Russ Feingold - U.S. Senate - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Russ Feingold - U.S. Senate

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Q. Most agree that higher education is key to having a strong country, yet in Wisconsin, the average student debt has skyrocketed in the last decade. The Institute for College Access & Success says it went up 74% from 2004-2014. What is the role of the federal government in ensuring that higher education is affordable and accessible?

As I’ve traveled across Wisconsin, I’ve consistently heard that one of the biggest barriers facing middle class and working families is the cost of higher education. This student loan debt crisis has real-world consequences for Wisconsin’s young people. All across our state, newly-graduated young adults are delaying plans to buy a home, open a business, or start a family.

For former students still carrying student loans, Congress could act now, by making student loans subject to refinancing, just like we do with mortgages. There’s already legislation sponsored by Senator Elizabeth Warren that would do just that.

Most of our energy should be focused on ensuring our next generation of students can achieve a 21st century education regardless of economic status. We must build a system that allows Wisconsin’s future students to graduate without debt from our world-class public institutions. Such a system requires hard work and accountability from everyone – even from state governments, which must support institutes of higher education.

Q. How, in your desired role, would you help revitalize the economy, strengthen the middle class, create jobs and ensure fair taxation?

My top priority if elected would be to build an economy that works for everyone -- not just CEOs and multi-millionaires. I would immediately focus on passing a federal minimum wage increase, enacting guaranteed paid leave for workers, protecting the retirement security of working Americans and seniors alike, and making higher education more affordable.

I introduced the Badger Innovation Plan, a comprehensive blueprint for renewing Wisconsin’s infrastructure, spurring innovation, and creating jobs, and the Fiscal Fitness Plan, which would close tax loopholes and rein in corporate giveaways, so that every Wisconsin business can thrive.

And, I’d continue strongly opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership because it’s a raw deal for Wisconsin’s workers. I have a record of voting against similarly harmful trade deals throughout my time in office. From NAFTA to CAFTA, these deals have consistently shipped jobs overseas, upending hardworking middle class families. In Wisconsin alone, 75,000 jobs were lost in the wake of these disastrous deals.

Q. What would your office do to build and strengthen retirement security for all working men and women, including protecting employees' pensions?

The promise of a secure retirement should be a reality for all Wisconsinites. Unfortunately too many Washington politicians are willing to put the dignity of our seniors at risk. My opponent calls Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” and thinks it’s a “shame” it hasn’t been privatized. Social Security must be protected and strengthened for all current and future retirees.

So while we have to protect Social Security, we’ve got to do more by increasing wages and cutting debt so people can save more for retirement. But our parents, grandparents, and our children deserve a program that helps assure an independent, secure retirement for decades to come. Instead of cutting benefits, we should be talking about ways to expand Social Security benefits.

Q. The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has been roundly criticized for making routine health care less affordable for millions of people who already had insurance through their jobs. Deductibles, co-pays and out-of-pocket maximums have risen dramatically, coverage has been reduced and premiums are higher for many. At the same time, the act has provided coverage for millions of people who did not have insurance. How, specifically, would you change the ACA to make it better? Where would the money come from? And how would you ensure that no one 'falls through the cracks'?

We need to focus on improving the existing legislation. The Affordable Care Act has resulted in numerous positive outcomes: to name a few -- 20 million more Americans are now insured, those with pre-existing conditions can’t be barred from receiving coverage, and young Americans are now allowed to stay on their parent’s plan until they’re 26. And premiums aren’t increasing at the rate they were prior to the law. But there’s still work to be done to make sure the law lives up to its name -- fixing the “family glitch,” for example. And, if we make it possible for the federal government to negotiate prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, we could save $123 billion over 10 years.

Our ultimate goal has to be affordable, universal coverage. Unfortunately, my opponent wants to roll back the clock to a time where 20 million fewer people had access to healthcare. Instead of offering real solutions to improve the law, he’s living in the past and playing partisan politics.

Q. What do you think this nation's priorities should be during the next decade? If elected, how would your office advance those priorities?

My top priority is to create an economy that works for Wisconsin's middle class and working families. So I would immediately focus on passing a federal minimum wage increase, enacting guaranteed paid leave for workers, protecting the retirement security of working Americans and seniors alike, and making higher education more affordable. Most Wisconsinites want the same things: they want a good-paying job, with a day off now and then. They want to provide a decent education for their kids and not worry they’ll be swamped with debt for the rest of their lives. And, they want to be able to retire with dignity, with the promise of Social Security to support them. In the Senate, I’ll get to work immediately to achieve these things for the people I represent: the middle class and working families of Wisconsin.

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