Retired oil & gas executive Bill Flores, 61, of Bryan, is running for re-election to Congress representing District 17, which includes Waco. Victory in the March 1 GOP primary election and then in the fall would bring Flores his fourth term. His platform includes limited government, addressing the national debt, border security, energy security, repealing the Affordable Care Act, protection of the unborn and definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. This interview with the Trib editorial board was conducted on Jan. 21.
Q Given your frustration at gridlock in Washington, why are you running for a fourth term?
A Despite limitations on our ability to get bold things done, there have been small steps that have been victories for the American people. If you look at discretionary spending, we’ve really bent the curve and reduced the size of the annual deficit by 70 percent. Now, it’s still too large. And we’ve had some success blocking some of the regulators. And then in some key areas where Congress hasn’t been successful in blocking things, the courts have done the right thing. I mean, the president’s DACA actions [expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, deferring deportation of certain undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children — the case will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court this year] are one example. And the “Waters of the United States” rule [by the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers] — the courts have put an injunction on that. And the Bureau of Land Management decided to go way outside its statutory boundaries and imposed some regulations on hydraulic fracturing. At least two judges have stopped that in big swaths of the country. And one of the ones I’ve stopped — and people don’t realize this — involved the president’s signing an executive order back in 2010 where he was setting up this scheme to zone the ocean and there’s no statutory basis to do so. And even in the omnibus [government spending] bill [passed last month] that so many people hate, my rider (battling that) is still in there.
Q I see the omnibus bill also delayed the so-called “Cadillac tax” and medical device tax components of the Affordable Care Act.
A Right, so we’ve had some small victories that are quite often overlooked and sometimes we don’t do a good enough job of marketing them. But the thing that excites me about 2017-2018, the 115th Congress, is that if the district sends me back, I think I’ve got a really good opportunity to work with a Republican White House and that’s where I can really do the things I said we’re going to do when I decided to run in 2009. So I’m optimistic.
Q I don’t know who you support in the ongoing presidential sweepstakes in the Republican Party, but is there a certain quality that you think is vital in the GOP nominee?
A I want to see the next Reagan. I want somebody who brings out the good in Americans and challenges us to aspire to that North Star, someone who wants to empower our families and individuals and communities and let them be free to achieve their dreams. That’s what’s going to make this country again. It’s not somebody saying, “I will make America great again.” It’s the person who comes out of this as a statesman.
Q So you’re talking about Reaganesque optimism?
A It’s optimism but it’s someone who challenges people to look up. You know, House Speaker Paul Ryan has actually started using a phrase lately — “Raise our gaze.” He’s exactly right, too. That’s what I’d like to see in a presidential candidate. I don’t like the bricks being thrown back and forth. That’s not inspiring to me and to most of our electorate, I think. Some people get a charge out of it, but I want someone who challenges us to be all that we can be. Regarding our broader consensus for the future this year, we’re looking at three things. First, rebuild national security. The second is provide economic opportunity. We’ve got to have comprehensive tax reform. And we’ve got to have a new health-care bill. We need to have our conservative version of what health care looks like and that will include a repeal of Obamacare. The third one is to restore our Article I powers of Congress.
Q You drew two opponents in the March 1 Republican primary who say you’ve compromised too readily with Democrats or establishment Republicans. They say you’ve joined forces too tightly with the speaker, and they cite as an example the omnibus bill, including what they say is its allowing funding for Planned Parenthood.
A It has surprised me in terms of the types of claims they’re making and in one case the vitriol that’s being put behind it, which is not true. When you look at the whole pro-life issue — that bill didn’t fund Planned Parenthood. The bill says abortion about 30 times and it says, “No federal funding shall be used for abortion except in the case of rape, incest or life of the mother.” And that’s just what it says. And the good thing about the 112th Congress is we said these bills have to be machine-readable. So if someone searches for Planned Parenthood in this (omnibus) bill, they won’t find it. And if they want to search for abortion, they’d find it and also find what’s wrapped around that word. I mean, National Journal has rated me the 20th most conservative member of the House, today the NRA said they were going to endorse me, Citizens Against Government Waste gives me a 91 and the American Conservative Union gives me a 93 and the National Right to Life gives me a 100 percent score and they endorsed me also today. The Family Research Council gives me a 100 percent score as well. What I’m trying to say is there is no basis for my opponents’ claims. Now if you only read the media on the Internet, you might come to the conclusion that if I vote a certain way, I have abandoned our principles. But the problem with their claim is it’s not true.
Q I suppose the broader claim by your critics is that you have become a part of the so-called “Washington cartel.”
A Here are the issues that these two men have not looked at. The omnibus bill was really a national security bill because we are in a very difficult security situation in this world and this bill right-sizes funding for our military and provides the right authorizations we need (to do that). Now, we didn’t get everything we wanted (in the omnibus bill), but the No. 1 thing that the federal government is supposed to do under the Constitution is provide for the common defense and that’s what this bill does. If this bill had gone down, the federal government would have shut down on Dec. 23 and there would have been no pay for our military — none. Now, I’ve been to Afghanistan three times, I’ve been to Iraq once and I’ve been in the Baltic states [where fears about Russian domination are strong] and then all around the world where our troops have been. I look at these young men and women who make a commitment to defend this country, up to and including giving their lives, and I cannot with any sense of taking my own oath seriously allow them to not be paid.
Q One of your opponents said there is some kind of provision to make sure they would get paid.
