A tense, final 17th Congressional District debate Thursday night in Peoria offered clear examples of the policy differences between U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Colona, and East Moline Democrat Cheri Bustos.
In the one-hour debate, the two tangled repeatedly on Medicare, taxes and the economy as they made a late dash for votes on Nov. 6.
Ms. Bustos said her opponent wanted to retain tax cuts for wealthy Americans instead of improving conditions for the middle class.
"Congressman Schilling is working darn hard for those millionaires, and that we need to address," she said.
Tax cuts instituted by President George W. Bush are set to expire at the end of the year. Ms. Bustos said she wants to retain tax cuts for people with incomes of less than $1 million. Rep. Schilling said allowing any taxes to rise would hurt the economy.
"She's talking about the tax breaks that our job creators get for employing people," he said.
Rep. Schilling defended House Republican plans for Medicare, the government health-care program for seniors. He supported proposed reforms that would pay Medicare recipients a fixed subsidy to buy private insurance. Ms. Bustos said that would end guaranteed benefits for seniors.
Rep. Schilling also supported giving seniors 55 and younger the option of remaining in the traditional Medicare program or picking from a list of approved providers.
"I'm the only one sitting up here that's actually backed a plan to save and strengthen Medicare," Rep. Schilling said.
Ms. Bustos, who supports some of the provisions in President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act to reduce the cost of Medicare, had a different opinion of the Republican plan.
"Your plan would cost seniors an extra $6,400 a year," she said, citing analysis of a 2011 House Republican plan that Rep. Schilling supported. "And I happen to be under 55. You happen to be under 55. There's a lot of people in this audience under 55. What about them?
"Our health needs, when we get older, aren't going to be any different than our parents or our grandparents," she said. "So we're going to gut this program for the next generation?"
Rep. Schilling said his comments were about the later version of the proposed reforms without the cost cited by Ms. Bustos.
"The $6,400 amount that my opponent continues to put out there has already been debunked," he said.
The candidates also offered different plans to boost employment and expand manufacturing jobs under pressure from low-wage competition overseas. Ms. Bustos is against new free trade agreements with South Korea, Columbia and Panama that Rep. Schilling voted for, saying they would result in job losses similar to those seen at the former Maytag plant in Galesburg under the North American Free Trade Agreement in the 1990s.
"NAFTA and the NAFTA-style trade agreements that my opponent supports ... they have resulted in 91,000 Illinois jobs being shipped overseas," Ms. Bustos said.
Rep. Schilling said free trade agreements actually help local employers such as Caterpillar in Peoria. The real hindrance to jobs, he said, was over-regulation and high taxes.
"These three trade agreements did not cost 91,000 jobs. That is simply not true," he said. "We can verify that with Caterpillar right here in town."
The two also continued their long-running outsourcing debate, with Ms. Bustos calling for an end to incentives given to companies that send jobs abroad.
"We have tax policies that actually pay tax incentives to pack up and ship those jobs over to China," she said. "I say lets pay those companies to bring the jobs home."
Rep. Schilling noted Ms. Bustos had invested in an overseas fund.
"My opponent continues to talk about how she doesn't want to ship jobs overseas, but yet she invests tens of thousands of dollars in overseas funds," he said. "So you can't have it both ways."
Ms. Bustos acknowledged she used to have a small sum in a 401k account invested in an overseas fund. But she said she has divested from that fund.
Both candidates found agreement in federal support for public broadcasting, in response to a question from panelist Herb Trix of WVIK Radio in Rock Island.
Thursday's debate -- hosted by WTVP, the League of Women Voters and the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service at Bradley University -- was carried live on WVIK and WQPT TV in Moline.