Donnelly and some other centrists heard the call. Donnelly had worked with Collins this summer on legislation to amend a portion of the Affordable Care Act. Collins pulled some other centrists into the conversation as well, including GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
The group eventually included five senators like Donnelly who are in their first term in office. The Washington Post described them as “not the Senate’s usual impact players.” Donnelly, though, describes them this way: “We’re people who see the world through a common-sense view.”
The group started meeting, quietly, on a regular basis to see if they could come up with a way to break through the deadlock. “We’d leave politics at the door,” Donnelly said. “We decided, don’t worry about being Democrat or Republican. Instead, let’s just look at how do we get our nation out of this difficult spot.”
By last weekend, they’d come up with a blueprint to end the shutdown. It moved the debt deadline into next year, included income verification provisions to prevent fraud in the Affordable Care Act, and called for a budget conference between the House and Senate.
Senate leaders initially rejected the proposal but it jump-started a new round of intense negotiations that lead to the final deal struck by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Donnelly said the blueprint drafted by the centrists didn’t include some of the pork that was later added on to the 35-page bill passed by Congress, including millions for a dam project on the Ohio River. “There were a few things put in the bill after we handed over framework,” Donnelly said. “What we did was provide a framework for good governance.”