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Mark Schoeff Jr.
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Mark Schoeff Jr.: To the edge of the GOP cliff
WASHINGTON – Even if Republicans accomplish nothing else from their standoff with President Barack Obama over the federal budget and his signature health care reform law, they will have changed the way Washington works – perhaps in a manner that winds up costing them politically. Most of the time in the capital, policy debates are full of political posturing, threats and bluffs that end somewhere short of the brink. As the government shutdown heads into its third day, the GOP has pushed far past the edge of the cliff. The party is actually providing a real-time test of the hypothesis that Americans are so upset with so-called Obamacare that they will tolerate – even support – shuttering large chunks of the government and enduring potentially bad economic fallout. It’s a huge risk.
Mark Schoeff Jr.: Hoosier Republicans see 'duty' to probe Obama
WASHINGTON — As President Barack Obama reels from three controversies that have mired the start of his second term in scandals that threaten to overshadow his agenda, Republicans in the Indiana congressional delegation say their party has a responsibility – even a duty – to dig into the matters.
“The role of House Republicans is to find out what the facts are,” said Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-8th CD.
Weeks – perhaps months -- of investigations and oversight hearings loom.
On Wednesday, Obama accepted the resignation of the acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Steven T. Miller, after the agency was found to have targeted conservative groups for greater scrutiny over applications for tax-exempt status.
The administration on Wednesday also released emails related to the way it portrayed an attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last September that killed the U.S. ambassador.
In addition, the administration is grappling with fallout from the Department of Justice’s seizure of phone records of Associated Press journalists related to the news organization’s reporting about al-Qaeda activities last year.
For now, the scandals are playing to the GOP’s strength. They can each be portrayed as the result of an overreaching government or an administration that emphasizes political expediency.
But the GOP could do some overreaching itself, as it delves into the controversies while issues like immigration, tax reform and the economy are potentially delayed.
In a speech on the House floor on Tuesday, Rep. Luke Messer, R-6th CD, addressed those concerns.
“Some may call it political, but there is nothing political about keeping the oath of every member of this chamber to protect and defend the United States Constitution,” Messer said. “There is nothing political about working to ensure that none of these scandals gets swept under the rug.”
Hoosier Republicans say they do not anticipate political backlash.
“We’ve had good discussions in the House Republican Conference about making sure this is about facts, not politics,” Bucshon said.
Rep. Todd Rokita, R-4th CD, said that Republicans are staying in their lane.
“The American people have the right to know what the White House knew and when,” Rokita said. “We need to go as far as we need to go to find the full truth.”
Two freshman GOP members of the Hoosier delegation say that their constituents support congressional probes.
“The voters of the Fifth District do believe it is Congress’ role to provide oversight,” said Rep. Susan Brooks, R-5th CD. “This is not about beating on the president. This is about holding the executive branch accountable for the priorities it sets, for the mistakes it makes.”
Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-2nd CD, said that she has been approached frequently by constituents who are concerned about the emerging scandals.
“I heard about it all weekend,” Walorski said. “People are shocked. This is an overreaching of government, and that offends every American. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. This is an American issue.”
On Wednesday, Walorski sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew that outlined 19 questions about the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups. She demanded answers by June 15. It’s one of what is likely to be dozens of GOP requests for more information from the Obama administration.
The pushback goes beyond his party, said Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd CD.
“It’s not just Republicans asking questions,” Stutzman said. “The press is asking questions; the American people are asking questions.”
Democrats are, too. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has scheduled a hearing next week about the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups.
U.S. Sen. Dan Coats wants criminal penalties for IRS employees. “It smells a lot like Watergate,” Coats said.
Rep. Todd Young, R-9th CD, said each side of the aisle have been responsible in their approach to the controversies. “Both parties seem committed to ferreting out the answers the American people deserve,” Young said. “It’s amazing how disciplined we’ve been. I’m most hopeful we can get answers from a cooperative administration.”
One of the primary answers that will be sought is who gave the IRS directive. “Typically, priorities and strategy comes from higher levels of government,” said Brooks, a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana. “I find it hard to believe that low-level employees thought of this on their own.”
The House GOP will have to decide on the scope of the inquiries. For instance, the chamber is poised to vote on a resolution that would establish a special committee to probe the Benghazi episode.
Stutzman is undecided and said that the current investigatory panel is effective.
“Our oversight committee is doing fantastic work [and] asking the right questions. [It] has been diligent and thorough,” Stutzman said.
Over the next few months, it will have plenty to do.
Schoeff is HPI’s Washington correspondent.
Mark Schoeff Jr.: Indiana Members critique GOP self-assessment
WASHINGTON - Republicans in the Indiana congressional delegation assert that the GOP should maintain its principles but be more open to those who disagree with some of them – echoing a recent national party overhaul plan.
“Conservative values are good for everyone,” said U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-8th CD. “We need to [say] that in a way that doesn’t alienate anyone; that doesn’t put litmus tests on people’s views and exclude them from the Republican Party.”
