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Brian Burns, 5th Congressional District Democratic candidate profile

His top priorities include climate change, infrastructure and Medicare for All.

Brian Burns, 5th Congressional District Democratic primary election candidate, 2020
Brian Burns, 5th Congressional District Democratic primary candidate
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Candidate profile

Brian Burns

Running for: Congress in the 5th District

Occupation: Attorney

Education: University of Memphis School of Law (JD)
Depaul University (BA, Political Science)
Saint Ignatius College Prep (HS)

Campaign website: Burns2020.com

Facebook: Facebook.com/BurnsUSA

Twitter: @BurnsUSA

Instagram: @BurnsUSA


The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent candidates for the U.S. Congress a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing their districts, the state of Illinois and the country. Brian Burns submitted the following responses:

Please tell us about your civic work in the last two years, whether it’s legislation you have sponsored or other paid or volunteer work to improve your community.

My first hands on experience in politics was in law school after the police killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson sparked nationwide protests. I attended a rally in St. Louis and then returned to law school in Memphis where I wrote a revised ordinance increasing civilian oversight of the police. I also helped found the local chapter of the National Lawyers Guild in Memphis and co-founded a local program for law students to teach legal concepts, civil liberties, and civics to area high school students.

What are your views on the decision by the U.S. House to impeach President Donald Trump? Has the impeachment process been fair or not? How so? If, in your view, the president should not have been impeached, would you have supported censure? Please explain.

Representative Al Green was the first Congressperson to support impeachment when he introduced an impeachment resolution in December of 2017 based in part on Trump’s hateful and divisive rhetoric including his characterization of a group of racists rallying in Charlottesville as “very fine people.” When the Muller report was released in April of 2018, it contained detailed descriptions of how Trump’s inner circle was involved with Russian interference in our elections. Trump’s refusal to cooperate with this investigation was unprecedented. In July of 2018, Trump told sitting members of Congress and women of color to, “go back to their countries.” In August of 2019 he diverted Congressionally authorized funds for an illegal border wall. I mention these data points because we cannot allow the current articles of impeachment to normalize all the behaviour not included in their scope.

Yes, I support the impeachment by the U.S. House. No, it has not been fair - to the American people. We deserve real answers about Ukraine, under oath, from the people that know what happened - the President included. A co-equal branch of government that neglects to use their Constitutional powers (enforcing subpoenas, refusing to appropriate money for Trump agenda until answers are given, etc.) to check a president with strong fascist tendencies is fundamentally unfair to every American who deserves an honest government that works for them and is answerable to the rule of law.

How would you reduce the federal budget deficit, which now stands at about $1 trillion for 2020? What changes, if any, to the U.S. tax code do you support and why?

We must be more efficient both in how we collect and how we spend taxpayer’s money. On the spending side, we need to carefully review each government program and contract using agreed upon metrics of success - we must play “Moneyball for Government” to borrow a phrase from a book by Jim Nussle and Peter Orszag. We cannot continue to spend people’s hard earned money without a clear articulation of the goals of such spending and ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness.

On the revenue side, I support the following changes to the U.S. tax code: (i) elimination of all tax expenditures, (ii) adjustment of rates for households below the median income such that their effective rate does not increase, and (iii) increased funding for the IRS so they can catch more tax cheats and increase revenue across the board.

Research from the Tax Foundation estimates American individuals and businesses spend almost 9 trillion hours (more than $400 billion) in compliance costs annually just to file their taxes. Compliance costs are high because the tax code is too complex. The tax code is complex because politicians have been using it for decades as backdoor means of gifting public money to special interest groups using various deductions, exemptions, carve outs, and loopholes (all tax expenditures). The Treasury Department estimates tax expenditures will be exceed $18 trillion over the next ten years.

Because policy makers cannot provide oversight or track the efficiency of tax expenditures like the can with regular budget outlays, and because the regulatory complexity necessary to implement them, tax expenditures are unaccountable and inefficient means of achieving any policy objective. Expenditures are also regressive, as shown in a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities which estimated that the top 1% of U.S. households by income received approximately 17% of the tax expenditure benefits in 2013, while the top 20% received 51%. Still some tax expenditures help poor and middle income families, which is why adjusting rates to ensure they are not harmed by the change is also essential.

