, especially to end criminal penalties never passed by Congress, but instead enacted by administrative agencies.

Rockwood: There’s a good reason for that low approval rating: Americans can clearly see that Congress isn’t working for them. Today’s House Republican leadership refuses to work with Democrats in the Senate and especially with the president. Tremendous amounts of time have been wasted on useless exercises such as dozens of votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act. My opponent provides good “constituent service” but supports very few policies that will actually benefit the majority of his constituents. I plan to represent the residents of the district and the state of Wisconsin, not the interests of wealthy people and multinational corporations. That’s why the residents of Wisconsin’s 5th Congressional District deserve a new representative.


Question: Describe one area in which you differ from your party leadership.

Sensenbrenner: NSA reform, but through compromise we were able to pass the USA FREEDOM Act in the House with leadership’s support. It is currently awaiting consideration by the Senate.

Rockwood: On many issues, national Democratic Party leadership has failed to advocate for the interests of the majority of Americans and has instead sought closer ties with Wall Street, the military-industrial complex, and fossil-fuel industries. Capitalism is the best economic system for creating wealth, but without proper regulation and oversight capitalism does not result in a fair distribution of wealth. In a democratic society, government can and should be used as a force for good to ensure that all Americans have the same opportunities, which requires building a robust public infrastructure- schools, parks, roads, transit - that benefits everyone. We know our economic system is not functioning well today because more than 90 percent of the gains from economic growth are benefiting only the wealthiest Americans while median incomes are falling.


Question: What role should the federal government take in creating jobs and stimulating the economy?

Sensenbrenner: Passing a growth oriented tax system to encourage investments.

Rockwood: Along with enacting short-term stimulus packages during economic downturns, the federal government should create extensive, long-term programs to rehabilitate our deteriorating infrastructure - including roads, bridges, and public utilities - and build high-speed rail lines between major urban areas. Raising the minimum wage to at least $10.10 per hour (and indexing it to inflation) will stimulate the economy and create additional jobs by putting more money in the pockets of workers, which will increase consumer spending. We must also acknowledge the threats to our national security, to the world economy, and to human civilization from climate change by embarking on a massive national effort - a shared mission on the scale of the Apollo program in the 1960s - to dramatically reduce carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels.


Question: What do you see as the single biggest area of waste in the federal budget?

Sensenbrenner: Wasteful grant programs, especially in “stimulus” programs and the energy department.

Rockwood: Military spending is the biggest area of waste in the federal budget. America’s military spending is greater than the combined military spending of at least the next eight nations. Much of this money is wasted on inefficient programs that are fraught with long delays and serious quality problems (such as the F-35 fighter program) and on “cost-plus” contracts that result in excessive profits for defense contractors. We must ask our NATO partners and other allies to pay for a greater portion of the shared defense burden.


Question: Everyone says they pay too much in taxes. Aside from lowering taxes, what changes would you make to the federal tax code to improve its efficiency and fairness?

Sensenbrenner: Lower marginal rates, investment tax credits to stimulate jobs and a corporate tax structure to prevent US multinationals from sending money abroad to avoid paying higher taxes in the US.

Rockwood: Aside from lowering taxes? Today’s income tax rates, especially for the wealthiest Americans, are considerably lower than they have been for most of the past century. We need to not only repeal the Bush tax cuts but also restore the much more progressive tax rates that were in effect prior to Ronald Reagan’s huge tax cuts. We must call for the wealthy to once again pay their fair share. A return to sufficiently progressive personal income tax rates will also allow consideration of other significant reforms, such as elimination of the corporate income tax.


Question: Under what circumstances would you support military intervention in another country?

Sensenbrenner: A direct threat to the homeland, a defined goal and an end-game to prevent “mission creep.”

Rockwood: Many political and military leaders say that we intervene in foreign countries to spread democracy or to protect people from atrocities, but we have not intervened in most countries that have oppressive or even barbaric totalitarian regimes. America should deploy troops on foreign soil only when there is an imminent threat to our national security. For example, I would have supported the direct action we took against al-Qaeda immediately after 9/11, but our military has been deployed in Afghanistan for far too long and the second Iraq War was a gigantic mistake. Saddam Hussein was not connected to the 9/11 attacks, and we were taken to war by George W. Bush and his administration under false pretenses.


Question: There’s general agreement that the U.S. needs some sort of immigration reform. What changes would you make to fix the system?

Sensenbrenner: First, we must secure our borders and enforce the immigration laws already in place. Amnesty is not an adequate solution because it only encourages further illegal immigration. I also believe we should turn off the magnet to enter our country illegally by utilizing the E-verify program.

Rockwood: We are a nation of immigrants. For far too long, Republicans - including my opponent - have blocked immigration reform and used their opposition as a tool for political gain. We need to fix our system by passing the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act, which offers a fair and common-sense approach to ensure the security of our nation while embracing our heritage as a beacon to immigrants who come to America seeking liberty and prosperity.


Question: What changes would you make to Social Security to ensure the program’s longevity?

Sensenbrenner: No change for people age 55 or older. For those under age 55, create ways to earn more interest on the taxes they and their employers have contributed.

Rockwood: The 2014 trustees’ report estimates that Social Security is on track to remain solvent through 2033. Although many conservatives and “deficit hawks” claim that Social Security is “on track to go broke,” they are exaggerating and we certainly don’t have a problem just around the corner. I support Sen. Tom Harkin’s Strengthening Social Security Act, which would lift the cap on income subject to the payroll tax to fix this long-term problem and fund an increase in benefits.


Question: Barring repeal, what single change would you make to the health care overhaul law to improve care for Americans?

Sensenbrenner: Obamacare can’t be fixed. It must be repealed so we can start over and create a plan that doesn’t hurt patients and health care providers, diminish the quality of care and cause premiums to skyrocket.

Rockwood: I would co-sponsor the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act, which would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. This should have been an important provision of the Affordable Care Act, but it was left out in order to secure support for the bill from the pharmaceutical industry.


Question: The states have a patchwork of laws when it comes to marijuana. Should Congress create uniformity by legalizing medical or recreational marijuana?

Sensenbrenner: Congress already has created uniformity by outlawing marijuana. It’s the states that are trying to override it.

Rockwood: I support legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana. As a first step, I would co-sponsor the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act. This bill would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, allow marijuana to be regulated in a similar manner to alcohol, set up a system of permits for growers and sellers to cover the costs of federal regulation, and allow states to make their own decisions about full legalization. It is long past time to stop classifying marijuana, which by almost any measure is less dangerous than alcohol, as a Schedule I controlled substance.

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