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How could Durbin lose a clout fight for U of I grant?

Monday, Dec 16, 2013

* Good news

The new budget agreement making its way through Congress should have “significant benefits” for the University of Illinois and its researchers, its chief federal lobbyist says.

The two-year deal struck by Republicans and Democrats last week, and approved Thursday by the House, would provide partial relief for the cuts imposed by the budget sequester last spring and give federal agencies some certainty in budget planning, said Jon Pyatt, UI director of federal relations.

“We really see this as a positive sign. We’ve been lurching from crisis to crisis for the last several years,” Pyatt said.

* Bad news

University of Illinois Board Chair Chris Kennedy is sounding an alarm, worried a bid by the school and its partners for a $70 million federal Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute grant may be influenced by a senator’s clout — and end up in Huntsville, Ala.

Kennedy, noting the clout history of Illinois — harking back to the days when the late Rep. Dan Rostenkowki, D-Ill., could vastly influence decisions — told me Sunday, “there is a certain irony to the fact that we may lose a big federal grant to clout.”


“The university has lots of supporters, elected officials, government workers, and that network is providing us with feedback, and that feedback is indicating perhaps a certain United States senator is so focused on bringing home this grant to his Southern state that we may not get it,” Kennedy said.

The senator in question is Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee Defense spending subcommittee, and this is a Defense Department project. Durbin has written two letters to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to bolster the U. of I. bid, on Aug. 8 and Nov. 8. Durbin’s Nov. 8 letter was signed by a total of 16 senators, including Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.

If Durbin gets outmaneuvered by Shelby on this one, then what good is he? I mean, the Senate is majority Democratic, he’s chairman of a powerful subcommittee and is the number 2 guy in Senate leadership.

C’mon, man.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Just askin' - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 1:12 pm:

    So if Durbin loses this clout fight, will Rich Miller endorse Oberweis?

  2. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 1:16 pm:

    If only this was about changing numbers on IDOT speed limit signs, then I would know who to turn to!

    To the Post,

    I would have thought Sen. Durbin would be a little less *ahem* formal (letter writing) and a bit more *ahem* informal in expressing to Senate Democratic Leadership that he (Durbin) is running for re-election and like Sen. Reid when he was up for re-election, certain “courtesies” might be extended in a “decision” between the 2nd most powerful senator in the United States, versus a Minority Party senator.

    Maybe I think too much?

    Boy I wish these were IDOT speed limit signs …

  3. - Rich Miller - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 1:17 pm:

    ===will Rich Miller endorse Oberweis?===


    I’ve only made a few endorsements in my life. Bill Holland (auditor general reelect because I was so, um, “skeptical” when he was first elected), Brendan Reilly (alderman against an absolutely horrible incumbent in my former ward) and Elgie Sims (county board against a horrible incumbent, who is now in prison).

    In other words, I highly doubt it.

  4. - MOON - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 1:20 pm:

    Its time for ALL Illinois voters to recognize Durbin is a lightweight.

  5. - Siriusly - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 1:20 pm:

    I’m with you, this would make Durbin look very weak if he can’t land this over Shelby.

  6. - wordslinger - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 1:27 pm:

    Shelby is one of the great GOP pork barrellers of all time. Bringing home the bacon is what he does all day long (when he’s not giving speeches on the evils of “big government, too much spending and high taxes”).

    Still, Durbin is in the majority leadership. If he gets rolled, that’s pretty weak.

  7. - Arthur Andersen - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 1:35 pm:

    Perhaps Chair Kennedy could either a) expend a little of his own clout or b) get the Big U to hire some real lobbyists instead of someone’s kids.

    Very amateur move to tweak Durbin.

  8. - 47th Ward - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 1:37 pm:

    Kennedy is the UofI board chair, and this is obviously his top priority. I’m sure Durbin has his own list of priorities, and is none too pleased with Kennedy trying to push to the front of the line, which is a classic Kennedy manuever.

    The way Kennedy has set this up, it puts Durbin in a heck of a spot. I’m sure that won’t go unnoticed.

  9. - Rich Miller - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 1:38 pm:

    ===I’m sure that won’t go unnoticed. ===

    Meh. What’s Durbin gonna do?

  10. - 47th Ward - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 1:43 pm:

    ===What’s Durbin gonna do?===

    Nothing. As in, next time U of I wants something, Durbin can do nothing.

    There are plenty of universities in Illinois. Only one is in Urbana.

  11. - Rich Miller - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 1:48 pm:

    ===As in, next time U of I wants something, Durbin can do nothing.===

    Not gonna happen. This was just a friendly love tap by Kennedy.

  12. - Sunshine - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 1:50 pm:

    Durbin needs to take this up with his boss, Chuck Schumer.

  13. - Rich Miller - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 1:50 pm:

    Too funny, Sunshine. I just spit out my coffee.

