Jackie Walorski and Joe Donnelly assumed their new posts in the U.S. Congress Thursday with words of optimism and nods to bipartisanship.
They’ll likely need it — they’ll soon face a thicket of tough issues potentially ranging from reducing the ballooning U.S. deficit to immigration reform.
Walorski, an Elkhart-area Republican, takes over as Indiana’s 2nd District representative to the U.S. House; while Donnelly, a Granger Democrat, moves from the 2nd District spot to the U.S. Senate. Both were sworn in to their new posts Thursday in Washington, and both spoke earlier in the day — briefly — about the new congressional session.
“I am really looking forward to working with senators from both sides,” said Donnelly, speaking during a conference call with reporters. “I’m not approaching this as a Democrat or a Republican, but as a Hoosier.”
Walorski, a former member of the Indiana House, said Thursday was an exciting day “but also very humbling.” Broadly, the mission going forward, as she sees it, is creating jobs and getting the U.S. economy under control.
“It’s finally time to roll up my sleeves,” she said in a short phone interview Thursday from Washington. She’s optimistic lawmakers of all stripes can come together to craft “meaningful legislation” to deal with things like the U.S. deficit.
‘REASON FOR OPTIMISM’
Both were light on specifics, but they’re likely to face some tough decisions as the weeks and months unfold.
Elizabeth Bennion, a political scientist at Indiana University South Bend, praised their bipartisan tone, which extends back to their respective campaigns for office last fall. “That provides some reason for optimism,” she said.
On the other hand, the U.S. Congress has repeatedly had to deal with fiscal crises, only seemingly managing to implement short-term fixes. In her estimation, it seems individual lawmakers do so hoping that a public mandate will emerge favorable to their particular agenda, permitting implementation of a more permanent fix in line with their political bent.
“That is really concerning, I think, and I think we see that reflected in public disapproval of Congress,” Bennion said.
Of particular import going forward will be coming up with a deficit-reduction plan. Lawmakers earlier this week reached a last-minute fix to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, a series of mandatory tax hikes and spending cuts meant to get a handle on the U.S. deficit. Taxes on the wealthiest classes will go up, but any compensatory spending reductions to replace the fiscal cliff measures are put off.
Donnelly didn’t spell out any specific areas of possible cuts, but indicated it’ll be a priority. He said he’s already been working with a “significant middle group” of U.S. senators in trying to find middle ground.
Walorski noted that she had not yet served in the U.S. House, unlike Donnelly, and shied from particulars.
DEBT, GUNS, IMMIGRATION
Meanwhile, the U.S. deficit edges toward the federally imposed debt ceiling, which could lead to debate on whether to increase the limit, yet another likely political hornet’s nest. Donnelly expressed hesitation about increasing the limit, calling that “a very, very dangerous thing.”
Other sticky issues going forward could be gun control, an issue brought to the fore after the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings in Connecticut; and immigration reform, Bennion thinks. No easy fixes pop out for either issue. “None of these are clear candidates for a nice bipartisan solution that everyone will feel good about,” Bennion said.
Donnelly beat Republican Richard Mourdock in voting last November to win election to the U.S. Senate. Walorski beat Democrat Brendan Mullen in the race for the 2nd District spot.