MOLINE – The first televised debate between candidates for a hotly contested congressional seat didn’t last long Thursday.
Bobby Schilling and Cheri Bustos actually debated for only about 20 minutes. The rest of the half-hour event inside the WQAD News 8 studio in Moline was spent on an introduction from news anchor Jim Mertens and on closing arguments from the candidates.
In that time, the 17th District contestants answered about 10 questions on subjects ranging from the federal debt ceiling to free trade to the level of nastiness in the campaign.
Schilling and Bustos didn’t agree on much, and traded shots throughout.
Bustos said Schilling and other “Tea Party Republicans” were to blame for “the most dysfunctional Congress ever.”
Schilling, a first-term Republican from Colona, said his Democratic opponent “never voted against any tax increases” when she was an East Moline alderwoman.
Schilling said he would support further increasing the nation’s debt ceiling “only if we have some attached spending cuts.”
“We’ve got to stop spending money we don’t have,” he said.
Bustos did not immediately answer the question, saying first that the debt ceiling would not be an issue were it not for the partisan atmosphere in Washington.
When asked for an answer later by reporters, she said her answer remains the same as during the debate.
“I would not allow our country to fall over the fiscal cliff,” she said. “I wouldn’t allow that to happen. Let’s look at what happened. They drew this country to the very edge before they voted to raise the debt ceiling again.”
She said she would not allow the country to get in such a position.
At one point during the debate, Schilling said Bustos was “handpicked by Sen. [Dick] Durbin.”
Bustos, in response, said she was picked by the voters of the 17th District.
Candidates also were asked whether they would support the DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for undocumented youth by requiring the completion of a college degree or 2 years of military service.
Bustos said she would work to “crack down on unscrupulous business owners, folks who take advantage of those who are in the country illegally.”
Schilling said he does not support the act in its current form. He said people have been in line for 5 or 10 years waiting to become citizens of the country.
Both said they would work to strengthen the border.
Schilling pointed to widening U.S. Route 30 as one of the infrastructure projects needed in the district.
Bustos said Schilling and Republicans have been a roadblock to passage of longer-term roads plans.
Candidates were asked what each should do about the level of attack ads coming from national organizations, including the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Schilling said candidates can only do so much to communicate with such organizations to prevent negative attacks.
Bustos said the attack ads against her have been called “reckless, irresponsible fiction” by the media.
After the debate, Bustos was asked how she thought the debate went.
“I did my best,” she said. “Hopefully, I answered your questions in a way that you can understand what the difference is between what I stand for and what Congressman Schilling stands for.”
Bustos said she wanted to talk about her priorities – her jobs plan, protecting and preserving Medicare and Social Security, and addressing congressional gridlock, she said.
Asked how he thought he performed, Schilling referred to his recent endorsement by the Chicago Tribune. He said he offered specifics.
“The one big true difference between us, the reason why I got the Chicago Tribune endorsement, is because we talk specifics,” he said. “We dig in.”
Bustos said the format – 90 seconds for answers and 30 seconds for rebuttals – didn’t provide enough time to go into much detail.
The redrawn 17th District now includes all of Whiteside County.