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Debt talks: Dick Durbin a voice of reason; Joe Walsh a screamer

Sen. Dick Durb(left); Rep. Joe Walsh (right)

Sen. Dick Durbin (left); Rep. Joe Walsh (right)

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Updated: May 9, 2012 9:39AM



WASHINGTON — In the ongoing deficit negotiations, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is at all the White House meetings and is one of the bipartisan “Gang of Six.” Then there is freshman Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), who is a leading voice of anti-President Obama tea party conservatives.

Two Illinoisans, a study in contrasts.

Durbin, the number two leader in the Senate, is a voice of reason as an Aug. 2 default deadline looms — willing to take on Democratic sacred cows of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. A deal, Durbin told Illinois reporters on a conference call Wednesday, “requires spending cuts, entitlement reform, and revenue — all three.”

Durbin knows what makes Congress work: getting enough votes on a piece of legislation to get it passed.

Walsh, who represents the northwest suburban 8th District, sees getting media attention a major part of his job. “I came here figuratively to scream from the mountaintop,” Walsh told me in an interview.

And that he does. Walsh recorded a videotape earlier this month calling Obama a liar — because Obama said that come Aug. 3, there won’t be enough money to “guarantee” that the government could pay all its obligations. The Walsh “Obama is lying” video got a lot of play on cable political shows and on the Web.

Walsh just is not right. Said Durbin (and many others): “I will tell you, though, that it goes without saying, that if we default on our debt ceiling — default on America’s debt — the reality is that for the month of August, we will have $172 billion in revenue to spend and $306 billion in obligations. And whoever is in charge — the President, Secretary of the Treasury — will then have to decide winners and losers.”

On Tuesday, Walsh sparred with Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” relishing the encounter so much that on Thursday he was sending out a fund-raising appeal to raise money off the contentious interview. Walsh said in his e-mail, “I need your help to stand up to the liberal media and Democrats.”

Walsh won his seat last November in a surprise win over former Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.) by about 300 votes. No one saw him coming. “We believe we were elected to stop what [Obama] is doing,” Walsh told me.

I asked him if he ever met the Illinois president. Said Walsh: “I met him once. He’s tall.”

Walsh — as the other GOP budget hard-liners — would like to first pass a balanced budget amendment before making any deal. The House on Tuesday did approve the GOP’s “Cut, Cap and Balance” plan on a 234-to-190 roll call. But it has virtually no chance of passing the Senate and, in any event, Obama vowed to veto it.

“There are lots of options,” Durbin said. Walsh is for none of them.

I asked Durbin what he would say to Walsh. “So I’d say to Congressman Walsh, default has its consequences. And one of those consequences is the inability of the government to meet its obligations.”

Walsh conceded to me in our interview that the government can’t run forever if there is a default on Aug. 2.

Walsh, in his self-appointed role as agitator, sees compromise as wrong.

Lawmakers run on platforms and pledges — but they are not solo acts.

FOOTNOTE: Walsh told me he is going to run for re-election. He hasn’t picked a district yet — the Democratic Illinois mapmakers redrew the 8th district to make it more Democratic.



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