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Article updated: 8/2/2011 6:02 AM

Suburban reps play key roles in debt ceiling storm

By Kerry Lester

With hours to go before a potential government default, members of Republican leadership Monday, including Congressman Peter Roskam of Wheaton, were walking the marble halls of Congress, persuading members of the House to back a plan that would raise the debt ceiling and cut government spending.

While many ultimately came on board, two members of Illinois' suburban Republican delegation stood firm: Joe Walsh and Randy Hultgren.

They were two of 66 Republicans to vote against the plan in the House, where the legislation passed by a 269-161 vote.

"The (Republican) whip team was active," said Walsh. "There were a number of folks in leadership positions or good conservatives that talked to and worked over each one of us."

While the McHenry tea partyer said he was never "hauled in" to House Speaker John Boehner's or Republican Leader Eric Cantor's office, "they put other guys in front of me who I always look up to and respect."

Roskam was one of them.

The three suburban Republicans -- Roskam, a member of Republican leadership, and Walsh and Hultgren, freshmen congressmen who came to Washington vowing to reform the way government does business -- represented the difficulty the Republican Party had in coming to a compromise to avoid a government default.

Last week, 14th District Congressman Hultgren was pulled aside by Boehner outside his office in the first-floor Capitol hallway.

"He wanted to talk to me, I wanted to talk to him," Hultgren said, noting he was able to voice concerns over earmarks and structural spending reform.

Still, the Winfield Republican noted, "I see he has the challenges of keeping our caucus together."

Monday, the party did just that, as House members of the "crisis-driven institution," as Roskam fondly calls Congress, reached compromise. The measure now heads to the Senate, where passage is expected.

"I know the whole Washington (mindset) is that something's gotta be cobbled together," Walsh said. "But we've all botched this in a way because we took our eyes off the debt crisis. This whole thing became August 2, August 2, August 2."

Yet as Walsh voted no because he wanted more cuts, Evanston Democrat Jan Schakowsky said the deal cut too much, protecting millionaires and billionaires. She said she has supported raising the debt ceiling in the past but she couldn't do so Monday.

"There has to be shared sacrifice," Schakowsky said. "There hasn't been so far."

Even those suburban members of Congress who voted for the package say the deal approved Monday is less than ideal.

"This bill is far from perfect, but it fundamentally changes the direction of spending in Washington," Roskam said in a statement.

Like Roskam, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin calls the deal "not perfect" but one that will avert an economic crisis.

While Durbin, a Springfield Democrat, called resistance from tea party members, "the kind of gridlock, the kind of extreme threat we don't need in American politics," Republican Sen. Mark Kirk said "it ultimately helped negotiations because they changed the entire question of the country from what new federal program do we need to how we're cutting spending."

Whether lawmakers' stances will have ramifications in the weeks and months ahead remains to be seen.

"I think (Republican leadership) understands," Hultgren said of his no vote. "I hope they do. I want them to understand, but more importantly I want my district to understand."

Ÿ Daily Herald staff contributed to this report

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