The Eagle: Bill Flores discusses fiscal cliff vote01/04/13
By Allen Reed
One of the 167 "no" votes cast by an embattled U.S. House against the "fiscal cliff" compromise came from Bryan-College Station's Congressman Bill Flores.
His vote was on the side of a losing effort, but Flores said he stuck with his principles and constituents' wishes.
"I feel like we did all we could," Flores said.
The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" passed the House in a bipartisan 257-167 vote Tuesday night. The legislation prevented 2013 middle class tax increases and spending cuts while raising taxes on individuals with incomes greater than $400,000 and couples making more than $450,000.
The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved the bill prior to the House vote, and Flores put the details of the plan to his constituents via his website and social media. Hundreds responded, and approximately 70 percent were against the bill that would eventually become law, he said.
Less than 24 hours after the vote, which had been delayed and scrutinized for months, Flores issued a press release criticizing the bill and calling for an end to "wasteful spending" and passage of more "pro-growth" tax reform.
The rhetoric echoed the same positions Republicans have pushed for decades, but Flores expounded on those plans in an interview with The Eagle. He called for new legislation to lower taxes on wealthier Americans.
"The simpler the tax structure and lower the rates, the better the economy will reform," Flores said. "... We have one of the highest and worst tax structures versus other countries today, and that makes us very uncompetitive."
Flores said he supported the more conservative taxpayer relief act before it was amended by the Senate. He wants to see similar legislation introduced in the 113th session, which kicked off Thursday.
"We will go ahead and execute [it] in the Ways and Means committee this year," Flores said. "We will immediately begin talking it up. To be candid with you, I don't think the Senate will want to touch it."
The congressman was less specific when it came to wasteful spending. Flores called for Social Security and Medicare reform, but stopped short of labeling those programs as "wasteful."
Instead, he pointed to a $100,000 community development block grant in Ohio that spent taxpayer money to cover labor and construction costs of the Hattie's Doggie Day Care & Boarding center.
"That didn't improve lives at all," Flores said. "... That's totally different from how a family or local community would use its resources to deal with a need."
Still, Flores acknowledged there were not enough "doggie day cares" to make a dent in the national budget or debt.
"There are thousands of those [expenditures] throughout the federal government," Flores said. "You could add those up and not really move the needle a lot, but it explains the mindset of a lot of the federal government."
A main provision of the "fiscal cliff" bill was higher taxes on the rich, something President Barack Obama promised on the campaign trail. Flores, holding true to the party line, said taxes on individuals with incomes greater than $400,000 would harm America's job creators.
However, he said there were high-income non-job-creators that slip through the cracks.
"How do you pick out the hedge fund managers?" Flores asked. "That's harder to do. I guarantee you the federal government won't get it right. At the end of the day, I think what you want is people paying more taxes because they're making more money and they're getting larger paychecks."
While Congress worked out the details of the deal, which was resolved after its self-imposed deadline, its approval ratings declined.
"I think most Americans have a very dim view of Congress," Flores said. "I think the president has been very effective in characterizing us as the problem rather than his policies ... And it's really a shame, because at the end of the day, we had the right goals."
Flores said he has three bills already planned out for the current session. They would cut the pay of Congress and Senate until the deficit is reduced, institute term limits for both chambers and put a freeze on federal pay until the economy heals.
"I think if we can stay focused, we can be more effective than we were in the last Congress," Flores said.
That chance of being effective might not be as immediate, according to Joseph Ura, Texas A&M assistant professor of political science. He said the country is faced simultaneously with an unsustainable deficit and a bad economy, and Republicans want to cut spending while Democrats want to increase revenue.
"Moving ahead, it's getting harder and harder to reach a deal," Ura said. "Constituents of both parties are getting upset with small compromises."
Voters sometimes expect the impossible, Ura said, and don't want to consider Medicare cuts, Social Security cuts or higher taxes. Thus, he said, politicians don't push those issues.
"My untested hypothesis is we're sort of habituated to this unsustainable thing," Ura said. "The level of debt and deficit we have in this county is a historical anomaly. We have no history to tell us what to do with this."
Brazos County Democrats Chairwoman Maggie Charleton was less forgiving of Congress' behavior. She said Flores' "no" vote was not representative of a large portion of what Brazos County constituents wanted.
"I think [Flores] listens to part of it," Charleton said. "Something that does concern me that I see happening is this brinksmanship on both sides. It's like playing chicken with two kids on a bicycle to see who will flinch first. And I mean both sides, but I think the Republicans, and of course I'm biased, are worse than the Democrats are."
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