Feb. 6 would have been the 100th birthday for President Ronald Reagan. Gov. Mitch Daniels, who worked for the fellow Republican in the White House, was inundated with interview requests asking what lessons he learned from Reagan that he applied in his own turn as a state chief executive.
The governor invariably replied that it was Reagan’s fixation on the big picture that guided The Gipper’s administration, and he tried to emulate that. Daniels staffers confirm his similar admonitions to them. That “think big” attitude seems to be carrying over to lawmakers, who this month focused on major issues, in both committee hearings and floor action.
The governor’s “truce” on social and wedge issues has for now been cast aside. But the debates on such hot-button topics as banning same-sex marriage, abortion restrictions, charter school expansion, immigration law reform and enforcement, trimming corporate taxes, and local government reform didn’t degenerate to the level of personal and political donnybrooks that have disrupted previous sessions.
Sure, there was a four-hour delay of floor action as the House prepared to consider the controversial charter school legislation, while Democrats privately plotted their strategy on a raft of amendments (and the party-line votes on them undoubtedly will be used against individual Republicans in their new legislative districts in 2012).
But it’s been far tamer than many expected, given the compressed schedule, the emotional nature of the issues, the lengthy period (think years) that many items had been bottled up, the relative inexperience of many lawmakers and their perceived impatience to act, and the importance of the topics as lawmakers looked at the proverbial big picture.
Of course, virtually any action, inaction, or real or perceived slight can trigger an unhealthy overreaction at any point, and lawmakers haven’t even yet sat down to the table to talk budget or contemplate the newly delivered chunk of census data meat that soon will be carved up for political consumption.
But there is another critical item still floating around the rotunda that could yet be delayed for other overarching reasons.
In a previous column, I described the lightning fast ride through the legislative process that the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund fix measure, HB 1450, was taking. That bill had passed the House and was destined to land on the governor’s desk for signature by month’s end.
Last year, you may remember, legislators—with the governor’s acquiescence—had tolled the effective date of the unemployment insurance tax hike for one year, thinking the federal government would step in and bail out the states. That never happened, and a new bill to revamp the 2009 compromise was on rails.
But in recent days, solons were surprised to learn the president was ready to include a plan in his federal budget proposal imposing a 2011 and 2012 moratorium on state tax increases and on state interest payments on the mounting debt.
You’ll hear only a modicum of political rhetoric about Hoosier Republicans’ being hypocritical about adding to the federal debt if they can benefit big business, and about the governor’s allowing other states to help bail out Indiana’s UI irresponsibility Why? Because Democrats see any federal intervention here as an opportunity to aid organized labor.
And who wouldn’t be curious about conversations between Daniels and the six frugal Hoosiers in the congressional delegation whose first professed priority is deficit reduction? Would they consider the plight of business and the unemployed back home?
While both parties dance around how they will help their respective favored constituencies in the state unemployment-insurance fix, the remedy as it passed the House will continue to proceed through the Senate. The state can’t afford to wait on the feds to decide whether they will address this and, if so, how.
After all, we have to focus on the big picture.•
Feigenbaum publishes Indiana Legislative Insight. His column appears weekly while the Indiana General Assembly is in session. He can be reached at email@example.com.