WASHINGTON - As he entered the U.S. Senate on Thursday, Joe Donnelly said he plans to join a “very significant” group of moderates in what he hopes will become a “center of legislative action.”
The Indiana Democrat was sworn in at noon, officially stepping into a seat that Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar held for 36 years. He did so with Lugar standing directly behind him, and former Democratic U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh behind Lugar.
After campaigning as a centrist and promising to work without regard for party affiliation – a claim Republicans scoffed at – Donnelly said he considers Lugar a “role model” and a “tremendous friend” whom he will call for advice.
“We have had just a tradition of being a state where the senators who represent us are not extremists, but are ones who are looked to by the entire nation to bring us together,” he said.
He said he hopes to work with a group of senators that will include Republicans, as well as Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and others.
“There has been a group in the past, but you saw in this last election a number of additional moderate senators” elected, he said. “It has even expanded, and I believe it will not only influence legislation that will be brought by the caucuses, but also bring legislation of their own.”
He pointed to Manchin’s “CALM Act” proposal to gradually step down from the fiscal cliff as one such proposal.
The next major battle in Congress will be over finances, with the nation reaching its $16.4 trillion borrowing limit and needing its debt ceiling raised, while the current federal spending plan is set to expire and Republicans are pushing to overhaul entitlement programs while the White House seeks extra tax revenue.
“I think that playing with the debt ceiling is a very, very, very dangerous thing. It’s dangerous to our credit rating, it’s dangerous to our world economy,” and could hurt job growth, Donnelly said Thursday.
At the end of his third term in the U.S. House on Tuesday, Donnelly voted for the deal to stave off most tax increases and push back deep spending cuts for two months. “What I voted for the other day was tax cuts on 98 percent of Americans,” he said.