A 100-page report released last week by the Republican National Committee, “The Growth and Opportunity Project,” largely made the same point. It offered a sober, sometimes scathing, assessment of the party’s shortcomings that led to the loss of House and Senate seats in 2012.
The document said that the party has driven away young and minority voters and that it reached “all time lows” in public perception.
“We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue,” the report states.
It goes on to recommend dozens of changes in messaging, campaign mechanics, fundraising and outreach to various demographic groups.
U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, R-6th CD, said that the report is “very balanced and candid.” The self-analysis could help the party expand its appeal beyond the elderly and married couples. “It wouldn’t be a good growth strategy to simply wait around for the young to get old and the single to get married,” Messer said. “We need to grow our base.”
The report by the national Republican Party reminds Messer of one that the state GOP wrote in 2002, when he was the party’s executive director and Jim Kittle was chairman. That blueprint was meant to be catalyze the “rebirth” of the state party in part by increasing African Americans and Hispanic support.
Messer said that the effort was “modestly successful” and demonstrated that follow-up is central to party improvement. “The key is that the outreach not just be symbolic,” Messer said. “It needs to be organized, persistent and include the investment of meaningful resources over time.”
Hispanics should be a natural constituency for Republicans, according to Messer, because by and large Latinos are family oriented, hard working and socially conservative. But they voted overwhelmingly Democratic in 2012.
“We don’t have enough trust with that community for them even to listen to us,” Messer said.
The GOP report acknowledges that the party also has significant ground to make up with other demographic groups that don’t include white males.
“We can and should be the party of young people, minorities, women and anyone else who shares our belief in free enterprise and limited government,” U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, R-4th CD, said in a statement. “My own campaign benefitted from support from many of these same groups because we took the time to have honest and real conversations about the issues they cared about. It takes hard work, but it’s a commitment our party must make.”
The GOP’s “limited government tent ought to be big enough to include differing opinions on social issues, immigration or even tax-and-spending issues,” Messer said.
That accommodation extends to same-sex marriage, a topic that was tackled by the Supreme Court this week. Messer emphasized that he supports traditional marriage between a man and a woman. “Our party must be big enough to include a diversity of opinions, but my view hasn’t changed,” Messer said.
None of the lawmakers who talked to HPI suggested that Republicans should alter their policy stances. U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-2nd CD, said that the party’s insistence on cutting federal spending resonates in north central Indiana.
“The feeling I’m getting is that people are very glad they have a clear choice on the budget,” Walorski said.
As she travels around the district – and goes to her local supermarket each Saturday – she said that people are less concerned about party labels than the direction that Congress is going.
This is especially true of the women Walorski meets. They are most often concerned about the economy.
“They want to know what I’m doing to make sure they have more money in their pockets,” Walorski said.
That’s a general theme from all constituents.
“They want to know what I’m doing for them,” Walorski said. “They’ll tell me I’m doing a good job or ‘I don’t agree with that.’”
Bucshon also stressed that he’s an “honest, straight shooter” about his own political views when talking to voters but that he tries to demonstrate that they’re all his constituents.
“We’re working on everyone’s behalf regardless of who you are,” he said.
Schoeff is HPI’s Washington correspondent.
Mark Schoeff Jr.: The sequester firing line
WASHINGTON – When $85 billion worth of automatic spending cuts begin to take effect on Friday, the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center in southern Indiana will be in the firing line.
The base will take a $36-million hit to its budget between now and Sept. 30, when the first round of the so-called sequester concludes, according to Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly. It’s part of the down payment on $1.2 trillion in cuts over 10 years that Congress agreed to in 2011 to raise the debt limit.
Donnelly told reporters in a conference call on Wednesday that taking a whack at Crane, as well as other across-the-board sequester cuts, is a bad way to reduce the federal deficit.
“I have been hopeful we can reach a thoughtful, smarter way to cut; that we can include revenues as well,” Donnelly said.
The gulf between Republicans and Democrats over the sequester is illustrated by the stance taken by the GOP lawmaker whose district lies next door to Crane.
“Of course I’m concerned about defense cuts,” Rep. Todd Young, R-9th CD, said in a recent HPI interview. “But I’m also concerned about my children and grandchildren.”’
Taking care of the next two generations requires that the country make substantial progress in reducing annual deficits that have topped $1 trillion for the last several years and a debt that totals about $16.4 trillion, according to Young.
“The president and Senate Democrats seem disinclined to deal with what is driving our nation’s deficit,” Young said. “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.”
Young and other Republicans say that Obama got the tax increases on the wealthy that he was seeking in the New Year’s Day legislation that averted hundreds of billions of dollars of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff.
That’s where Young and Donnelly diverge. Donnelly supports a Senate bill that likely will be voted down that would replace the sequester with a mix of tax increases and spending cuts. On the revenue side is the so-called Buffett Rule, which would ensure that people earning more than $1 million annually pay at least a 30 percent tax rate.
Donnelly said that federal revenues are running at about 16 percent of the economy, while spending is at 23 percent. Spending needs to come down, but revenues also need to increase.
