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Economy divides 14th Congressional candidates
By John Patterson | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 10/15/2008 12:04 AM

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SPRINGFIELD - Their view of the recent $700 billion federal bailout is just one of several economic issues that divides congressional rivals Bill Foster and Jim Oberweis.

Foster, a Democratic U.S. representative from Geneva, voted for the deal that cleared the U.S. House. He said it was needed because of the critical condition in the credit markets and risks to families and businesses.

Oberweis, a Sugar Grove Republican, said the federal intervention was a mistake.

"I do not think that spending $700 billion of taxpayers' funds to purchase bad assets at prices above market value is the best way to address this problem," he said.

They also differ on trade agreements, government financial regulations and what government can do to improve the economy, according to their responses to a recent series of Daily Herald questions.

Foster, a former Fermilab scientist, and Oberweis, a suburban businessman best known for his family's namesake dairy, are vying to represent the 14th Congressional District. That district stretches from DuPage County westward across the state almost to the Mississippi River. Along its eastern border, the district includes all or parts of Aurora, Carpentersville, Elgin, St. Charles, Warrenville and West Chicago.

Former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert had represented this stretch, but announced last year he was stepping down, trigging a special election for an interim replacement. Foster dispatched Oberweis earlier this year to move the traditionally Republican seat to the other side of the aisle.

Now the two square off again for a full, two-year term in Congress. They offer clear differences on many economic issues.

Take trade policy for example.

"The North American Free Trade Agreement is a good example of free trade gone right," said Oberweis. "With NAFTA, U.S. production increased and created more than 700,000 jobs in the first five years of the agreement's passage, along with millions of more jobs in all three nations since its passage in 1993."

Foster stopped short of calling for the repeal of NAFTA, but has issues with how it's been used and enforced.

"While it has helped, for example, some companies in my district improve their business, it also has failed to live up to its promise to help develop a strong Mexican middle-class and as a result, our country is home to more than 11 million illegal immigrants, the majority of which entered our country through Mexico," Foster said.

Asked to name one thing government could do to improve the economy, Foster said trade agreements should be rewritten or renegotiated to make sure American workers and companies aren't at a competitive disadvantage.

Presented with the same question, Oberweis recommended making the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent.

"Allowing these tax cuts to expire would amount to a massive tax increase at a time when our economy can least afford it," he said.

Foster supports increased government regulation of lending and financial markets, saying it was unregulated entities' irresponsible lending that led to this financial collapse. He also supports limiting executive pay at companies that take advantage of the taxpayer-financed rescue.

Oberweis blamed the economic demise on improper government regulation and actions that led banks to offer loans to people with risky credit and no demonstrated ability to repay them. He said he remains "leery" of the government determining the value of a company employee.