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Bustos critiques Schilling mailings
By Ed Tibbets
Democratic congressional hopeful Cheri Bustos launched a broad-based critique of Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Ill., on Tuesday, accusing him of backing extreme policies but trying to cover it up when he comes home.
Bustos, flanked by supporters at a news conference outside the Social Security office in Rock Island, centered much of her critique on the nearly $300,000 in taxpayer money that Schilling spent last year on mailings to the district. But she also faulted him for budget votes she said would hurt the middle class and sacrifice Medicare and Social Security, as well as his more recent efforts involving the Interstate-74 bridge.
“How many veterans could be served, how many seniors could be served, how many communities could get grants rather than that money eventually ending up in the trash,” she said.
She called the mailings campaign-style pieces and said Schilling should pay the money back. She noted that he had criticized former Rep. Phil Hare for taxpayer-funded mail during his 2010 campaign.
The freshman Republican ranks near the top in the U.S. House of Representatives on taxpayer-funded mail. The Quad-City Times reported in February that through the first three quarters of last year, he ranked ninth in the amount spent on official mail and communications. Last week, a USA Today report, which measured just mail costs for the last nine months of 2011, had him second.
Schilling’s office has defended the pieces as legitimate correspondence with constituents, and his campaign said Tuesday that Schilling puts a high priority on such communications.
“Bobby is in Washington to represent the people, and the only way to do that is to receive feedback on a regular basis, something that’s never happened before in this district,” spokesman Jon Schweppe said. “It’s concerning that Alderwoman Bustos shows no interest in communicating with the people she hopes to represent, but it’s certainly not surprising. Bustos would vote in lockstep with fellow tax-and-spend liberals Nancy Pelosi and Dick Durbin.”
Bustos, a former East Moline alderwoman who most recently was a hospital executive, said she had no problem with legitimate mailings. When asked, she did not rule sending official mail herself, saying she would engage in dialogue with constituents.
The dispute over the mailings was just a part of her critique of Schilling.
Noting she was outside the Social Security office, Bustos said Schilling’s budget policies were part of an out-of-step agenda that would hurt entitlements, including the federal retirement program. Her campaign cited a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a critic of the House’s proposed budgets, which said its spending limitations eventually would require cuts to Medicare and Social Security.
“Our incumbent congressman was at a tea party rally within the last month up in Rockford,” Bustos said. “So he’s going to the tea party rallies, he’s talking the tea party language when he’s around his tea party allies, yet he comes home and tries to pretend to be something else.”
Republicans, including Schilling, have said Social Security isn’t hurt by GOP budgets.
“Maybe the goal here is to tell a lie so many times people will believe it,” Schweppe said.
The Interstate-74 bridge also was a point of contention.
Over the weekend at his campaign kickoff, Schilling cited Illinois’ recent decision to devote $72 million toward bridge construction over the next six years as an accomplishment.
Initially, the state transportation department didn’t have any money for construction of the span in its long-term plan, but Gov. Pat Quinn reversed that decision. Before the reversal, Schilling was critical of the state for failing to commit the money. He also noted a bipartisan effort to get U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to visit the span.
LaHood’s presence also had been requested by local officials.
Bustos said Tuesday that Schilling has been critical of a bipartisan Senate transportation bill that LaHood said was needed to get the new bridge built.
“I think he deserves credit for pointing fingers and not getting the job done,” she said.
The Schilling campaign said he and Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, both drew attention to the issue and he favors a longer-term infrastructure bill.
“Nothing was getting done. Now things are getting done on it. We don’t care who gets the credit. We just care this area is getting such an important victory,” Schweppe said.