“We’re still shy on that [revenue] number,” Donnelly said. “I hope people realize that.”
That’s the interesting question. Where will the American people come down on how to tackle the budget? Over the next several weeks, we’ll have a chance to see the debate evolve in real time.
This is not one of those issues that requires waiting until the next election to sort out. As March 1 dawns, the voters seem split on the efficacy of the sequester.
But it may be difficult for Americans to make up their minds because much of the sequester won’t be felt until weeks or months down the road – and even then only in certain areas of the country.
That means that Republicans and Democrats likely will enter the next budget battle – over a March 27 deadline for shutting down the government – without much evidence of who is winning.
The situation creates an opening for bold thinking about the budget in general and, specifically, reform of social insurance programs, such as Medicare. If Republicans truly want to find out how their cut-the-deficit stance is working, they should call Obama’s bluff -- offer a big package of structural spending reforms, and see how he reacts.
At the moment, Obama continues to ride a popularity wave that has him above 50 percent in job approval. It will be hard for Republicans to win the spending debate just by asserting that Obama has ignored that side of the equation. They have to put something creative on the table that forces him and Democrats to walk away, if they want to establish bright lines between the parties on spending.
The other outcome is that such a move forces Democrats to come up with a counter offer that goes beyond trimming around the edges of deficit reduction. They might engage with some of their own big ideas or come up with a way to make revenue increases more palatable to Republicans.
Ultimately, the best politics is for the sides to come together to cure the nation’s fiscal ills. If they can’t do it in March of an off-year, they never will.
In perhaps a faint sign of such movement, Donnelly said that he is part of a group of 25 senators that has been meeting to come up with a sequester alternative. They are gathering “just as Americans, not Democrats or Republicans.”
“Everybody agrees that there has to be a better way to do this,” Donnelly said.
Schoeff is HPI’s Washington correspondent.
Mark Schoeff Jr.: Hoosier Members skeptical on guns; optimistic on immigration
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama tapped the emotional core of the gun debate during his State of the Union address, urging Congress to act quickly on stricter controls and drawing skepticism from Indiana Republicans.
Obama’s comments about another volatile issue – immigration – were more tailored to appeal to the GOP, as he emphasized border security, “earned citizenship” and an improved legal immigration system.
On this topic, the president may have a better shot at winning over Hoosier lawmakers.
It took Obama nearly an hour to get around to guns in his speech before Congress. When he did, he generated more applause and energy than in his previous several thousand words.
Invoking recent deadly mass shootings, he asserted that a majority of Americans support strengthened background checks for gun sales and that police chiefs want to “get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets.”
“Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress,” Obama said. “The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote.”
The entreaty did not move Hoosier Republicans.
“What he was talking about [Tuesday] night I know wouldn’t have stopped Sandy Hook,” said Rep. Todd Rokita, R-4th CD, said in reference to the December shootings at the Connecticut elementary school.
Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd CD, worries that Obama’s approach would curb constitutional rights.
“Let’s not punish [gun owners] because of a few crazies who have committed these heinous acts in a couple places around the country,” said Stutzman, who has introduced a measure that would allow gun-permit holders to take their weapons into other states that also have concealed-carry laws.
The GOP message the day after Obama’s speech was to tread carefully on gun control.
“I’m going to do everything I can to ensure people’s Second Amendment rights are not undermined by ill-conceived or hastily assembled legislation,” said Rep. Todd Young, R-9th CD.
While Obama pushes for stronger gun laws, Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly acknowledged that the skepticism of House Republicans will limit what kind of gun controls can be put in place. He said that enhanced background checks have the best chance to draw bipartisan support.
“My focus is on what we can pass that can make a difference… in providing additional protection for our children and families,” Donnelly said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.
Hoosier Republicans want the discussion to include an exploration of mental health care as well as gang and drug violence and the effect of movies and video games.
“The problem is the individual,” said Rep. Susan Brooks, R-5th CD. “A gun is the tool they choose to use. We have to look deeper than what the weapon is.”’
A former U.S. attorney and deputy mayor of Indianapolis, Brooks said that more attention should be paid to initiatives that bring together law enforcement and members of the community to work on crime prevention and economic development in struggling neighborhoods.
“These are holistic approaches, far more holistic than what we are talking about now,” Brooks said.
Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-2nd CD, said that the best solutions to gun violence likely will percolate up from local government, citing advances South Bend has made in school security.
“As communities wrestle with what works for them, we’ll probably see some creative ideas emerge,” Walorski said.
Rep. Luke Messer, R-6th CD, said that improving care for the mentally ill is an area that could gain wide support.
“I would be open to the consideration of additional funding there,” Messer said. “I speak to no one who does not believe that there’s a role for government in protecting those who cannot protect themselves.”
Messer is disappointed in the approach that Obama is taking.
“He has chosen the most divisive topics, including a gun ban that now virtually everyone agrees will not pass,” Messer said.
