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House Democrats fail to pass bill on child care that GOP dubbed 'gotcha politics'

Protesters rally in support of lawmakers ending the state budget impasse at the Illinois State Capitol Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, in Springfield. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

A day after Gov. Bruce Rauner abandoned his overhaul of the state’s child care assistance program, the House Democrats failed Tuesday to pass a bill that would have permanently reversed his cuts — and limited the governor’s powers in the future.

House Democrats were just one vote short — voting 70-35 on Senate Bill 570. It needed 71 votes to pass. Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, didn’t vote — showing some tension between House Democrats and the administration.

“‘Come on, Ken!’” House Democrats screamed as Dunkin did not vote on two key bills favored by Democrats.

Dunkin also skipped the session on Sept. 2 – leaving the Democrats one vote short on an override of the governor’s veto of AFSCME’s no strike bill.

Republicans dubbed the Senate bill, which would have restored full funding for state-subsidized child care for low-income working parents “unnecessary,” citing Rauner’s “compromise” on Monday.

Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, also called it “gotcha politics.” But Democrats painted the bill as a way to back low-income families who are in dire need of child care. The bill would have given back eligibility to families that made up to 185 percent of the poverty level

“I don’t look at trying to set policy in this body or as ‘gotcha politics,’” countered Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, who sponsored the bill in the House. “People have been boomeranged for the last four months. We have gone from a national leader in early child care education to dead last in four short months.”

“I find it highly indignant that over 60 days ago, many of us on this side begged, begged for cooperation on this bill. … Let’s move past this whole Democrat-Republican crap. Because that’s what it is.”

Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, who sponsored the child care bill in her chamber, speaks on the House floor Tuesday. Sun-Times Media.

Prior to the vote, Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, requested a moment of silence “for the children of the state of Illinois who have been negatively impacted by our shenanigans.”

Earlier, Democrats failed to override an amendatory veto of House Bill 2482, a bill to restore cuts to community care for the elderly and people with disabilities. The vote was again one short — Dunkin declining to vote.

On the House floor before that vote, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin urged Democrats to work with the governor: “He wants to find a way to get past the impasse,” he told lawmakers, while asking them to “put aside the rhetoric and some of these harsh feelings.”

The community care bill would have ensured seniors who already get home or institutional care continue to get help after the Rauner administration changes the method for determining eligibility. But Rauner on Monday announced he’d back away from plans to create new assessment procedures.

Rauner also on Monday said he’d reverse some cuts made last summer because of the lack of a budget. He said he’d be willing to roll back child care eligibility restrictions so more families that haven’t had access to child care would be able to get help.

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The finger pointing for both bill failures was directed at Dunkin.

“Let me be clear that no one bears more responsibility today for the defeat of this legislation, which protects our children and child care and home care in Illinois than Rep. Ken Dunkin himself,” Jaquie Algee, vice president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois said at a press conference organized by House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Algee said Dunkin broke a promise to his constituents — pulling out a photo of Dunkin holding a child at an event several weeks ago. The picture has the words “I promised” written on it.

“He also showed that he’s willing to use vulnerable people as political pawns, along with our governor, ” Algee said. Algee even called Dunkin out for what she called a betrayal of the late Rep. Esther Golar, who came to vote while gravely ill on Sept. 2. — the same session Dunkin skipped.

“Today, Rep. Dunkin betrayed her legacy and betrayed the constituency that he now serves,” Algee said.

Gail Hamilton, a home care provider in Springfield, told reporters Rauner used a “back door deal” on both child care and home care “as a way to save face as moderate Republicans broke with his extreme and damaging positions.”

“We moved Gov. Rauner to action. We moved moderate Republicans. We moved Democratic allies with other advocates. But now Gov. Rauner wants credit for this. It’s shameful to me that Gov. Rauner wants credit for restoring the programs that he cut. It is laughable and predictable given the willingness of Bruce Rauner to play politics with the lives of vulnerable people.”

Hamilton said the bills would have kept Rauner in check.

“These bills are necessary bills because the governor chose to abuse his executive power and use administrative rules to begin a back door destruction of these programs,” Hamilton said. “These bills were necessary to make sure that this governor, any governor, cannot abuse their executive power again.”

Rauner’s about-face Monday on child care was announced just as child care providers, advocates, and low-income parents were turning up the heat on the Illinois General Assembly to reverse an enrollment freeze that, they claim, had prevented 90 percent of eligible low-income families from accessing the child care they so desperately needed.

After the session on Tuesday, Rauner’s office issued a statement, thanking the General Assembly for its actions, saying the state is now “able to move forward on providing child care for working families in a more financially-responsible way.”

Rauner also urged an agreement on unemployment insurance reform.

“While we made progress today by working together, we did not accomplish all that we could, and the biggest issues remain,” Rauner said in the statement, while reiterating his calls for a property tax relief and term limits.”

“I know that not all of these are easy, but I’m confident we can accomplish a tremendous amount if everyone is willing to work together,” the governor said.

Madigan said he hasn’t spoken to Dunkin since August. He said Dunkin didn’t respond to his calls the day of the union arbitration vote: “He declined to take the call.”

Madigan declined to comment on whether Dunkin was to blame for the bill’s failures.

“Mr. Dunkin has now missed three votes, where he apparently supported the governor’s position, and I really think you ought to direct all of your questions to Mr. Dunkin,” Madigan said.

He added it’s “laughable” to assume all House Democrats follow the leader.

“The idea that I just issue unilateral rules day in and day out is just, it’s pretty laughable,” Madigan said.

Madigan did credit Rauner for restoring some programs: “That’s good. But we’re still along way away from a final resolution.”

“If he weren’t functioning in the extreme, there could be action today,” Madigan warned. “We wouldn’t have to wait ‘til January.”