Duckworth touts infrastructure, education for nat'l security

‘It’s not either/or, it’s both/and,’ says senator

Sen. Tammy Duckworth said the issues of infrastructure and national security are linked to education and health care in a speech Wednesday at the City Club of Chicago. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Sen. Tammy Duckworth said the issues of infrastructure and national security are linked to education and health care in a speech Wednesday at the City Club of Chicago. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

CHICAGO — U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth touted infrastructure, education, and health care as national-security issues in a speech Wednesday at the City Club of Chicago.

Saying she wanted to discuss “what we can do to keep America strong,” the state’s junior U.S. senator focused on infrastructure and national security, but she emphasized that education and health care were critical to keeping not only the country strong, but providing the U.S. military with a capable fighting force.

“Right now, we are at a precipice, and no matter which way we look threats abound,” Duckworth said. She cited both external threats from Russia, China, and the free-floating Islamic State, and internal threats on partisan politics and the failure to address gun violence and climate change.

“We are at a breaking point,” Duckworth said. “Tribalism is threatening to overshadow patriotism.”


“We are at a breaking point. Tribalism is threatening to overshadow patriotism.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

According to Duckworth, the American Society of Civil Engineers has estimated it would take $1 trillion to lift overall U.S. infrastructure to an average grade of C from its current D minus, and $2.5 trillion to bring it up to an excellent A rating. But with the United States spending $700 billion a year on defense, the money should be found.

“We have to balance investing in our weaponry with investing in our citizenry,” Duckworth said. “It’s not either/or, it’s both/and.”

Insisting, “This is not a partisan issue,” she said, “We need to take action to avert climate change before it’s too late.” Duckworth said investments in “green resilient infrastructure” would lessen the U.S. dependence on foreign oil and strengthen the economy and workers.

“The dollars we invest in the green economy bolster our infrastructure and military, making our economy and families healthier in the process,” she said.

She added that devoting resources to public education and health care would likewise improve the economy, but also give the U.S. military the personnel it needs at a time when it’s estimated that only 29 percent of those age 17 to 24 are physically and mentally qualified to handle military duties.

They go hand in hand, she said, adding, “It’s really never been a choice between schools and national security.”

While Duckworth argued for a bipartisan approach, she couldn’t escape placing the blame for some policy blunders squarely on President Trump.

“President Trump has said that he wants infrastructure investment, but he has not come up with the money for it,” Duckworth said, pointing out he cut allotments for infrastructure in both of his last two budgets.

She suggested the president was endangering the country at home and abroad. Citing Trump’s brinksmanship with Iran, she said, “The Trump administration continues to manufacture a crisis that’s led us to the brink of disaster.”

And she put the blame on Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky for not advancing gun control in the wake of recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, as well as persistent gun violence in Chicago.

“It is well past time that we honor the life of those lost not just with moments of silence, but with real action,” Duckworth said, suggesting universal background checks on gun licenses and purchases as a good place to start.

With McConnell refusing to call votes on gun-control measures passed by the House in what’s become a “legislative graveyard in the Senate,” she pressed Trump and the electorate to force McConnell’s hand.

“This is where the American people need to speak up,” she said. “This is where the president can actually make something happen.”

Duckworth identified student loans as another problem area, pointing out that total debt is now more than U.S. credit-card debt.

“I don’t support free college,” she said. “I support debt-free college,” advocating revival of a G.I. Bill that would allow two years of free tuition for every 18 months served in the military.

Duckworth suggested that such common-sense solutions shouldn’t become political footballs, saying, “There are fixes here that shouldn’t be considered partisan.”