Donnelly looks to year ahead

Sen. Joe Donnelly talks about his priorities for 2014.

Posted on Jan. 15, 2014 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Jan. 15, 2014 at 5:46 p.m.

Quickly but safely withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, continuing job growth and reducing military suicides top Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly’s 2014 agenda, he said Wednesday, Jan. 15.

Donnelly said he remained hopeful that Congress, suffering historically low public approval ratings, can get things done, despite it being an election year.

“Sometimes some folks, when it gets closer toward an election year, don’t always make the best decisions policy-wise,” Donnelly told a group of Indiana-based reporters in a conference call recapping 2013, his first year in the Senate. “I’m hoping that it won’t play too big a role.”

Public Policy Polling recently found Congress is less popular than lice, colonoscopies and Nickelback, the pop recording artists so reviled on social media sites.

Donnelly spent 2013 positioning himself straight down the ideological middle of the Senate. He was part of a bipartisan group of 14 senators that brokered a deal to end the government shutdown in October, and he said they’ve met several times since then to “focus on how else we can make the Senate work better.”

“Our only focus was on what we could do to make our country stronger, so I am hopeful that will be the focus of other members as well,” the Democrat said. “What we see so often is partisan fighting that I think doesn’t get us anywhere, whether it’s the House vs. Senate, or Republicans vs. Democrats, liberals vs. conservatives or Tea Party vs. Republicans. This doesn’t create one more job, one more opportunity, and every minute spent on this is one minute not spent on creating jobs in Elkhart, Nappanee, South Bend or Mishawaka.”

Donnelly said he shares President Obama’s recent emphasis on income inequality, an issue he thinks can partly take care of itself as the unemployment rate continues to fall, driving up wages.

“Instead of six people fighting for one job, you have six jobs fighting for one person,” he said. “I do think there has to be an increase in the minimum wage, and I’m looking at the proposals that are out there.”

He said he remained hopeful that the Senate can find a way to extend federal long-term unemployment benefits, despite such a bill failing to win passage Tuesday.

Through his seat on the Armed Services Committee, Donnelly said he will work to ensure that U.S. troops safely but surely pull out of Afghanistan, ending the longest war in U.S. history.

“They’re due to almost all be home by December 2014 with some special forces and others remaining there, so I want that to go as smooth as possible. I pray every night that we don’t lose one more soldier during this upcoming year.

He also vowed to seek support for the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act, a bill he introduced in April, his first as a senator. The bill has been sent to the Armed Services Committee but has yet to be set for a hearing. It would integrate mental health components into service members’ annual health assessments.

Donnelly named the bill after a National Guard member from Farmland, Ind., who committed suicide in 2009 while home on a 15-day leave from Afghanistan.

“We’ve lost more men and women to suicide in the past year than we did in combat,” he said. “We have policies in place so that soldiers who have a concern, that are losing hope, have someone to talk to, a way to work through the difficulties that they may be facing. We’re working hard to try to end that scourge.”

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