  14. - OneMan - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 1:56 pm:

    Don’t get on the Sunday morning shows by getting grants for the U of I :-)

    But to Lynn’s piece and Kennedy’s comments. Actually Huntsville is kind of an impressive tech location and high a very high level of phds per capita (thanks to NASA in large part). Also would have been a bit more impressed with Kennedy’s arguments if had made the point about engineering students if he made it about the state. Even state schools that are not U of I (NIU, WIU, SIU ) have engineering programs as well..

  15. - BW - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 2:02 pm:

    Wasn’t Sen. Durbin one of the bid pushers of re-branding FutureGen as FutureGen 2.0? Last I checked, that project was stalled in the pipeline too though no one would admit to it.

  16. - Anonymous - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 2:24 pm:

    Durbin has always been free spending with OPM, and check kiting from the House ‘bank’ (remember that?). But, as you say, if he can’t get this done, his Teflon will show great age and wear.

  17. - A guy... - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 2:25 pm:

    Shelby switched parties when the GOP took control of the Senate. His reward was higher tenure on the Appropriations Committee. A few years later, voila, he’s a ranking member. That committee has always worked a little differently and less partisan, since Uncle Ted Stevens and Uncle Bob Byrd split all the babies evenly and allowed one another to pass out the formula as they saw fit. For Chris Kennedy, this is really a job for Uncle Ted, who no longer walks those halls. The problem with Durbin is no one considers him Uncle Dick. He’s really more like a cousin.

  18. - Judgment Day - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 2:36 pm:

    “Shelby is one of the great GOP pork barrellers of all time. Bringing home the bacon is what he does all day long (when he’s not giving speeches on the evils of “big government, too much spending and high taxes”).

    Still, Durbin is in the majority leadership. If he gets rolled, that’s pretty weak.”

    Shelby is more of an operator. Durbin comes across as an ideologue. This effort needs more Mark Kirk and Valarie Jarrett. Truthfully, we need to win this one.

  19. - Liberty First - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 2:47 pm:

    Illinois exports a lot of tax dollars to the feds. Not much of record for the #2 in the Senate.

  20. - Chad - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 2:52 pm:

    Agree this is just a love tap. The big U dumped its previous bipartisan lobbying approach a few years back, and is now a division of the Dem party. Durbin loves those guys. Shelby has no reason to back down — especially to a former Wasserman-Schultz staffer.

  21. - Formerly Known As... - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 3:39 pm:

    Clout. Love it when it works in your favor, hate it when it works against you.

    In reality, this is sad. Not because Durbin might lose a clout fight.

    But because such decisions should be made on the basis of merit, not the basis of clout.

  22. - A guy... - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 4:07 pm:

    FKA, when you have merit and clout, it should be duck soup right? Nothing worse than a guy with a Big Bertha who chooses a 3 iron instead for fear of landing in the rough. That’s Durbin.

  23. - Steve - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 4:10 pm:

    I’m no fan of Durbin but… you can’t win every rent seeking project. If you look at his wins and loses in looting federal taxpayers: he’s in the Hall of Fame.

  24. - A guy... - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 4:29 pm:

    Steve, Which state’s hall of fame? Surely not Illinois.

  25. - Judgment Day - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 4:50 pm:

    Durbin really needs to pull out the stops for this one. The $70 million federal Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute grant looks to go into areas like Additive Manufacturing, rapid prototyping, CNC Laser sintering/cutting, etc.

    These are the areas that pull in manufacturing and component building companies. Couple that with the Supercomputing center and the work that is already happening in material sciences, and we could just bring something together that’s really special.

    There’s too many people who always talk about how there’s too much of this “Corporate Welfare” that we’re always being asked to pay out on. Well, if the State of IL can’t/won’t compete in providing ‘financial assistance’ to get the business, we better have some other factors (other than just location) working in our favor. And having a sophisticated (and growing) manufacturing technology base is a pretty good alternative.

    Kennedy’s right, we really need to get this one. And Durbin really needs to pull some strings to make sure it happens.

  26. - Hickory - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 5:28 pm:

    Sunshine hit a home run!

  27. - Formerly Known As... - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 5:39 pm:

    @A guy - kudos. I like your Big Bertha vs. 3 iron example. Nicely worded.

    This also reminds me, “Live by the sword, die by the sword.”

    Nonetheless, it should be “duck soup”. At least you’d think so.

  28. - Anon - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 9:33 pm:

    U of I lobbying team is a shell of what it once was, both in Spfld and DC.

    When earmarks were eliminated they were very slow to move their influence into the various federal agencies that award competitive grants. They had grown fat and lazy on Durbin earmarks.

    Durbin needs to tell them to cut the admin overhead and start hiring some researchers that can compete for grants.

  29. - NW Illinois Dem - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 10:39 pm:

    Here’s to a victory for Senator Durbin, Chris Kennedy and the U of I advanced manufacturing/digital initiative

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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