Obama may be launching immigration reform on more solid footing, especially with his emphasis on border fortification.
“If we address the border security issue early, I think people like myself would be willing to look at the options for the 11 million people who are here [illegally],” said Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-8th CD.
Another area that Obama mentioned – reforming the legal immigration system and making it easier for highly skilled immigrants to stay in the country – also resonates with Republicans.
In Rokita’s district, that would help keep in Indiana – or at least in the United States – international students earning science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees at Purdue University and other schools.
“There’s some very good common ground on the STEM side of immigration,” Rokita said.
But like other Hoosier Republicans, Rokita wants to ensure that illegal immigrants pay a price for breaking the law before becoming legal residents.
“A crime was committed, and the punishment has to fit the crime,” Rokita said. “The issue is: What is that punishment?”
Stutzman is cautiously optimistic about Obama’s immigration proposals.
“I didn’t sense any amnesty program from the president [Tuesday] night,” Stutzman said. “But we’ll see what his actions are moving forward.”
How Republicans handle the immigration debate may determine whether the party can make inroads with Latino voters, who are rejecting the GOP as they become a more influential voting bloc.
“Immigration reform can be part of the platform to help us invite people from other countries to support our party and become part of our party once they become legal citizens,” Brooks said.
Bucshon said that the GOP needs to expand its appeal. “Conservative policies are good for all of our citizens,” Bucshon said. “We need to show we’re compassionate. We want legal immigration.”
As a U.S. attorney, Brooks presided over many swearing-in ceremonies for new Americans. She calls those events among the most moving of her political career. They’re part of her motivation to streamline the legal immigration system.
“I want to give opportunities for more people to go through that process,” Brooks said.
Getting to that outcome will be a difficult political journey for Brooks and her colleagues.
Schoeff is HPI’s Washington correspondent.
Mark Schoeff Jr.: Working for and believing in Lugar
WASHINGTON - Over the two decades that I’ve been in Washington, I’ve encountered scores of students and young people who aspire to a vocation in politics. When they ask me for advice on how to navigate Capitol Hill, I always begin with the same guidance: believe in the person for whom you’re working.
I am surprised by the number of congressional staffers who are lukewarm toward their bosses. It’s clear that they’re serving on his or her staff because they love politics and they want to be part of that compelling game in a place where the stakes can be the highest. Their member of Congress is sort of a vehicle to get them to where they want to be.
Although that approach can satisfy a political ambition, it also can lead to a cynical place. Instead, I advise them to do what I did – join the staff of someone whose public service you believe is critical to the country.
That’s what I experienced in my more than five years on the staff of Sen. Richard Lugar. I was hired as Lugar’s deputy press secretary in 1992 and was promoted to press secretary in 1995. I was in each position for almost exactly two-and-a-half years.
I was fortunate enough to work for Lugar during one of the most exciting times of his career. Among other things, from 1992-97, he chaired the Senate Agriculture Committee and championed an original and creative farm bill that would fundamentally reform U.S. ag policy and reduce federal spending.
I had a front-row seat as Lugar continued to build the Nunn-Lugar program that has eliminated thousands of weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union and around the world.
In addition, Lugar ran for president in 1995-96, when he offered the country a substantive agenda to make it safer and more prosperous. He was prescient during that campaign in warning that we must prepare for a terrorist attack on our own soil.
Protecting Americans against our worst nightmare was always at the forefront of Lugar’s agenda. One of the most memorable moments of my career was also one of my longest days on Capitol Hill. I arrived as usual around 7:30 a.m. near the end of my time on Lugar’s staff in May 1997. Lugar, by the way, was always in the office even earlier. That particular day was the one that Lugar managed the vote on a chemical weapons treaty. I headed home just before midnight.
Across those hours, Lugar spoke on the Senate floor and did the tough political work required to secure a victory for the weapons agreement. It wasn’t a sexy issue. In fact, despite the news releases we launched through the day, I doubt many reporters – or their audiences – were paying particularly close attention to what Lugar was doing.
That effort, however, illuminates the essence of Lugar’s public service. He was putting everything he had into making the world safer for America. It took commitment, diligence, skill and great intellectual capacity – everything that Lugar offers to Hoosiers and all Americans every day.
One of my favorite occasions while working for Lugar was to be invited into his office when he would tell the staff his decision on a particular issue. It would give us our marching orders for explaining his stance to reporters, constituents and colleagues. During those moments, it was a privilege it was to see true leadership firsthand.
I had little to do with Lugar’s success during my time on his staff. I just tried to make a positive contribution to helping communicate the importance of his work. One of the ironies of being a press secretary is that it’s best to work for a politician who doesn’t actually need one.
The reward of working for Lugar was not what I accomplished but rather the history that I witnessed. My rule for a good job is one in which you write something and learn something every day. Both goals were satisfied during my Lugar tenure.
One reason that my experience was such a good one is because Lugar was consistently out in front on issues. He would dissect and eloquently describe how to address them. That’s how he continues to operate at the end of his Senate career. In his valedictory speech on Dec. 12, Lugar was incisive in analyzing what has gone wrong with politics and leadership in Washington.
