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Posted on Sun. Oct. 06, 2013 - 04:59 pm EDT

Federal shutdown raises Indiana brush with closure

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INDIANAPOLIS — After spending years walking up to the brink of a shutdown, the federal government finally shuttered over the ongoing health care budget battle.

Federal workers have been furloughed. Passport applications and tax help are on hold. And federal services that often go overlooked, from NASA research to high-profile national park operations, have become the centerpieces of floor speeches from the U.S. House and Senate.

Even in Indiana, state government has been pulled into dealing with the shutdown. The state Department of Workforce Development issued guidelines last week for federal employees seeking unemployment assistance.

But states largely have escaped the fray, and many leaders have gone out of their way to emphasize that state governments pass budgets and get their work done.

That's not to say it hasn't been a close call at times.

Through the early 1990s, then-Democratic Gov. Evan Bayh's budget battles with lawmakers occasionally sparked talk of a possible state government shutdown. In 1993, Bayh called lawmakers back for a special session to pass the budget.

Services that usually operate smoothly with little attention, from state parks to social welfare assistance, were suddenly pulled into the debate. While the special session dragged on through June 1993, then-Auditor Ann Devore made the case that services would end if lawmakers and the governor couldn't reach an agreement.

"The purpose of state government is to provide services to its citizens," she said at the time. "As of July 1, 1993, the purpose of this state government may cease to exist."

The shutdown didn't happen, and lawmakers have generally passed a budget within their allotted budget-writing sessions every two years since.

But Washington-style partisan gridlock has crept into the Indiana Statehouse in recent years. House Democrats led a five-week walkout in 2011 over a package of education bills and right-to-work legislation. They followed again in 2012 with periodic boycotts of the House floor that stalled passage of the right-to-work ban on union fees for a few weeks.

Even so, with Republicans controlling the governor's office and holding supermajorities in the House and Senate, a shutdown in Indiana is highly improbable.

Now, far from the threat of dysfunction, Indiana's top lawmakers pride themselves on the state's ability to get work done.

If only Washington had the same approach.

A few years after Indiana's surprising showdown, the federal government closed twice amid high-profile bickering between former President Bill Clinton and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. And now, 17 years later, Washington is entering the second week of its shutdown.

Amid the partisan back and forth, a rare area of unity has become praising the federal workers now out of work.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly and Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Coats signed onto a joint letter last week seeking to reinstate pay for National Guard members, and both men opened their speeches last week with praise for first responders following a Capitol Hill car chase and shooting that left a Connecticut woman dead. Coats called the shutdown a "pox upon both our houses."

Whether anyone's listening long enough to work together remains to be seen.


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