Freshman Rep. Schock off to fast start
Walking up the front steps of the Capitol Building every day to go to work.
Being in the heart of the action in one of the more difficult times facing the country. Being in a position to do something about it.
Now open your eyes.
For U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, he's living the dream.
"For years I have watched and read through the newspaper many of the personalities that I now serve with. It's almost surreal," Schock said.
Already, the 27-year-old Peoria Republican has been treated to a ride on Air Force One, addressed by President Barack Obama on national television, had several spots himself in the national spotlight, was seated on three committees, appointed to the Republican Whip Team, sponsored a bill and an amendment to another bill that was approved and made several trips back to his district to see what's on his constituents' minds.
That's just in the two months since he was sworn in.
"There's not a day that goes by that I'm not grateful for the opportunity to serve and consider myself very blessed to be given the opportunity to represent the 18th District," Schock said.
Schock doesn't appear to have lost any steam after an exhausting 1 1/2-year battle for his seat. He sits on two committees, was granted a waiver to sit on a third committee and was asked to join the Republican Whip Team.
As a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Schock said his top focuses will be securing funding for the eastern bypass and projects in Peoria, East Peoria and Pekin, including Veteran's Drive. He also will drum up financial support for locks and dams.
He also sits on the Committee on Small Business and received a waiver to sit on the House committee of Oversight and Government Reform that oversees virtually everything government does. He was appointed to the influential Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, which has jurisdiction over the reauthorization of the upcoming highway bill.
When is too much too much?
"Carpe diem," Schock said. "Some would say, 'Gee, it's a terrible year to be here. You're in the minority.' I actually think it's a great year to be here. Who wants to serve in Congress when the waters are calm?"
One of the most difficult aspects of the new job is getting used to traveling across the country on a near weekly basis. Back in Illinois as a member of the state Legislature, Schock drove back and forth to and from Springfield when the House was in session, making it easier to keep his house in order.
"Now, I have to have two homes. Just trying to balance two lives has been probably one of the more difficult things to get used to," Schock said.
In between his U.S. House sessions, Schock has made it back to the district an average of about every other weekend.
"Just because I come back to the district doesn't mean I come back to Peoria. I have 161 towns and 21 counties. I may come back to Quincy, or Springfield or Putnam County."
He continues to meet with constituents in the 20-county 18th District to determine federal funding needs and agriculture initiatives. He will request funding when the general appropriation process starts in March.
The first bill Schock sponsored, along with U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, got more attention than could have been expected.
The ELECT Act, or Ethical and Legal Elections for Congressional Transitions Act, proposes special elections to fill U.S. Senate vacancies across the country.
The bill would still allow governors to appoint someone to take over a Senate seat. But it also would require that person to participate in a special election to keep the seat within 90 days.
Before being impeached, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed Democrat Roland Burris to the senate post vacated by Obama. As controversy continued to erupt over Burris, the idea of a special election gained momentum.
Schock also sponsored an amendment to the Troubled Asset Relief Program that established a user-friendly Web site so Americans can see exactly where bailout funds are being spent.
In the works is a zero percent tax incentive on new, renewable energy to encourage development.
"While I think government has a role to play in helping to spur research, the reality is private industry is the cleanest form and ensures that there's commercialization for what they are inventing - something consumers will actually want to use and buy," Schock said.
The road has not all been smooth. Schock continues to have his critics. Some claim he's caving in on demands of Washington Republicans.
Some questioned his voting against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which Schock said was "a gimme for trial lawyers that removed statute of limitations to be able to sue on pay discrimination," adding it's already illegal to discriminate against someone based on gender, and that he supports equal pay for women.
Despite a very public nudge from the president, Schock followed the Republican Party line and voted against the economic stimulus package.
He said the bill will not create long-term, sustained economic growth and does not include enough money for infrastructure, no targeted tax cuts for individuals and small businesses and represents too much "wasteful spending."
In the spotlight
Even being the baby of his class, Schock said he hasn't experienced any hazing.
"I have no complaints with how my colleagues have treated me. I feel they've been extremely welcoming," he said.
He specifically credits Chief Deputy Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, another young House member, for helping lead the way. Cantor, who previously said he was looking to Schock as one of the "Young Guns" he can count on, appointed him to the Whip Team.
The whip keeps track of all legislation and ensures party members are present when important measures come up for a vote, and the Whip Team works together to advance the House Republican agenda.
Schock also lauded Republican John Mica of Florida, a ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure committee with getting him a spot on the highway subcommittee. As such, Schock is the only freshman serving on that subcommittee, the genesis of the massive highway bill.
"I look to him for guidance as I begin to advocate for specific projects in the 18th District," Schock said.
Schock has had lots of time in the spotlight.
In January he was on MSNBC and CNBC. In February, he appeared on Fox Business, CNN's State of the Union, MSNBC, CNN's Lou Dobbs and, most recently, a Today Show segment that aired Friday.
Topics on the shows ranged from the stimulus package, to ongoing controversy with Blagojevich and Burris to features highlighting the freshman congressman.
Some have cautioned about the possible perception that Schock will be seen more as a show horse than a work horse. Schock said it's all relevant and helps him stand out in the crowd of 434 other congressmen.
"The fundamental role of a representative is to speak on behalf of his constituents, both on the house floor and on the national platform to promote an issue," Schock said.
"Creating an ID and a brand is part and parcel to being effective as a member of Congress."
Karen McDonald can be reached at (309) 686-3285 email@example.com.