Executive Director Reports

Mark Kirk, not your usual flipflopper

It’s not unusual to see politicians flip-flop on an issue, but the recent pivot by Mark Kirk, the Illinois congressman from suburban Chicago’s affluent North Shore, may make it into the Guinness Book of Records.

While home on summer break, Kirk commented on a pending piece of legislation to provide state and local governments with critical aid and prevent the layoffs of an estimated 161,000 teachers and 158,000 other public service workers, including thousands right here in Illinois:

“…My view is we should not add to the deficit. This legislation does make a number of cuts…that make it deficit neutral, and it would keep teachers in the classroom.”  Based on this assessment, he told a Chicago newspaper that he “intended to vote for the bill.”

The next day Kirk returned to Washington and voted against the very same bill he had promised to support just the day before. He had concluded, so he said, that the bill would actually add to the national debt.

It’s a particularly lame excuse since the legislation had passed the Senate the previous week. There had been plenty of time to review it before his statement to the folks at home.

In addition, the Congressional Budget Office, whose numbers are highly respected on both side of the aisle, had declared the bill budget neutral.

Clearly, Rep. Kirk recognized the importance of the bill to Illinoisans, where school boards, cities, counties and the state itself are struggling to maintain services and keep people working. He knew what we needed. Thus his Monday declaration.

Yet when he returned to the Capitol he changed his mind and turned his back on us.

What could have caused the rapid turnaround? Obviously, I can’t prove his motive, but there is some awfully strong circumstantial evidence.

First, is the fact that 158 of his 160 Republican colleagues also voted against the measure, under pressure from their party leaders who, at every turn, are trying to thwart the Obama administration’s efforts to rejuvenate the U.S economy.

It takes some backbone to stand up to the head of a party caucus, and on the economic recovery act, on healthcare, on extending unemployment benefits, on reform of banks and Wall Street, or any other issue that would turn the economy around and help working families, Kirk has not shown any.

Then there’s the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the association of big businesses that’s pouring big bucks into Kirk’s Senate race. On top of the Chamber’s general antipathy to government spending for any purpose, it was particularly opposed to this piece of legislation because, to help pay for the assistance to state and local governments, the bill closed a $10 billion tax loophole for corporations that ship jobs overseas.

Chamber lobbyists might have been waiting for Kirk to arrive at the D.C. airport to drive him to the Capitol in their limo hours before the vote was to take place to explain the dangers to the Republic presented by keeping teachers, caregivers and law enforcers employed while ending tax breaks for job exporters.

But however he got to his office, at some time between his statement on Monday and his vote on Tuesday, it seems likely the Chamber laid down the law: “You want our continuing support on your Senate campaign, you’d better not vote for that tax increase on us.”

Ironically, while Kirk spouted the Republican Party line, claiming he voted “no” because of his concern about the deficit, his vote was no doubt influenced by the $10 billion tax on international corporations – which actually helps reduce the deficit.

Mark Kirk had a credibility problem even before this vote. There were the matters of  exaggerating his military record, embellishing his story about his experience after capsizing his boat, and the question about his teaching credentials.

After careful examination the media found considerable distance between Mark Kirk and the truth, revealing a rather serious flaw in his character.

If you think I’m picking on Kirk, that he is really concerned about the deficit and that’s why he voted against education, healthcare and public safety, then I would ask these questions:

Why for eight years did he vote for every George Bush budget, resulting in a doubling of the national debt from the time Bush took office?

Why is Kirk opposed to President Obama’s proposal to end the Bush tax cuts for those families making $250,000 or more each year thus reducing the deficit by $700 billion over 10 years?

No, it’s not fear of deficits. It gets back to character. He just won’t stand up to the big guys in Washington. He didn’t stand up to Wall Street and the banks when he had a chance. He didn’t stand up to the insurance industry when he could have. And he didn’t take on multi-national corporations when public services were on the line.

Mark Kirk was right when he said he would vote to preserve public service jobs. He was wrong when he went to Washington and voted the other way.

Let’s make him right again. Come November, let’s keep him here in Illinois.