“[W]e do our country a disservice, if we mistake the act of taking positions for governance,” Lugar said. “They are not the same thing. Governance requires adaptation to shifting circumstances. It often requires finding common ground with Americans who have a different vision than your own.”
Lugar excelled in practicing that type of governance. We can only hope that his congressional colleagues listen and do likewise.
Lugar said that he hesitated “to describe our current state as the most partisan ever.” But without Lugar in the Senate, we’re at risk of devolving further into divisiveness.
For Lugar’s University of Indianapolis students who aspire to work in politics, I have a piece of advice: Choose a boss like your professor.
Schoeff is HPI's Washington correspondent.
Mark Schoeff Jr.: PAC money propels Bucshon; Walorski barely holds on
WASHINGTON - In September, Dave Crooks was feeling good about his chances to win the 8th CD.
The Democrat said that an internal poll showed him within six points of incumbent Republican Rep. Larry Bucshon. Then outside money started pouring into the district to buy ads on Terre Haute and Evansville television.
The avalanche of Super Pac spending on Bucshon’s behalf – including $750,058 from Citizens for a Working America and $114,340 from the American Action Network – was too much for Crooks to overcome.
“We felt the earth move in a very short amount of time – and we just couldn’t climb out of it,” Crooks said in an HPI interview. “They did a great job of tying in the president and somehow connecting him at my hip. It drove my numbers down.”
In the end, Bucshon prevailed, 53.4%-43.1% with 3.6% going to libertarian Bart Gadau. Bucshon also bested Crooks in fundraising -- $1.2 million to $971,978, according to Federal Election Commission filings as of Oct. 17.
“It took me more than a year-and-a-half to raise $1 million,” said Crooks, a radio executive and former state representative. “In less than a month, there was $1 million of outside money hammering away at my name and voting record.”
Crooks also benefited from independent expenditures. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $516,483, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
“The outside influence was pretty much a wash,” Bucshon said in an HPI interview.
A cardiovascular surgeon, Bucshon said he won his first re-election because he consistently communicated to voters that he is a fiscal conservative who wants to reform social insurance programs, rein in the Environmental Protection Agency and overturn the health care reform law.
His office also was fastidious in responding to tens of thousands of constituent inquiries.
“We were able to get our message out over the last few years,” Bucshon said. “People appreciated that level of communication with their member [of Congress] and they awarded it with a win.”
Crooks acknowledges he may not have won even if outside spending was not a factor. He was running in a difficult political environment, where President Barack Obama only drew 24% of the vote in Daviess County, where Crooks lives.
“It’s tough for a Democrat to get a [ticket] split in southern Indiana, unless you’re running against someone talking about rape and God,” Crooks said.
He was referring to Democratic Senate candidate Joe Donnelly’s victory over Republican Richard Mourdock, whose campaign tanked after he said in a debate that pregnancies resulting from rape are God’s will.
Donnelly gave up his 2nd CD seat in order to run for the Senate. The race to replace him was the closest in the state. Republican Jackie Walorski edged Democrat Brendan Mullen, 49% - 47.6%, with libertarian Joe Ruiz taking 3.4%.
The money competition between Walorski, a former state representative, and Mullen also was close. Walorski had raised $1.6 million and Mullen, an Iraq war veteran, had raised $1.1 million as of Oct. 17. Outside groups spent about $600,000 on each candidate.
When every vote counts, ground operations are decisive.
“I attribute the victory to an awesome grassroots network,” Walorski said in an HPI interview. “It’s that team effort that makes the difference in these kinds of races.”
The day after the vote, Mullen was exhausted but proud of what he accomplished as a rookie.
“As a first-time candidate, I’m so thrilled with what we put together,” Mullen said in an HPI interview. “We marched the ball down the field. We turned it over on downs on the one-yard line.”
Despite the negative ads and tough rhetoric that highlighted the contest that stretched from South Bend to Wabash, Walorski suggested that voters were looking for someone who could bridge the partisan chasm in Washington.
“Our message resonated – what we’ve done in the state of Indiana we can do at the federal level,” Walorski said. “We can work across the aisle. That has to be the attitude that prevails in Congress.”
During the campaign, Mullen asserted that Walorski was changing her political stripes to appeal to an electorate seeking moderation. He said that Walorski, the former assistant Republican floor leader, had been a fierce partisan in the Indiana House.
The day after the election, Mullen was conciliatory.
“I salute and applaud Jackie Walorski and her husband Dean for wanting to serve our country,” Mullen said. “I urge her to govern in the moderate voice she campaigned on.”
It sounds as if Mullen will be monitoring whether she does. For the time being, he plans to concentrate on raising his young family and running a business that assists Indiana National Guard members and their families. But he’s not ruling out another run.
“This is not the last you guys are going to see me,” Mullen said. “I’m going to continue to serve our country in one capacity or another.”
It’s also almost certain that the 8th and 2nd districts will be competitive in 2014.
