TERRE HAUTE —
Statesmanship lives in Indiana after all.
The Hoosier state used to provide the reliable, wise voices of reason when political turmoil arose in Congress. My, how things have changed since the days of Lee Hamilton, Richard Lugar and Evan Bayh. The federal government fell into a shutdown last week, forced by the tea-party faction of the U.S. House. In their never-ending crusade against President Obama and his signature law enacted three years ago, the Affordable Care Act, those Republicans — the House majority party — held up funding of the government as it began a new fiscal year Tuesday.
The result has been chaos, anger and bitterness, which Americans hardly needed more of from their lawmakers in Washington. Round 2 is on the way as the once-routine process of raising the debt limit will again devolve into a standoff over the Affordable Care Act, better known (either derisively or fondly) as Obamacare. While consequences of the latest revolt involve lost jobs, federal workers going unpaid and closed public services, the fallout from the U.S. defaulting on its bills (an unprecedented event) could cripple the recovery economy.
How is Indiana making headlines amid the disruption? Not in Lugar-esque ways. Rep. Todd Rokita stuck firmly by his labeling of Obamacare as “one of the most insidious laws ever created by man,” prompting “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart to remind the congressman he’d lumped the ACA in a class with slavery, Jim Crow, the Nuremberg laws and the Spanish Inquisition. Later, another Hoosier Republican, Rep. Marlin Stutzman, said of his unwavering group of House GOP members, “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”
There’s a better way for public officeholders to function. That style of leadership was on display Tuesday night in the Booker T. Washington Center in Terre Haute. It came from a member of the Indiana Legislature, state Rep. Ed Clere, a Republican from New Albany.
Clere joined Paul Chase, an attorney specializing in health care, to share practical information about Obamacare with 50 curious citizens. Clere serves as chairman of the Indiana House Committee on Public Health. He’s traveled around Indiana, moderating similar sessions organized by branches of the Indiana Minority Health Coalition in other communities. The forums weren’t about politics. Instead, Clere and Chase answered questions about the ACA, ranging from costs to requirements and benefits.
“It’s interesting how specific and practical the questions have been,” Clere told the Tribune-Star’s Arthur Foulkes. “Some folks who have shown up at these meetings are expecting a political rally. That’s not what we’ve been doing.”
Clere also looked, in that practical way, at Indiana’s choice not to expand Medicaid programs as envisioned in the ACA. Gov. Mike Pence, a staunch Obama opponent, opposes a Medicaid expansion. That decision has forced layoffs at Indiana hospitals, who were expecting more paying customers, newly covered under the ACA. Indiana is missing the boat by not expanding Medicare as Obamacare allows, Clere said. He believes “middle ground” can be found between the state leadership and the federal government.
Middle ground. Practicality. Answering questions. Statesmanship. Rep. Clere exhibited all of those qualities Tuesday night in Terre Haute.
Seven-hundred miles away in Washington, Congress was in Day 1 of its government shutdown.