Congress has reached the halfway point in its session, and local lawmakers have reported on their progress and priorities.
The metro-east delegation includes two freshmen congressmen: U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville; and U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville. U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, began his ninth term in Congress. U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk also weighed in.
U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville
On Scott Air Force Base: "It is a vital contributor to our nation's security. ... Transcom moves people and things all over the globe. That's what we do at Scott. I will continue to ensure that Scott Air Force Base gets the support it needs. ... The Illinois and Missouri delegates all realize how important Scott Air Force Base is."
On the student loan issue: "It slows down the economy, because you're paying back hundreds of thousands in student loans instead of buying a house. ... It's a terrible drag on the economy."
On the V.A. backlog: Enyart has proposed a Veterans Backlog Reduction Act, which would allow veterans to get provisional payments of 40 percent if their claims are not processed within 125 days. "It's my hope that this legislation gives the VA one more reason to clean up its act and speed up the process."
On jobs: Enyart has introduced a bill to create partnerships for retraining programs, to help unemployed workers gain technical skills for new industries. "My chief concern is working to create and attract good jobs in Southern Illinois, and through the JOBS Act, we can ensure that manufacturers hire locally and our workers have the tools and skills they need to succeed."
On gridlock in Congress: "We are seeing some things getting done on the local level more than on the macro level. All of the local legislators are working very hard to represent their districts. ... The big budget deal will be done on a national level. There's been a lot of criticism ... but we have to look at all the positions and all that we get done."
U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville
On the federal sequester: "A lot of our base thought we would roll on it and we didn't. This is the first time we have actually cut real dollars, in my 16 years in Congress. It's a real cut of real dollars, not just limiting the amount we increase.... Businesses have been 'sequestering' for five years."
On the V.A. backlog: "I have great respect for the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, but you can't defend this backlog. If I were in charge ... There's an old armory in D.C., I'd take the whole administration and lock everybody in the armory with all the records and nobody goes home until it's done. They need an intervention."
On immigration: "Some folks think there is a national consensus and there could be quick movement. But there is still a concern about immigration and immediately accessing citizenship. ... We need to get undocumented immigrants some kind of legal status in this country. If they will receive the benefit of our free and open society, they have to pay into it. I think there is a way to provide them with legal status, but I'm not sure that a lot of current immigrants are that fired up about citizenship. They just want legal status."
On the Internet tax: "We'll get beat up by people saying we're raising taxes, but I'm going to side with the Main Street retailers. If sales taxes are demanded of brick-and-mortar stores, it's not too much to ask of an Internet retailer."
On budget talks: "The raising of the debt limit will again be an issue. Entitlement reform will be an issue. To the president's credit, he knows it has to happen to get control of the budget. ... We need tax reform, fairer, flatter, simpler. The tax code is a mess. No one likes that you have to hire someone to have your back and keep documents for seven years."
On gridlock in Congress: "The public likes to say we're not doing anything, but then ask them what they want us to do. ... There's two parties for a reason, two views of how government should operate. (Republicans) believe in less government, lower taxes and more personal responsibility. Democrats want a more centralized control out of Washington, which raises taxes, increases our burden and takes away liberty. We are the loyal opposition."
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville
On Scott Air Force Base: "It is the largest employer in this region. We have to make sure it remains a viable part of our defense structure."
On the budget talks: "We passed 'no budget, no pay,' which forced the Senate to pass a budget. That allows a framework to be discussed. ... The biggest priority now is to get the fiscal issues off the table."
On the farm bill: Davis said crop insurance can replace disaster aid in many cases, and that $15 billion in crop insurance paid by farmers can offset as much as $40 billion in off-budget disaster aid.
On jobs: Davis has proposed streamlining the bureaucracy around retraining while on unemployment. "We should not ever make a family choose between their unemployment benefits and the training they need. ... If politicians want to reduce unemployment, this is a prime first step." He also voiced interest in a transportation reauthorization bill that he said would "rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and put people back to work."
On gridlock in Congress: "The reality is the ineffectiveness of both parties to get things done. ... A bill in the Democratic-controlled Senate will cost more and include more, and will never pass the House. A bill in the Republican-controlled House will cost less and include less, and will never pass the Senate."
Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois
On Scott Air Force Base: "I was briefed by U.S. Transcom ... They told me we would not be losing Scott. They understand it is necessary to protect Scott."
On the farm bill: "I think for any farm bill to be meaningful, it has to include means testing ... if you're very wealthy, you don't qualify (for subsidies)." Kirk also said that be believes public-private partnerships are necessary for development of resources, and wants to see a shift of focus onto crop insurance to reduce the large amount of non-budgeted disaster assistance.
On the V.A. benefits backlog: "If you have a disability and need a service, it takes hundreds of days to address ... this needs to be fixed."
On the sequester: "I'm worried about the condition of the Air Force right now; they're not flying as much. Unless you're training, you're getting weaker. ... The pilots are not getting their air time."
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois
On education: Durbin has proposed a bill to require greater disclosure in the terms and options of student loans. "At the age of 18, you're making a decision that will impact you for the rest of your life. ... In the most extreme cases, these students are so deep in debt they will never get free. ... We need these young people to succeed, to become employers and job creators."
On Scott Air Force Base: "I've asked the Secretary of Defense for an accounting of the savings of base closures. I believe there have been little to no savings, and these base closures have become more political than Congress ... When they come after Scott, they're in for a fight."
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2507.