CHICAGO - U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., has carefully cultivated the image of a political moderate. It was that image that allowed him to get elected in 2010 in the first place.
But since elected, Kirk has stood squarely with the tea party and Republican right wing in their drive to obstruct passage of any meaningful jobs legislation and to impose austerity policies that favor the 1 percent.
Every critical vote Kirk casts has been with the obstructionists and in opposition to the desperate needs of working families in the present crisis.
Kirk was one of seven Republican senators who joined with the tea party-dominated House Republicans just before the holiday season to cruelly vote against extending the payroll tax cut as part of a larger bipartisan compromise package that ensured extension of unemployment benefits.
With another confrontation looming in Congress over extending unemployment insurance to millions of long-term unemployed, Illinois residents are rightfully wondering if Kirk will once again oppose the extension.
Kirk used as the pretext for opposing the extension his concern over the impact the payroll tax reduction would have on the financial health of Social Security trust fund. What he neglected to mention was the legislation would replenish the trust fund through transfers from the general fund.
Kirk's disingenuousness is also exposed by his repeated support for the Simpson-Bowles proposal to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform that would impose cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits.
The pattern of hypocrisy is clear.
Earlier last fall Kirk joined with every Republican and voted three times to filibuster President Obama's Jobs for America Act, which would have restored the jobs of 300,000 teachers and put hundreds of thousands of construction workers back to work.
It is estimated the act would have created 49,000 jobs in Illinois alone.
One of the reasons Kirk voted against that bill was because it would have been paid for in part through a small tax surcharge on millionaires and billionaires. And while Kirk has no hesitation when it comes to increasing taxes on working people, he consistently opposes ending the Bush tax cuts to the very rich.
Similarly, in November 2010, Kirk voted against extension of unemployment benefits, insisting on "fiscal discipline," and any extension had to be accompanied by cuts elsewhere to social programs. Again, he was a vigorous supporter of extending the Bush tax cuts.
Kirk, like the tea party Republican obstructionists, sees the deficit and taxes on the wealthy as obstacles to jobs creation. He adamantly opposes any new economic stimulus and has supported a balanced budget amendment that would impose draconian cuts in health care, education and other vital social programs.
Kirk's jobs program is to "cut spending, reform lawsuits and block job killing regulation," presumably any pro-worker and consumer protections and repeal of the modest financial reforms on Wall Street.
One deregulation is contained in his "Lincoln Legacy Infrastructure Development Act," which would supposedly generate $100 billion in public and private investment for the nation's highways, airports and railroads.
Sounds nice, but the bill actually opens the door to privatization of the nation's interstate highway system and imposes tolls, amounting to a double tax.
Kirk's other jobs program is support for the Keystone XL Pipeline construction, which he claims would create 20,000 jobs. The pipeline is hotly opposed by sections of the labor movement and environmentalists as catastrophic for the environment.
Kirk's support for the project also exposes his false image as an environmentalist.
What's needed is concerted pressure on Kirk by the state's residents to demand he break ranks with the right-wing obstructionists and serve the needs of his constituents and their communities.
Photo: Chicago demonstration for jobs, sponsored by Jobs with Justice. John Bachtell/PW