pension committee
(M. Spencer Green/AP)
October 13, 2013

Illinois Pension Panel Split On Proposed Fix

The Illinois Legislature's fall veto session is just a week away, but a committee tasked with the solving the state's enormous pension problem is divided. 

An Associated Press survey of the 10-member committee found five Democrats support a plan that would save the state $138 billion over 30 years. The other half consists of four Republicans and one Democrat. They say they have major concerns about the proposal. 

The Legislature cannot consider the proposal unless it's signed by six committee members. 
State Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington says Republican support will be needed for the Legislature to pass a deal. 
Illinois' $100 billion unfunded pension liability follows years of skipping or shorting payments in the past, something Gov. Pat Quinn and others say strips money from schools and social services. 

Denny Hastert
(Brian Kersey/AP)
October 08, 2013

Former U.S. House Speaker Weighs In On Shutdown

Former U.S. House Speaker Denny Hastert (R-Ill.) says he cannot answer how or when, but he is confident the partial federal government shutdown will come to an end. 

Hastert was not the Speaker of the U.S. House during the last government shutdown, but he was an Illinois Congressman in 1995 and '96. He said back then, Republicans were trying to get a handle on spending. He says it worked.

"We came out with a budget agreement and because of that budget agreement the first three years that I was Speaker we able to pay down about $650 billion of public debt,” Hastert said. “You know, that was, that was, a good result out of that. It was something that was necessary and that's what we did."

Hastert said this is different. He said Washington has failed to reconcile a budget on time, and that causes a logjam.

"If you get in these types of pressure cooker situations it's artificial, because people made it happen,” he noted. “If you go regular process you would never had had it happen.  In the eight years I was speaker we always went regular process."

"The President at least has to put something on the table, so that they begin to bargain," he added.

Hastert's long-term idea for resolving Washington's problems is less obvious. It is not about the budget, and it is not related to the Affordable Care Act.

"You have to change the campaign system," he said.

Hastert blames D.C.'s gridlock on the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. He said it took money away from parties, and instead drove contributions and candidates to the far right and the far left.

"I think that Congress has become much more polarized because of McCain-Feingold,” he said. “When it becomes polarized, it's very much more difficult to find solutions to problems."

Republican members of the U.S. House are refusing to pass a spending bill without a delay of the Affordable Care Act.


Furloughed federal workers
(Win McNamee/Getty Images)
October 05, 2013

House Passes Bill Allowing Back Pay For Furloughed Workers

Federal workers who were furloughed by a government shutdown will receive back pay once they return to work, if a bill approved by the House of Representatives Saturday meets Senate approval.

The White House has said it favors such a move.

The vote came after the U.S. government began the fifth day of a shutdown that has put 800,000 people out of work. The bill was approved without a vote against it. The Senate is expected to hold its own Saturday session that begins at midday.

The back-pay bill is one of several piecemeal funding measures the House has taken up since the shutdown began. Others include money for "veterans' benefits, nutrition assistance for low-income women and children, and emergency and disaster recovery," as C-SPAN reports.

Update at 12:20 p.m. ET: Funding For Military Religious Services

As NPR's David Welna reports for our Newscast unit, the House also passed a bill that would allow military chaplains to hold services this weekend.

"House Republicans expressed outrage that military chaplains might be prevented from holding services because of the shutdown," David says.

During debate on the measure, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., asked, "Is it really the policy of this administration to make church services illegal? To threaten Catholic priests with jail?"

"Only one House member opposed a resolution allowing the chaplains to do their jobs," David says. "Senate approval is expected for both measures."

If you're wondering, that lone House member is Rep. William Enyart, D-Ill.

John Cullerton
(Seth Perlman/AP)
October 03, 2013

Illinois Senate President Backs $138 Billion Pension Plan

The president of the Illinois Senate says he's backing a compromise pension reform plan that could save $138 billion by 2043.

