Calling Berne "one of our favorite places," U.S. Dan Coats and his wife Marsha visited that community on Tuesday, spending some time at the new Muensterberg Clock Plaza before enjoying lunch with patrons of The Gathering House.
Coats, a Republican who previously served in Congress from 1981-1999, returned to Capitol Hill as a member of the Senate in January of 2011 and is now Indiana's junior senator. His appearance in Berne was prompted by Floyd and Renee Liechty, who years ago served as Coats' county campaign coordinators and over the years have become close family friends.
Introducing Coats to patrons at The Gathering House, Floyd Liechty said the senator "is our voice; a true voice for us" in Washington, D.C.
Coats said he enjoyed visiting Berne "because of the values of this community, which are now written in stone at the new clock tower, that embody the values you live by. Unfortunately," the lawmaker said, "many in the United States today are not honoring those time-tested values."
Coats entertained questions from the restaurant crowd, and received not a question but a congratulatory comment from one person in attendance.
"Thanks for your vote on the debt ceiling debate," said Phillip Stoller, a Wells County Councilman and business owner.
Coats voted against a proposal, one which ultimately was approved, earlier this month to raise the national debt ceiling. The senator said he voted as he did "because it was clear to me that the people of Indiana wanted this country to not spend more than we make, and to be more conservative with taxpayer dollars. Congress needed to step up. It (the debt ceiling debate) was a start, but not nearly enough."
The GOP senator said in a one-on-one interview that his vote against the debt ceiling legislation should not be viewed as one in favor of allowing the United States to default on its financial obligations. That would have been the result had the legislation been voted down.
"Default should not be an option," Coats said. "Myself and several other lawmakers put forth a proposal that would have cancelled Congress's August recess and extended the nation's borrowing authority for another 30-45 days in exchange for the opportunity to debate tax reform, entitlement reform, and a balanced budget amendment. But that proposal was rejected."
Coats told the restaurant crowd that the federal government should look to Indiana as a model for fiscal responsibility.
"We've done what is necessary to get our fiscal house in order, but having a balanced budget, holding down taxes and creating a business-friendly state for you to live and work in," Coats said.
The freshman senator said the Republican Party's perceived opposition to any increase in federal revenues to keep the government afloat has been "mischaracterized."
"We have said that, while we do not support an increase in tax rates, we do believe in closing some special exemptions and subsidies — all of which add up to more than $1 trillion in revenue."
Coats said he specifically supports lowering the corporate tax rate to 24 percent (down from the current 35 percent) in an effort to stimulate the economy, and would offer incentives that could lead to the "repatriation" of private U.S. funds now held overseas.