by Dave Moore, Staff Writer
A crowd of more than 200 business and community leaders gathered to hear North Texas U.S. representatives Pete Sessions and Marc Veasey address the issues of free trade, public aid and a new citizenship-related question proposed for the 2020 U.S. Census.
The event, which was held by the Dallas Regional Chamber, occurred at the Fairmont in downtown Dallas on Oct. 19.
While both Congressmen agreed that renegotiated trade deals with Canada and Mexico would pass, they had different takes on how the White House approached the task.
“Increasingly, we have products and services back home that we want to protect,” said Sessions, whose 32nd Congressional district includes northern Dallas, Richardson and Garland. Sessions said the updated trade agreements – in particular, as they pertain to preserving energy property rights in Mexico, and improving intellectual property protections – were sorely needed.
Veasey, meanwhile, said while he supported updating the treaties, President Donald Trump overstated how bad the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was.
“While campaigning, the president said that NAFTA was … the worst deal ever,” said Veasey, whose 33rd Congressional District spans from portions of Fort Worth to Arlington to Irving to portions of Dallas. “Of course, the people in the business community in this state and in this city would disagree with that. They would say that NAFTA was actually good for the local and state economy. Nevertheless, people just wanted to change the name of it.”
Veasey said he took issue with how President Trump went about changing the agreements.
“As you know, Canada and Mexico are two of our largest trading partners,” he said. “Canada is one of our strongest allies. The way he wanted to put them under certain classifications, that would make them a threat to U.S. security, was completely unnecessary.”
Sessions said that the Trump administration accomplished what the Obama administration couldn’t.
“The previous administration was incapable of organizing itself around any trade deal, or trade practice,” Sessions said. “It’s one thing to argue, ‘I don’t like that, I don’t like that.’ I want someone to do something about it. I think we did something about it.”
Public Assistance Policies
In light of a new proposed rule by the Administration that would penalize the use of public assistance programs by legal immigrants, the representatives launched into a divided discussion on entitlement programs as a whole.
Veasey said it was once a bipartisan notion that it should be relatively easy for children to get educations, and that low-income individuals should receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – formerly known as food stamp) benefits. Improper nutrition can lead to health problems, costing more in the long run, he said.
Sessions said Republicans are advocating for a 20-hour-per-week work or volunteer requirement for those who receive public assistance. He added public assistance isn’t supposed to be a permanent fix for able-bodied people. People are abusing the current system, and that it’s costing taxpayers hundreds of billions, he said.
“There is a federal law that allows every single able-bodied male between the ages of 19 and 50 to receive food stamps,” he said. “I don’t think they should be on food stamps.”
“These are the kinds of battles that take place (between Republicans and Democrats),” he said. “It’s not about children or women. It’s about people who should not be there, crowding in and out from people who actually need it: Disabled people, children (and) women.” he said.
Veasey said Republicans have long tried to demonize and stereotype individuals who draw public aid.
“Back in the ‘80s, there was the fictitious welfare queen,” Veasey said. “I don’t know how many of you have toured a public housing project, but they’re not palaces. Why they decided to make this person a ‘welfare queen,’ I have no idea.”
“Most of these people who use these benefits, are working,” Veasey said, adding that transportation issues and mental illness often hamper people from improving their situations. “The stereotype that these people are sitting on their can, watching TV all day, is just not true.”
Proposed citizenship status question on the 2020 Census
“Counting people is hard,” Sessions said. “Getting people to answer the door is hard. They ask a bunch of questions, including how many toilets you have in your house. They ask about what language is spoken. I think it would be important for us to know demographically … I would say, it’s fair to ask the question, ‘Are you here as a United States citizen?’ If they asked the question, ‘Are you here illegally?’ I probably would not be for that.”
Veasey said that the insertion of that question into the biennial Census is an attempt to undercount residents, to effectively disenfranchising voters.
“If you read our Constitution, it says everyone should be counted,” Veasey said. “There are a lot of benefits that would go to the Republican Party if certain people were not counted. Including how we do our reapportionment” of Congressional seats every 10 years. Veasey said that when minorities or undocumented people don’t complete their Census forms, they aren’t included in demographic data used to determine congressional representation.
Sessions said the proposed question has nothing to do with disenfranchising voters.
“People who are here legally can go and register to vote, they can make those decisions,” Sessions said. “This is (about) counting people.”
Rectifying the U.S.-China Trade Relationship
“There are people on [the President’s] economic team, who have told him these tariffs are very bad,” said Veasey, citing roughly $13 billion in bailouts U.S. farmers have received as a result. “We impose these tariffs, and they retaliate, and suddenly, we have no markets for these (agricultural) products.”
Sessions said, “The presumption is that we have a fair trade deal with China. It presumes things are going well. The Chinese are brutal with the United States, in the way it does business. They steal. They thieve. They manipulate and they deceive. In the Dallas market, we’re familiar with a number of famous cases where a Chinese partner came in, took all the intellectual property, and fled. And sold their share to the government of China, which then claimed sovereign immunity.”
Intellectual property theft is rife in Shanghai, Sessions said.
“When Donald Trump became president … it changed the landscape. We played hardball with the Chinese. You just can’t allow somebody to steal and thieve … you were taking advantage of us, and expecting us to turn our head. We’ve been putting up our white flag at the Chinese for too darn long.”
Veasey agreed that some Chinese companies are bad actors, and that the U.S. needs to protect its intellectual property. At the same time, President Trump needs to tone down his rhetoric and tariffs, or he risks permanently losing markets for U.S. farmers.
Gold-level sponsors for the event include Advocare; Lockheed Martin; and Texas Central; silver-level sponsors include Boeing and Texas Instruments Incorporated.