Cheri Bustos, Illinois 17th District challenger, and incumbent U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling face off in a televised debate Thursday at WQAD-TV in Moline. (THE DISPATCH/THE ROCK ISLAND ARGUS)

Todd Welvaert

In their first formal televised debate, Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Ill., and Democrat Cheri Bustos zeroed in on one another Thursday night, with the incumbent charging his opponent is a relentless tax raiser while she faulted him for a vote she says puts jobs at one of the Quad-Cities’ largest employers in jeopardy.

This was the first of three televised debates for the candidates in Illinois’ 17th District, and it was a half-hour with no shortage of contrasts.

Both candidates let little time pass before they began to criticize one another.

Schilling said Bustos never voted against a single tax or fee increase while she was a member of the East Moline City Council.

“We don’t need tax-and-spenders in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “I can’t even imagine what would happen if she’s sent out there with a few extra zeroes on the scoreboard there.”

At one point, Schilling talked about how “widows” are hurt by some of East Moline’s fee increases.

During the debate, Bustos didn’t dispute the claim that she had never voted against a fee or tax increase. But she did so afterward when she and Schilling met separately with reporters.

Bustos faulted Schilling for voting last summer for a bill that put in place a series of budget cuts that are due to take effect in January. The cuts, called sequestration, were part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling and were supposed to be the leverage to convince a congressional “super committee” to come up with a long-term budget compromise

The committee failed, and analysts have warned the spending reductions, which could affect the Rock Island Arsenal, along with the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts could hurt the economy.

“I think it was a dangerous vote; I think it was an irresponsible vote, and I think it’s time to take ownership for it,” Bustos said. She noted that Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, a frequent Schilling partner in local issues, voted against the bill.

Schilling responded that Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., voted for the bill, and he previously said Congress didn’t envision the committee failing. He noted during the debate that he and Loebsack got legislation passed that creates job opportunities for the Arsenal.

Schilling said he would vote for future debt ceiling increases only if spending cuts are attached. Democrats complain that stance is what put the country on the edge of default last summer. Analysts at the time warned of an economic disaster if the debt ceiling hadn’t been approved.

Bustos, who has previously said she would have voted against the bill, said she would work to avoid the brinksmanship of last summer, which she has blamed on congressional Republicans. After debate moderator Jim Mertens pressed her on whether she would vote for a future debt ceiling increase, she said she would not “bring the country up to the end of the fiscal cliff. I wouldn’t let that happen.”

Both candidates claimed the common-sense mantle and said they would work to foster compromise in Congress. When asked about the estate tax, Bustos said she favored differentiated treatment for farmers to ensure they wouldn’t be hurt by the tax.

Schilling, meanwhile, said he opposed fast-track trade authority because it would bypass input by Congress. That authority is something previous Republican presidents have sought.

The two also differed on tax cuts, with Bustos saying she wanted to end the Bush-era cuts for people making more than $1 million. Schilling said that would hurt businesses that create jobs and complained the corporate tax rate is too high.

They also sparred on trade, with Bustos saying three trade deals Congress approved last year were of the “NAFTA-style” variety she said had cost Illinois jobs.

Schilling, who voted for the deals, said they were important to job creation in the state. “This is something that is huge for our area,” he said.

The debate was aired on WQAD-TV and sponsored by the TV station and The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus.

There also will be debates in Rockford, Ill. and Peoria, Ill. later this month.