BLOOMINGTON — Contending that it will hurt veterans including those who are disabled, Republican congressional candidate Erika Harold Thursday blasted the federal budget deal approved last week in the House and this week in the Senate.
The issue could be important to the Urbana attorney because it gives her a rare opportunity to separate herself from her GOP opponent. U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, voted for the budget agreement. It passed the House, 332-94.
Harold and Davis are the only GOP contenders for the 13th Congressional District nomination next March. The district extends from Champaign-Urbana on the northeast to the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis on the southwest.
Three Democrats — George Gollin and David Green of Champaign and Ann Callis of Edwardsville — are seeking their party's nomination in the district.
"It seemed as if it was a budget that didn't do anything to substantially address the debt, and since it was being sold as a budget that was primarily designed to preserve the status quo it seemed to be extremely unfair to target the pensions of veterans, especially some of whom are disabled," said Harold, an Urbana attorney. "At first there were people who defended it saying that it only effects able-bodied veterans who have the capacity to go out and continue to earn income. That turned out to not be true. It actually would target the pensions of disabled veterans.
"I thought that if we're going to essentially have a budget that doesn't do anything to advance any of the large issues, to target people who have sacrificed the most seemed unfair to me."
Under the agreement, working-age military retirees would see their pensions increase at a slower pace, with their cost-of-living adjustments pegged to the rate of inflation minus 1 percentage point. Once they turned 62, they would go back to receiving adjustments pegged to the full rate of inflation.
The provision, expected to save about $6 billion over 10 years, has led to heated responses from military groups and other opponents. At a news conference earlier this week. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked, "Of all the people we could have picked on to screw, how could we have arrived here?"
Harold, a former Miss America, was less harsh in her criticism of the budget deal.
"I don't know what motivated that budget because I would have voted against it. I have not heard a clear rationale as to why that was the budget that was ultimately enacted, and especially when it came down to targeting veterans' benefits. It's unconscionable to me that of all the government spending that could be cut, that if you're going to make such nominal cuts, that it would be to veterans benefits."
Harold called the budget cuts "nominal," said they can be undone later and argued that House Republicans should have held out longer for a better agreement.
"From my perspective it doesn't make a difference at all because there are very, very marginal spending cuts that will happen perhaps years from now and they can be undone the same way sequestration was done," said Harold. "And I've heard some members of Congress say they're going to change the rules as they apply to veterans (benefits), which shows that they still have the discretion and latitude to undo any cuts too.
"I just view this as not being something that substantively engaged the issues. They had until January to work on it. I felt it was far too early to accept a deal that both sides acknowledge as flawed."
Harold said she doesn't believe House Republicans were confronted with a choice between the budget deal and another government shutdown.
"It seems to me that is defending a deal by presenting two false choices of bad budget or shutdown. I don't believe those were our only two choices. For that reason if I got that budget in early December I would have felt that it was my obligation to vote 'no' because people want people to go to Washington, D.C., to try to engage the issues in a meaningful way."
Harold was in Bloomington to speak to a local Rotary club where she made a mostly non-political speech. She took questions after the speech.
She said there has been no movement on her request to have as many as 14 debates with Davis before the March 18 primary election.
"We are going to continue to advocate for them because voters want to see them. He has not responded to the invitation that we sent," Harold said.
Davis said earlier this week that there was "nothing to report" on the possibility of debates with Harold.
She noted that Davis had said in November that voters could review You Tube video of the two at candidate forums last year.
"I think that sort of a response is indicative of the sort of disconnect that people feel from their representatives," she said. "People do not want to have to Google people's You Tube performances to see where they stand on issues. People want the opportunity to participate in real time."
She said that 10 separate groups — in St. Louis, Springfield, Decatur, Bloomington and Champaign — have offered to host debates featuring the two Republican candidates.
"We have places where they could be held. We have a couple of radio hosts who have said we will invite both of you on to do an hour-long debate. I've accepted all of those invitations," said the 33-year-old Harold.