Chicago Democrat John Cullerton tells The (Springfield) State Journal-Register that he's working to build support for the still-unfinished proposal being developed by a pension reform committee. Cullerton hopes lawmakers can begin to act on the plan during the upcoming Oct. 22 veto session.

The 10-member panel was formed this summer after lawmakers reached a stalemate on competing House and Senate pension plans. Cullerton had expressed concernsthis spring over a plan supported by Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.

It would have saved the state $163 billion.

He called the committee's proposal "less unconstitutional'' than the Madigan-backed plan.

Illinois faces an unfunded pension liability of about $100 billion. 

September 30, 2013

Shutdown Begins After Congress Fails In Spending Compromise

House Republicans and Senate Democrats could not reach agreement by the midnight deadline on a spending bill to keep the government operating, triggering an immediate shutdown of nonessential services and the furlough of nonessential personnel potentially affecting hundreds of thousands of federal workers.

It will be the first government shutdown since 1996, when President Bill Clinton was in the White House.

The Senate leadership had insisted on accepting only a "clean" continuing resolution, as the stopgap spending bill is known. But House Republicans stood their ground, insisting on using the continuing resolution as a vehicle to accomplish their long-held goal of derailing President Obama's signature Affordable Care Act.

The final inning of the drama came Monday afternoon, as the Senate rejected yet another version of the House's spending bill that would have delayed Obamacare for a year and President Obama addressed reporters at the White House, accusing GOP lawmakers of threatening to throw a "wrench" into the economy "just because there's a law they don't like."

The House countered again, voting 228-201 to pass another bill that would avert a shutdown of the federal government but also delay a key part of the Affordable Care Act. The Senate quickly tabled the amendments and sent the bill back to the House.

As the minutes ticked away toward the midnight deadline, no compromise appeared and the White House budget office directed federal agencies to begin shutting down.

The shutdown means not only will government workers be involuntarily laid off but national parks, with daily attendance of some 750,000, will be closed.

As The Associated Press writes, the government shutdown is expected to inconvenience millions:

"Many low-to-moderate-income borrowers and first-time homebuyers seeking government-backed mortgages could face delays. ...

"About 800,000 federal workers, many already reeling from the effect of automatic budget cuts, would be ordered to report to work Tuesday for about four hours — but only to carry out shutdown-related chores such as changing office voicemail messages and completing time cards. Once they departed, they would be under orders not to do any government work.

"Some critical services such as patrolling the borders, inspecting meat and controlling air traffic would continue. Social Security benefits would be sent, and the Medicare and Medicaid health care programs for the elderly and poor would continue to pay doctors and hospitals."

Anticipating the likely shutdown, investors on Monday turned in a disappointing day. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 128.57 points, off 0.8 percent, to close at 15,129.67. The Standard & Poor's 500 dropped 10.20 points, or 0.6 percent, to 1,681.55.

September 24, 2013

Republican Kristin Williamson Running For Rep. Jakobsson's Seat

A Republican candidate jumped into the race on Tuesday for the Illinois legislature to replace Urbana Democrat Naomi Jakobsson, who is not seeking another term in the Illinois House.

Kristin Williamson, 32, of Urbana is the vice-chair of the Champaign County Republican Party, and she works for an employee benefits firm in Champaign.

“I have a background of being able to work with diverse groups of people to identify solutions, and I think all of that lends itself well to being a representative of Champaign-Urbana,” she said.

Williamson said she does not support adopting a progressive income tax, and she said she does not feel any current proposal to address Illinois’ massive pension crisis works.

“The first thing that we need to do is make sure that the pensions are funded,” she said. “We need to bring all parties to the table and start to have real conversations about what we need to do in order to fund them today and make sure that the system is sustainable.”

Williamson added that the state must get its “fiscal house in order” so that it can fully meet its financial obligations to schools, like the University of Illinois.

