Lamar Smith talks national, local issues at chamber
Texas Rep. Lamar Smith of Congressional District 21 made a quick stop during his off-week to speak with Kerrville Area Chamber of Commerce members about a number of issues, as well as to give listeners a foretelling of immigration news to be released in the next two days.
“These certainly are historic, unprecedented times,” Smith said. “I don’t know of any president who has done more in his first 30 days — Trump has repealed 12 to 15 regulations in the last 30 days.”
Smith said President Donald Trump, who took office Jan. 20, has faced more criticism than any other to occupy the Oval Office before him.
“You’ve never seen the national media call out another president like they do Trump,” he said, citing the media criticism Trump received last week for stating that he won the presidency with the largest electoral college margin since Ronald Reagan, when the facts proved him incorrect.
Immigration reform to occur this week
Smith said that, by Thursday, the Trump administration would announce the next steps to be taken in immigration reform.
“Basically, Trump will be coming out in the next 24 hours to say he’s going to enforce all immigration laws,” Smith said. “He’ll be undoing a lot of what Barack Obama did.”
Plans for immigration reform include sending illegal immigrants back to their home nations, Smith said, as well as enforcing immigration laws that “haven’t been enforced in years.”
The new attitude toward illegal immigration is starkly different from the attitude of the previous administration, Smith said, which “released thousands of illegal criminals back into our neighborhoods.”
In a statement issued last spring, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement director Sarah Saldana said 86,300 illegal immigrants with criminal charges had been released between 2013 and 2016.
Trump plans to hire an additional 10,000 ICE officers as well as additional border patrol agents, Smith said.
“If you put a border control officer at every 100 yards on a structure (border wall), you would stop illegal immigration by 95 percent,” Smith claimed.
Another measure will be to reinstate secure communities, he said.
“These are the opposite of sanctuary cities,” Smith said. “These communities will notify federal agencies when they have an illegal immigrant in custody. They will be in cooperation with federal law.”
Health care reform
Smith said health care reform is currently the “top priority” for Republicans in Congress.
“We cannot sustain Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act),” he said. “Premiums went up by 20 percent last year.”
Smith said the plans of the Republicans in the Congress are to promote individual tax incentives for health insurance instead of government mandates.
“We want more competition among insurance companies to keep the costs down,” he said.
Ward Jones, a 49-year insurance agent and immediate past chairman of the Kerrville Chamber of Commerce board, said it was difficult to explain to people that the Affordable Care Act did not change health care, just insurance.
“Nobody in this country is denied health care, whether they can pay for it or not,” he pointed out.
Smith said a solution can only be reached when legislators can convince the American people there is a problem to begin with and solutions wouldn’t come quickly.
“The America Invents Act — it took me six years to pass that bill. It might take a little time for something as complicated as health care,” he said.
Relations between the Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are turbulent, Smith said.
“Nothing will pass the Senate without 60 votes,” Smith said. “Any single senator can threaten to filibuster. You still need eight Democrats on board to pass something in the Senate. I feel that we should eliminate the filibuster rule.”
Smith explained that while, traditionally, the filibuster required the legislator to physically occupy the floor, the modern filibuster can be conducted digitally from a legislator’s office.
“That’s not how it’s supposed to be,” he said.
Walt Koenig, chamber board president/CEO, asked if there was “any hope for bipartisan efforts in either the House or the Senate?”
“There has to be,” Smith replied. “Out of the 23 bills I took to the House last year, 17 were bipartisan. The members of Congress who say they want all or nothing most often end up with nothing. It’s worth having half of what you want in order to make progress.”
Smith said progress is made when legislators don’t make policy a personal battle but focus on the issues at hand.
When asked about the battles within the Republican Party during the election season, Smith said the in-fighting is exaggerated.
“We feel Trump has an unorthodox style, but he was an unusual candidate,” he said. “He’s the only recent candidate I can think of that is taking his campaign promises seriously. We had stagnancy and gridlock in D.C. I think he’s going to accomplish a lot.”
Smith said the Republican Party is generally united.
“His priorities are the priorities of the Republicans in Congress,” he said.
Space and science
In his position as chairman of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Smith said he has intentions for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
“We need to restore NASA to its rightful prominence,” he said.
The program recently discovered 2,000 exoplanets — planets that orbit suns in other solar systems — and a “couple dozen Earth-like planets,” he said, adding that the next step was to receive data from a light spectrum test, which would determine if there was oxygen and methane on these planets. Those conditions could be suitable for organic organisms.
“That will be the biggest space advancement in 100 years,” he said.
Smith said that environmental concerns and the Texas water conservation issue also have his attention.
“We need to hold the Environmental Protection Agency accountable,” he said. “Any information we base clear air and clean water decisions on, I want it to be based on good science, not politically correct science.”
Smith claimed that, in certain cases, the EPA could not present the sources of data studies, and he felt the agency had a tendency to “cherry-pick the data.”
Change on a local level
Members of the chamber board asked Smith what the community could do to close the gap between the lower and upper classes.
“I think the question is how do you get young people to stay in Kerrville or come back after college,” he said, adding that often it comes down to educational opportunities.
“I think often education is where it starts,” he said. “Schreiner University was quick on its feet to develop a nursing program when it saw the need here.”
The Committee on Science, Space and Technology has put millions of dollars into STEM education every year, Smith said, and pushed to extend the definition of STEM — which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics — to include computer science.
“If we compare ourselves with the 35 other industrialized nations, the United States ranks 19th in math and 31st in science,” he said. “We are not going to remain globally competitive much longer if we can’t produce educated people into the workforce.”