Mark Schoeff Jr.: Is a shift occurring in the Bloody 8th?
WASHINGTON - Democrat Dave Crooks is confident that he’s closing in on incumbent Republican Rep. Larry Bucshon in southwest Indiana’s 8th CD.
“Big Mo is on our side,” Crooks said in an HPI interview this week. “Big Mo lives in the 8th District of Indiana. It’s nice to have my phone ring for once rather than me calling everyone else constantly.”
Crooks asserts that internal polls demonstrate his momentum. You’ll have to take his word for it because he won’t release the numbers. “That’s privileged information,” said Crooks, a radio personality and former state representative. “I can assure you that it’s razor close.”
Former Rep. Baron Hill penned a fundraising letter in late September making similar vague references. “I just got off the phone with Dave, and he shared his internal polling with me,” Hill wrote in a Sept. 27 letter. “The race is very close, and Dave is within striking distance. He’s counting on us to put him over the finish line. If we don’t help, he can’t win. It’s that simple.”
Bucshon, a heart surgeon who first won the seat in 2010 with 57% of the vote, dismisses Crooks’ bravado. “He’s creating a false story because he has a weak campaign,” Bucshon said in an HPI interview.
Bucshon tried to combat the perception that he is vulnerable by previewing his fundraising totals for the third quarter prior to the Oct. 15 release deadline. He raised about $400,000 and has $320,000 on hand – his biggest haul of the cycle. “It shows we have a lot of momentum going into this month [before Election Day],” Bucshon said. “I’m optimistic about the level of financial support the campaign has.”
As of June 30, Crooks had raised $742,605 with $530,191 on hand. Bucshon had raised $844,566 with $386,851 on hand.
Crooks promises strong third quarter results. Unlike Bucshon, he’s not offering a sneak peek.
“We’re trying to make sure everything is accurate – that the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed,” Crooks said.
Crooks acknowledged that he has reduced his television buys in the Terre Haute and Evansville market. “We made some modest adjustments so I can get to the finish line,” Crooks said. He quickly adds that he is receiving outside help. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began running an ad in support of Crooks this week.
“We’ve made the cut for the most competitive House races, and I’m proud of that,” Crooks said. “We have more resources on the way.”
Bucshon is also benefitting from outside help in the form of $114,000 that the American Action Network has spent on ads opposing Crooks.
As the DCCC jumps in to try to even the score, the National Republican Congressional Committee trusts that Bucshon can hold his own.“If the DCCC wants to waste money spending on this race, we welcome that,” said Katie Prill, NRCC Midwest press secretary. “This is a Republican seat. Larry Bucshon has been campaigning tirelessly to keep it that way.”
The DCCC ad takes aim at an issue that Bucshon has focused extensively in his campaign – health care reform. The DCCC spot criticizes Bucshon for voting in favor of the budget written by the GOP vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan. The Ryan plan would transform current pay-for-service Medicare into a program that provides premium support for participants to buy their own insurance in the private sector or to purchase traditional Medicare.
Republicans argue that the reforms won’t affect anyone in or near retirement while preserving Medicare for future generations. Democrats say the Ryan approach would end the Medicare guarantee. “Bucshon takes from Indiana seniors and gives to his special interest friends,” the DCCC ad states. A DCCC spokeswoman said that tying Bucshon to higher Medicare costs resonates.
Bucshon’s votes are “not in line with where middle-class families are,” said Haley Morris, DCCC Midwest press secretary. “That’s why you see so many Hoosiers excited by Dave Crooks’ campaign to be an independent voice in Congress.”
Medicare attacks don’t faze Bucshon. In fact, he levels his own against the health care reform law, which Bucshon said cuts $716 billion out of Medicare that would otherwise benefit current retirees. “I’m a physician, and I understand the issue very well,” Bucshon said. “I get a positive response on it. [Voters] know that we’re trying to do something to save the program.”
Crooks has been trying to shift the focus of the campaign to the economy, arguing that Bucshon has supported trade agreements that ship Hoosier jobs overseas. “He seems to be out of sync with the typical person living in this district,” Crooks said. “He’s running like it’s 2010. The only thing he can talk about is repealing Obamacare. People want to know about jobs. They’d rather see jobs in Indiana than India.”
Last fall, when he voted in favor of free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, Bucshon said they would create jobs. “It is imperative that these pending trade agreements be implemented immediately to open new markets for Hoosier exports,” Bucshon said in a statement. “More exports mean more jobs.”
Shortly after the vote, Toyota announced that it would export the Sienna model manufactured in Princeton, near Evansville, to South Korea – the first time the vehicle has been sold outside of North America. Early this year, the company announced a $400 million deal to move Highlander production to Princeton.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Bucshon is not one that Crooks can pose. It’s general voter disgust with Washington. “I went [to Washington] to change the direction of the country,” Bucshon said. “We have had some success doing that – changing the conversation from how we spend money to how we save money.”
Bucshon will know in less than a month if 8th CD voters will send him back to Washington to continue the conversation.
