U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, celebrated the state of the American economy on Monday but offered local leaders little hope that Congress would soon find bipartisan solutions to pressing issues affecting all Americans.
In remarks at the State of the Nation Luncheon hosted by the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, Flores said a divided Congress rife with political friction will struggle to reach agreements on health care and the national debt.
“The country is going to have a significant emotional event if we don’t fix these things,” Flores said to attendees at the Baylor Club in McLane Stadium. “I don’t want to get to that point, but I can’t see anything today that allows that to happen on a bipartisan basis. Again, I can’t sugarcoat this.”
Flores, Waco’s congressman who will begin his fifth, two-year term next month, said Congress has made progress on responding to the opioid crisis and lowering the unemployment rate, and he praised Republican efforts to cut regulations and overhaul the tax code.
“The status quo you see today on taxes and regs is likely to stay the same for the next three years,” he said.
But the country is facing a national debt exceeding $21 trillion, plus trillions more in unfunded obligations toward mandatory programs.
“You can fix Social Security and make it solvent for 75 years without hurting today’s retirees or near-retirees,” Flores said. “You can do the same thing with Medicare. You can do the same thing with Medicaid, but we’ve got to drop the politics. Every day that we put off doing that, it gets harder and harder, because our option sets get smaller and smaller and smaller before you get to the really radical things.”
The success of 401(k) plans is prolonging those programs, he said, but federal policymakers will, at some point, have to tighten them.
David Lacy, the chairman of the chamber public policy committee, said after the event that Waco’s and McLennan County’s policy issues don’t change based on which party controls Congress.
“The approach to solving them sometimes changes, but the fact that we need I-35 work done, the fact that we need some health care issues improved upon, the fact we need other things in McLennan County, those things really don’t change,” said Lacy, president and CEO of Community Bank and Trust. “So we need to keep pushing and keep working. It’s really important to develop relationships both in Austin and in Washington on both sides of the aisle and try to continue that effort, despite who’s in charge of Congress.”
Waco City Councilman Jim Holmes, who represents portions of China Spring, West Waco and the Highway 84 corridor, attended the event in the city’s delegation.
“Regulatory reform, I think, is good for business in general, and the tax reform, I think, is good for business in general,” said Holmes, a senior vice president at First National Bank of Central Texas. “We have to really keep a close eye on how that affects our deficits and how it all fits together going forward. You don’t want to leverage the future of the company based on tax cuts nationally. But I think, by and large, regulatory reform has worked. It’s the right time in the economic cycle for it.”
Flores said he disagrees with President Donald Trump’s politicization of the Federal Reserve and enactment of tariffs, but he echoed the president’s warnings on China.
“I can’t put lipstick on this pig,” he said. “China is a bad actor when it comes to trade. We pay the cost of that.”
About a month remains of the current congressional session. Democrats will control the House of Representatives for the next session after gaining at least 39 seats in the midterm elections last month, and Republicans retained their majority in the Senate.