DECATUR - As the race in Illinois' 17th Congressional District nears its conclusion, the Democratic and Republican candidates spoke about their plans for addressing the country's challenges should they be elected and what differentiates them from one another.
The district includes parts of Decatur and Springfield and stretches north to the Quad-Cities area. Recent polls have given Colona Republican and restaurateur Bobby Schilling a lead over incumbent Phil Hare, D-Rock Island.
Hare was elected to Congress in 2006 after having served on the staff on his predecessor, Lane Evans. He has been outspoken in his support of certain aspects of the health care reform passed earlier this year. He said, depending on the makeup of Congress after the coming election, which is expected to see Republican gains, the bill could be reopened for further debate.
Hare said he believes the seniors who have received aid in paying for their medication, parents whose children benefit from restrictions on denying insurance due to preexisting conditions and 26-year-olds who can still stay on their parents' health insurance plans likely would not want to see a full repeal of the law.
"The vast majority of Americans I've seen want us to work on the bill but not to see it repealed," Hare said. "There are small businesses this very year that are going to get tax credits for providing health insurance for their employees."
Speaking on the country's budget deficit, Hare said he's hopeful that a presidential commission's upcoming report on the situation will be taken seriously by both parties and said oversight and investigation are necessary at all levels of government.
On the wars the U.S. military continues to prosecute in the Middle East, Hare said a sure plan for withdrawal is needed.
"We're borrowing money to pay for a war we've been fighting for 10 years," Hare said. "We have men and women in harm's way, and they need to come back safely and in a timely fashion."
Schilling, owner of a pizza restaurant in Moline, is making his first run for elected office. Speaking on health care reform, Schilling said the recent law should be repealed and replaced.
"It didn't have a whole lot to do with reform," Schilling said. "We started with the reform process to reduce the cost, and it didn't do so whatsoever."
On addressing the budget, Schilling said he would fight against overregulation of business by the government and would vote to keep the tax cuts instituted under President George W. Bush in place.
"The No. 1 thing that we have to do is knock out all of these job-crushing bills and government takeovers," Schilling said. "A lot of companies out there want to expand, but because the government has been so overreaching, businesses are sitting on the sidelines and are unwilling to expand."
On the wars, Schilling rejected the idea of a concrete timeline, saying it encourages insurgents.
"One of the things I don't agree with is timelines," Schilling said. "If you say next Thursday we're going to pull out, al-Qaida and the others are ready to go on Friday."
The candidates also took opportunities to differentiate themselves from one another. Hare said his opponent has been vague on the issues.
"On every issue, I've posted my explanation," Hare said. "(Schilling) hasn't proposed a piece of legislation, other than saying he'll read every page of every bill he votes for."
In a document he titled "Bobby Schilling's Contract with the 17th District," one of Schilling's promises to voters was "I will not vote in favor of any bill that I have not read." Large pieces of federal legislation can be hundreds or thousands of pages long.
"The whole premise behind making that pledge is so we can stop all of the 2,700-page bills coming through," Schilling said. "If we're going to have big bills like that, we need to pass it in sections and make changes to it as we're reading through it."