By Stephen Carter
Congressman Bill Flores was in town on Friday, Aug. 31 to address the Robinson city council and perform the coin toss at the Rockets football game.
A lightly attended affair with roughly 10 people in the audience, Flores spoke on a range of issues as he fielded questions initially from city council members, and then from a few members of the public.
Fiscal issues led off first with Flores remarking that the federal budget is in trouble stating that "congress needs to quit spending and raise revenue through economic growth." He talked about his own efforts to save money by saying his office only spent 78% of its allotted budget and returned the unspent money.
When the discussion turned to what the federal government could fiscally do for a town like Robinson with Councilman Jerry Maze inquiring about infrastructure grants, the congressman stated that there was nothing he could do to directly funnel money to the area due to House rules preventing earmarks, which he stated were "a symptom of out of control budgets."
Flores lamented on the fact that the U.S. Senate has failed to pass a budget in the last three years, which he stated was illegal but that there was nothing to enforce this. When asked about the budget process Flores said that "currently the government is being funded by continuing resolutions which are designed to fund operations for a few months." This means that without appropriations bills, departments are unsure of their funding, which means less stability in the grant programs.
Councilwoman April Riddle told a story about how her mother was entitled to Veteran's benefits but that she did not need them and tried to return the money, however no one at Veteran's Affairs knew what to do. She asked Flores for his thoughts on the state of the system to which he replied that the regional center in Waco was ranked last in efficiency. Flores indicated a desire to start working towards a privatized system which he says would be more efficient.
President Obama's healthcare law was also a subject of discussion at the meeting as Flores hammered the program very hard and expressed a desire to get rid of it. Flores stated that his primary concern about the new system is that "an unelected board will decide how much doctors get paid and who will qualify for which procedures." The congressman prefers a system of private insurance where individuals get the same tax treatment as businesses and can by insurance across state lines. He also stated that people who do not buy health insurance should not expect others to pay for their problems.
"There are a lot of competing interests in the healthcare industry and every one of them has different goals" Flores stated. He remarked that very few people in congress know much of anything about health care and that "it would be best if all of the special interests got together and figured the problem out instead of congress."
Speaking on the issue of health care costs, Flores stated that "Obamacare" is projected to cost seven trillion dollars over the next 10 years and that cuts were made in medicare payments to doctors in order to fund the new program.
When asked if there is a difference between mandating that people buy health insurance and auto insurance, Flores stated "absolutely because it ensures people have the means to pay out on any damages they cause to others and that auto insurance is not required if you have $25,000 in the bank."
Councilman Rusty Steed remarked that congress should be put under the same system as everyone else in order to help speed up congress' efforts to fix the problems, to which Flores concurred saying that "congress lives in another world." Flores also proposed a no budget, no pay system and stated that when the government runs a deficit that congressional members should have their pay cut "just like in the real world."
One hot-button issue of the night was Social Security. Both councilman Steed and Robinson resident Kelly Phillips raised concerns about the program, both concerned about the stability of the program and questioned whether or not the money would be there when they retired.
Flores' response to Social Security questions was that "it is unsound and that future generations are paying for past generations." Flores said that the reason the issue has not been tackled is because it is not politically convenient for the House leadership, but that he believes it can be fixed.
The congressman told a story about how he went on a ride-along with police many years ago and ended up responding to an incident where a brother and sister were fighting because they had just started using drugs again and that both of them were on social security at 28 years old. Flores stated "I'm mad about deadbeats using drugs, making bad decisions and then using the disability system." He further said "we should have a safety net for those who are hurt through no fault of their own."
Phillips asked "can I just opt out of Social Security?" Phillips says that he would be content with just surrendering what he has already payed into the system so long as he could go on without participating in the program, stating that "I could do a better job of investing my retirement money myself and if something happens to me I can actually give that money to my family." Flores responded that it would make the program worse off if people could opt out.
The final matter discussed concerned the recent Texas voter ID law that was struck down by a federal court. Flores stated that he disagreed with the court's actions and talked about a constituent of his that had to show an ID to get a medical procedure done and thought it odd that a person would not have to prove who they are in order to vote. Flores also stated "ID should be provided by the state for free to those who are unable to afford it." Attorney General Greg Abbott plans to appeal the ruling.
Republican incumbent Flores faces two challengers for his congressional district 17 seat this November including Libertarian Party candidate Ben Easton and Independent candidate Michael Stanford. There is no Democratic Party candidate running in this election.