Attorney VanOstran challenges Wagner on health care, guns, taxes, other topics

Erin Achenbach
Staff Reporter
eachenbach@callnewspapers.com 

Attorney Cort VanOstran, a Democrat, is challenging incumbent Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, for Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District in the midterm elections on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

VanOstran, 30, 444 S. Hanley Road, Apt. 2N, Clayton, is an attorney with Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C., and is a newcomer to public office.

He graduated with an undergraduate degree in government from Harvard University and with a law degree from Washington University in St. Louis. He attended Missouri public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.

VanOstran is a former visiting law lecturer at Washington University. There, he also coordinated with the Marshall Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project. He is actively involved in the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis and is a member of The Gathering United Methodist Church.

“The people of Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District deserve a representative who works for them, not for corporate special interests. I have seen firsthand how the decisions made in Washington affect the lives of real people. I am running for Congress because friends and neighbors are too important to be ignored by Washington politicians,” VanOstran said on why he is running for office.

Wagner, 56, 313 St. Andrews Court, Ballwin, is the current representative of Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District. She is married to Ray Wagner Jr., and they have three children and one daughter-in-law: Raymond III and his wife Julia; Stephen; and Mary Ruth. The Wagners also have one granddaughter, Isabella.

Wagner was born and raised in the 2nd District. She graduated from Cor Jesu Academy and received her undergraduate degree from the University of Missouri in business administration. She also serves as a parishioner at St. Clare of Assisi Catholic Church.

“The 2nd District is my home. It is where I was born and raised, where I met my husband, Ray, where we raised our children, and where we live, worship and volunteer. Representing this community has been one of the greatest honors of my life and I would consider it a great privilege to return to Washington to advocate for my hometown in 2019,” Wagner said on why she is seeking office.

The candidates gave the follow responses to a Call questionnaire: 

What issue do you consider the single most important issue in this race and why?

VanOstran said, “As I meet people at town halls, community meetings and at their doorsteps, I hear most often about health care. Our current representative has sought to undermine protections for preexisting conditions and jeopardize our most essential insurance programs, like Medicare. We need leaders who will work to ensure access to quality, affordable coverage for all.”

Wagner said, “In my mind, public service is not just a job, it’s a calling. Since I was first sworn in to Congress in 2013, I have made it my mission to fight for the most vulnerable and to give a voice to the voiceless. This means support for our nation’s military veterans, fighting for those who are at risk of falling victim to sex trafficking, speaking up for the unborn and being a voice for those who might otherwise be forgotten.”

Other issues you perceive in your race and your position on each:

VanOstran said, “In addition to health care, the people of Missouri’s 2nd District want an end to the corrosive influence of dark money on our politics. Representatives should be accountable to their constituents, not corporate special interests that fund their campaigns. That is why I am committed to rejecting all money from corporate PACs or political-action committees, and to regularly holding public town halls in the district.

“I also hear from concerned families about the epidemic of gun violence in our country. They, like me, believe in the 2nd Amendment, but also want to encourage gun safety and common sense reform. Common sense reforms like universal background checks have overwhelming popular support in our country — it’s time for Congress to act.”

What is your position on abortion?

VanOstran said, “I believe in a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions.”

Wagner said, “I am 100 percent pro-life and am proud to have the endorsement of groups like Missouri Right to Life and the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List. I believe that life begins at conception, and I am proud that I have a strong record of leadership on this issue in the U.S. House.”

What is your position on the death penalty?

VanOstran said, “I agree with the many religious leaders, sociologists and legal experts who believe the death penalty is an antiquated form of punishment. It is also not particularly effective at deterring crime, and is often administered in an inconsistent manner.”

Wagner said, “I personally do not support the death penalty. However, I do not believe that this is a federal issue, and I don’t think the federal government should have any say in how the state of Missouri implements law and order.”

How do you propose to solve the problems facing Social Security? Do you favor privatizing Social Security?

VanOstran said, “Social Security must be defended. It should continue to be guaranteed for hardworking Americans, who deserve to retire with dignity and autonomy. Simple actions like raising the payroll-tax cap would offer immediate relief for Social Security funds.”

Wagner said, “I do not favor any changes to our current Social Security system for Americans that are at or near the age of retirement. Senior citizens are entitled to the earned benefits that they have paid into for decades, and nothing can change that. Looking forward, we must work for solutions to strengthen the long-term solvency of Social Security and other earned benefits for generations to come. Privatization is one option worth consideration, but more than anything we need to increase options for Americans of every background.”

Are tougher gun control laws needed? If so, what do you propose? If not, why?

VanOstran said, “Most Americans support reforms like universal background checks, bans on gun sales to people on no-fly lists and keeping weapons of war on the battlefield and off of our streets. I do too, and I will represent Missourians — not the gun lobbyists — on issues that affect the safety of our kids.”

Wagner said, “Congress has taken a number of steps to curb violence of all kinds. I believe in the protections afforded by the Second Amendment, but that does not mean there aren’t additional steps that can be taken. I am a big supporter of gun safety, and I encourage Missourians to take the state-approved training course and get a concealed-carry permit. I actually took my own training course. Earlier this year, we passed important legislation like the Fix NICS Act that modernizes the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Additionally, the STOP School Violence Act grants passed by Congress will give schools more resources for security. I have encouraged local school districts in the St. Louis area to apply for these grants and work to keep our students, teachers and administrators safe.”