A Oh, we’ve tried. We passed a defense appropriations bill in the House. The Senate tried four times to pass it, but [Senate Minority Leader] Harry Reid blocked it four times, so there was no backstop. It’s like I’ve told some audiences before [and Flores pulls out a congressional voting card]: When I drop this voting card in the slot, I’ve got a yes vote and a no vote. I don’t have a “perfect” vote and so I have to look at what the outcome is of a yes and what the outcome is of a no. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there who say, “Well, I’m voting no, I’m standing up for conservative principles, I’m standing up for God, grass and country because it’s not good enough.” Well, good enough doesn’t happen, so I have to make a choice. And if I had voted no (on the omnibus bill), I was voting to defund the military. And I’ve told audiences: “If you want somebody who’s going to let our military fight with no pay, then you need to elect somebody else because I’m not going to go there.”
Q You oppose extending tax breaks for the wind and solar industries. I was listening to you on “The Duke Machado Show” and you said a smarter thing would be to, say, offer tax breaks on research for solar power to make it more affordable in the long term. Given we reportedly have enough oil and gas for most of this new century, how does solar and wind fit into our nation’s long-range energy plan?
A We (have to) pay attention to our traditional sources of energy — coal, oil & gas and nuclear — but we also know that there needs to be a place for biofuels, other renewables, and we need to harden our grid. We also need to provide for research and development for the energy of what might be the 22nd century. You know, a lot of what we do in the federal government we don’t do very well, but two things we do well: defending the country and our basic research is second to none around the world. I think we need to spend more money on basic research to find the technology that produces that 50 percent solar efficiency instead of the 13 percent we have today, or to find a way to produce a less intrusive wind turbine, or maybe something else nobody has thought of yet. I believe that would be better than spending on (tax) credits to subsidize something that’s highly inefficient. Ethanol is a perfect example. Believe it or not, there is a liberal Democrat from Vermont named Peter Welch, and he and I are working to undo the renewable fuels standard [which forces the blending of corn ethanol into gasoline]. Corn-based ethanol is horrible. I mean, it’s raised the average cost of food for a family in this country by about $2,800 a year.
Q What does the city of Waco get out of having Bill Flores in Congress?
A By the way, my deepest level of support is here in McLennan County. I spend a lot of time up here. Waco is the center of my universe. In order for Waco and McLennan County to be healthy, we need to have a healthy America. It’s got to be economically healthy, it’s got to be secure, we’ve got to have opportunities for our kids. And we’ve got to have a solution for poverty. If we get those macro things right at the national level, those things will impact us right here at home. I work on those all the time. Now when you zoom in to the local level, we’ve tried to address things that are important to the local community. For instance, Baylor University gets GEAR-UP grants [Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs] when they work with Waco Independent School District. I’m not always 100 percent successful in getting those, but I have had some success. We have the Hatton Sumners Foundation Grant for Baylor that helps education [$30,000 for its iCivics program teacher training and iEngage Summer Camp for high school students] and a couple of other research grants. And if you look north in West — more than $32 million in federal funding came to help rebuild that community [after the 2013 ammonium nitrate blast] and that came because of what we did. Mart is having significant issues with its water system and so we got $22 million, mostly loans but some grants. And we’ve been trying to work down in Falls County with the city of Marlin [on water infrastructure issues].
Q You talked at one point about reforming Congress, and we understand that’s an uphill battle. Among other things, you proposed limiting consecutive terms of office to two for senators and six for representatives, tying their pay to the federal deficit and compelling our lawmakers to live under the laws that they pass. Are such reforms dead forever?
A I don’t think we’re going to get there till a couple of things happen. First of all, I think we have the right speaker (in Paul Ryan) who can help get us there. Second, in order to make some of those reforms, I think you’re going to have to have a Republican president who will help jawbone those reforms.
Q Do you like working with Speaker Paul Ryan?
A Oh, yeah, I do.
Q In one of our earlier conversations, you referred to the president as having a sort of distant, professorial air and being hard to reach. Does President Obama have a legacy given the lack of chemistry and policy agreement between the White House and Congress?
A Looking at just the over-arching issue we face in terms of national security, he would have been well-served to pay a lot more attention to his military commanders. Second thing, he would have been well-served to try to work with Congress. One of my friends who I went to school with — Fred McClure — was a legislative liaison for Bush 41 and his team of people in the West Wing. And their objective was to touch every member of Congress at least once a week. Well, I’ve seen my legislative liaison (from the Obama White House) twice since we’ve been in Congress. Yeah. Once they came in January 2011, said “Welcome to Washington,” and then they came in January 2013 and said, “Here’s your inauguration tickets to pass out to your constituents.” And the Democrats feel the same way on that one. So when the president was trying to jawbone them on this Iranian nuclear deal — let me say this, incidentally. This will go down as one of the worst mistakes ever made. It will be seen as bad as what [British Prime Minister] Neville Chamberlain did prior to World War II.
Q You really think so?
A Absolutely. I see it every day already. I see what Iran is doing in terms of proliferating terrorism. They’re going to proliferate nuclear weapons. And I see the angst in the eyes of Israel. I was with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu in all this and other folks in the Middle East and, to a person, they talk of the danger of Iran.
Q In late 2014 U.S. Sen. John Cornyn came by the Trib office and said that, with Republicans taking over the Senate and thus the entire Capitol Hill now being under Republican control, the Republicans were going to have to show that they can actually lead and govern for two years. Do you think you guys have done that?
A I look at last year and think that, despite the fits and starts we had, we made a lot of progress. I mean, we did the first significant Medicare reform in 25 years, the SGR repeal [scuttling a much-maligned formula for Medicare physician payment] — that was great. If you look at things in the omnibus bill to rebuild national defense, if you look at the National Defense Authorization Act, the bill that authorizes spending for our nation’s military, that we passed in September — that began to set the military back on the proper path and give them resources. And it’s not just the resources they want but we’ve got reforms in acquisition and getting rid of the inefficiencies in terms of the heavy civilian workforce component of the Pentagon. So there are a lot of things we did well. In divided government, we did make some progress.
Interview condensed and edited by Bill Whitaker.