Dold forced to defend votes on Ryan budgetPosted on November 03, 2012
From Chicago Tribune
GOP congressmen in heated suburban races forced to defend votes on Ryan budget plan
Democrats zero in on proposed Medicare changes for future retirees
For Illinois Republican congressmen, Tuesday’s election represents a voter referendum on the GOP’s two-year control of the House that has centered on a conservative drive to cut government spending and reform entitlement programs.
The political dynamic this time is flipped from 2010, when Republicans here came out on top in five critical House contests in what amounted to an early referendum on how Democratic President Barack Obama’s leadership in recessionary times was viewed in his home state.
While the GOP focuses on Obama’s record in a presidential election year, Republican incumbents in three closely contested suburban congressional races have found themselves having to defend their own voting records — in particular the budget plan offered by their vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan.
For two of those Republicans, freshmen Reps. Robert Dold of Kenilworth and Joe Walsh of McHenry, it’s the first time voters will be able to judge them on their records. In the new 11th Congressional District, voters have the chance to weigh the voting records of a sitting Republican congresswoman, Rep. Judy Biggert, and a former Democratic congressman, Bill Foster.
“As a freshman, there’s enormous pressure to do what your party says and does,” acknowledged Walsh, the tea party icon being challenged by Democrat Tammy Duckworth, during a meeting with the Tribune editorial board.
“In many ways … this election is less about Duckworth and Walsh. It’s really about who do you want controlling Congress because it’s going to be (Democratic Rep. Nancy) Pelosi or it’s going to be (current GOP House Speaker John) Boehner, end of story,” said Walsh, who is running in the northwest and west suburban 8th District.
Democrats have made the House-passed Ryan budget plan the centerpiece of their criticism against Republicans. The idea is to target seniors, a dedicated bloc of voters, and zero in on the plan’s proposed changes to Medicare for future retirees.
Democrats contend Republicans are trying to end the “guarantee” of Medicare and replace it with a voucher system. Republicans argue that Medicare will go broke in 2024 without changes. The GOP also says those who are 55 will have the current system, while those age 54 and younger can choose between traditional Medicare or a taxpayer subsidy to buy their own health care.
But the nuance, particularly in the highly partisan-charged atmosphere of a campaign, can get lost in semantics. That was evidenced in a recent debate between Foster, of Naperville, and Biggert, of Hinsdale.
“You cannot replace Medicare with a low-value option, with a low-value voucher,” Foster said.
“It’s not a voucher. It’s premium subsidies,” Biggert replied.
“It is called a voucher by Congressman Ryan on his website,” Foster responded.
“I don’t care what he calls it,” Biggert said. “I care how I call it, so let’s not get down to those nitty-gritty.”
The back and forth has echoed into the 10th District contest, where Democratic challenger Brad Schneider has sought to use Dold’s support of the Ryan budget as evidence that the Republican is not as independent as he suggests.
“The most important votes in this Congress, on every vote my opponent’s taken, he’s voted with the Republicans,” Schneider said. “We need to stop talking about one side failing and the other side succeeding and work in a way that we can all come together and all succeed.”
Dold has maintained that the Ryan proposal represents a debt- and deficit-reduction plan that’s still evolving. “Unless we come together to try to come up with something different than what we’re doing right now, we’re in some big trouble,” Dold said.
In an overarching way, Democrats have sought to use the Ryan budget as a symbol of the tea party’s influence within the Republican caucus that controls the House. Democrats note Speaker Boehner’s inability to work out a large-scale deficit-reduction plan with Obama as a rebellion by tea party faithful.
Boehner “can’t deliver his caucus right now. That’s why you’re not seeing action being taken,” Schneider said. “What we’re seeing now with this tea party, with the intransigence on the right, that the balance of blame (among parties) isn’t equal.”
In an unusual acknowledgment by a Republican incumbent, Dold said that “everybody associates a do-nothing Congress with the House of Representatives.”
But Dold also suggested that the Democrat-controlled Senate shares blame.
“We’ve passed bill after bill after bill, passed jobs bill after jobs bill — over 30 of them are sitting on (Senate Democratic leader) Harry Reid’s doorstep, stacking up like cordwood. It requires the Senate to pick them up, debate them, amend them, tell us what’s wrong with them and send them back. That’s when we can start to move forward,” he said.