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Durbin lauds federal spending package, supports stricter sanctions on Russia

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U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, discussed the federal spending package and sanctions against Russia during a virtual news conference on Friday.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is touting Illinois' benefits from the $1.5 trillion federal spending package passed Thursday by Congress, while supporting the Biden Administration’s latest economic sanctions against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

“We are committed to the people of that nation, to help them fight this battle to stop Vladimir Putin,” the Illinois Democrat said Friday during a virtual news conference. “Their extraordinary courage has them in a place where I think Putin never imagined he would be several weeks into his invasion.”

President Biden on Friday announced plans to revoke normal trade relations with Russia, and banned certain Russian imports and U.S. exports to the country. Durbin said he fully supports Biden’s actions.

“We are coming down on Russia, from the sanctions viewpoint, like a ton of bricks,” said Durbin. “No country has ever faced this kind of reaction for the world. I'm sorry for the people of Russia, but Vladimir Putin is the reason.”

Durbin noted the appropriations bill Congress approved includes nearly $14 billion in aid for Ukraine, including money for the embattled country to spend on military equipment as well as funds for humanitarian and economic relief. He said the sanctions against Russia are aimed at undermining Putin and bringing an end to the bloodshed in Ukraine.

“It takes more time for economic sanctions to go into effect, but they could be powerful,” said Durbin. “I understand the value of the ruble is cut in half, which means (Russian) people going shopping for bread and other items are paying twice as much for it as they were just a week ago. We hope that will lead them to say to Putin, ‘What are you doing to us (with an) unprovoked invasion into Ukraine and killing innocent people?’ We hope that that will end this violence quickly.”

However, Durbin did caution that the U.S. and its NATO allies must be cautious regarding how much military assistance they give Ukraine “without triggering some reaction from Putin that could be worse than what we have today.”

“We don’t want World War III to come out of this situation,” said Durbin. “We’ve got to be careful and observe certain lines of demarcation. We have told Putin to never cross the line and invade a NATO country like Poland.”

Durbin said he’s proud of the bipartisan work it took for Congress to pass the omnibus appropriations bill that’s headed to Biden’s desk, highlighting $210 million in congressionally-directed spending that he and fellow Sen. Tammy Duckworth secured for Illinois projects and programs.

“They were all for government entities and not for profit operations, as they should be,” he said of the earmarked funding. “Among other things that it will do is, to join the infrastructure funds to create more jobs in our state, which we definitely need; to put more access to health care, even as basic as helping to build health facilities in some communities; and make our neighborhoods safer. We want to make certain that there's money for policing, but we also want to make sure there's money for community violence intervention programs.”

Other aspects of the spending package Durbin highlighted included reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, money for environmental causes such as the effort to stop Asian carp from getting into Lake Michigan, and improving the U.S. Postal Service.

Durbin said the government eventually could consider action to offset rising gas prices, with the national average price per gallon up to $4.33, while prices in the Peoria area were in the $4.40-$4.60 range. Durbin said the U.S. is still measuring the impact of cutting off Russian oil exports and monitoring the fuel markets.

“I would expect us to watch these closely and see what happens, and if necessary, move toward the possible forgiveness of the federal gas tax as part of a way of reducing somewhat gasoline prices at the pump,” said Durbin.

He also said he still intends to hold a hearing on Major League Baseball's antitrust exemption even though the off season labor dispute is now over. As chair of the Senate's judiciary committee, he believes it's time to take a closer look at why MLB still is not considered interstate commerce.

“If we are treating every corporation in America one way and Major League Baseball a different way, the obvious question is, why? It's well worth taking a look at it and to see where we are,” said Durbin. “These are multi-billion dollar entities, and I think holding them accountable periodically happens to be my responsibility.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.