By DANIEL SUDDEATH
NEW ALBANY — Reducing the deficit and forming a long-term spending plan that instills confidence in the nation — Sen. Joe Donnelly said those requests were the chief concerns he heard while meeting with Southern Indiana business leaders Monday.
Donnelly — a three-term member of the U.S. House who bested Republican Richard Mourdock in November to capture the Senate seat vacated by Dick Lugar — met with One Southern Indiana officials and spoke briefly with the media outside of the organization’s office.
His stop in New Albany was part of his four-day “I Work for You” tour that will span 18 Indiana communities.
Donnelly acknowledged there are “significant debt challenges” awaiting Congress and President Barack Obama. One of the most pressing issues is the federal debt ceiling, as some spending cuts will begin taking effect on March 1 if the debt limit isn’t increased.
“We’re not Republicans or Democrats first, we’re Americans first, and we need to work together to reduce the spending and to balance the budget,” said Donnelly, a Democrat from South Bend.
“We also need to let our creditors know that we’re good for the obligations that we have.”
During a press conference Monday, Obama said he would be willing to address the deficit and spending, but that those issues should be dealt with apart from the pending debt limit vote.
Republican leadership, including House Speaker John Boehner, said the deficit and the debt limit are intertwined.
“The American people do not support raising the debt ceiling without reducing government spending at the same time,” Boehner said Monday.
Another issue expected to soon come to Congress is gun-control reform. Vice President Joe Biden’s anti-violence task force is expected to publicly present its recommendations on gun control this week, and Obama has said he will present his own plan within days.
Endorsed in the past by the National Rifle Association, Donnelly said he’s willing to listen to new ideas on gun control.
“I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms,” Donnelly said. “At the same time, I’m waiting to see what the vice president’s commission comes out with, and to see if there are some common sense things we can do to work together.”
Again Donnelly called for a bi-partisan approach, as he said gun control is an issue that Republicans and Democrats should be able to work together to improve.
He added there are mental health and societal issues such as violent video games that need to be examined along with gun control.
Donnelly said he supports the rights of gun owners, but “at the same time we have to make sure our children can safely go to school, and that we can safely live our lives.”
He traveled to Evansville after leaving New Albany, and Donnelly stopped in other Indiana cities including Madison Monday.
Indiana’s specialty when it comes to economic development can be having “the best educated, most talented” work force thanks to technical schools and universities in the state and the training they provide, Donnelly said.
From a federal level, the key is to pass a long-term spending plan that addresses the deficit, he continued.
National leaders need to “provide [businesses] with certainty and to provide them with a feeling of confidence that we have these issues under control,” Donnelly said.
— The Associated Press contributed to this story