While U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI,1) was in Bloomington Wednesday to campaign for U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL,13), college students and critics of the Illinois Republican took to Twitter to blast Davis for supporting the conservative Ryan budget.
While U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI,1) was in Bloomington Wednesday to campaign for U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL,13), critics of the Illinois Republican took to Twitter to blast Davis for supporting the conservative Ryan budget.
College Democrats of Illinois started the "NoRodneyRyan" hashtag on Twitter to specifically call Davis out for voting in favor of a fiscal blueprint authored by Ryan that would have slashed the Pell Grant program, which helps low-income students pay for college.
The 2015 House budget authored by Ryan, who chairs the Budget Committee, would have cut Pell Grants by more than $125 billion over 10 years. Davis, who is running for his second term in the 13th congressional district in central Illinois, voted for that plan as well as a similar version of the Ryan budget in 2013.
Ann Callis, a former chief judge and the Democratic candidate vying to unseat Davis, also criticized her opponent for hosting Ryan in the 13th congressional district Wednesday.
“By bringing extreme Washington politicians like Michele Bachmann, John Boehner, and now Paul Ryan to our district, Congressman Rodney Davis is showing he cares more about being a Washington insider than helping struggling families in Illinois," she said in a statement. "These politicians, who represent a broken Congress, have come to raise money and reward Congressman Davis for supporting their dangerous agenda in Washington. Davis has voted for and praised the Ryan Budget, which ends the Medicare guarantee and increases costs for seniors, slashes Pell Grant funding, and raises taxes on middle class families while giving tax breaks to billionaires. Congressman Davis should stop bringing in his bosses and allies in the do-nothing Congress and start listening to the needs of his constituents."
Brexton Isaacs, president of the College Democrats of Illinois, said college affordability is an important issue in the 13th congressional district, which includes more than 100,000 college students and a number of higher education institutions, including the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois State University, Illinois Wesleyan University and others.
When Davis was running for election in 2012, he said during a debate that he would "increase access to Pell Grants" if elected and "would not have supported the Ryan budget."
"I'm not going to support cuts in Pell Grants to students that attend these universities and colleges," Davis said at the November 2012 debate.
Although the GOP-backed Ryan budget has been dead on arrival in the Democrat-led Senate, Isaacs stressed that Davis voted for the plan "with no complaints" about Pell Grant funding.
"It's not like he came out and said that he believes that Pell Grant funding should be reinstated or taken out of the Ryan budget," Isaacs said. "He voted for it with no complaints, which I think is really telling where his priorities are."
The Davis campaign did not return a request for comment on this story.
Davis has supported other Congressional efforts to make college more affordable for students, a theme the Republican highlighted in his second political TV ad for the 2014 general election.
For example, Davis voted for a short-term bipartisan budget agreement in December that increased the maximum Pell Grant award to the current $5,730 level. The Republican's campaign website also points out that Davis voted in favor of the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013, which lowered the interest rates for federal student loans taken out after July 1, 2013.
But on the issue of student loans, Isaacs noted that the freshman congressman has not signed on to the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, introduced in the House and Senate in May, that would allow those with outstanding student loan debt to refinance their loans at a lesser rate. Republicans have blocked the bill, championed by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), in the Senate. The companion measure in the House has been stuck in committee.
"Our current representative, who is a Republican, isn't representing our interests," Isaacs said. "I think there's a real groundswell for students to finally have a voice in Congress downstate that they really currently don't have."
Callis, who has made college affordability a pillar of her platform, would better represent students on issues ranging from education to LGBT rights, Isaacs maintains.
The Callis campaign has used Davis' support for the Ryan budget in the past to highlight the policy differences between the two candidates. The Ryan budget, named "The Path To Prosperity: A Responsible, Balanced Budget," would have ended the Medicare guarantee and replaced it with a voucher program. Health insurance coverage and subsidies available as part of the Affordable Care Act would be scaled back and a number of other programs, including Medicaid, would face cuts under Ryan's fiscal plan.
“Congressman Davis promised to oppose the Ryan Budget while campaigning, and has now voted for it two years in a row," Callis said in a statement in April when the 2015 Ryan budget passed through House. "This irresponsible budget shows how Congressman Davis has the wrong priorities and his votes would harm Illinois families ... Instead of playing political games, I will go to Congress and bring people together to get results like raising the minimum wage, renewing long-term unemployment benefits and passing the Paycheck Fairness Act to ensure women receive equal pay for equal work.”
Callis said she would also work to protect Social Security if elected.
The 13th congressional districts includes almost 130,000 individuals who rely on Social Security, including close to 83,000 retirees, Callis has pointed out.
"I will fight in Congress against privatization, against raising the retirement age, and against Chained-CPI, because I know those proposals would hurt seniors and take away the benefits they have earned after a lifetime of hard work," the Democrat said. "This election is about who will look after seniors, and Congressman Davis has let them down during his time in Washington.”
According to the Cook Political Report's 2014 House race ratings, the competitive contest in Illinois' 13th congressional district leans Republican. The "lean" category means the race is considered competitive, "but one party has an advantage."
Davis also has an edge in terms of campaign finance.
The incumbent Republican has so far raised more than $2.6 million this election cycle, while Callis has brought in almost $1.4 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics's OpenSecrets website.
Paul Green, policy studies professor and director of the Institute for Politics at Roosevelt University, said it "would be very difficult to dislodge an incumbent Republican in central Illinois in 2014."
"Just on general principles, it's going to be very, very difficult," he said.
"In a congressional race during the second term of a president, [in an] off-year election after six years, the key factor is the president's popularity. Most of the time the party in power, that's the party of the president, ... takes the hit," Green explained. "Even though this is Barack Obama's home state, his popularity, I would guess, in central Illinois has waned ... after six years of the presidency. It usually means that the party in power loses seats."
Image: AP Photo/The State Journal-Register, Justin L. Fowler