What do you propose to solve funding problems facing public education? Do you support school vouchers?

VanOstran said, “The driving value in our education system must be a commitment to strong, quality public schools for all of our kids. Supporting public education is the only way to promote equality and opportunity for those who need it the most.”

Wagner said, “We are blessed in the 2nd Congressional District to have world-class elementary and high schools. I believe that the best thing the federal government can do to support these institutions is stay out of the way. I support giving as much authority as possible back to the local school districts, parents and teachers. I believe that providing students in failing school districts with options is not only effective, but I believe it is the right thing to do. A student’s future should not be determined by his or her ZIP code.”

What can be done to stabilize the cost of gasoline to citizens? Should we explore alternative energy sources?

VanOstran said, “I support policies that encourage innovation in safe and sustainable energy sources. Further, it is imperative that Congress work to counteract efforts to roll back regulations on car emissions, which have compromised our goal of increasing the fuel efficiency of Americans’ vehicles.”

Wagner said, “It is important that we strengthen our energy security by increasing domestic energy production and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. That is why I support an ‘all of the above’ energy policy that takes advantage of all our options and resources. Whether it is clean coal, exploration drilling, solar, wind, natural gas or hydro, the United States should explore all available avenues to energy security.”

What do you propose to ease the tax burden on working families?

VanOstran said, “The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act created permanent tax cuts for wealthy corporations, but modest and temporary cuts for hard-working Missourians. It also left our kids to pay the bill, which was deeply irresponsible. Tax relief and federal investment should benefit the working and middle classes.”

Wagner said, “Missouri families work hard for their money, and they want to be able to keep more of it, which is why I was proud to support the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that became law earlier this year. Under this new law, the average family in this district is taking home $3,700 more of their hard-earned paychecks. That is real success for real Americans no matter their income bracket, and I just voted to make these tax cuts permanent.”

What measures, if any, will you propose to encourage economic development in this area?

VanOstran said, “We have a major opportunity to pass a nationwide infrastructure bill that will put millions to work and usher our country into the future. Additionally, to have a thriving consumer economy, we must have thriving consumers. Defending unions and ensuring a living wage for those who work is critical.”

Wagner said, “As the daughter and granddaughter of small-business owners, I saw firsthand the challenges my family and many others face. Working in my parents’ small retail carpet store from the age of 12, I learned the value of a dollar, and strong work ethic. I remember my dad pounding the table and saying that he just needed to get the government off his back and out of his way. I will never forget those words, and because of that principle that he instilled in me, I push back on burdensome regulations every chance I get. One of the most important votes I took was for tax reform, which is already doing so much for our community.”

Are you concerned that efforts to increase homeland security could infringe on our constitutional rights?

VanOstran said, “I will work to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans. Congress has a responsibility to work as a check on irresponsible actions taken by other branches of government.”

Wagner said, “In the post-9/11 world, the United States has been forced to examine the proper balance between security and privacy. Acts of terrorism like the Boston Marathon bombings highlight the fact that groups and individuals are actively seeking to attack the United States. Vigorous and comprehensive security measures are necessary to keep our citizens safe from terrorism. However, these counter-terrorism programs must be conducted within the framework of the Constitution and laws of the United States, and with proper congressional oversight.”

Should “ObamaCare” be repealed? What do you propose to increase access to quality, affordable health care and to help reduce the cost of prescription drugs for the elderly? How would you fund any proposals you have?

VanOstran said, “I lost my mom to breast cancer, and for the last years of her life, she had a plan through Missouri’s Affordable Care Act exchange. Ann Wagner’s vote to strip health care away from millions like my mom was what motivated me to run for Congress. The ACA wasn’t and isn’t perfect, but it ensured folks like my mom would have access to quality health care, and it also ensures that folks with pre-existing conditions can continue to access insurance at affordable rates. We need to strengthen and protect the ACA and ensure that more Americans — not fewer —have access to quality health care.”

Wagner said, “For years, I’ve heard from my constituents directly on how Obamacare has hurt their families and their businesses. From skyrocketing premiums and deductibles to soaring taxes to canceled plans to losing preferred providers and doctors, this failed law has made health care completely unaffordable and unworkable for the American people.

“Under ‘Obamacare’ last year, more than two-thirds of Missouri counties will only have one insurance provider to choose from. Missourians deserve a health care system that will truly be patient-centered with more choices and lower costs. I was disappointed last year when Congress failed to repeal ‘Obamacare.’ As long as it remains in place, we will see premiums continue to soar while millions have little to no choice of health insurers. I remain committed to repealing this harmful legislation and look forward to working with my colleagues on a new health care reform plan. Protecting people with pre-existing conditions is one of my top priorities, which is why since the day it was introduced, I have been a co-sponsor of the Pre-existing Conditions Protection Act of 2017 which would specifically maintain the protections in ACA for people with pre-existing conditions, even if we pass a repeal package.”

