TERRE HAUTE —
It is sad that the work performed this month by Indiana’s Joe Donnelly and 13 other U.S. senators stands out.
Their bipartisan efforts should be routine. Instead, they are rare and, thus, praiseworthy.
Donnelly, five fellow Democrats, seven Republicans and an independent diligently crafted the framework of the Senate deal that ended Congress’ callous federal government shutdown and averted the economic nightmare of a U.S. default on its debts. Their fix is temporary. Still, it offers the hopeful first sign in three years that the legislative branch is breaking loose from the grip of its intransigent tea party faction. The 14 senators represented the concerns of the overwhelming majority of Americans — 72 percent, according to the reliable Quinnipiac University pollsters — who opposed the House Republicans’ plan to shut down the government unless GOP demands were met to defund President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Despite such scant, fringe support for running the U.S. economy over a cliff into the pit of another recession, the group of centrist senators appeared to face an uphill battle to see their compromise approved. Aside from Arizona Republican John McCain, none of the senators carried national-level clout. And, the leaders in both congressional chambers felt the constant pull or push from hard-liners in their parties. The leadership was not easily convinced by the team of 14, but encouraged their attempts to forge an agreement by governing from the center, not the extremes.
“At various times, they all told us to mind our own business,” Donnelly told CNHI reporter Maureen Hayden, adding, “There were other times they said, ‘You’re the only game in town; keep working on it.’”
They were the only game in town because Congress is now controlled by a herd of Lone Ranger wannabes in the GOP-led House, determined to appear heroic through staunch unwillingness to accept opposing views or reality. Their shutdown tactic had zero chance of achieving its claimed purpose — the defunding of Obamacare. The president and the Democratic majority in the Senate, re-elected by Americans in 2012, were not going to OK the gutting or scrapping of the law, enacted three years ago. As McCain succinctly said of the shutdown-to-stop-Obamacare strategy, “This was a terrible idea.”
It hurt America and Americans. Standard & Poor’s, the respected financial services company, calculated the shutdown bled $24 billion from the economy. Its impact will shrink fourth-quarter gross-domestic-product growth from 3 percent to 2.4, S&P estimated. Federal workers faced furloughs and missed paychecks. Small businesses lost government-contract income and saw loans delayed. Astoundingly, some members of Indiana’s congressional delegation viewed these hardships as collateral damage of the greater good, at least their perception of it. Rep. Todd Rokita suggested a default would force a prioritization for spending, even though economists and U.S. business leaders firmly warned it would irreparably damage the economy and U.S. credit ratings.
Thank goodness, most members of Congress listened to voices other than their choir of supporters.
It was Donnelly and the bipartisan coalition who set wise priorities to build a prudent, long-term budget deal and move forward to other lingering matters such as an immigration overhaul and a farm bill. In the meantime, Washington will operate under the temporary pact, approved in the Senate by an 81-18 margin, and then in the House by 285-144. Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, a Republican opponent of the health care law, voted for the deal. Rep. Larry Bucshon, a House Republican from Indiana’s 8th District, voted no and predictably blamed Congress’ dysfunction on the Democrats.
Obviously, an unbending faction remains and could force the “Groundhog Day,” crisis-to-crisis routine to repeat itself in January. The 14 senators — led by Maine Republican Susan Collins — doubt the hard-liners will rule the coming negotiations. “Boy, I sure hope not,” Donnelly said. “I can’t make any guarantees, but I can tell you that from everyone I’ve talked to, there’s no appetite for a repeat of this in the Senate. And, I’m hopeful the House will feel the same way, and I’m also hopeful the House leadership will take a look at how to handle this next time, and I’m pretty sure they won’t handle this the same way next time.” McCain went a step farther, vowing another meltdown won’t happen. “I guarantee it,” McCain told The Associated Press.
Let’s hope he’s right.