WE ARE ILLINOIS
Kirk plans to focus on spending cuts
By Greg Hinz - Crain's
Illinois' newly elected U.S. senator says he'll stick by his fiscally conservative stance as he heads to Washington with a goal of cutting spending, but he also hints he's willing to compromise on the margins to get what he wants.
In his first lengthy sit-down interview since the Nov. 2 election, North Shore Republican Mark Kirk said controlling spending is so important that the first bill he'll introduce will propose a mechanism to bring balance to the budget.
Mr. Kirk will be sworn in on Monday to the seat once held by President Barack Obama, and he takes office as yet another European country — Ireland this time — is on the rack for its financial sins.
Mr. Kirk said he is distressed that foreign countries have begun to drop the American dollar as their reserve currency, saying that represents "tremendous inflation risk."
Recent moves by the Federal Reserve to add liquidity to stimulate the economy are headed in that direction, he said. "I'm not a fan of quantitative easing at all."
Nor is he a fan of raising taxes to balance the budget.
"I very much lean on the cut-spending side," said Mr. Kirk, who has been representing the 10th District in the U.S. House. With recent GOP election gains, "My hope is to be guardians for fiscal discipline."
Mr. Kirk wouldn't give details of his first bill but suggested it would be modeled on the Ronald Reagan-era Grace Commission, which focused on rooting out fraud and waste in the federal government.
Mr. Obama's deficit-reduction commission came up with some interesting ideas — some good and others not — but what's important is actually coming up with something that will become law and be implemented, he said.
In that vein, Mr. Kirk said he is willing to live with a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts for now, but not something that definitely would raise rates for high-earners later.
He wouldn't budge on the estate tax. "I would extend (the current) zero (rate)," he said. But unlike some newly elected Republicans, he suggested there is no way to avoid raising the national debt ceiling in coming months, though he hopes such steps will become "increasingly unneeded."
He also urged President Obama to soon unveil his promised line-item veto plan.
On other issues, Mr. Kirk said he's been personally lobbied by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to vote for the pending START nuclear-arms treaty in the lame duck session but said he won't decide until he gets and digests more detail on what's included and how it was bargained.
Mr. Kirk, a Naval Reserve intelligence officer, also wouldn't commit to how he'll vote on repealing the military's anti-gay "don't ask, don't tell" policy. He first wants to read "every word" of a Pentagon report on repeal that's due on Dec. 1 and talk with Navy leaders.
During the interview, Mr. Kirk made a point of saying that he expects to represent "all the people" of Illinois, not just those who voted for him.
In fact, he notably said, he got a minority of the vote, 48%, compared to 46% for Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulias. Minor-party candidates made up the rest.
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