By Laurence D. Schiller

Congressman Bob Dold and his mentor, Senator Mark Kirk, are fond of portraying themselves as moderate independents—as they must, if they want to win election in Blue Illinois. This is why it is so important to separate what these Republican legislators actually do from the press releases emanating from their offices.

In the recent past, both Kirk and Dold’s electoral victories have been assisted by the lack of attention and appallingly low voter turnout that has become typical of non-presidential election years. Kirk, who is perhaps the most vulnerable GOP senator in 2016, achieved election to the Senate in 2010, the year, as President Obama put it, Democrats received a “shellacking” in the mid-term elections. Dold, too, was first elected as part of that 2010 Republican juggernaut. And after losing to Brad Schneider in 2012, the year President Obama was reelected, Dold was able to regain the seat in the Democratic-leaning 10th in 2014 by sounding just enough like a moderate to squeak through. He exploited voters’ unhappiness with Congress, even though it was the Republican majority’s House leadership, abetted by an aggressively obstructionist Republican minority in the Senate, that paralyzed the government.

It is important to note that Dold, the self-styled moderate, made Congressman Paul Ryan’s list of most reliable conservatives, a list that includes the worst of climate deniers, fundamentalist evangelicals, xenophobes, and war hawks, all supporters of our modern day Robber Barons. Not a list that should help him in the 2016 election, but remember, this is the same Bob Dold who was endorsed by Phyllis Schlafly in 2010 and begged to keep that quiet.

Clearly, what Dold does in Congress makes the Radical Right happy, no matter what he says to his moderate constituents. Here is an example: In a speech in Chicago on April 27, Dold said that the nation is in desperate need of plans to stimulate economic growth, upgrade infrastructure, whittle its national debt, and help the growing number of Americans in poverty. Can’t disagree, although on President Obama’s watch, the debt has been significantly reduced and the stock markets are at all-time highs.

But what did Dold do? He voted for the Republican budget, which decimates social services, including cutting food stamps, Head Start programs, and aid to education; takes health insurance away from 16 million Americans; and reduces Medicare and Medicaid from essential government programs to tax credits or block grants designed to benefit the insurance companies. (For a more detailed discussion of this budget, see “Congress Watch:  Dold and Kirk Vote To Gut Medicare and Other Health and Social Programs, Increase Defense Spending, and Lower Taxes on the Wealthiest Americans,” Tenth News, May 2015, Far from redressing the growing poverty in America, this Republican budget cuts essential services and would cause misery, sickness, and literal hunger to millions who should point their gaunt fingers at millionaire Bob Dold.

Further, this Republican budget fails to provide sufficient funds to address infrastructure problems, while cutting aid to mass transit and Amtrak, again services utilized by the working and middle classes.

Finally, this Republican budget provides yet another tax cut to the top one percent of Americans, which will reduce income to the Federal Treasury and increase the national debt, not reduce it. Dold’s insistence that tax cuts for the wealthy and reduced environmental controls on business create jobs flies in the face of the reality of what George H. W. Bush called Reagan’s voodoo economics. Trickle down economics don’t work and never will.

So there is a basic disconnect between Dold’s words that he wants to help people, and his actions, whereby he votes for the economics of the Robber Barons, regardless of the damage it does to average Americans. Dold has yet to understand the basic economic premise that it isn’t the rich who create jobs, it is consumer demand, and that demand is disappearing as the economic policies that Dold supports shift the wealth of America from the middle class to the very rich.

The other recent big news out of the House was the passage of the $89.2 billion National Defense Appropriations Act (NDAA), which vastly expanded spending on defense, even as Republicans in the House, Dold included, failed to take responsibility for authorizing the war against ISIS. While Republicans in both houses of Congress have made sanctimonious noises about the need to meddle with and control nuclear talks with Iran, the House GOP leadership allowed a bill to pass that sets no limits on spending, number of troops sent to Iraq, or endgame for this conflict. Of course this is all politics. Constitutionally, Congress has no right to interfere in diplomatic negotiations, whereas it is supposed to be responsible for authorizing wars. The NDAA passed, supported by Dold, with 135 amendments, among which was stripping the ability of Dreamers to join the military and a scientifically fallacious “Pain Capable Children” provision designed to further limit women’s abortion rights. While Dold voted against these amendments initially, preserving a basis for him to claim that he is moderate on immigration and choice, when it mattered he voted for the NDAA with these provisions intact. This is a time-honored tactic. If Dold were truly pro-choice or supported immigration reform, he would have voted against the NDAA as a matter of principle. He did not.

Mark Kirk, who, by the way, has the lowest rating in the Senate for writing bipartisan bills and zero points from for failing to support eight government transparency bills, also voted for the GOP budget, contradicting his stated desire to help the average Illinoisan. But I think his actions, or, more accurately, non-actions, on the Loretta Lynch nomination for Attorney General and the Human Trafficking bill are most indicative of how Kirk operates. Lynch’s nomination, held up for five months, longer than any cabinet nomination of the past three administrations, was hostage to Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desire to hurt the President in any way possible. Although the majority of Senators supported the nomination, McConnell refused to bring it to the floor for a vote.

While Democrats pressured McConnell, Mark Kirk said and did nothing. With public opinion roundly condemning the Senate leadership, McConnell decided to tie the nomination to a widely supported bill on human trafficking, saying he would bring it up as soon as that bill was passed. But, of course, there was a hitch. When Democrats weren’t looking, the Republicans slid in a provision that would have curtailed the ability of victims of trafficking to terminate pregnancies, and Democrats objected. (For a detailed discussion of this bill, see “Congress Watch:  Kirk Signs Open Letter to Iran; Goes Along with Republican Leadership on Abortion Restrictions and Anti-Immigrant Homeland Security Funding Bills,” Tenth News, April 2015, at p. 11,

Eventually, the anti-choice language was removed, the bill passed, and Lynch was confirmed. And Kirk? He had nothing to say about the human trafficking bill controversy.  Yet immediately after Lynch’s confirmation, he trumpeted how he was involved in the bipartisan effort to get her in. Really? When it mattered, when McConnell was playing his political games, there wasn’t a peep out of Kirk or his office. For five months he did nothing but toe the party line, showing what an ineffective voice he is for those for whom he says he advocates. His lack of action speaks far louder than his statements after the fact.

Dold and Kirk?  Be very skeptical of what they say.  Watch what they do.

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