U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is unabashedly defending his name-calling and other attacks on Illinois businesses looking to locate their headquarters overseas — moves his Republican challenger has described as “bullying” and the kind of anti-business behavior that’s hampering the state’s economic recovery.
Durbin, who’s seeking his fourth U.S. Senate term against dairy entrepreneur and GOP state Sen. Jim Oberweis, shined a spotlight on Deerfield-based Walgreen and other companies that considered relocating to take advantage of lower tax rates, calling them “deserters” and unpatriotic. The U.S. Senate’s second-most-powerful Democrat also started petitions, held news conferences and introduced legislation to prevent such companies from getting federal contracts.
“I think it’s my job,” Durbin said in an interview with The Associated Press. “If an Illinois senator won’t stand up to keep companies in this state and in this country he’s got the backbone of a melting ice cream cone.”
Oberweis, whose family owns a chain of ice cream shops, argued it’s more evidence Durbin — who’s served on Capitol Hill for 32 years — has grown arrogant and “has no idea how to create jobs in the private economy.” He says the solution to so-called corporate inversions — when a U.S. company merges with or buys a foreign company then moves its legal address overseas — is to make Illinois and the U.S. more business-friendly by lowering taxes and cutting regulations he says are too burdensome.
Durbin, 69, of Springfield, outlined his views on a range of issues during the hour-long interview with AP, including critics’ argument that he’s been in Washington too long and how much of the blame Democrats shoulder for the dysfunction there. Durbin has won his last two elections with at least 60 percent of the vote, and Oberweis has said it will take “a pretty significant Republican year” for him to win.
“There will be some who say it’s time to move to someone else,” Durbin said. “There will be others who will say he’s used his experience to help us and we want to keep him in the job.”
Durbin is leading a Democratic effort in Illinois and elsewhere to hold off Republicans this fall. In Illinois, the GOP sees the opportunity to pick up the governor’s office and a couple of congressional seats while nationally they are aiming to take control of the U.S. Senate. Durbin said he’s working to register voters and push turnout among hundreds of thousands of Democratic “fall off” voters that history shows tend to stay home in elections where there’s no presidential race on the ballot.
His actions on Walgreen — which ultimately decided not to relocate — and other companies fit a narrative he and other Democrats are pushing: That Democratic candidates are the ones who will stand up for the little guy. He’s introduced a bill to give tax breaks to companies that keep jobs in the U.S. and pay at least $15 per hour, among other things.
Democrats also have sounded a constant drumbeat about the minimum wage, which Durbin says should be raised to $10.10 per hour. He also says large corporations and people at the highest income levels should pay higher tax rates, and people who are struggling to get by should “get a break.”
Oberweis, 68, of Sugar Grove, favors raising the minimum wage only for workers 26 and older, and supports a “flatter” system of tax rates.
Durbin said he was aware of and supported several non-binding questions that Illinois Democrats in the General Assembly put on the ballot to draw the party’s base to the polls, saying the GOP has successfully used the strategy in other states. Those measures include questions about whether to raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour, impose an additional tax on incomes of more than $1 million and prevent people from being denied the right to register or vote based on race.
Durbin predicted there wouldn’t be a Republican wave this fall, and he believes Democrats have a better chance of keeping the U.S. Senate than losing it to Republicans, though he said “it’s close.”
He also says he’s not taking his own race for granted.
“I get up every morning, I open my eyes, I say ‘Eric Cantor’ and I jump out of bed,” Durbin said, referencing the former Majority Leader of the U.S. House, a Virginia Republican, who few considered vulnerable but who was upset in a GOP primary race.
Durbin said he’s tried to work across the aisle — helping draft bipartisan immigration legislation and building a close working relationship with Illinois’ junior senator, Republican Mark Kirk. But he also acknowledged Democrats share “some of the blame” for Washington’s divisiveness.
“(Voters) are upset with all of us in public life and political life,” he said. “It’s a wakeup call for all of us.”
SARA BURNETT AND SOPHIA TAREEN, Associated Press