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Illinois Dems dodge GOP shutdown vote trap

Updated: November 7, 2013 6:44AM

Navigating the partial federal government showdown, heading into a second week, Democratic Illinois House members Brad Schneider, Bill Foster and Cheri Bustos split with party leaders and cast votes with the GOP. Here’s why, plus other observations:

Schneider, Foster and Bustos made a series of votes in recent days inoculating them in 2014 against GOP charges that they did not vote to keep government open. The three, all centrists, also get from these votes the ability to say they don’t follow their House Democratic liberal leaders lockstep.

Freshmen Schneider and Bustos are headed into tough 2014 re-election battles with rematches brewing against the GOP incumbents they defeated, Bob Dold and Bobby Schilling.

The shutdown started Tuesday, and with no quick fix and public outrage swelling, Republican leaders who control the House offered to re-open government piecemeal with bills to fund veterans programs, the National Park Service, the National Institutes of Health, FEMA and Women, Infants, and Children nutrition programs.

Schneider, Bustos and Foster voted for all of them, part of a small group of House Democrats that the GOP peeled off.

Congressional Democrats and the Obama White House are rejecting the piecemeal tactic, mainly on the grounds of not letting the House tea party faction pick and choose agencies and departments they want to reopen. The piecemeal bills are DOA in the Senate, so the exercise is highly symbolic.

“This is a very small step in the right direction,” Foster said when I asked him about his votes. “So on balance I supported it.”

In the absence of a deal to fund all of government, “if we can get little pieces open, let’s get little pieces open,” Schneider told me.

Bustos “voted as she felt was in the best interest of her district each time,” her spokesman, Colin Milligan told me.

Proving my point that Schneider, Bustos and Foster avoided a GOP vote trap: A short time after a Friday vote on another piecemeal bill, the National Republican Campaign Committee issued a press release accusing Illinois Democratic freshman Rep. Bill Enyart of “voting against funding for women and children living in poverty.”

The GOP piecemeal strategy had the added advantage, from the Republican perspective, of backing Democrats into a corner with no votes to be used against them in 2014.

Freshman Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a wounded Iraq war vet, is an advocate for veterans programs. Still, she voted against the piecemeal veterans programs funding bill, which came in at $6 billion less than was on the table previously.

Duckworth, who so far faces no major 2014 challenger, said, “I see games being played, these little bills that they put up that they know are not going anywhere in the Senate. And they are just throwing up these votes for no reason, other than to force bad votes and to force the fight to continue.”

The shutdown has thrown a spotlight on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the problems he has because of pressures from his tea party faction, about 30 members.

All six GOP Illinois House members are in Boehner’s court on this one. Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) is on Boehner’s top leadership team.

In Illinois, the 2012 elections resulted in the departure of the only tea party Republican, Joe Walsh, and the only two GOP moderates, Judy Biggert and Bob Dold.

We’ll know soon if any GOP Illinois incumbents, all mainstream conservatives, attract tea party primary rivals. Filing for the March Illinois primary closes Dec. 2.


Twitter: @lynnsweet

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