Republican Field Grows for U.S. Senate; Reminder of Chamber Endorsement Process

It’s been a busy week for Republicans wanting to challenge Sen. Joe Donnelly for his seat. The number now stands at six.

On Wednesday, Congressman Todd Rokita (IN-04) officially announced his intentions while on the steps of the Indiana Statehouse – it marked the first stop in his nine-city tour sharing the news.

“Hoosiers want a commonsense senator willing to take on tough fights. Hoosiers want a conservative senator who shares our values and works with President Trump and Vice President Pence to turn the country around,” Rokita said. “Hoosiers want a senator who votes the interests of Hoosiers, not the Washington elite. We don’t have that in Joe Donnelly, and too much is at stake to accept it. That’s why I am announcing my candidacy for the United States Senate.”

Rokita’s campaign slogan promises to “Defeat the Elite” in Washington.

Meanwhile, Congressman Luke Messer (IN-06) will formally announces his bid Saturday at the 6th Annual Messer Family BBQ in Morristown.

Senator David Long, President Pro Tempore of the Indiana State Senate, has already thrown his support behind Messer:

“As a young and talented member of the Indiana House, Luke proved his conservative credentials early on by helping us create a new vision for Indiana in partnership with Gov. Mitch Daniels. As a strong and innovative leader for educational choice, Luke fought to ensure Hoosier families and children have the options they need to obtain a world-class education. As a quickly-rising star in Congress, Luke has proven he can work with difficult coalitions of interests to move an agenda for the American people.

“While the Republican Party is blessed to have a number of candidates interested in the seat, I believe Luke to be the absolute best person to effectively represent the interests of all Hoosiers in the U.S. Senate.”

State Representative Mike Braun of Jasper officially entered the race on Thursday. He previously cited the public sparring of Messer and Rokita as well as his business experience as reasons for his decision.

Meanwhile, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill made it clear on Wednesday that he hasn’t ruled out joining the GOP primary.

Other Republicans already in the field are Hamilton County businessman Terry Henderson, Kokomo attorney Mark Hurt and Floyds Knobs educator Andrew Takami.

In terms of any congressional endorsement the Indiana Chamber may provide, the matter is taken up by our federal political action committee (PAC). Bill authoring and voting history on pro-jobs, pro-economy legislation and in-person interviews of the candidates will play large roles in the decision making.

The PAC’s work won’t begin until after the candidate filing deadline early next year – as it’s possible a candidate may decide not to run, while there also could be someone else elect to throw their hat into the ring. But when the time comes, you can be assured that a thorough vetting process will take place before a determination is made to endorse a candidate (or no candidates).

Indiana Delegation Talks Affordable Care Act Repeal

The vote to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) couldn’t get off the ground in the U.S. Senate. But President Trump, Vice President Pence and many members of Congress instead have called for a simple repeal of the ACA – with a replacement coming at a later date.

Congressman Luke Messer (IN-06) is on board with that process. “Hoosiers are sick and tired of endless debate on the Obamacare repeal bill, and the failure of Congress to act. This is D.C. politics as usual, and exactly why Americans sent the President to Washington to shake things up and get something done.

“We’ve had more than enough time to deliver on this promise to Americans, who have sent us here for three election cycles to repeal this failed law. I agree with President Trump that we must repeal Obamacare NOW and then work together on a plan to ensure Hoosiers get the health care they want and deserve.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Donnelly urged bipartisanship in finding common ground. “The proposed Senate health care bill would have been disastrous for Hoosiers. The latest plan to repeal without any replacement is downright reckless, playing politics with the health and economic well-being of millions of American families.

“It is time to do the hard work of forging a bipartisan bill to strengthen our current health care system, so that we can reduce costs for Hoosier families, continue to protect people with pre-existing conditions, and preserve the good work states like Indiana have done to expand affordable health care. The American people are counting on us to take a thoughtful approach together, and I urge the Senate to take this path in the coming days.”

Congressman Larry Bucshon (IN-08) had a different take. “Obamacare is collapsing and as a result patients across the country are at risk as premiums skyrocket and insurers flee the exchanges. In Indiana, premiums have increased an average of 74% and two of our state’s four insurers recently announced their departure from the Obamacare exchanges. Hoosiers are being priced out of the insurance market, if they can find insurance at all. This is not the health care Americans were promised by President Obama and congressional Democrats when they passed Obamacare, and certainly not what they deserve.

