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Schilling: Debate the issues

In all 14 counties, challenger says; race testy of late

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos and GOP challenger Bobby Schilling
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos and GOP challenger Bobby Schilling

STERLING – The mud has been flying from both camps of late in the 17th Congressional District race, but Republican Bobby Schilling said he wants to refocus on the issues.

Schilling was at the Sauk Valley Media office Thursday to discuss his campaign to regain the seat he lost to Cheri Bustos in 2012.

In early May, Schilling challenged the incumbent to a series of 14 debates – one in each county of the 17th district. The Colona resident said he is disappointed that only one debate has been agreed upon. That event will be held sometime in October in Moline, and carried by TV station WQAD.

“She has been unwilling to get away from the 5-second sound bites,” Schilling said of the East Moline Democrat.

“I would love to have town hall-style debates, because I believe commercials can deceive the voters,” Schilling said.

Bustos said she has been pounding the pavement in all 14 counties, focused on listening to the concerns of the constituents.

“What people are talking to me about are jobs, Social Security, Medicare, and how we are going to balance the budget,” she said. “Not a single person has asked me about the number of debates we are doing.”

In their 2012 race, the candidates had televised debates in Peoria, Moline and Rockford.

In the meantime, the talking points have turned increasingly negative.

Beginning Aug. 20, Schilling turned up the heat by publicly stating that Bustos should honor a promise she made to constituents while running for office 2 years ago.

Schilling’s campaign has been sending audio clips of a Sept. 10, 2012, editorial board meeting that both attended at the Chicago Tribune. During that meeting, Bustos had said she supported a 10 percent pay cut for Congress until the federal budget situation was under control.

“I would propose that there is a vote to cut 10 percent of the pay for every member of Congress,” Bustos said in the audio clip. When asked if she would take the pay cut regardless of how the voted turned out, the congresswoman said she would.

Schilling is now pushing for Bustos to follow through and return $34,800 to taxpayers – 10 percent of her $174,000 annual salary.

Because lawmakers can’t have the money taken from their paychecks, Schilling suggested Bustos donate it to a veterans group.

Schilling said he kept his promise to not enroll in the health care plan or accept a pension. Federal lawmakers are not vested in their pension plan for 5 years.

The Bustos camp responded by turning the spotlight on Schilling’s job with CMB Regional Centers in Rock Island. After losing the 2012 election, Schilling became the director of business relations and governmental affairs with the company that is part of the federal EB-5 program that offers permanent residency to qualifying immigrants who put up at least $500,000 for the investment program.

“... Bobby Schilling is making a six-figure salary selling American visas to foreign nationals that pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to game the immigration process. When it comes to salaries, Bobby Schilling has a lot to answer for,” Bustos said in a statement responding to Schilling’s pay cut push.

The EB-5 program has come under scrutiny since a Chicago man, Anshoo Sethi, was indicted on charges he defrauded several Chinese families out of $11 million in a failed EB-5 project.

Schilling defended the program Thursday, saying that Bustos must like it, too, because she voted for the immigration bill that made EB-5 permanent in January.

“Many Democrats, including [U.S. Sens.] Dick Durbin and Patrick Leahy are huge supporters of the program,” Schilling said. “It has helped create over 80,000 full-time jobs; it’s a great tool to have in the toolbox.”

Schilling and Bustos will face off in the Nov. 4 election. The 17th District includes Whiteside and Carroll counties.

Schilling on business

What former Congressman Bobby Schilling, R-Colona, said about various issues during a visit Thursday to the Sauk Valley Media office in Sterling:

– Poor government

"Businesses are looking to the state races and hoping to see changes in Springfield. Many are talking about leaving the state if they don't get them."

– Bipartisanship

"In order to get regional development, both parties must be willing to work together for their districts. Much can be accomplished in business by working across the aisle."

– Health care

"There is much concern about all the changes that are coming in health care. We have to find ways to make it more affordable for businesses and individuals."

– Taxes

"We need a level playing field in regard to corporate tax rates. We have $2 trillion sitting offshore that American companies are penalized for bringing back."

– Skills gap

"We have to get creative and invest in our schools. We need to give kids more program choices at an early age and take advantage of the low-cost tools that can be acquired at community colleges."

– Tort reform

"We must find a healthy balance and get the insurance costs under control for our health professionals."

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