Battle lines clearly drawn in Bustos, Schilling debate

Bobby Schilling and Cheri Bustos

Cheri Bustos cast U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling as part of the “most dysfunctional Congress in history” while he claimed she “voted for every single tax increase” that came before her as an East Moline alderwoman during the pair’s first televised debate Thursday night.

There were no obvious knockout blows in the 30-minute debate at WQAD’s studios in Moline. But the dividing lines between the two 17th Congressional District candidates were clear.

Rep. Schilling, R-Colona, said Ms. Bustos was “handpicked” to run by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a line he’s used against her before. Ms. Bustos, a Democrat, said voters chose her to run against Rep. Schilling. She said the policies Rep. Schilling supports would hurt seniors and the middle class.

Health care reform was a predictable source of conflict between the candidates.
“It strips out $714 billion from Medicare, which we can’t allow to happen,” Rep. Schilling said of the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare. But Rep. Schilling didn’t mention a House Republican spending plan he supported that cuts the same amount from Medicare as the ACA.

Ms. Bustos said it was time Rep. Schilling “took ownership” of his “dangerous and irresponsible” August 2011 vote to raise the federal debt ceiling. That agreement could trigger big spending cuts next year, including less funding for the Rock Island Arsenal, unless it is reversed by Congress.

Rep. Schilling said he had supported the agreement because he did not want to risk seeing the federal government default on its debt.

WQAD moderator Jim Mertens twice asked Ms. Bustos if she would support raising the debt ceiling, a vote likely to come before Congress next year. She did not offer a clear answer.

On trade and jobs — which has sparked some of the campaign’s thorniest debates — Rep. Schilling said Ms. Bustos was wrong to knock free trade agreements that benefit farmers and local employers. He noted Caterpillar sells a large amount of its machinery overseas and needs the free trade agreements.

“They employ 3,000 workers (in Decatur),” he said. “Do the math.”

Ms. Bustos is against the free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Columbia that Rep. Schilling supported. Such agreements, she said, “have resulted in 100,000 jobs that have left just the state of Illinois.”

Differences on taxes between the two also came to the fore at the debate. Rep. Schilling wants to continue all of the Bust tax cuts set to expire at the end of this year. Ms. Bustos said tax rates for those earning $1 million or more should be allowed to rise.

“She wants more taxes so the government can continue to grow and expand, where we want more people paying taxes to where they can be paying into the system,” said
Rep. Schilling.

Ms. Bustos also said farmers with estates of more than $1 million should be protected from the federal estate tax that could rise to 55 percent.

“I’m not in favor of treating farm families the same way we treat other millionaires and billionaires,” Ms. Bustos said. She did not elaborate what should happen to the estate tax for nonfarmers.

Rep. Schilling gave a more straightforward answer.

“I’m against the death tax,” he said.

Both candidates on Thursday also sought to burnish their credentials as politicians able to surmount the partisan gridlock in Congress. Locked in one of the most expensive and closely-watched congressional races in the country, the candidates will meet for two more televised debates in Rockford and Peoria before the Nov. 6 election.

Thanks to The Dispatch/Rock Island Argus for this report.

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