Senator Mike Braun on Bipartisanship, the Economy, Climate Change, and More
By Mike Braun – U.S. Senator for Indiana
Divided We Fall: What is your perspective on the state of bipartisanship in the Senate? Is it as bad as people believe or are there reasons to be hopeful?
Senator Mike Braun: On major policy items that have an ideological underpinning, I think you can only describe it as the Hatfields and McCoys. On the big issues—and especially the ones that are broad in scope, like Build Back Better and all the spending bills Democrats did outside of the infrastructure bill—went through the process called reconciliation, which means that Kamala Harris had to come in and get it over the finish line. That would be the ultimate example of partisanship when you don’t get one Republican vote on a major piece of legislation.
The only place, sadly, where there’s seemingly bipartisanship would be on the dereliction on budget. Most avoid the tough decisions that have taken us to annual trillion dollar deficits, which now baseline at 1.5 trillion. We were 18 trillion in debt when I got here and are now at 30 trillion. Biden put a budget out that no one, including Republicans, even seemed to shrug their shoulders over. That’s the thing that’s most bothersome to me, being from a place like Indiana, which runs a much different operation with a rainy day fund, cash reserves, budget, regular order process, and a good product each year that doesn’t have to borrow money to finance what you’re spending.
Why do you think there isn’t more action on the budget? Is it just a long-term problem, or are most people not aware that programs like Social Security and Medicaid will dry up within a decade?
Senator Mike Braun: Medicare will dry up in four years and Social Security in about ten years. We’ve known this actually for decades. It’s because we don’t have term limits, number one. And number two, we don’t have a balanced budget amendment. Very few come to Washington after learning enough in the real world about how you would actually budget and allocate resources. Take a program that most want to survive, like Medicare or Social Security—too many legislators stick their heads in the sand and refuse to confront the fact that it’s gonna go completely broke in the timespan we just spoke about. They think they can always just fix it down the road. Many who have been part of the problem won’t be here when it takes a hard turn into the ditch, and there will be very few who will have the knowledge of what to do or the political backbone to go along with it.
I know another area of bipartisanship you’re passionate about is climate. What has inspired you to form the Senate Climate Solutions Caucus and lead on climate solutions?
Senator Mike Braun: I’ve always been a conservationist. Even from the time I was a kid, I had a real affinity for mother nature. Looking at where things are, I accept the science. In terms of the general dynamic, I don’t know that the modeling has been anywhere close to accurate. Otherwise, there’d be no lakeshore property in Florida by now, according to the folks that have been saying that was going to occur 10 to 20 years ago.
Nonetheless, I think we as Republicans, if we’re going to be relevant, need to address the environment. When young Republicans asked me to keynote their convention several months ago, it was because of my efforts on climate. So young people, young conservatives, evangelicals, the faith community, and the folks that just generally are worried about water supply—they’re all concerned. These are things I think we need to be engaged in. We can’t be wallflowers unwilling to talk about it.
What has been your approach to bipartisanship in the Senate?
Senator Mike Braun: When it comes to bipartisanship, I get along with almost everyone. It takes a really nasty individual to shove me aside. I’ve got a long fuse and I’m willing to talk to anyone. I’ve found that there is going to be more consensus on less ideological issues, like we did in 2021 with a teachers bill. Another example is when I joined Democrats to introduce a bill that tried to get folks in the military first entry into some type of VA job before they got out. We did various bipartisan bills that were more practical than ideological; things like getting rid of waste, and so forth.
In terms of bipartisanship and the budget, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, Democrats get us to roll with the budget because sooner or later, Republicans are going to be flexible if we get what we want on defense. That is one reason for the budget deficits. Another reason is that everything is done behind closed doors. This is because the Democrats know that eventually there’s an agreement that Republicans will settle for as long as they get their numbers on defense. The Democrats don’t care if the defense is going up five or ten percent, so long as they get at least that budget or more on domestic spending.
For instance, in February of this year—four months after we should’ve had the budget done—we finally agreed behind closed doors to increase spending for both defense and discretionary domestic by 6.2%. That was terrible—the economy was so distorted that it was hard to figure out what was real growth and what wasn’t. That is how we went from $18 trillion to $30 trillion in debt.