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Schoeff is HPI's Washington correspondent.
Mark Schoeff Jr.: Bucshon, Walorski ready for Ryan, Medicare fight
WASHINGTON - Since Paul Ryan joined the Republican presidential ticket Saturday, Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-8th CD, has not run away from the Medicare issue. Instead, it looks as if he’s decided that offense is the best defense.
“The only people who have put laws into place that have cut Medicare are Democrats, including President Obama,” Bucshon said in an HPI interview. “The Republican approach is to preserve and protect Medicare for current and future seniors.”
The topic has become more intense in the aftermath of presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney selecting Ryan, a seven-term Wisconsin congressman, as his running mate. Overhauling Medicare is central to the budget resolutions that Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, has written the past two years.
Under the Ryan plan, people under 55 would receive subsidies to purchase private insurance on a Medicare exchange or to enter the traditional fee-for-service program. Current coverage would not change for people in or near retirement.
Medicare reform was a key element of House budget blueprints that Bucshon supported in 2011 and 2012 that were designed to cut federal spending.
His opponent, former Democratic state Rep. Dave Crooks, says Bucshon’s votes put him at odds with southwest Indiana voters.
“Every time I talk to people about Medicare, they’re troubled that he would end the Medicare guarantee and force future seniors to pay $6400 more per year to keep a basic Medicare plan,” Crooks said in an HPI interview. The cost increase estimate is from a Congressional Budget Office report.
“He’s totally out of sync with the rest of us in the district,” Crooks said.
Bucshon counters that congressional Democrats approved the 2010 health care law that cuts Medicare by about $716 billion over 10 years to fund measure’s reforms.
“They’re trying to deflect criticism of what they’ve done to Medicare,” Bucshon said of Democrats. “They’re going to limit access to health care for seniors with these dramatic cuts to provider reimbursement.”
Crooks said he would vote to overturn the Medicare cuts in the health care reform law. He emphasizes that they were included in Ryan’s House budgets.
“When the Ryan plan was rolled out, they could have changed the numbers,” Crooks said. “Ryan left them in, and Bucshon supported it.”
In his fiscal year 2013 budget blueprint, Ryan acknowledged maintaining the health care reform law’s Medicare reductions.
“This budget . . . ensures that any potential savings in current law would go to shore up Medicare, not pay for new entitlements,” the outline, the Path to Prosperity, states.
Criticism of the inclusion of the Medicare savings in the Ryan plan is “unfounded,” Bucshon said, because “budgets are based on what’s in current law.”
House Republicans have voted multiple times to do away with the health care law altogether. Crooks said the law shouldn’t be scuttled but does need some revisions.
“There are some positive things in there,” Crooks said. “We need to make it better.”
In Indiana’s other competitive House race, the open seat in the 2nd CD, both candidates are hewing to their party lines. “The Romney Ryan ticket provides Americans with two very different leadership options for the next four years,” said Republican Jackie Walorski. “Americans can either choose to remain on this dismal path of slow job growth and bigger government, or vote for real change. I remain focused on improving our economy and creating jobs by repealing Obamacare, preventing tax increases, and reducing red tape on small businesses.”
Democrat Brendan Mullen said the Ryan plan would hurt north central Indiana. “Congressman Ryan’s budget, which my opponent supports, just doesn’t make good fiscal sense for our families because it cuts Medicare that people rely on, forces folks to pay thousands more for their benefits, but keeps tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs overseas,” Mullen said. “The last thing my mother and father or any Hoosiers want or need is to take money out of the pockets of seniors when special interests are getting a tax break.”
In terms of campaign mechanics, the Ryan selection is boosting fundraising for Crooks. “We sent out a [email] blast on Monday and got a very good response,” Crooks said. He declined to say how much was generated in donations but called it “above average.”
The reaction to Ryan among voters has been positive, according to Bucshon. He calls him “a Midwestern guy, a family man with strong moral character and strong conservative values I agree with.”
It’s a good thing that Ryan’s budget has spurred a debate about the size and scope of government, according to Bucshon.
“We need to have these big issues on the table so the American people can decide who they think has the best plan for America,” Bucshon said. “Of course, I believe we do.”
Schoeff is HPI’s Washington correspondent.
Mark Schoeff Jr.: Walorski, Mullen run to the middle
WASHINGTON - While Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock hopes to continue his success this election cycle by staking out and holding political ground on the right, the candidates in the 2nd CD are rushing to the middle.
Former state Rep. Jackie Walorski, a Republican, launched a television ad in July that shows her driving rural roads in the district and extolling centrist virtues. She believes that’s where voters are on the political spectrum.
“They choose an independent voice to represent them in Washington,” Walorski said in an HPI interview. “That’s exactly who we are. That’s exactly what we’re running on.”
Her Democratic opponent, Brendan Mullen, said Walorski is trying to hide her true nature.
“She has been a political bomb-thrower for her entire career,” Mullen said in an HPI interview. “She’s a finger-in-your-face party hack who has only voted along party lines. For her to re-invent herself 100 days before the election is unacceptable.”
