Tortoise-like pace of Congressional action doesn't slow Hare down


by Mike Kroll

The Zephyr, Galesburg


Phil Hare is no kid. But even at 58 this first-term Congressman exudes an infectious youthful enthusiasm as he talks about his first seven months in Washington, D.C. An unabashed liberal who remains as steadfast in his opposition to the war in Iraq as he does in supporting the needs of children, the elderly, veterans and the beleaguered western Illinois workforce. Ignoring his total lack of Congressional seniority Hard dove into thorny political issues head first and with a plain-spoken exuberance seldom seen in high-level politicians. Despite the new Democratic majorities successes have been slower than Hare expected and he laments that many others in Congress and especially the Senate remain reserved in standing firm against the Iraq war.

Hare stopped in Galesburg Tuesday morning as he tours his congressional district discussing his accomplishments and reiterating his goals. When Congress recessed very late Sunday night Hare went home to his apartment for a few hours of sleep before flying home via Chicago Monday. As if to emphasize that the freshman Congressman remains an “ordinary Joe” United Airlines managed to loose his luggage. But neither lack of rest nor even the aggravations of everyday life didn't cast a pall on Hare's optimistic outlook. “We've has a great seven months and done some wonderful things, I only wish we'd been able to do more.” Not surprisingly, Hare confirmed that he will be seeking reelection in 2008.

Sitting before a small group of local reporters Hare outlined what he saw as the key accomplishments so-far of his brief congressional career: increased funding of veteran's health care, a minimum wage increase, a responsible farm bill, ethics legislation and a commitment to attend to the needs of servicemen and women returning from Iraq with the same level of effort as devoted to sending them off to battle. Hare made no effort at subtlety as he restated his desire to end the war and get American troops out of Iraq as soon as possible. “Fourteen of the best men and women from this district have sacrificed their lives in this war just since I have been in Congress and nothing about this job is harder than making those telephone calls to the families of the fallen.”

“I just thoroughly disagree with President Bush on this Iraq war. We are squandering billions of dollars and sacrificing thousands of American lives in a war that the president cannot justify and the original goals of which now seem unattainable. Meanwhile America's military is being ground down to the point where our readiness to address other potential threats is questionable and we have been treating our military men and women like disposable commodities. As both an American and a veteran I will not stand for this. I will continue to not only fight against the war but to insure that we properly train and equip our soldiers before they enter the battle and fully attend to their needs as they return home.”

Hare says he is extremely disappointed in the rules of the Senate that make it possible for the minority to avoid a vote by mandating a 60 percent rule to avoid the threat of a filibuster. While the House has taken action to stop the war similar action has been circumvented in the Senate by the threat of a filibuster and even many of Hare's colleagues in the House are reticent to continue passing such measures only to see them vetoed by President Bush. “I don't want to give up fighting against the war just because of the threatened veto. Congress needs to earn the respect of the American people by steadfastly standing up for what is right regardless of the President's position. Whether it is ending the war or improving health care or education the Congress must address these pressing issues with realistic programs that Americans support even if the President doesn't.”

On those very issues Hare senses the immediate prospect of success on a number of education issues. He anticipates a reworking and renaming of the “No Child Left Behind” program that has been a bonanza for tests but far less successful in improving American education. He is supporting bills that would expand federal support of higher education and create loan forgiveness programs for students who commit to five years post-degree service in under-served areas as teachers, nurses, doctors, or emergency service workers.

Labor remains a key issue for Hare and he wants to pass legislation that makes it easier to establish unions, “ should be no more difficult to create a union than it currently is to decertify one.” He is proud of the new minimum wage bill and wants to strengthen it by indexing the minimum wage to inflation and establishing automatic triggers for future increases. And he continues to seek ways to counteract the effects of NAFTA and restore the viability of good-paying manufacturing jobs in America.

Hare points to the recent bridge disaster in Minneapolis as evidence that this country has long neglected much of its transportation infrastructure. Many bridges across his district and in nearby districts require repair or replacement but lack funding for the work. This is on top of crumbling roads, underfunded mass transit and never ending efforts by some in Washington to eliminate Amtrak. He sees all of these transportation issues as critical to the vitality and economic success of his district and will fight to obtain the necessary funding.

“I'm really growing tired of the complaint you always here that we can't afford to address this or that domestic issue regardless of its popularity with the voters. Yet, we have spent close to a trillion, that's with a “T,” dollars fighting the war in Iraq to-date with no end in sight and few questions about where the funding is coming from. I cannot help but contemplate how much good we could accomplish here in America with the money now being spent on this war.”