A Freshman Senator Outlines the Reforms He Will Push in Washington

Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., joins us to discuss how he’s ready to change Washington, D.C. The businessman-turned-politician shares why he advocates term limits and wants lawmakers to lose pay if they don’t pass a budget on time. Listen to the podcast or read the transcript below.

We also cover these stories:

  • Second lady Karen Pence is under fire for teaching at a Christian school that holds traditional values on marriage and sexuality.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asks President Donald Trump to postpone his State of the Union address.
  • The Democratic Party has officially withdrawn its endorsement of the Women’s March.

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This transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Rob Bluey: We’re joined on The Daily Signal Podcast today by Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana. Senator, welcome.

Sen. Mike Braun: Thank you.

Bluey: You’ve been here in Washington for just about two weeks now, and I want to begin by asking you to share with our listeners your path to Congress because in some ways it’s an unusual path, having started in the private sector. How did those principles that you learned in the private sector motivate you to try to change the things then that are functioning, or not functioning, here in Washington, D.C.?

Braun: Well, I signed a term limits pledge when I did make it as a campaign statement, and of course I will stick with that. … And it’s happened in gubernatorial races where people have come from the outside and outmaneuvered the odds. Here, it has not been done often at the Senate level and I don’t think ever in Indiana.

I did it because I think we need to get more people that have had real-world experience. It sounds kind of simple in general, but I do think you take the money out of politics when you don’t make a career out of it.

And all I can tell you is I’ve made budgets in a school board, in a state House, and most importantly, year after year at my own business and accomplished good things, and sometimes maybe I’d even call it better than good.

But you don’t work in the bizarro world of the federal government where you get nothing done and you’re on trillion-dollar deficits, and pile on $21 trillion now in debt, I’m going to hopefully weigh in on that. And if I don’t make any progress legislatively, I’m at least going to talk about it often.

Rachel del Guidice: Looking ahead into this new Congress and this new year, what are some of your conservative principles and priorities that you want to advance?

Braun: A couple of things. I’m interested in reforming the system in ways that will make a difference. There is a term limit bill out there and I think it at least has a sense of grandfathering the people in, that to some extent would need to vote for it. I think that solves a bunch of problems.

I tried a campaign that would not accept senatorial pensions. So I get here, and you can’t even opt out of it. Yes, believe it or not. And I’m working on trying to make a technical correction there so I can do what I said I was going to do. If not, I would just have to forgo it when I actually earned it, which I would. But now if you do not participate in the pension, you can’t be on a 401k plan here, or use health insurance, and I no longer am on my company’s, so it’s just bizarro there.

I’m going to try to change that technically and then I’d love to see some day where senators and congressmen do not get pensions and nobody else does, they’re almost universally underfunded and you can’t support them. Those kinds of things need to change.

I don’t like the fact that you can lobby almost immediately, I think it’s a one-year gap, but I’d like to see either not being able to do it or a five-year separation so that there’s more accountability for how this whole system works. I’m sure that’s going to be kind of excruciating for some here that have nestled into here, but I’m going to talk about it.

When it comes to things I’d like to see get done, we’re too polarized on any of the major issues—you don’t get one Democratic vote, or you don’t get one Republican vote.

And I’m thinking that with the cost of health care, Democrats, I think, own the issue currently. It was manifested through Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, it was not affordable, it’s falling apart.

I took on insurance companies in my own business 10 years ago to lower costs, to make it sustainable, and my employees have not had premium increases for nine or 10 years. I tell people that, they just think you’re telling a fib, but it’s true if you know how to tackle it, put the right systems in place.

I think there will be some Democrats that listen to that, “How do you do it?” Infrastructure—we took on that hard issue in Indiana, pasted a long-term road funding bill that keeps our bridges and roads in repair and adds some, but we are a state that’s lived within our means so we can afford to do it. We passed a regional infrastructure bill that helps local areas like mine initiate a road project and help pay for it.

To control your own destiny, not asking for everybody else to pay for whatever you want to do—I’d like that to rub off here. Infrastructure, health care, and basic reforms.

Bluey: You have so much that you want to do, I want to ask, though, how has the partial government shutdown affected your start to the 116th Congress?

Braun: At the speed they operate here, it’s not going to make a lot of difference. I have to almost slow my metabolism down to be at a rate that’s even close to what it was like as a business owner or a state legislator. So we will get through that.