“The other thing as it relates to higher education is to encourage more Illinois residents to come here to school,” she explained. “I think the Research Park is a great piece of inspiration for students to come here….we have to collaborate with the business community to where people can start producing more jobs and that we make to where people want to come here and work on their startups and their creations.”

If elected, Williamson also said she would vote for a same-sex marriage bill if it came up for a vote in Springfield.

“I do support same-sex marriage,” she said. "I believe that this country was built on individual freedoms and liberties, and as an advocate of this community, I will advocate for the rights of my neighbors.”

Democrat Michael Richards, who sits on the Champaign County Board, is circulating petitions to run against Williamson.

Phyllis Pond
(Darron Cummings/AP)
September 23, 2013

Indiana's Longest-Serving Female Representative Dies

The longest-serving female state representative in Indiana's history has died after 35 years in office.

The Indiana House speaker's office announced the death of Republican Rep. Phyllis Pond of New Haven. The 82-year-old Pond had three weeks ago announced her decision to resign effective Oct. 15 after being recently diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis

Pond was a retired kindergarten teacher first elected to her Fort Wayne-area district in 1978. Her legislative work included pushing measures that reduced class sizes throughout the state and helped minority students attend law school.

House Speaker Brian Bosma said Pond forged a new path for women legislators in Indiana and that her dedication and service will be fondly remembered.

September 23, 2013

Indiana Lobbying Group Seeks Same-Sex Marriage Stances

A prominent conservative lobbying group is pushing for Indiana legislators to disclose what side they'll take in next year's expected vote on whether to put a ban on same-sex marriage into the state constitution.

The survey sent by Advance America to legislators has a Thursday deadline. The Indianapolis Star reports that's a day before the state Senate's majority Republicans have scheduled a private meeting.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long said GOP senators will discuss the marriage amendment but that the meeting is unrelated to the survey.

Republican Sen. Thomas Wyss voted for the amendment in 2011. Wyss said he's uncomfortable with its provisions banning civil unions and that he isn't answering the survey.

A message seeking comment was left for Advance America director Eric Miller.

Pat Quinn
(Seth Perlman/AP)
September 20, 2013

Judge Postpones Ruling In Suit Over Lawmaker Pay

A Cook County Circuit Court judge says he will rule next month on a lawsuit challenging Gov. Pat Quinn's decision to halt lawmaker pay until they address Illinois' pension crisis.

Judge Neil Cohen said Wednesday he would issue his decision by Sept. 26. But on Friday, Cohen said he'll rule no later than Oct. 3.

House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton sued Quinn after the governor used his line-item veto to cut money for legislator salaries from the state budget. The legislative leaders say Quinn's action is unconstitutional.

Quinn says he has the authority to veto the salaries. He says it's a consequence of lawmakers not fixing the state's nearly $100 billion pension shortfall.

Legislators already have missed two monthly paychecks.

John Boehner
(J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)
September 20, 2013

House GOP Votes To Fund Government, Kill Obamacare

The Republican-controlled House has voted to keep the government funded but their "continuing resolution" comes with a poison pill to defund the Affordable Care Act that Democrats have vowed is dead on arrival in the Senate.

On a nearly straight party vote, House lawmakers voted 230-to-189 to approve the stop-gap funding resolution, which would keep the government operating until Dec. 15. A single Democrat voted for the measure and just one Republican voted against it.

That means both sides remain at square one on preventing a government shutdown – due in just 10 days unless the partisan divide can be breached.

As NPR's Tamara Keith reported on Morning Edition, the mostly likely scenario now is that "the Senate will take up the spending bill, restore the Obamacare funding and send it back to the House. Tag, you're it."

While House Speaker Rep. John Boehner insisted on moving ahead with Friday's vote, some prominent GOP lawmakers in the Senate, such as Arizona Republican John McCain, have warned that forcing a government shutdown over the Affordable Care Act could backfire on his party.

"It is not going to succeed because the American people do not want government shut down," said McCain. "And they'll blame Congress. It's not as if we haven't seen this movie before."

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