When Hoosier U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly begins his third term in the U.S. House in January, he’ll find himself in a new position: the minority.
Donnelly, D-2nd, entered Congress in 2006 on a Democratic wave that continued through 2008, but the party watched those gains mostly wash away Tuesday in midterm elections that favored Republicans, The South Bend Tribune reported.
And, even though Donnelly was able to hang on to a slim victory over Republican Jackie Walorski, he did so by garnering just 48% of the vote and perhaps benefiting from the third-party effect of Libertarian Mark Vogel, who captured 5% of the vote.
In his first two terms, Donnelly has become known as a friend and/or frequent advocate for RV industry legislative issues.
“It was a very tough climate,” Donnelly said during an interview Thursday, and the fact that neither major-party candidate won a majority of votes in Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District shows people here want less politics out of Washington.
“We’re in the middle of bringing our economy back, but we’re not all the way there yet. People want to make sure we get to the finish line on this,” he said.
“They’re tired of the bickering, they’re tired of the fighting. They want results,” he continued. “They want to see our country move forward, and they want us to do it as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans.”
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle will have to find some common ground during the next two years. According to preliminary results and projections, Republicans will hold a 243-192 majority in the House, and Democrats will have a 53-47 advantage in the Senate.
Blue Dogs, the coalition of moderate House Democrats that includes Donnelly, were kicked particularly hard Tuesday. Of the coalition’s 54 members, fewer than half were re-elected.
Donnelly said the Blue Dogs, though smaller in number, will have “a huge role” in bridging the gap between the two parties during the next Congress.
“We are the voice for common sense in Washington,” he said. “We’re the voice that says it shouldn’t be all the way to the left or all the way to the right but the one that wants to balance the budget, wants to do it in a common-sense way, wants to make sure we have a strong defense but a smart defense.
“We’re not there to play politics,” he said. “We’re there to try to fix the country.”
Donnelly said his top priority during his next term will continue to be job creation through measures that make credit available to businesses and minimize government regulations.
Congress also needs to work toward cutting the federal deficit, Donnelly said, adding that a balanced budget is a realistic goal.
“We’re getting to the other side of this economic situation,” he said. “The spending has to decrease. The revenues are going to come back. We have a very serious shot at having a balanced budget within a few years if we do the right things.”
And if the two parties can cooperate with each other.
“When Bill Clinton had a Republican majority in the House, he extended his hand, and they were able at that time to not only balance our budget but to have surpluses,” Donnelly said. “There’s no reason that can’t happen right now if the Republican majority wants that to happen.”
Donnelly has already made it clear that he doesn’t want House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., leading House Democrats during the next Congress.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, will likely be the next speaker of the House, and Pelosi has declared herself a candidate for the minority leader position.
Donnelly issued a statement Friday after Pelosi’s announcement, saying he won’t vote for her to be minority leader. “I strongly believe we need a change in leadership to reflect the desires of the millions of people who cast votes in this recent election,” he said.
Although most attention last week was on the next Congress, the current group of lawmakers still has a lot to do during its lame-duck session.
Members of Congress will return to work Nov. 15 with a stack of tax and budget issues to settle before the end of the year.
They need to pass a budget for the full 2011 fiscal year that began Oct. 1 and spending bills to keep the federal government running.
They also need to decide the fate of the lower tax rates enacted during George W. Bush’s presidency that are set to expire Dec. 31.
Donnelly said he would like to see the Bush tax cuts extended permanently for all Americans who earn less than $250,000 per year. For those in the higher income bracket, which includes about 2% of Americans, Donnelly said the lower rates should be extended for a year or two while the economy is still recovering. Then the lower rates would expire for that top income bracket, he said, but they could be reinstated after the federal government has a balanced budget.
Donnelly said he sees no reason why the lame-duck Congress shouldn’t finish some important work during the next couple of months.
“That’s what we’re there for,” he said. “I’m willing to work right up until Christmas Day, take Christmas Day off as a religious holiday and get right back to work the next day. We have an obligation to the American people.”