Mullen said that his campaign is gaining momentum “because of the moderation I’m selling. People are fearful of the Tea Party and what they’ve done to the state and to Washington.”
What both candidates agree on is that the political middle is the place to be in north-central Indiana.
For Walorski, that means highlighting a Statehouse record that she says steered clear of divisive politics. She served from 2004 through 2010 and estimates that only about 15% of the legislature’s votes were on “hot partisan issues.”
“That’s what [voters] expect to see in Washington,” Walorski said. “They want to see people coming across the divide. We were a model of that in Indiana.”
State Democratic Chairman Dan Parker counters that the most accurate portrait of Walorski was her 2010 race against incumbent Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly, who is running for the Senate this year against Mourdock. Donnelly edged Walorski by 3,000 votes in a tough campaign.
“Jackie Walorski’s image coming out of the 2010 election is one of a Tea Party candidate who is extremist and partisan,” Parker said. “That’s why I think you’re seeing her try to change her image in her first ad, which I thought was hilarious.”
Walorski’s legislative record buttresses her claim of centrism, according to campaign manager Brendon DelToro. In a statement, he said that she was “instrumental” in co-authoring or supporting “multiple bipartisan bills” including one that strengthened identity theft laws.
“Jackie has consistently been an independent voice for Hoosiers as proven by her successful tenure in the state legislature,” DelToro said in a statement. “On the contrary, Brendan Mullen is a D.C. insider who doesn’t know the first thing about building bipartisan coalitions to pass meaningful legislation for the benefit of Indiana’s second congressional district.”
This is the first run for any office for Mullen, a military veteran. He grew up in South Bend and attended John Adams High School before going to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he was the place kicker on the football team.
His military service took him to South Korea, Iraq, where he trained Iraqi security forces and was embedded with them on missions, and Ft. Belvoir, near Washington, D.C.
After he left the military in 2006, he worked in the Washington area for a small company that specialized in anti-terrorism and disaster-readiness consulting, where employment grew from one to 110 during his tenure. He then established his own firm, MKS2 LLC, a strategic planning, communication and information technology consulting firm that also engages in advocacy for Indiana National Guard and Reserve soldiers and their families and employs six full-time and 31 part-time workers.
Mullen moved his company, and family, back to the district in 2011 because he and his wife wanted to raise their daughter – with another one on the way – in South Bend. He’s quick to defuse attacks on his residency.
“I feel like I’ve never left,” Mullen said of his hometown.
He was inspired to run for office while attending memorial services for fellow soldiers at Arlington Cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington. He said that the behavior of politicians was not living up to his friends’ sacrifices.
“I was raised on the values of hard work, family, fellowship and public service,” Mullen said. “Those are not the guiding lights that folks in Washington, D.C., are leading our country by. They’re bickering and acting like children.”
Although Mullen is trying to use the political-novice theme to his advantage, he’s raking in money like a savvy lawmaker. He has raised $804,177 as of June 30 and has $574,909 in cash on hand, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Walorski has raised $1,126,605 and has $724,545 on hand.
Walorski said that her fundraising is the product of a strong grass-roots network. She slapped the “Washington” label on Mullen to dismiss his numbers, asserting that he is raising money from Democratic leaders and unions.
“It’s not a surprise that Washington liberal Democrats are supporting a D.C. insider,” Walorski said.
Mullen shot back that he is as rooted in the district as Walorski.
“We are not a Washington, D.C., inside campaign,” Mullen said. “We are through-and-through a grass-roots effort. We are blessed, humbled and thrilled with the extraordinary response we’ve gotten.”
The question is whether Mullen can get voters to agree with his argument that the moderate Walorski is a fake Walorski.
There’s no doubt that the former TV reporter, university development professional and international humanitarian worker is a tireless campaigner who talks fast and can hit hard.
But her tenure in the state house was defined by the blue-collar area she served, according to a former colleague.
“Her district has the South-Bend personality,” said Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd CD and a former state senator who was in Indianapolis when Walorski was the assistant Republican House floor leader. “She knows the issues and challenges that people of north-central Indiana deal with.”
She’s also willing to go to bat for them, Stutzman said.
“She’s aggressive. She’s bold. She’s very articulate,” Stutzman said. “She’s not one to back down from a fight.”
Mullen will try to use Walorski’s time in the state house against her.
“My opponent has been walking in parades while I was in Iraq getting shot at,” Mullen said. “Washington no longer needs professional politicians. Indiana no longer needs professional politicians.”
Walorski sounds similar to Mullen when talking about the ire voters direct toward Washington.
“Hoosiers are more fed up with Congress today than they were in 2010,” Walorski said. “They’re looking for an independent voice to represent their values and not the two parties.”
Schoeff is HPI's Washington correspondent.
Obama on ACA repeal
“If I’ve got to fight another three years to make sure this law works, then that’s what I’ll do. We’re not repealing it as long as I’m president.”
, talking about the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday.
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