Increasing IRS funding for audits and enforcement is probably not the most politically expedient argument. Still, because each dollar spent by the IRS generates substantially more than one dollar in additional revenue (and thus reduces the deficit), we cannot afford underfund their operations. Since 2010, however, the IRS’s funding has fallen by over 20 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars, and the overall audit rate dropped by nearly half. No one likes the tax man, but the federal government needs every dollar it can get and we cannot afford to allow tax cheats to avoid paying their fair share.

What changes would you like to see made to our nation’s healthcare system? Would you shore up the Affordable Care Act or work to repeal it in full? What’s your view on Medicare for All? And what should be done, if anything, to bring down the cost of prescription drugs?

Healthcare is a human right. I support Medicare for All both as healthcare legislation, but also as good economic policy. Our economy grows when entrepreneurs take risks, start businesses, and create new jobs, but high healthcare costs and employer-based insurance make entrepreneurship too risky and acts as a drag on innovation. Medicare for All is also the best way to reduce the cost of prescription drugs. Short of this, patent reform and allowing the federal government to negotiate drug prices are essential steps in reducing drug prices. While I fully support Medicare for All, as a pragmatist, I also support any policies that step in that direction, such as a properly implemented public option.

The Trump administration is awaiting a ruling from the Supreme Court as to whether it can end the DACA program — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — which shields young undocumented immigrants from deportation. Do you support or oppose DACA and why? Should a path to citizenship be created for the so-called DREAMers? Please explain.

Yes, I support DACA and a path to citizenship for DREAMers. The United States is a nation of immigrants and multiculturalism is essential to a vibrant future. Not only is this the right thing to do on moral grounds, but bringing people out of the shadows enables them to contribute to the economy and social fabric in ways that will benefit everyone.

What are the three most important issues in your district on which the federal government can and should act?

  1. Climate Change & Environment - This is a global challenge that must be thought of in local terms. In the 5th District, the federal government should subsidize green building practices, act to protect the Great Lakes from industrial waste and invasive species, and promote environmental standards that protect our right to clean air.
  2. Medicare for All - Nearly 50,000 people in the 5th district are currently uninsured. Even among insured people, costs are too high. Assuming similar rates to the one third of Americans who have skipped healthcare care because of costs, we can infer that nearly a quarter of a million people in the 5th district have rationed healthcare. We deserve better.
  3. Infrastructure - The federal government should invest heavily in urban public transportation, high speed regional rail lines, and the expansion of high speed internet to all communities. This is one of the most fundamental roles for government and one where the federal government has been failing for decades.

What is the biggest difference between you and your opponent(s)?

He is a Democratic Party insider who has collected more than $2.8 million from special interest PACs over his ten years in Congress. I am a young person with bold ideas for the future who refuses PAC money and will do whatever it takes to make sure our country reacts to this historical moment with the urgency and conviction it requires - unrestrained by the influence of special interests.

What action should Congress take, if any, to reduce gun violence?

There are a lot of things Congress can do to reduce gun violence that relates to guns: stricter gun laws, mandatory universal background checks, mandatory insurance for gun owners, increased taxes on firearms, ban on military style assault rifles, and red flag laws to name a few. I support all of these. But in cities like Chicago, gun violence cannot be seriously addressed without recognizing the intimate link between gun violence, poverty, and the lack of opportunity. In Illinois, 44 percent of people are poor or low-income—a total of 5.7 million residents, and more than 10,000 people are homeless. Gun violence is the cause of untold suffering in Chicago, but it is a symptom of deeper societal inequities that must be addressed if we hope to reduce its impact on our communities.

Is climate change real? Is it significantly man-made? Is it a threat to humankind? What if anything should Congress and the federal government do about it?

Yes, Yes, and Yes. Congress should do everything in its power to (i) reduce carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions, (ii) invest in green technologies, and (iii) put people to work in green sectors. The Green New Deal is a good start, but we will need to go beyond this to avoid the worst impacts of Climate change. I support a carbon tax to disincentive extraction and a moratorium on drilling and fracking to prevent short-sighted corporate greed from digging a deeper and deeper hole for us to climb out of.