My “No Budget, No Pay” bill that’s out there would say that if you don’t get a budget done within a year, with all that time to prepare for it, that those of us that are here don’t get paid. So I’m hoping that has some leg to it, but there’s plenty of other stuff to learn.

I’m going to be one that is going to speak up on the stuff I know something about and try to learn a lot more about things I don’t know.

But it was just like being a state legislator. After we accomplished long-term road funding, which was a big deal to Southern Indiana, and I was able to get a regional infrastructure bill passed that we’ve got T’d up in our area now, talk about a road project, we’ve been talking about for 40 years. I hope to do a few of those things and believe me, six or 12 years will be plenty of time to see if that’s going to happen.

del Guidice: As of Friday, we’re now in the longest government shutdown that we’ve ever been in. What are your thoughts about where things stand with Democrats and how they failed to work with Trump to open the government?

Braun: I think the reason it’s standing a little longer than any before is because 75 percent of the government is funded. Here there are going to be some services like TSA and others that might start to suffer that’ll have real consequences.

I think Democrats are in a tough spot. I’m not one that likes to read a poll every time I need to see what’s happening, but I think there are more people now that view border security as a big deal than what there was a year ago. And the president and Republicans are asking for nothing more than what almost every Democrat agreed to just a few years ago, and at a magnitude level a lot higher than $5.7 billion.

Bluey: Coming from the private sector, I’m sure you’ve had your share of negotiations.

Braun: Yep.

Bluey: What’s your take on how these negotiations are playing out between President Trump and Congress?

Braun: I think a lot of times negotiations have more nuance subtleties to them, here I don’t think it’s very nuanced.

If you believe in border security—which apparently Democrats don’t now, even when it comes to spending money outside of a barrier or a wall, which they all said they would be OK with that very recently.

I think that it’s, again, part of what ails D.C., is things get so political, and you leave a real problem out there like border security unattended to because, in one case, you know you need to have border security and national security to some degree, and Democrats now don’t think that that makes sense.

del Guidice: You just mentioned the importance of border security to national security, was this a big issue for your constituents back home?

Braun: During the entire campaign, through the primary and the general, border security, the cost of health care, people actually worried about the integrity of Medicare and Social Security were even with jobs in the economy, and jobs in the economy would normally be above all three of them.

That’s because jobs in the economy are doing so well, and conservatives need to do a better job of explaining how good tax reform has been and how it’s benefiting people across the board, and companies. I challenge business owners ever day, you’re sending less money to the federal government, if you’re successful, share those benefits with your employees.

Bluey: I’m glad you mentioned that issue because obviously as a successful and winning candidate, you were able to break through in terms of your communication. What advice do you have for other conservatives when talking about issues like tax reform and some of the benefits that have come from that?

Braun: My first piece of advice would be: Get out there and communicate. I did a podcast with Major Garrett that was nearly 50 minutes and I knew upfront that there was going to be no editing, it was just “let’s talk.”

He indicated that he has trouble getting Republicans or conservatives to do it, and I can see why. Because a lot of times you’re set up for a “gotcha” moment, but you need to know how to avoid that, and if somebody’s doing it, kind of tell them, “Hey, you want to have a real discussion? Let’s be a little better in your presentation.” But I think we’ve got to do that.

When it comes to tax reform for conservatives, and for the average American, it’s more than crumbs. But for it to really hit home, I think you’re going to have to do what we did in my own company and what many did early on, which is, invest in your employees the best you can, with better benefits, higher wages so they don’t look to government to do it. That’s a failed promise if you think you’re going to go there and get anything done, you’re going to pay for them.

del Guidice: So Friday will be the 45th annual March for Life, why do you think this event is important and how do you think it’s playing a role in the pro-life movement?

Braun: I’ve been a pro-life proponent and ran on it. I was endorsed by the Indiana Right to Life, the National Right to Life, and the Susan B. Anthony List, they knocked on, I think, close to half a million doors for me in Indiana, because it is important.

I think it’s a divisive issue and I we need to stay out there and talk about it and not be afraid of the issue. Don’t demonize anybody along the way that disagrees with you, but we can’t be shy about any of the things we believe in, whether it’s the right to life, whether it’s border security, or defending why keeping more of your own resources makes sense. We just need to articulate it in a way that shows that we do have the ability to see the other point of view and try to find some ground where it’s a win-win.

