By Eric Thorsland
The guest commentary from Rep. John Shimkus in the Oct. 20 edition of The News-Gazette deserves a second look. At first pass Mr. Shimkus seems to want to get ahead of the continued negative press generated by the government shutdown and deny his actual role in the debacle. Explaining his vote to end the shutdown, he neglects to mention that he, along with others in the radical extremist wing of the Republican Party, actually voted in support of it.
Mr. Shimkus then goes on to say that the fight now upon us is "bigger than the fight over Obamacare," which is actually called the Affordable Care Act (ACA). If he was willing to shut down government over the ACA, what will he do next? Since that tea party fiasco cost the country more than $24 billion, what will be the cost for our country should he and his allies dig in again in January?
Mr. Shimkus' explanation of federal government spending is oversimplified at best and relies on scare tactics to paint an inaccurate picture about the budget and the future of the Social Security Trust Fund.
Some real percentages of total spending from the proposed 2014 budget are appropriate here. Social Security is 34 percent of total spending, including unemployment and associated expenses. With a few simple changes, such as raising the income cut-off for Social Security contributions, the Social Security Trust Fund can be made completely solvent for decades. This would amount to a larger contribution to the fund from high wage earners, whom Congressman Shimkus always favors over middle and lower income earners.
Medicine and health is the next largest portion of the federal budget at 24 percent. These costs could have been lowered already if Congressman Shimkus had not voted against a bill allowing the government to negotiate lower prescription drug costs. The government is a huge purchaser of prescription drugs, yet he felt we should not use that leverage to reduce costs. Instead, Shimkus would rather publicly complain about the cost and use it as a political point.
Defense spending, at 18 percent, is the next largest slice of the federal budget. Defense spending is important; knowing our readiness to act in Syria probably deterred the Syrian government from further chemical weapons use. And defense spending will decline as we wind down operations in Afghanistan, allowing our soldiers to regroup and strengthen.
After that, the percentages for other budget items are in the single digits. The dreaded interest and debt payments only total 7 percent, the crisis Mr. Shimkus decries as our next big fight.
Congressman Shimkus voted to shut down the government, needlessly hurting his constituents and millions of other Americans. Only time will tell if he repeats that mistake, but clearly he has no qualms about using this tactic. And that was over an issue which he freely admits is not the biggest worry on his mind. We can only wonder if he will continue to use ransom threats that ultimately harm the people he represents as a bullying tactic to hold the nation hostage in exchange for budget reductions that ultimately do nothing to advance the well-being of Illinois' 15th District and America's future.
Eric Thorsland, of rural Mahomet, research engineer at the University of Illinois and current chairman of the Champaign County Zoning Board of Appeals, is running as a Democrat in the Illinois 15th Congressional District.