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DECATUR - The candidates in the 19th Illinois Congressional District differ markedly on issues ranging from health care reform to the national deficit and what steps must be taken to successfully complete the two wars in the Middle East.

U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, first elected in 1996, is seeking his eighth term in office. He faces Democratic challenger Tim Bagwell of Olney, an information technology specialist who lost to Shimkus in 2004.

Speaking on the health care reforms that passed Congress earlier this year, Shimkus said he would advocate repealing and replacing the wide-ranging law, though he said the likelihood of such an approach making it all the way through the legislative process is unlikely. He seemed confident Republicans could gain a majority in the House following the elections in November and will use it to address the issue.

"The new health care law is a disaster, period," Shimkus said. "We'll have an immediate vote to repeal and replace. That's what most candidates are running on, and they'll want to have that vote, but knowing we can't get that through the Senate and the president's definitely not going to sign it. That will be followed by immediate scrutiny of the new law through congressional hearings."

Bagwell said if elected, he wants to move toward bringing the United States to a single-payer health care system.

"Hopefully, Democrats will still control Congress, and we will work toward better health care reform through a single-payer system," Bagwell said.

On the deficit, Shimkus said entitlements need to be cut back and the government should go back to 2008 levels in its discretionary spending. He also expressed his opposition to ending the so-called "Bush tax cuts," saying it would discourage businesses to create more jobs.

"(Entitlements) are the reason why we have a huge national debt," Shimkus said. "On the discretionary end, we're going to immediately go back to 2008 spending levels, if not more. We'll save $100 billion a year."

Bagwell said one of the most direct methods of reducing the annual deficit would be to end the wars in the Middle East. He also identified better oversight of the Defense Department as another way to eliminate waste in spending.

"Get out of Afghanistan and Iraq, finally!" Bagwell said. "Nobody talks about the fact that war is an expensive thing. We need to look at more efficiencies that can be achieved in the Department of Defense, rather than feeding contractors huge contracts."

On the wars, Shimkus said reconstruction can't happen until an increase in security is achieved.

"How long have we been in Germany? How long have we been in South Korea?" Shimkus said. "The reality is, there's still going to be a mission (in the Middle East), and I don't know how long it'll take. I think of major concern is finishing the major military operations we have in Afghanistan."

Speaking to the tactical side of the wars, Bagwell said the United States should create consensus on what a withdrawal is going to mean for all countries involved, all the while maintaining strong support for Israel.

"We have to negotiate there, and with the American people, what they feel best about in terms of a disengagement from Afghanistan and Iraq," Bagwell said.

The 19th Congressional District includes parts of Central Illinois, including Decatur and Springfield, and stretches south along the Kentucky border.

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