I also support the declaration of a national emergency and the utilization of the Department of Defense to mobilize an entire generation in the fight. The Pentagon has already recognized that, “the effects of a changing climate are a national security issue,” and the Department of Defense is the only branch of government currently equipped to implement the mass mobilization required to address the climate emergency. We need to plant a billion trees, improve resilience of infrastructure nation-wide, build new nuclear power plants as a bridge to a future powered by renewables, and project ourselves as serious climate leaders on the world stage. Our military is the only governmental unit with the scale and institutional credibility needed for this fight.

What should Congress do to ensure the solvency of Social Security and Medicare?

The Social Security earnings cap is regressive and should be eliminated. This change alone would make Social Security solvent. To keep it solvent, the retirement age should be pegged to life expectancy.

Medicare should be expanded to cover all Americans. This will require increased taxes which will be more than offset by the elimination of insurance premiums, co-pays, deductibles, and the costs of prescriptions.

What should Congress do to address the student loan crisis? Would you use the word “crisis”?

Yes, it is a crisis: an entire generation of highly educated Americans faces insurmountable debts which make it impossible for them to obtain any significant level of financial independence. This is bad for individuals and bad for the economy which requires innovation and entrepreneurship to grow.

As an immediate starting point, Congress must reverse laws which make it nearly impossible to discharge a student loan in bankruptcy. Beyond this, loan forgiveness options for public service should be expanded in scope to cover more people, and should be easier to use. Full scale forgiveness of all student loans should also be explored, but should be contingent on a comprehensive plan to lower the cost of higher education going forward.

What should our nation’s relationship be with Russia?

Russia is an enemy, and while they are not currently a threat to the United States directly, Russia’s disinformation campaigns in the United States and abroad represent a significant destabilizing force. Left unchecked, Russian interference has the potential to erode democratic systems around the globe. The United States should employ strict sanctions on Russia, support pro-democracy movements within Russia, and incentivize social media companies to better police their platforms for disinformation.

What’s your view on the use of tariffs in international commerce? Has President Trump imposed tariffs properly and effectively? Please explain.

Tariffs always hurt the consumer and so they should only be used when absolutely necessary to achieve specific and clearly articulated policy objectives. Yes, China is a bad actor when it comes to international commerce, but Trump’s trade war has been clumsy and ill-defined. After 18 months of uncertainty, it has not delivered any tangible benefits and so must be classified as an unmitigated failure.

Does the United States have a responsibility to promote democracy in other countries? Please explain.

Democracies make the world safer and the United States should strive to support them wherever we can. We should do this by providing mutually beneficial trading arrangements, sharing our expertise, and providing aid where necessary to help other nations build stable communities. The United States has a poor history of attempting to promote democracy using the military and we should abandon this method of promoting democracy.

What should Congress do to limit the proliferation of nuclear arms?

As mentioned briefly above, the Department of Defense should lead an effort to build next generation nuclear power plants to act as a bridge to fully renewable energy future. To fuel these plants, Congress should authorize a program to utilize nuclear material previously stockpiled for military use, and to buy up nuclear material on the world market. This will greatly reduce the likelihood of rogue actors gaining access to nuclear materials by using market forces to reduce their availability.

In addition to this, we should always strive to be a stabilizing force on the world stage so that countries do not feel the need to build their own nuclear arsenals and we should encourage and honor international agreements that reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation.

Please list all relatives on public or campaign payrolls and their jobs on those payrolls.

None.

What historical figure from Illinois, other than Abraham Lincoln (because everybody’s big on Abe), do you most admire or draw inspiration from? Please explain.

Daniel Burnham. I’ve been fascinated by Burnham ever since reading Devil in the White City while in high school. What I most admire about Burnham is his commitment to dreaming big and planning for a future well beyond his life expectancy. His famous quote, “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized,” is the inspiration for our campaign slogan #NoSmallPlans.

What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?

Chicago Tonight. Made in Chicago, in depth coverage, and Phil Ponce’s wry sense of humor…what’s not to love?