I recently regaled you with the legacies of the Senate lions, the late Birch Bayh and Richard Lugar. Their passing occurred just months after Indiana's newest senator, Republican Mike Braun, followed in their giant footsteps.
In the television age of politics, only nine white guys have made it to the U.S. Senate from Indiana. Our new senators tend to arrive in crisis atmosphere, whether it was the assassination of President Kennedy 11 months after Sen. Birch Bayh was sworn in, the shooting of President Reagan three months after Dan Quayle took the oath or President Clinton's impeachment that prompted Sen. Evan Bayh's first votes.
Sen. Braun came to Washington with the federal government shut down, in a standoff over immigration between President Trump and congressional Democrats. It was a "crisis" that pales in comparison to the thunderclap immediacy of gunshots and impeachment, but it is a sclerosis that has created historic dysfunction at a time of global duress, whether it be climate change, rising super powers or a rapidly aging population. All of these issues will test the viability of our republic in the coming years.
Braun won office by sporting a blue shirt sans tie. He dispatched three sitting members of Congress along the way with a cranky attitude that endeared him to many Hoosiers who are fed up with bovine scatology that has become federal governance.
Upon arrival, he described Congress as a "gummed up" creature with an array of "tricky dynamics," where even a good idea like criminal justice reform can take more than a decade to pass. For a business CEO used to making a decision, fostering implementation and gauging real time results, this has got to be the proverbial wake-up call.
Won't the Senate drive Mike Braun nuts?
"Yes, that’s frustrating," Braun acknowledged, saying he will have to "slow" his "metabolism down and get used to that." He adds, "But I kind of knew that going into it. You have a big microphone to talk about things. I’m not going to sit back."
I mentioned to Braun that there are "stunt" congressmen and women and senators who make a speech or take a vote just to burnish a point. House Republicans took 60 votes to repeal Obamacare, though none stood a chance of passing and they never came up with a viable alternative. And then there are the Bayhs and Lugars who actually get things done.
After getting to Washington, Braun did have a blunt message for his Republican colleagues: Don't spout off about repealing Obamacare until you come up with a plan to replace it.
Braun's victory over Sen. Joe Donnelly last fall was forged, in part, by his actions as a CEO at Meyer Industries in Jasper. That work resulted in substantial health insurance savings to his company and employees.
Might this green, newby senator become the catalyst to take his theories as a CEO and forge a true replacement for Obamacare?
He's begun to forge relationships with freshmen Sens. Rick Scott, a former Florida governor and health care executive, and Mitt Romney, who came up with his own version of Obamacare as governor of Massachusetts.
Braun has filed several bills aimed at the health insurance industry to create transparency and, he hopes, forge ways to reduce drug costs. He uses Sen. Bernie Sanders' "Medicare for all" as a dose of reality for the industry.
"I want to create a system that engages individuals to have some skin in the game," Braun said, echoing one of his frequent campaign quotes. "Otherwise, the only way it can work is if the government does it for us, because it’s the only cudgel with a heavy hand to take on the health care industry. I’m trying to prod the industry to be welcoming of transparency and competition, starting with drug prices. So they’re forced to throw that information out there and then individuals with some skin in the game have incentives to shop around."
He added, "I’m working on the industry first of all." His message is this: "You know this can’t keep going." The status quo is unsustainable, particularly with the demographic Baby Boom bulge about to stress out the entire system with a wave of retirements and the inevitable life end games. Medicare is fiscally unsustainable.
Has he talked to President Trump about his health reforms?
Braun recalled that at the end of a recent meeting with Senate Republicans, President Trump said, "By the way, Republicans are going to lead on health care.” That quote produced instant heartburn for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who responded with the look of a man who had just swallowed a mouse.
"That’s because we weren’t ready," Braun said. "But we’re all talking together and hopefully we’ll get a plan together that gets fleshed out before 2020 that we can talk about, or the Democrats will win the discussion again."
So here's my hope, that Sen. Braun really does take what he called his "real world experiences," and grows into the giant footsteps of Birch Bayh and Dick Lugar. He builds relationships within his caucus and with Democrats, forges a realistic Obamacare alternative and figures out how to build consensus to get it into law.
We don't need another stunt senator. We need new leaders.
Brian Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.