U.S. Sen. Mike Braun (R) poses for a photo with Grace College & Seminary President Dr. Bill Katip Wednesday at the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
U.S. Sen. Mike Braun (R) poses for a photo with Grace College & Seminary President Dr. Bill Katip Wednesday at the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.

WINONA LAKE – U.S. Sen. Mike Braun (R) would like to see the federal government operate more like how the state of Indiana runs.

With the U.S. Senate on a recess week, Braun visited Grace College & Seminary in Winona Lake Wednesday and provided a few minutes afterward for some questions from local media.

COVID & Education

“When I’m in a recess week, I travel the state. I visit tons of schools, in this case high schools and colleges, because to me, education is that important. We’re all going through the challenge of how we navigate through this unique challenge of COVID,” Braun said.

He was “very impressed” with how Grace College was dealing with the pandemic because it was taking a “pro-active approach of teaching in the classroom, but respecting the disease and following the guidelines.”

Braun said businesses have shown him they can do that as well. “I think that’s the way you get through this to where the disease itself doesn’t dominate our lives in general. And I think that approach of doing two things at once, and Hoosiers are capable of doing it, and all I can tell you is that traveling across the state, I’m seeing it play out. And Grace College would be a good example of it.”

Across the country, some colleges and universities are experiencing hundreds of coronavirus cases and/or switching to remote learning for a period of time as they just begin the new school year due to their virus case count on campus.

“And I think that’s probably because they’re not taking it seriously, and they’re not respecting the disease, even though I’m sure most of them would still like to have classes on campus,” Braun said. “So, they’ll have to figure out how they find that happy medium, and we’re going to have to live like that until we get a vaccine and our therapeutics that put it in the rearview mirror.”

Ag & Environment

As Braun toured Grace, there was one thing in particular that caught his attention.

“One thing I was especially impressed with was the Lilly funding for the Dane Miller Center that is looking into something I’ve been interested in more so than any other Republican senator, and that’s how we make the environment a healthier place to be in, in the long term. I like the fact that they’re taking your lakes, industry, agriculture, how all that combines to make for a healthy place to live. And I’ve got bills in the Senate that almost parallels what they’re doing particularly here, so it was neat to see. I didn’t know that,” Braun said.

Braun was invited to Grace to learn about Grace’s pursuits to launch a Center for Sustainable Agriculture, said Tobias Forshtay, director of sustainable agriculture at Grace. The Center is establishing a five-root definition of sustainability.

“Those roots include robust economics, environmental ethics, ag policy, healthy relationships and a Biblical faith,” Forshtay said. “And as we began pursuing this, we discovered that, that sustainable definition is far too subjective and we want to try to grab a hold of and define that both locally and then, Lord willing, perhaps on a statewide scale.”

He said they shared with Braun about the Center’s five roots and Braun was “most intrigued to learn about the work we’re currently doing in the environmental root, working in collaboration with the Lilly Center for Lakes & Streams and working on the certification program that brings, I would say, all producers and environmentalists to the table, establishing a base line for an environmental standard that we must consider. It was to our discovery today that the senator is working on legislation he says that pares extremely well with our current efforts and was excited to see maybe there’s some further collaboration we can do on that front.”

Grace is starting its third year of teaching agricultural business and now sustainable agriculture. The program was established on a foundation of a business administration degree, but “then we concentrate on ag economics, ag finance, sustainability in agriculture, applied learning through internships and an entrepreneurial capstone course where students build an ag business and launch it, Lord willing, in the marketplace upon graduation,” Forshtay said.

Economy & Relief

Earlier this year, in response to the pandemic, Congress passed a stimulus relief act to help Americans during the business shutdowns and stay-at-home orders. It included a $600 per week federal unemployment subsidy, as well as the original round of $1,200 individual stimulus payments. A second round of relief was discussed but Congress hasn’t passed anything and now the election is just a couple months away.

“It’s pretty wide apart. My main goal was to take the $2.9 trillion we already authorized – and most don’t know, but we’ve not spent all of that – and repurpose it for those that were missed in the first place: the lowest-waged income earners that don’t have their jobs anymore,” Braun said. “And what I’m seeing in general is that in a place like Indiana – that had a rainy day fund and it’s going to enable us to spend what we were spending the year before on K-12, that’s knocking it out of the park, number one; but you’ve got to have the principles that believe in a rainy day fund to begin with and you see how important it is.”

He said Indiana has an economy that is “blessed with the right mix” of tax policy and regulations that don’t stifle innovation and entrepreneurship. “That’s why our unemployment rate is falling much faster than it is across the country. Most entities – business, educational, nonprofit – want to get back to where they’re doing what they were supposed to do, do it safely under this new normal, and I think Indiana is doing it as well as any place I’ve seen.”

As for United States’ economy, Braun said “unequivocally” it is “stronger than I’ve ever seen it. And I’ve been at it 37 years.

“And it’s due to the fact that the federal level, my new employer, through taxation and regulation, have thrown a wet blanket on entrepreneurs and enterprisers, and I think that’s played out measurably with what you saw pre-COVID, where wages for the first time were rising that significantly for people that weren’t participating in the growth of the economy before, and you had health in most state economies unless they had policies that are similar to what the federal government had before the current administration. I don’t like everything that is going on necessarily, I can just tell you that it hit the sweet spot in terms of when you lower taxes a little bit for Main Street, which was part of what happened in December of 2017. It created more revenue than we’ve ever had. We’ve got a spending issue – which places like Grace College or Meyer Distributing or local governments and state governments – we all pay attention to the rules of living within your means. My new employer hasn’t caught on yet,” Braun explained.

He said that’s why he thinks Indiana will recover independent of the federal government.

Party Politics

The Democratic National Convention was last week, and the Republican National Convention concludes Thursday night. Braun said he was going to go to the RNC had it not been changed due to the pandemic.

“I think, if you want to distill it very simply, one side believes you want more of a federal government to direct our lives, solve problems, when we, through a federal government, don’t pay for everything currently. We borrow 23% of our budget,” Braun said. “And our side, I think, has some guilt of that, too, because many of my conservative so-called senators or Republicans are not exactly good budget managers either. There are only a few of us that vote on principle and not on what we’d like to spend money on. I think that our approach might be a little more aspirational. But I’d still like us to practice what we preach in terms of reigning in spending so that we can keep programs like Social Security, Medicare solid to where they don’t go bust, and where we run the federal government closer to how Indiana runs.”