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Moderates Biggert, Foster discover sharp contrast in heavyweight battle

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Judy Biggert, 75, of Hinsdale


Congressman representing 13th District, 1999
to present

Former attorney, state legislator and school board president

Bill Foster, 57, of Naperville


Congressman representing the 14th District from 2008 to 2011

Former Fermilab scientist, owner of theater lighting company

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Updated: November 29, 2012 6:12AM

It’s not every year (or even every two years) that you see two candidates with congressional experience running in a district that has no incumbent.

But that’s the case in the 11th Congressional District, where longtime U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert is facing former U.S. Rep. Bill Foster.

Biggert, a Hinsdale Republican, has served the 13th District since 1999, but her district was sliced into six parts during last year’s redistricting. She now lives just outside the new 11th District.

Foster, a Democrat, represented the 14th District from 2008 until 2011, when he lost a re-election bid to U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren. Foster moved from Batavia to Naperville to run in the 11th District, which covers most of Aurora, Naperville, Joliet, Montgomery and Oswego.

This unique combination of an open seat and two well-known candidates has made the 11th District one of the most fiercely contested races in the country. So far, the real winner has been the U.S. Postal Service: Residents rarely go two days without receiving a mailer celebrating or attacking one of the candidates.

Biggert and Foster would seem to have a lot in common. They’re both moderates who have crossed party lines on key votes. They both say they abhor the modern system of campaigning (Foster says it’s all sound bites; Biggert says it’s too negative), but they’ve spent millions on TV ads and direct mailers. They’ve both been (or would be) among the wealthiest members of Congress. They’d like to see more money spent on scientific research. And they agree that Washington, D.C., is a mess, although they have different theories on which party made it that way.

But Biggert and Foster have distinctly divergent views on key economic and social issues. Nowhere is that more clear than in the debate on the so-called “Bush tax cuts.” The tax cuts are actually two pieces of legislation passed in 2001 and 2003, while George W. Bush was president. These bills significantly lowered general tax rates as well as several specific areas, including retirement accounts, pension plans and some stock profits. These tax cuts were set to expire in 2010, but most were extended through the end of this year. Democrats and Republicans are divided about what to do after that; Foster calls it the signature difference between himself and Biggert.

Biggert supports extending the tax cuts for everyone at all income levels. She believes leaving the tax rates consistent for all income levels will mean that wealthy Americans will be able to spend more personally and in their businesses, sparking the country’s economic engine.

“Those people above the $250,000 (income) are the job creators,” she said. “If you take that away, well, first the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) has said that we will go back into a recession.”

Foster argues the Bush cuts contributed to the economic downturn, so he wants the tax cuts extended for only those making less than $250,000, and restore the higher tax rates for the wealthiest Americans. He believes this would go a long way toward slicing the federal deficit and restoring middle class confidence.

“As long as the middle class is healthy, the rest of the economy does well. And that’s why I support middle class tax cuts and oppose Congresswoman Biggert’s increase,” he said. “The real job creators in our economy are customers and customers come from the middle class.”

Health care, immigration

Of course, both candidates have ideas about how to trim the federal budget. Foster says there are military bases that can be closed, and military spending will naturally decrease as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down.

Biggert would like to start by eliminating most of the Affordable Health Care Act (also known as Obamacare). She believes the health care bill will drive up the costs of insurance for all Americans. She would like to retain the act’s provisions that would allow people younger than 26 to stay on their parent’s health care and stop insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

“You shouldn’t lose health care because suddenly you’re sick,” she said. “That’s sort of the whole point of it.”

Biggert says those provisions could be paid for with tort reform (limiting doctors’ financial liability on medical malpractice). At a recent debate on WTTW, Foster scoffed at Biggert’s plan. He argued that Biggert — the House insurance subcommittee chairman — knows why companies don’t want to pay for people with pre-existing conditions.

“She knows how insurance works, or she ought to know how it works,” he said. “There is no way to deal with the problem of people who become uninsurable due to pre-existing conditions. They are simply not profitable for an insurance company to take, and you need a mechanism like the individual mandate to make it happen. This is understood by everyone who understands this.”

At the same debate, and on the campaign trail, the candidates have expressed very different opinions on the Dream Act. The Dream Act would allow children brought here by illegal immigrant a chance to apply for citizenship. Foster calls his vote for the Dream Act one of the proudest moments of his time in Congress.

Biggert says she feels bad for children brought here but does not believe that anyone should be able jump in front people who have waited years to apply for citizenship.

While they remain far apart on immigration reform, Biggert and Foster seem to be moving closer on another contentious social issue: same-sex marriage. Foster said he supports same-sex couples having the right to marry. Biggert said she supports civil unions and is “moving toward” supporting same-sex marriage.

Economic divide

Despite divisions on these social issues, the economy remains the centerpiece of each candidate’s campaign. Foster has repeatedly said Biggert’s policies would hurt the middle class.

“Congresswoman Biggert’s and many other Republicans’ view of the future of the U.S. economy is that we’d cease manufacturing and become the insurance salesman and bankers to the world,” Foster said. “That dream kind of collapsed during the financial crisis. It’s a real difference, and it’s why I support Wall Street reform.”

Biggert says Foster is trying to scare seniors. She does not support any changes to Medicare for anyone older than 55. She would like to eventually transition to what she calls “premium subsidies,” which would give consumers the option to stay with traditional Medicare, or select from approved private plans that might cost less or offer lower co-pays.

“I think my opponent is trying to scare seniors that they’re not going to have Medicare, which is so important,” Biggert said. “Medicare is going to go broke in 2024, so you can’t just say that everything is fine and we’ll just do the same thing.”

Bottom line, the candidates do not even agree on whether the country is on the way up or the way down — and that frames much of their view on what needs to be done next.

“We’re just down the wrong path,” Biggert said. “I think we have to change that path. What seniors say a lot is: We’re not so worried about us. We’re worried about our children and grandchildren, that they’re going to have the same opportunities that we had.”

Foster believes it takes a long time to recover from this type of economic damage, but things are gradually getting better.

“The recovery is real and many — but not all — are starting to feel it,” Foster said. “You see many of the storefronts that were vacant two years ago are now filled with businesses. It’s nowhere near fully recovered. There’s a lot of work to do. But there is significant improvement from two years ago and a huge improvement from four years ago.”

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