“To me, this is personal. I spent more than a decade as a surgeon before coming to Congress. This is about the well-being of my constituents who are struggling to access quality, affordable health care under Obamacare. That’s why I made a promise to repeal and replace this failed law to help drive down costs, expand access, and get the federal government out of decisions that should be left up to patients and their doctors. The House did its job to fulfill our promise. I’m extremely disappointed that, thus far, the Senate has failed to live up to its commitment to the American people. It’s time for the Senate to act.”

ESSA Passes Final Hurdles, Signed by Pres. Obama

36107229Last week, the Senate passed and President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – sweeping education legislation that replaces No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Most notably, this legislation sends significant power back to the states and local districts, while still maintaining some limited federal oversight over policies.

NCLB created a national system that judged schools based on math and reading scores, and had significant requirements to raise test scores every year or face significant penalties. ESSA, on the other hand, shifts power to the states and locals while providing flexibility. This legislation seeks to ensure that all children receive a high-quality education and close student achievement gaps.

Still, this legislation is not perfect by any means. We wish stronger accountability measures were included, but in the spirit of compromise and collaboration, it is a strong step forward in ensuring a balance between federal, state and local governments. It has an emphasis on challenging academic standards and accompanying assessments and accountability plans; it also institutes changes to funding for innovative programs – including Preschool Development Grants, a competitive one-year grant program to develop, update or implement a strategic plan that facilitates and improves coordination, quality and access for early childhood education, which will now be administered jointly by the U.S. Department of Health and U.S. Department of Education.

A special thank you to Congressmen Todd Rokita and Luke Messer for their tireless work on ESSA while sitting on the House Education and Workforce Committee.

Immigration Reform Heats Up; Messer Weighs In

The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, S. 744, is currently being debated by the U.S. Senate, with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) seeking final passage prior to the July 4 recess. The comprehensive reform bill has something to like and something to dislike for just about everyone involved, but the primary political battle lines are being drawn between border security first (a Republican priority) and a path toward legalization and citizenship (a Democratic priority).

The so-called “Gang of 8” has labored mightily to keep a fragile coalition of support together in the Senate, but fissures are materializing. What once looked like a very sizable 70 votes in support has dwindled as the debate has progressed. As of Friday morning, June 21, senators were discussing a new compromise border security proposal in an effort to secure more support for the bill.  
 
The best guess at this point is that an amended S. 744 passes the Senate with overwhelming support from Democrats and just enough Republicans to get over 60 votes and send the legislation to the House of Representatives, where Speaker John Boehner’s caucus is even more uneasy and polarized than the Senate GOP. Boehner has publicly stated that any bill that does not have majority support from his caucus will not be heard, so the House may take a “piecemeal” approach addressing specific aspects or issues included in S. 744 (and likely tackling and emphasizing border security first). However, the Speaker has also met with the Hispanic Caucus and the House’s own “Gang of 8” seeking a comprehensive, bipartisan measure.
 
Indiana Congressman Luke Messer (R-6th District) told the Indiana Chamber recently that “if we are able to reach agreement on border security and documented status for workers, then we have an opportunity for further dialogue about what we do about citizenship once those workers are documented.
 
“My sense today is that we don’t yet have a consensus about what to do about citizenship, which makes it difficult if you tie all three together. That’s the challenge. There’s an opportunity to come up with a plan this year to deal with those first two topics. Probably it’s going to take demonstrated success on those to be able to move on to citizenship.” (Look for the full Q&A with Congressman Messer in the next BizVoice® magazine, available online June 28.)
 
We see Speaker Boehner’s leadership at a very serious crossroads on this issue, with many conservative Republicans rebelling against any bipartisan deal that includes a path to legalization or naturalization for illegal immigrants currently in the country. How Boehner squares this circle will be fascinating to watch.
 
The Indiana Chamber believes that now is the time to craft a principled, pragmatic reform that secures the border, strengthens the rule of law AND creates a program for undocumented workers to earn legal status, as it is utterly impractical to seek the mass deportation of an estimated 11 million individuals.