Should U.S. troops be withdrawn from Afghanistan? If so, what plan would you propose? If not, why not?

VanOstran said, “Any act of military engagement should be addressed in Congress with thorough review and due diligence. We must demand a strategic, thoughtful foreign policy from the administration, and we must also demand a plan to end endless wars.”

Wagner said, “Although we continue to face significant challenges, as evidenced by the resiliency of Taliban and extremist fighters in Afghanistan, the United States and the world are safer because of the sacrifices that our armed forces have made overseas. It is essential that we do not allow any nation to become a safe haven where terrorists can plan and launch attacks against innocent people.

“The most important duty I have as a member of Congress is to help ensure our continued national security. I take this responsibility very seriously, and I will support all efforts to protect our country against terrorists and those who wish to do us harm. I believe that it is in America’s national interest to leave behind a stable Afghanistan that will no longer act as a military staging ground for enemy forces bent on attacking the U.S.”

Will you hold town halls in St. Louis if elected?

VanOstran said, “While my opponent has not held a single town hall in her six years in office, I have already held three; and I have committed to hold at least four town halls in the district every year I’m in office.”

Wagner said, “I look forward to having conversations with my constituents each and every day. During the August district work period alone, I attended dozens of constituent meetings and had a tele-townhall with thousands of participants. I will continue to represent my constituents to the best of my ability. and that includes regular discussions with my friends and neighbors in the 2nd District.”

Are you willing to debate your opponent?

VanOstran said, “I have publicly asked for a debate with Congresswoman Wagner but have received no response.”

Wagner said, “I always appreciate the opportunity to have a civil discussion on the issues that matter to this community. I look forward to this dialogue and welcome the opportunity to engage in a thoughtful discussion of the issues. There is a huge contrast between what I stand for and the out-of-touch policy stances from the other candidates in this race, and I am eager to defend my record of results.”

Do you think the country is moving in the right direction under President Donald Trump?

VanOstran said, “Donald Trump campaigned as someone who would stand up for working people, but he hasn’t moved the ball on any significant legislation that positively impacts folks in our district. I believe we need a representative who isn’t afraid to demand accountability, decency and stability from the administration.”

Wagner said, “I think the results of the past two years speak for themselves. Under President Trump, we have given our troops a much deserved pay raise and amped up our defense budget, which has meant more good paying jobs here in the St. Louis area. Our economy has experienced growth that just a few years ago was considered nearly impossible. Online advertisements that promote sex trafficking have dropped by an astounding 60-80 percent. ISIS is on the run and has lost its grip in the Middle East. There are still many important issues facing the American people, but I am proud of our results thus far.”

Do you think that the federal government should be open and transparent with the people’s business?

VanOstran said, “I believe all aspects of governance should be rooted in unmitigated transparency.”

Wagner said, “Absolutely, I do. I favor transparency in every facet of the federal government. In fact, I was selected to sit on the House Ethics Investigative Subcommittee because my colleagues in Congress trust that I will remain impartial and seek the fair and unbiased truth. In Congress, I have committed to holding myself and the federal government accountable to the American people.”

What is your opinion of proposed newsprint tariffs and what do you plan to do about them?

VanOstran said, “Congress should play a more active role in ensuring that strategy and thoughtfulness inform trade decisions. If elected, I will join with the bipartisan group of lawmakers in Washington who are demanding stricter checks on the president’s authority with regard to trade.”

Wagner said, “During my time in Congress, I have always sought to promote free and fair trade. My colleagues and I have urged the president to rethink the imposition of tariffs on steel, aluminum and other goods. We must address China’s predatory practices, but prevent negative repercussions on American families. In Washington, I will continue to advocate for Missouri’s hardworking farmers and manufacturers and push back against burdensome regulations.”

What is your opinion of President Trump’s additional tariffs?

VanOstran said, “The biggest problem with the administration’s trade decisions is that they are not guided by strategic thinking and a long-term plan. We need accountability from Congress on trade matters, and we deserve a representative who will stand up for those who are hurt by reckless trade policy.”

Wagner said, “During my time in Congress, I have always sought to promote free and fair trade. My colleagues and I have urged the president to rethink the imposition of tariffs on steel, aluminum and other goods. We must address China’s predatory practices, but prevent negative repercussions on American families. In Washington, I will continue to advocate for Missouri’s hardworking farmers and manufacturers and push back against burdensome regulations.”

Do you support building a border wall?

VanOstran said, “Comprehensive immigration reform is long overdue, and it should include both increased border security and an end to family separation. It is not commendable leadership to

address this complex issue by proposing a $25 billion wall that you can hop over with a $25 ladder.”

Wagner said, “Yes, I absolutely do. The Border Security and Immigration Reform Act provided nearly $25 billion in advance appropriations to build a wall along the southern border and improve our border technology. A modernized immigration system will make America safer and strengthen our economy. Doing nothing is not a solution and is unacceptable for those who are fighting to protect families, secure the border, build the wall and reform our legal immigration system. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, indicted nine illegal immigrants who were caught passing through Eureka on Interstate 44. This isn’t just a problem at the border. It is a problem everywhere.”