Springfield Journal Register

December 8, 2006

Durbin: Inaction by Congress hurts Illinois


WASHINGTON - As the Republican-led Congress winds to a close, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., blasted GOP leaders for leaving behind a host of unresolved issues critical to Illinois and the nation.

Specifically, Durbin, who will be the second in command in the Senate when the Democrats take over in January, criticized Republican leaders for failing to pass nine of the 11 funding bills for fiscal 2007, which began Oct. 1.

Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, challenged that assessment, saying Democrats share some of the blame.

Before it adjourns today, Congress is expected to pass a stopgap measure that will continue funding federal agencies at 2006 levels until February. Republicans opted not to try to finish the funding bills for next year in their post-election “lame duck” session.

“That creates a serious problem as we start the next Congress,” said Durbin, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee and expects to chair a subcommittee next year, in addition to his leadership duties. “Not only do we have our work to do, but we have to clean up the work that they didn’t finish.”

While the basic functions of the federal government will be able to continue under the temporary funding measure, many Illinois projects will suffer because lawmakers’ “earmarks” won’t be extended, Durbin and LaHood said.

For example, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum received a hefty sum annually this way.

The Senate Appropriations Committee in June included $1 million for the downtown Springfield complex, at Durbin’s request, in the bill that funds the Interior Department.

But the full Senate never voted on the bill. The House included $700,000 for the library and museum at LaHood’s request.

The Democrats could enact appropriations bills including earmarks in February - six months into the federal fiscal year - but that’s also the time they begin the fiscal 2008 funding process.

“The longer we wait, the more difficult it will be,” Durbin said.

LaHood, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said it’s unfair to put all the blame on Republicans.

“There’s plenty of blame to go around. This idea of trying to blame one party is nonsense,” he said. “That’s so political, on its face, that no one will believe it.”

LaHood blamed Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada for blocking the funding bills, noting that the House passed nine appropriations bills before July 4.

The two that have been enacted fund the Defense and Homeland Security departments.

Funding bills aren’t the only unfinished business.

Authorization of a plan to lengthen the locks on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, long sought by farmers and barge operators, dies when Congress adjourns. Although the House and Senate each passed bills authorizing the projects, efforts to reconcile the two bills stalled.

“It’s a huge disappointment,” LaHood said.

“It passed overwhelmingly. But apparently the leadership (of both parties) couldn’t get their act together to get a conference, so we start all over again next year.”

Durbin said the incoming chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has promised him to make the water project authorization a high priority.

“She realized how important it is and will work to get this passed,” said Durbin of Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

While the project has been opposed by some environmentalists and taxpayer groups, it has the support of 80 senators.

Another bill Durbin hopes will stand a better chance next year would establish a Lincoln Study Abroad program advocated by the late Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois.

Dori Meinert can be reached at 202-737-7686 or dori.meinert@copleydc.com.