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8th District rivals see different causes, solutions to budget deficit
By Eric Peterson | Daily Herald Staff

Melissa Bean


Joe Walsh


Bill Scheurer


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Published: 8/24/2010 5:09 PM

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In considering how to fix the federal budget and national debt, none of the candidates in the 8th Congressional District is arguing that the current system isn't broken.

But their views on solutions are as widely varied as their opinions of the causes.

For Republican Joe Walsh of McHenry, the basic problem is a government that's grown too large and is getting in the way of business and economic growth.

For Green Party candidate Bill Scheurer of Lindenhurst, bloated military spending is dooming the country to bankruptcy in similar fashion to the former Soviet Union.

And for Democratic incumbent Melissa Bean of Barrington, the issue stems from a culture of both public and private overconsumption and borrowing, which she said she's already been fighting in Congress.

Bean declined a live interview, citing scheduling conflicts, but submitted her thoughts in writing.

"As one of Congress' strongest supporters of fiscal discipline, I have voted against more than $900 billion in spending over the last two years alone, which you can see posted on my website," Bean wrote. "I've introduced legislation to give the president authority to cut wasteful spending items from Congressional bills and to improve the audit process for government agencies and federal grants."

Bean said she supports President Obama's spending freeze but said the nation's fiscal problems can't be solved without reforms to mandatory spending programs.

"To that end, I co-introduced the SAFE Commission Act, to require Congress to make the hard choices and cast the tough votes to contain unsustainable spending commitments," Bean wrote.

Among other legislation on which she took a leadership role to apply stronger discipline to budgetary matters were the statutory pay-as-you-go law, the Reduce Unnecessary Spending Act, a provision that strengthens audit rules on every federal agency and a House resolution requiring an up-or-down vote on raising the government's maximum level of debt.

Walsh believes the nation needs to get back to the small government, pro-business philosophy of the Reagan era. Though this model of government has been chipped away at since the early '90s, it's happened faster and faster in recent years under the federal bailout and stimulus programs, Walsh said.

"George (W.) Bush started us this path a little bit," Walsh said. "Obama is running full speed down the path."

One of the most obvious ways to fix the budget is to both defund the recent health care bill and completely readdress health care reform under a Republican-controlled Congress and White House, Walsh said. He also favors using every bit of unspent stimulus and bailout money to pay down the deficit.

Only by government getting out of the way with its taxes and regulations can business and industry begin rebuilding the economy and getting Americans back to work, Walsh said.

"We're talking about a real re-education about what the federal government should be doing and how much spending it can sustain," Walsh said.

But he strongly disagrees with Scheurer's belief that military spending can be significantly reduced.

"Both parties recognize the need for a strong defense," Walsh said. "When it comes to defending our country, we want our country to do what it has to do no matter the cost. The economics of those decisions should never be on the table."

But Scheurer said the current reality of military spending cannot be ignored. He added that he is not anti-military, his daughter having been an Army officer and his son in the Marines and National Guard.

"Right now, we spend as much money (on defense) as the rest of the world combined," Scheurer said. "We spend two thirds of our discretionary budget, and that cannot go on."

He said this model of government and economics has an obvious recent parallel in the Soviet Union.

"The former Soviet Union didn't know they were 'former' until it hit them like a brick wall," Scheurer said.

Unlike Walsh, Scheurer believes Reagan-era economics should be learned from without being repeated.

While Reagan philosophy undoubtedly replaced a welfare state that had failed by the late '70s, it should be just as clear that '80s-era "trickle-down" economics has equally failed in the long-term, Scheurer said.

Scheurer said he also favors quick savings by getting rid of the federal Department of Education and leaving education to the states. What Scheurer would protect is any domestic program that serves people below the poverty level unless it's already been proved - like public housing - to not work.

While he doesn't believe the Securities and Exchange Commission should be got rid of, he thinks it can be streamlined. "I'm as much a small government advocate as the tea party, but their view is one of ideology and mine is not," Scheurer said.

The 8th District includes parts of Cook, Lake and McHenry counties.