Elections have consequences.
That was the message U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., passed on to a group of Mitchell residents on Thursday during his speaking engagement at the Mitchell Rotary Club meeting. Following the election of President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party taking control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, the Republican senator said it’s been challenging to work in the minority. Rounds also spoke with the Mitchell Republic newsroom for about 30 minutes prior to his luncheon with the Rotary Club.
Rounds pointed to Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan that recently passed as an example of the bipartisan discord that he and his Republican colleagues have faced in the Senate.
“For the legislation that the President proposed, there was a group of 10 of us (Republicans) who met with him (in February), and our discussion was very positive. But unfortunately, Democrats went at it without us through reconciliation and falsely claimed we gave them ultimatum,” Rounds said. “We even bumped our proposal to $650 billion because he (Biden) was adamant he wanted to do $2,000 (stimulus) checks to make sure he had the resources to do it. Within two days time, he announced they (Democrats) were going at it alone under the reconciliation process, which was extremely disappointing to us since it told us they weren’t interested in trying to do a bipartisan approach to COVID-19 relief plans like we had previously done.”
Looking at the federal government’s handling of the pandemic, Rounds said there were some “great” responses under former President Donald Trump’s leadership, specifically the development of the vaccines that are being distributed. But he said some areas of the COVID-19 response were “not up to par,” pointing to the manufacturing and distribution of protective equipment such as face masks and the delay on the approval for the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to provide aid across the country.
“The response for emergency needs and equipment was not up to par,” Rounds said. “FEMA was not authorized to run 24/7 until I sent a letter to the President (Trump). We have an entire operation that’s designed to respond to emergencies, so why didn’t we have them running 24/7? Within two days of my letter, they did it.”
In light of Biden’s recently unveiled $2 trillion infrastructure bill that aims to improve roads, bridges, sewer systems and internet broadband, Rounds was critical of some other items in the bill that are dubbed as infrastructure.
Rounds said the “education” and “human” items that were deemed infrastructure are just two examples of what should not be included in the proposed bill, which has yet to make it to Congress and the Senate for a vote. In the plan, $100 billion of it would go toward “modernizing public schools,” $12 billion for community colleges and $25 billion for child care facilities. While he is not on board with funding some of the items in the bill, Rounds said he supports improving what he defines as “true infrastructure,” such as roads, bridges, internet connectivity, water and sewer systems.
“I believe Republicans and Democrats both want good roads, good water, electricity and the need for good internet connectivity,” Rounds said. “The challenge is now we’ve seen some things being created like new nuances that are human infrastructure and educational infrastructure. Everybody knows that’s not really infrastructure, but they like to call it that."
Raising the corporate tax rates is one way the Biden administration is proposing to help pay for the infrastructure plan. However, Rounds is among the Republicans who oppose a tax increase for the plan. Rounds pointed to Biden’s proposed tax plan that would increase the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, if passed, as a measure that will have an “adverse effect on the economy.”
“We know they want to raise taxes, and they have been clear they want to raise corporate taxes. We think that is going to have an adverse effect on our economy and will chase some businesses overseas,” Rounds said. “We also know before the pandemic hit, tax policies that reduced taxes actually brought up Gross Domestic Product and unemployment was down below 3%. Our concern is it will slow GDP.”
On Thursday, Biden announced his plans to issue a series of executive orders aimed to restrict the sale of specific firearms and further regulate gun buying with more intensive background checks. For Rounds, the Second Amendment right is one of the most critical safe blankets to protect the freedom and values shared by many Americans from “adversaries outside of the United States” that would like to weaken the nation to a “second world country.”
As part of Biden’s executive orders on gun control, the production and sale of “ghost guns” are proposed to be banned. Rounds said ghost guns -- which are non-traceable and lack a serial number -- are already illegal, which has led to some confusion. Rounds also criticized "red flag" laws that are being floated by some officials.
“President Biden continues to attack ownership of guns… He’s made clear he wants to go after not just ghost guns, but specific rifles. I’m concerned where he (Biden) is going with his gun control measures,” Rounds said. “The appropriate thing we have now is that you have three days for the federal government to do a background check, and if they can’t find anything wrong, you should be able to buy that gun. It’s your Second Amendment right. What I am more concerned about is the restriction of law abiding citizens buying ammunition.”
As a member of the Senate Banking Committee, Rounds delved into the emerging cryptocurrency trend in response to a Rotary member's question. Cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin, is a relatively new form of digital payment that can be used to buy goods and services on the internet. However, cryptocurrency is decentralized, unlike the U.S. dollar. That means no central authority regulates the value of the cryptocurrency.
That's something Rounds said he would like to see change for him to support the cryptocurrency wave. He said the digital currency should be based upon the U.S. dollar, which is regulated by the Federal Reserve, the country's central bank. Rounds suggested to explore whether the Federal Reserve could potentially regulate cryptocurrency and usher in under the umbrella of the U.S. dollar.
While Rounds supports having a cryptocurrency that's based on the U.S. dollar, he said it's now being used by other countries like China as an "opportunity to weaken the U.S. dollar."
Rounds said the Mitchell Rotary visit is one of the first in-person town hall-type events he's done in the last year due to COVID-19. Despite the challenges facing the country, Rounds said America is “still the best place to be.”
“With all its faults, it is still the country where people are trying to get into and not out of,” Rounds said, referencing the increased wave of migrants seeking to cross the nation’s southern border. “The best days for this country are going to be ahead of us. We have bright young people. Our future is in very good hands, but what we do now regarding the country we hand to them is up for debate offering the group a glimmer of hope for the future.”