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New Congress

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., left, poses during a ceremonial swearing-in with Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., right, on Capitol Hill, Thursday in Washington during the opening session of the 116th Congress.

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, said Thursday she is ready to get back to work in the 116th Congress.  

Before being sworn in to her fourth term on Thursday by newly-elected Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Bustos spoke by phone from her Capitol Hill office on what she intends to tackle first in the new legislative session. 

Ethics training for members of Congress tops her list.

"Believe it or not, you can be a member of Congress and still serve on corporate boards," Bustos said. "We’ve seen some unethical behavior as a result, so we will ban that.

"If a member of Congress chooses to sexually harass workers and there is a settlement, no longer will taxpayers be responsible for paying out any settlement," she said. "The member (of Congress) will have to pay it."

Bustos' first action Thursday was voting to end the two-week federal government shutdown. She said there is no reason the funding bill — with $1.2 billion for President Donald Trump's southern border wall — should not pass the Republican-controlled Senate, since it is the same bill the Senate approved by voice vote a few weeks ago. 

"This wall has become a symbol rather than a real answer," she said. "We (Democrats) are willing to compromise. 

"For the life of me, I do not understand why the president wouldn’t agree to reopen the government," Bustos said. "We are still giving him a little more time to figure out a real solution to border security, as opposed to this symbol of the wall which — by the way — he promised the American public that Mexico would pay for it."

Bustos said she takes seriously every vote she casts as it pertains to taxpayer dollars. Border security "is a heck of a lot more than just a wall," she said; it also involves technology and border agents.

"The overly-simplified argument about border security has not done our country any favors," she said. "All it has led to is fights and disagreements with very few solutions."

Bustos said most federal employees not receiving pay during the shutdown will get back-pay when the government reopens. But she said private contractors working for the government — including those at the Rock Island Arsenal — have stopped working and will not be paid for missed days. 

"If you think about how the Arsenal functions, we work with a lot of contractors there," Bustos said. "They are literally not only not getting paid right now, but they will not receive any compensation for the shut down. If they are (still) going to work, they are not getting paid.

"The reality of this government shutdown is the people who can least afford to miss a paycheck are the ones missing their paychecks right now," she said.

Bustos' district includes Peoria and the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, the country's largest federal agriculture research lab. 

"They made some unbelievable discoveries that just emerged over the last week, and to all of a sudden put all of that on hold shows you the real-world consequences of a shutdown like this," she said. 

Bustos, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair, also said a new consensus calendar will help members of Congress work better together by encouraging bipartisanship.

"Every week we will have a bill that has come out of a committee in bipartisan fashion that we will debate on the House floor," she said. "That is not anything that has happened during the time I’ve been here in Congress.

"We will also make sure we have the funding to pay for any legislation we (propose) so we don’t deepen the debt and deficit we have in our country," she said.

Bustos said a committee also will explore modernizing how Congress operates to make it more efficient and makes better use of new technology.

She said her legislative priorities include lowering the cost of healthcare and prescription drug prices, along with "a massive transportation bill" that includes highways, bridges, lock, dams and rural broadband access.

"I hope we can help people at home have faith in the fact that Congress can work and be functional," she said.

Another focus, Bustos said, will be creating fair legislative district maps and "cleaning up the mess here in Washington" by eliminating "secret money" in the political system. There is a need for "a full accounting of any money that enters politics," she said.

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