So if Republicans drew a harder line in the sand on defense spending, they would take away a negotiating chip that ends up driving up the budget on discretionary end and defense spending?
Senator Mike Braun: Definitely. It’s all part of what’s gotten this place to plow forward to the point where Democrats will just defend the Modern Monetary Theory, which argues that deficits and cumulative debt don’t make any difference. While Republicans won’t defend that, the process which we are tacitly part of makes us accommodators.
What do you think it will take for the government to adequately address the debt issue?
Senator Mike Braun: The first hard turn in the ditch will be in four years when the Medicare trust fund is completely exhausted. The next one will probably be the fact that every one percent uptick in interest rates is about $250 billion on our current debt. The Fed isn’t going to have the ability to tamp down inflation as it did back in the late 80s. It took five years to get from around ten percent inflation in 1981 down to two percent in 1986. So we have a lot left to go. And sadly, some of the tools that we normally have aren’t going to be as effective.
Sharp entrepreneurs and money managers will figure out how to adapt to the new paradigm. Anybody who keeps a clean balance sheet, meaning keeping your debt low, is going to be in good shape relative to those that are leveraged. The good news is the private sector generally has fairly clean balance sheets, since they still are stinging from 2008 and 2009. But it will be challenging for consumers and the government—especially the federal government, as state governments have no debt to speak of. Those and the elderly that depend on the federal government for health care and retirement are going to be the ones that will be hurting in the future.
Why do you think small, bipartisan wins aren’t discussed more?
Senator Mike Braun: Simply because they are not of the magnitude of the big issues, like healthcare. The other side of the aisle wants to somewhat replace the private sector, and even state government, with more federal government and is willing to borrow to do it. Build Back Better, the Green New Deal, Medicare for All—those are epic in the sense that we never crossed into territory where those areas would be such a large presence in our economy.
A lot of it comes from that type of grandiose political enterprising the Democrats have done, starting with the CARES Act, that we’ve never broached before. The Progressives wanted to do about ten trillion between Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. The Rescue Plan, which was supposedly a COVID bill, was again epic at two trillion—half of what we used to spend in a regular year for all of the government. And then you got the 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, most of that borrowed and not paid for. And most recently, the skinny Build Back Better. I guess the only good thing about that is it didn’t hit a trillion.
So the bottom line is that the wins are just smaller, and maybe not about issues that affect most people in their everyday lives?
Senator Mike Braun: Part of it has to do with the fact that people still buy into that free lunch mentality and are looking for stuff that seems too good to be true. Democrats have offered it up in the last year and a half. Republicans have accommodated it up until a year and a half ago. And until they get to understand fully what I said about the appropriations process, it’ll be a figure that we can’t support and it’ll happen again. I think you hit it on the head about which crises are going to wake the American public up: Medicare trust fund going bust, the Social Security fund going bust, and then the cumulative impact of minimal $1.5 trillion dollar deficits going forward.
What is your favorite personal bipartisan success story?
Senator Mike Braun: That would be the growing Climate Solutions bill that we authored. Practical, in the sense that it didn’t cost anything. When you get anything through the Senate with 92 votes, that is an absolute landslide. There’s currently one Republican in the House who has been working against it, the ranking member of the Agriculture Committee, but it may make it through this year. That would be a standalone climate bill – the first. And it would be one that has conservative principles underlying it, which can’t be said of the Green New Deal.
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Mike Braun is honored to represent the state of Indiana in the U.S. Senate. Mike is a conservative who is proud to work toward creating great American jobs, building a strong national defense, reducing the debt and deficit, and helping our veterans. In the Senate, he serves on the Aging Committee, Agriculture Committee, Budget Committee, Appropriations Committee, and the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP). Before Braun’s historic victory in 2018, he was the founder and CEO of Meyer Distributing, a company he built in his hometown of Jasper that employs hundreds of Americans across the country. As a State Representative, Mike has partnered with conservative leaders like Vice President Mike Pence to deliver results for Hoosiers.