Indiana’s junior U.S. Senator Mike Braun tackled the government shutdown, immigration, employment and health care during a stop in Elkhart Tuesday.
Braun sat down with a group of residents and answered questions at the Lex 530 event center as part of a “Freshman Forum” hosted by the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce. The Republican started his first term in the Senate this month after he won election to the seat in November.
Braun discussed the partial shutdown of the federal government by touting the so-called “No Budget, No Pay” bill he recently introduced. The proposal calls for halting paychecks for Congress members if they don’t pass a budget and appropriations bills by the start of congressional fiscal years each October.
“If you aren’t smart and persuasive enough to get something out with a year of forewarning, you do not deserve a paycheck,” Braun said.
Parts of the government remain closed amid a stalemate over funding President Trump’s proposed border wall.
Braun said he supports efforts to improve security along the U.S. and Mexican border. But when asked by Joe Lehman of Goshen what kind of wall he wants, Braun stopped short of calling for a massive nation-spanning structure.
“I want a barrier wherever the Border Patrol says they need a barrier so they can slow down the influx,” Braun replied.
He said he doesn’t really believe in building a quoted wall “from sea to shining sea,” and added President Trump has come a long way from his initial demands, apparently as a matter of negotiating tactics.
Braun also supports finding a solution for immigration reform, though he wants to identify root causes first.
“We’ve got to get the border secured, and then we’ve got to find a system that’s going to let folks come into this country that we need to fill certain jobs. But, I’m not comfortable without fixing the source of the problem first,” he said.
Earlier in the event, Braun praised Trump as a business leader taking on politicians who’ve driven up government deficits and debt.
“Thank goodness he came along to shake the system up and do something different from the miserable results that we’ve got from career politicians,” Braun said.
Though he’ll first learn to navigate the congressional system, Braun intends to follow Trump’s model and challenge the status quo as one of a handful of Senators with business backgrounds.
“In the meantime, we’re going to make a ruckus,” he said. “You can count on me to speak up. I will not be a wallflower.”
Braun opened the forum by detailing his background as a longtime entrepreneur — he leads Meyer Distributing and Meyer Logistics in Jasper — who grew his businesses through perseverance and fiscal responsibility.
He also promoted Recession-era decisions to steer his business into partially funding employee health insurance as a national model.
Braun said he cut costs by more than 50 percent by taking on some of the insurance risk with plans that have kept premiums from rising over the past nine years. He claimed employees on individual plans pay $74 per month with average annual deductibles of $1,400.
The plans drive employees to have “skin in the game” as he described it, requiring them to be frugal and informed when considering medical expenses.
“Nobody in my company engages the healthcare system without saying ‘how much,’” Braun said.
Health care, infrastructure and system reform were three issues Braun said he plans to focus on in the Senate.
He would also like to see state- and local-level changes in encouraging different paths of education as a way to help companies address workforce shortages.
In response to a question by Ernesto Rivas of Reveille Transpo in Elkhart, Braun described Indiana’s college expenses as ridiculous.
“Higher education and the resources we devote to four-year degrees and the cost of them is crazy,” Braun said.
While Braun said he has little trouble filling positions requiring four-year degrees, he struggles to find truck drivers and workers with more technical degrees or experience.
Braun said he would like to see a proposal in Indiana that gives parents of eighth-graders information on education costs paired with starting salaries and wages for certain careers. He believed helping families to begin researching career paths early would help them not get locked into a degree the student would later regret.
But Braun also cautioned workforce efforts would be best addressed by state and local governments and business, saying they shouldn’t expect help from the federal government while it remains in disrepair.