The Quad-Cities got two new congressmen Thursday, as Reps. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, and Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., took the oath of office at a midday ceremony, pledging to work across party lines to improve the economy and the middle class residents in their districts.
Much of the day was ceremonial. Bustos, who is among 82 incoming freshmen, joined family and friends at a reception at her new office before going to the floor to take the oath with the rest of the House.
The 51-year-old former East Moline alderwoman and journalist won a bruising election battle against Republican Bobby Schilling in November. Now, she will represent the 17th District, and the first few months of her tenure aren’t expected to be easy. The Congress and White House must come to an agreement if they are to avoid automatic budget cuts that were delayed as a result of the fiscal cliff agreement over the New Year’s holiday.
In a statement, Bustos said Thursday she’s “incredibly honored and humbled” to represent the district. And she pledged to work “day in and day out with a spirit of bipartisanship and Midwestern common sense to bring jobs, economic opportunity and a better future to communities across the district.”
Bustos’ staff said she wasn’t available for a telephone interview Thursday but would speak to reporters today.
Bipartisanship could be a challenge. While party leaders were calling for it Thursday, their political arms were greeting freshmen in their own way.
The National Republican Congressional Committee blasted out an email welcoming Bustos to Congress but simultaneously called her a “lap dog” for Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, a frequent GOP target. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, for its part, welcomed incoming Republican freshmen with Tea Party membership cards authorizing them to put “ideology over solutions.”
After taking to the floor, members voted on who was to be their speaker. Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, as expected, was elected. Bustos and Loebsack, like nearly all the other Democrats, cast their ballots for Pelosi. Boehner also saw a handful of defectors.
As she prepared to take office, Bustos has been busy hiring staff. This week, she added communications and legislative directors to her office. She previously appointed a chief of staff and district director.
She also is awaiting appointment to a second committee. She already has been tapped to be on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, but that’s all so far.
On Wednesday, Bustos met with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and spoke with him about the Interstate 74 bridge replacement project, according to her office.
Meanwhile, Loebsack’s fourth term began with less ceremony. He attended some receptions, including Bustos’, but he did not have one of his own.
Still, the 113th Congress will be a change for the 60-year-old Iowa City Democrat. He picks up 12 more counties in the 2nd District, including the Quad-City area, a result of redistricting.
“It’s going to be a new experience in that sense,” Loebsack said in a short telephone interview Thursday.
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Practically speaking, Loebsack has been visiting the Quad-Cities and reaching out to people here ever since the area was added to the district more than a year ago. His swearing-in, however, marks the first time he officially will represent the area.
Loebsack, too, has been working on the transition. This week, he announced his Davenport office will be at 209 W. 4th St., the same place as his three predecessors.
As he did during the 2012 campaign, Loebsack said Thursday he would continue to work to improve the viability of the Rock Island Arsenal and to replace the I-74 bridge. He said he would work with Bustos on that.
“I have no doubt we’ll have a great relationship,” he said.
Loebsack also spoke of working across party lines Thursday. Earlier this week, he called on party leaders to work together to forge an agreement early to avoid the automatic budget cuts slated to take effect in a couple of months. He said he had “a lot of concerns” about a repeat of the down-to-the-wire talks that occurred over the New Year’s holiday.
“Whatever we do, we’ve got to continue to focus on the economy, and we can’t jeopardize what everybody agrees is a weak economy at this point,” he said.