It’s not unusual these days to see Reps. Dave Loebsack and Bobby Schilling together. In fact, they’re fairly frequent collaborators.
Loebsack, an Iowa City Democrat, and Schilling, a Colona Republican, come from different parties. And as they repeatedly say, they don’t agree on much.
But for several months now, the two lawmakers have formed a working relationship that has put them on the same side of advocating for the Rock Island Arsenal and Interstate-74 bridge construction funding. Recently, they’ve also talked about how they can work together to help open the Thomson Correctional Center.
It’s not exactly unheard of for lawmakers to work across party lines on purely local projects, particularly when they have to do with economic development and local institutions
Former Reps. Jim Leach, an Iowa Republican, and Lane Evans, an Illinois Democrat, both worked to help the Arsenal. In fact, the entire Quad-City delegation has worked for years to boost the military base.
Also, Rep. Don Manzullo, an Illinois Republican, came to the area in 2007 to tout a joint manufacturing initiative with then-Rep. Phil Hare, a Democrat.
But the Schilling-Loebsack combination is growing to include more issues, and it’s far more high-profile.
The two congressmen have regularly sent out news releases touting their joint initiatives, cited their work in interviews and in public. They’ve also appeared side-by-side at several events, most relating to the Arsenal, which is the area’s largest employer.
The most recent example was July 3, when together they presented a copy of a House resolution honoring the Arsenal’s 150th anniversary at the Red, White and Boom celebration in Davenport.
Working for the area
Both say they’re just doing their job, working to further area priorities regardless of party.
“My top priority is to get Iowans back to work. I’m going to work with anyone who shares my goals,” says Loebsack, who has worked hard over the past year to introduce himself to the Quad-Cities, where he’ll be seeking re-election this fall. Scott and Clinton counties were added to the 2nd Congressional District when new boundaries were drawn last year.
Adds Schilling: “At the end of the day, it’s good for the American people and specifically, on this deal, for our area.”
However, it’s a relationship that’s also frustrated some in their respective parties, who aren’t convinced it’s entirely altruistic. Doug House, who is chairman of the Rock Island County Democratic Party, says elected officials need to work together. But he says Schilling standing next to Loebsack in front of the Interstate 74 bridge “gives him an affirmation he doesn’t deserve.”
“I think Congressman Schilling is seeking shelter from his votes in Washington, so everything he can do to be photographed with a Democrat, he’s going to do,” House says.
Democrats and Schilling have been at odds for months over transportation funding. Schilling backed a Republican House proposal that Democrats, and even some Republicans, say cut funding for the state of Illinois and didn’t include a key program local officials thought important to get additional money for the I-74 bridge.
The Senate’s version of a transportation bill included the program.
Eventually, a separate, shorter-term House bill that both Schilling and Loebsack supported was merged with the Senate legislation, and the program aimed at helping transportation projects of “national and regional significance” was signed into law.
Schilling, who says he pushed for such a program in the House, dismisses the criticism.
He says it was his partnership with Loebsack that got the state of Illinois to devote $72 million for construction of the I-74 bridge in 2017 and 2018.
Previously, the state Department of Transportation hadn’t included the money in its six-year plan. But Gov. Pat Quinn announced the injection of the funds into the project on the day U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood traveled to the Quad-Cities to inspect the bridge and talk to local officials about it.
Schilling and Loebsack had invited him, as had local officials.
“Until we started working together on this, the Springfield folks were not prioritizing our bridge,” Schilling says. “By our stirring the pot, we got them to prioritize this.”
A spokeswoman for Quinn vigorously disputes that account.
“That’s completely inaccurate,” Brooke Anderson says. “The I-74 bridge replacement has always been a priority for us, and we are committed to it.”
The state had previously called I-74 its next bridge project after completion of a large span in the St. Louis. Brooke adds the state hasn’t had the total funding in place for I-74’s replacement, but in May, it adjusted worker compensation commitments within the DOT to free up money for the construction. The funds are but a down payment on the total amount needed by both Illinois and Iowa.
Archer, Bustos critical of opponents
An adviser to Republican John Archer, who is challenging Loebsack this fall, didn’t criticize the working relationship of the two, but he wasn’t willing to give the Democrat any credit, either.
“We’re glad that Representative Schilling is helping Iowa families, because as Iowa’s most ineffective congressman, Dave Loebsack clearly can’t get the job done,” says Brian Dumas, an adviser to Archer.
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Loebsack, in an interview, noted it is Archer who came out in opposition to a defense policy bill he and Schilling worked on to include language eliminating the cap on public-private partnerships at the Arsenal. Local officials think the provision will lead to more job creation as a result.
Archer has praised the idea of partnerships, but some conservatives and civil libertarians have complained about other aspects of the law.
Allison Jaslow, the campaign manager for Schilling’s Democratic challenger, former East Moline Alderwoman Cheri Bustos, said Friday “this is another chapter in the tale of two Bobby Schillings.” She says he has a record of partisanship in Washington, D.C., but then seeks opportunities to “convince his constituents back in Illinois otherwise.”
Bustos has pointed to Schilling’s vote for legislation last year that put in motion $600 billion in defense cuts over 10 years, only to come back to the district and argue against their taking effect.
That vote was part of the deal to increase the debt ceiling last year, and Schilling has said he and other lawmakers didn’t think a bipartisan committee charged with meeting debt reduction targets would fail. That has set in motion the cuts.
His campaign, meanwhile, has said Bustos’ opposition to the deal means she would have allowed the economy to collapse.
At the time, advocates of raising the debt ceiling said if it wasn’t approved, there would be a global economic crisis. But they also complained that congressional Republicans were the ones who were unfairly linking debt reduction to raising the ceiling.
Schilling says it’s “sad” Democrats are critical.
“They’d rather have this big divide than have us working together,” he says.
Republican Party leaders in Scott County have not expressed any qualms about the two lawmakers’ relationship or the impact it might have on the election. And some Illinois Democrats, such as 17th District Committeeman Don Johnston, say they don’t have any concerns.
“It’s to the benefit of both of them, but philosophically they’re yards apart. And I think that’s pretty evident,” Johnston says.
Still, even Schilling says that he’s gotten some push-back by members of his own party.
“We have people that say, ‘Hey, you guys shouldn’t work together so much in D.C.,’” he said.
Hare, whom Schilling defeated two years ago, says there are several Democrats who think the two are “too cozy.” And he echoed House’s criticism over the I-74 matter.
As for the impact on the 17th District race, which is considered one of the top targets for Democrats, Hare says it may not hurt Bustos.
But he adds, “It doesn’t make it any easier.”