By Maureen Hayden CNHI Statehouse Bureau
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Coats returned home to Indiana this week, hoping to turn the political conversation away from a failed GOP strategy that partially shut down the federal government and toward what he sees as more critical issues facing the nation: The $700 billion in deficit spending and a national debt that stands at $16.7 trillion.
In meetings with constituents around central Indiana — and on radio talk shows where he’ll take their questions — Coats is hoping to focus on the next challenge in the nation’s capital: bridging the chasm between congressional Republicans and Democrats to forge a budget deal in time to avoid another shutdown.
“I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about what happened,” Coats said in an interview with the CNHI Statehouse Bureau Tuesday. “That’s history. What I want to spend a lot of time on is what’s forward; what lies out there.”
Coats was one of 27 Senate Republicans who voted to support the plan that ended the 16-day shutdown that was triggered by Tea Party-aligned Republicans’ attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, known as a Obamacare. He’s taken some heat from for that vote, but he’d prefer to talk about the part of the agreement that calls for a budget conference report by Dec. 13, including a plan for tax and spending policies over the next 10 years.
Calling the federal deficit an “unsustainable burden” that’s been created by “wildly excessive spending” and unfunded liabilities tied to entitlement programs, Coats said its incumbent upon Congress to work together to solve the issue.
“It doesn’t take a doctorate in math to understand it’s all going to come down on us, and the longer we postpone it, the worse it’s going to be,” Coats said. “Not only is it irresponsible but it’s immoral.”
Whether Coats will succeed in shifting attention away from the divisive shutdown and toward the long-shot goal of bipartisan cooperation on the deficit remains to be seen. Earlier this week, a poll released by Washington Post/ABC News found eight in 10 Americans disproved of the shutdown. And many blame Republicans: CNN released a poll Monday that found three-quarters of Americans believe GOP members of Congress don’t deserve to be re-elected. Congressional Democrats’ image took a hit too, but the Coats conceded that the GOP brand, according to several media polls released this week, has sunk to an all-time low.
Coats said he opposed the strategy executed by Tea Party-aligned Republicans that led to what was the third longest government shutdown in 37 years, in part because of the failed result: The president’s signature health care law remains intact. Coats said he warned supporters of the strategy that they couldn’t sway enough Democrats to support their plan to defund the Affordable Care Act, nor would President Obama ever agree to kill the law.
“The math just didn’t add up,” Coats said.
Coats said he still opposes the healthcare law, but believes the only real shot at repealing it is for Republicans to keep control of the House and win back the Senate in 2014, while winning the White House in 2016. He’s confident that now that shutdown is over, the political heat will shift back to the troubled rollout of the online health insurance exchange and the Obama administration’s admission that its hired outside experts to rewrite flawed computer code that has hampered the exchange website and left most users unable to sign up.
“I think it just points out the dysfunction of the federal government in terms of its ability to do anything effectively and efficiently,” Coats said. “The fed government is just mired in dysfunction and this thing is just proving it. It’s unraveling all by itself.”