Durbin talks up U.S. economy during Peoria visit

By:  Chris Kaergard
Peoria Journal-Star

Despite a whiplash-inducing series of moves on the stock market in the last week, which he called "mood swings" that may not "reflect reality at all," U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin reassured business and civic leaders in the Tri-County Area the nation's financial footing remained solid.

"America has the strongest economy in the world, period," the Illinois Democrat said Friday afternoon speaking at The Heartland Partnership.

Nevertheless, the decision by Standard and Poor's a week ago to downgrade the U.S. credit rating - a decision he said was really more about serving as "a condemnation of what's going on in Washington" - should serve as a "wake-up call" to the country to change the way its leaders do business. If nothing else, he pointed out, the downgrade still may result in higher borrowing costs affecting the economy as it continues to struggle.

"We cannot lurch from one 'High Noon' scenario to another," he said, reminding people that as part of the recent agreement to raise the nation's debt limit a special, evenly divided committee of Republicans and Democrats in Congress now have just over three months to identify $1.5 trillion in targeted cuts, closed tax loopholes or new revenue.

If they don't, at least $1.2 trillion in across-the-board reductions go into effect, slamming defense spending favored by most in the GOP and social programs supported by most Democrats. The decision to impose that "if not" scenario was made "so failure was politically expensive," the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate said.

While expressing dismay that some Republican members named to the panel have historically "not been willing to compromise on anything," Durbin said he wants a middle-ground solution.

"Ultimately we have to compromise," he said. "Both sides have to in a divided government."

In doing so, he called on people present to put pressure on Republican lawmakers to consider all options to come up with the $1.5 trillion or so needed by late November.

"We need to have business leaders, many of whom are Republicans, contact Congress and say to put everything on the table," Durbin said.

On top of that, he said, leaders can't refuse to consider changes that might affect their party's sacred cows.

"The only way to responsibly deal with the deficit is to put everything on the table - everything," he said, acknowledging at the same time heavy pressure in the Democratic Party to not make changes to Medicare or Social Security, and heavy pressure on Republicans to not accept any tax increases.

Still, Durbin said he'd support any tweaks that could be made to Medicare that don't violate its basic premise as a safety net program. He did not specify what types of changes would cross the line.