INDIANAPOLIS | While the "no surrender" stance of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, held the limelight during the 16-day federal government shutdown, a Hoosier senator worked behind the scenes and across party lines to get the government reopened and paying its bills on time.
U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., was one of 14 senators — six Democrats, one independent and seven Republicans — who met repeatedly during the shutdown to craft the framework of the temporary spending plan and debt-limit extension that was signed into law Thursday.
Led by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Donnelly said the group disagreed often but knew it had to come up with a solution that was in the best interest of the country as a whole.
"Everyone basically left their political label at the door and worked nonstop," Donnelly said. "Nobody got 100 percent of what they wanted, but the goal was to make sure our nation was protected."
The first-year senator and former three-term congressman from Granger said he wished the deal had included a repeal of the medical device tax that partially pays for the Affordable Care Act. He plans to continue pressing for repeal of that tax on behalf of the dozens of Indiana medical device manufacturers.
But Donnelly said there was no way the president would accept that proposal, especially since the president made it clear to House Republicans he would not sign their budget legislation if it in any way delayed or defunded Obamacare.
Republicans refusing to send a "clean" spending plan to the president prompted the shutdown, which Donnelly believes was an exercise in futility.
"It never made any sense to me that we wound up in this situation in the first place; that these threats took place and occurred on what was never going to be successful from the start," he said.
Donnelly explained his decision to work with other lawmakers — instead of fighting them — was simple Hoosier common sense.
"The easiest thing in the world is to be the loudest person in the Senate ... but that doesn't get anything done. What gets things done are the relationships you have to work together to make our nation stronger," Donnelly said. "That's what Hoosiers sent me here to do, and that's what I've tried to do the past few weeks and since my first day in office."
Donnelly and U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., were among 81 senators who voted for the proposal that keeps the government open until Jan. 15 and continues payments on the national debt through Feb. 7. Eighteen senators voted against the plan.
Coats said he deplores that Congress "is kicking the can down the road" in setting sound financial policy but believes a continued government shutdown would be worse.
"I am disappointed with this outcome, but my commitment to reducing our debt, growing the economy and getting Americans back to work will not waver," he said. "I will be an integral part of the ongoing effort to address our nation's serious financial challenges."
Coats was not part of Donnelly's bipartisan working group, but he reportedly was among several Senate Republicans who chastised Cruz when it became clear after shutting down the government, that Cruz had no achievable plan to reopen it or repeal Obamacare.
In the House, four of Indiana's nine representatives voted to reopen the government and pay the nation's debt, including U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville. He was joined by U.S. Reps. Susan Brooks, R-Carmel; Andre Carson, D-Indianapolis; and Todd Young, R-Bloomington.
U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Indianapolis, was among the 144 representatives who voted no, all Republicans. Following the vote, the Munster native said nothing about Obamacare, which he previously had declared "one of the most insidious laws ever created by man," and instead focused on the national debt.
"I hope we can have an intellectually honest discussion about the debt that sets aside the fear tactics and hysterics of the last few weeks," Rokita said. "Our nation’s $17 trillion-and-growing debt is gravely dangerous to our economic security, our national security and future generations."
Also voting against the measure were U.S. Reps. Jackie Walorski, R-Jimtown; Marlin Stutzman, R-Howe; Luke Messer, R-Shelbyville; and Larry Buschon, R-Newburgh.