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Last updated: Mon. Dec. 10, 2012 - 09:48 am EDT

Donnelly sees progress toward fiscal deal

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FORT WAYNE — Despite the rhetoric from the edges of the political spectrum, Sen.-elect Joe Donnelly said Sunday, there is a congressional majority in the middle that stands ready to work together to avoid the fiscal cliff.

Rep. Donnelly, D-Ind., braved Sunday evening’s fog to visit the Community Harvest Food Bank, the last stop on a two-day tour of food banks across the state.

“I think if there was any one message from the election, it was to forget politics and just do the work of the people of Indiana and of our country,” Donnelly told reporters.

“I work with Rep. (Marlin) Stutzman all the time, and we never talk politics. We talk about how to move forward, how to get the work done.”

Because Congress could not agree on a budget months ago, Draconian spending cuts both sides want to avoid are now set to take effect unless a new agreement can be reached.

Donnelly said he suspects it may be a last-minute deal as each side works to wring every possible concession, but he believes there will be an agreement.

“I remain hopeful,” Donnelly said. “No one’s going to get 100 percent of what they want … but it’s our obligation to deal with this and deal with this now.”

He said that despite the heated statements from both sides publicly, there has been “significant” movement.

Donnelly also praised outgoing Sen. Richard Lugar.

“Richard Lugar is an American hero, an American legend,” he said. “You can’t fill Richard Lugar’s shoes. All I can do is be the best senator I can every day.”

He said Lugar and his staff have been very helpful in the transition and that Lugar said Donnelly could call him whenever he needs, which he described as being “like having Joe DiMaggio on speed dial.”

Community Harvest Executive Director Jane Avery gave Donnelly a tour of the massive facility, explaining that it distributes about 12.5 million tons of food a year, and that the vast majority of clients are working poor – single mothers with jobs but not enough income to make ends meet. In a year, the food bank and its member agencies will serve 90,000 different people, or about one in every six people in northeast Indiana.

Avery also explained how most of the food the agency handles is donated by corporations, making the tax breaks those firms get for their donations critical.

“Losing that would kill us,” Avery said.

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