A hard-liner battles hard times
Peoria, Ill. — His district is reeling from unemployment and recession, concedes Illinois Republican Robert H. Michel. And yes, he has been closely identified with President Reagan. But the House minority leader denies that voters in his central Illinois district will blame him for the hard times.
''It doesn't show up that way in our polls,'' he says in an interview in his hometown office. He adds that his constituents tell him, ''Hey, Bob, hang in there. It's tough, but we think you're on the right track, and the President's on the right track.''
Despite the worst unemployment in half a century in Peoria, a resolutely conservative Michel has remained unmoved in his views.
* On military spending: The US government has one major purpose, he says, and that's defense. He applauds the decisions to build the B-1 bomber and MX missile.
* On unemployment: ''It's bad,'' he says, but adds that his ''whole conservative nature'' tells him, ''Don't overpromise, don't overextend, don't tell people something that you can't deliver on.'' So he doesn't bow to election-year pressures for more job programs. Mr. Michel has no plans to deliver ''make-work public works'' programs, which he criticizes for training people for nonexistent jobs.
* On government spending: For the most part, Michel has brought home few government contracts or goodies from the federal pork barrel. In fact, so tight-fisted has been Michel's spending policy that he is almost stumped when asked what he has done for his district. His biggest contribution has been a center for treating the handicapped, started with $1.5 million in federal money and now run by local funds.
''I hate to make a name for myself as a congressman who sees how deep he can dip into the federal till,'' he says.
* On social security: While other politicians studiously avoid mention of social security reform on the campaign trail, Michel has made it one of his main themes. Annual cost-of-living increases for social security have been too high, he says.
''My father, when he was still living, told me, 'Bob, how come I keep getting this increase?' I said, 'Because we tied this thing to the CPI (consumer price index used to measure inflation).' He said, 'Well, I didn't earn it.' ''
Michel says when he pushed for linking social security increases to the consumer price index, ''we didn't foresee double-digit inflation,'' and now the system is in trouble.