Bluey: This is the first time in a number of years that Indiana has two Republican senators. What priorities do you have for the delegation for the people of Indiana that you’re hoping to focus on in terms of their constituent needs?

Braun: It’s really nice when you come from a state like Indiana that is probably one of the best business environments in the country. Where I live, in Southern Indiana, and, in fact, Jasper just got named as one of the best towns in the state, if not the country, to live in due to low cost of living and higher-than-average incomes.

Indiana is a place that I think will keep doing well because it’s based upon certain principles that make sense: live within your means, be very engaging when you try to get enterprise into your state, be a real champion of everybody having a great opportunity to succeed, and do it all in a context where it’s not falling apart as you try to do these good things.

That’s the difference between a state like Indiana and the federal government, and I think a lot of it will be to make sure that the federal government doesn’t impact a great state like ours in a way that takes us away from how well we’ve performed.

del Guidice: You briefly mentioned earlier the “No Budget, No Pay” legislation that you introduced with Sen. Manchin, why is this legislation so important?

Braun: To me, one of the things that I said I’m going to focus on reforming a few areas, I think when you’re an institution that’s got a 15 percent approval rating, that’s just one of the few things that would lend toward that. And I think that you’ve got to have real consequences other than just lip service or saying that, “Gosh, I wish we got a budget done.”

All I know is that as a CEO of my company, if I couldn’t find ways to reduce costs in such a modest way, is all it would take to make this to where we would get our budgets in order. And the fact that we don’t get one done when that’s a primary responsibility of the Congress, you need to have some repercussions if that doesn’t happen.

So I think there’s plenty of notice over a year’s time. If you don’t get it together, we can’t keep running the government on continuing resolutions and a structural budget deficit that we’re now losing close to $1 trillion a year that we finance on top of $21 trillion in debt, that’s got to change.

Bluey: And finally, Senator, in a time of divided government in Washington, Democrats patrolling the House, one of the focuses that is on the Senate, it certainly comes in, as Mitch McConnell says, “the personnel business.”

Braun: Yep.

Bluey: You have a number of appointments for the Trump administration, the attorney general, the EPA administrator, both coming before the Senate this week, a record number of judges confirmed last Congress with a whole lot more waiting. What can you tell our listeners about that, and the role that the Senate can play over the next two years when it comes to judicial nominees and other employments?

Braun: We have at least two more years where that will happen and I think that had gotten so political as well. We know the consequences if we don’t win the presidency in 2020, we’d be in a defensive mode, and it’ll go the other way. I think that that is something you take advantage of when you’ve got the position to do so.

I want to quickly segue to an area where, we talked about it a bit earlier, but I think the real pivotal issue is going to be health care. I think conservatives have been too apologetic for the industry. I had to deal with it myself and I think there’s going to be some real common ground if we can take that issue I think the Democrats own.

Republicans and conservatives have got to focus on how we lower costs. The Affordable Care Act did something I’ve always believed in, you should never go broke because you get sick or have a bad accident, and built that into the plan I offer my employees, and I held premiums flat for 10 years. We’ve got to get that done.

I don’t think Democrats really care about controlling costs other than if it just happens and I think that if you do migrate to a one-payer system, like they think that will solve that issue, we won’t like it, you may in the long run lower some costs, but I’m going to think the quality of health care will suffer, too.

Bluey: Well, Senator, I’m glad you brought that up because I had a conversation with a couple of freshman congressmen last week on the House side.

Braun: Yeah?

Bluey: Both of them were enthusiastic about health care as well. It seems there is an appetite among Republicans and conservatives to return to that issue.

Braun: There is, and I think conservatives and Republicans are often seen as defending business, and I think we defend it for free and open markets, and robust competition, and it’s what’s made the country great. It’s a productive side of our economy of entrepreneurs and enterprisers.

The health care industry doesn’t fit into that classification in the way that it should. It’s been shrouded with so much lack of transparency, through an insurance system that doesn’t make sense anymore, and the industry which I am going to really encourage, you need to fix these things yourselves or you’ll be apart of a one-payer system, and you know what the problems are, get with it, I’m going to encourage that and go them to do it.

Bluey: Senator, thanks so much for joining The Daily Signal.

Braun: You’re very welcome.

del Guidice: Thanks for being with us today.

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