Conaway talks shutdown, new Congress

The Democratic Party is officially in control of the U.S. House of Representatives as of Thursday, and U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, said it feels a lot like 2011 when Republicans took over.
“In 2011, we beat 63 sitting Democrats, those folks came in with an agenda ready to go,” Conaway said. “I think the same thing is happening now, just on the other side.”
Because the House rules are set so that just a simple majority controls everything, Conaway said that new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can rule with an iron fist. He said a new rule packet passed gives Pelosi the authority to speak on behalf of the entire House whether Obamacare is constitutional, and has lowered the number of votes required to change the tax rate from three-fifths to a majority.
“They put rules in place without a lot of consultation from us,” Conaway said. “In 2011, I don’t remember consulting them very much when we took over for them and set the rules. It’s one of these classic ‘to the victor belongs the spoils’ and they get to run the shop the way they see fit.”
Conaway said he hasn’t had a one-on-one conversation with Pelosi, having only a couple of brief conversations, but called her street smart and said she has a terrific team around her.
“She’s built a lot of IOUs over the years from the crowd that does surround her,” he said. “I’m not sure where that strength came from, other than she paid her dues and parlayed that into a leadership role.”
There hasn’t been much running of government lately, as Democrats and Republicans argue over passing a bill that would end the government shutdown that has been ongoing since Dec. 22. President Donald Trump has said he would not pass a bill to end the shutdown without funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, which Pelosi has said won’t happen. Conaway called the debate over a border wall a fake argument.
“It’s a fake argument in a sense because it’s really about not letting Trump have the victory he wants,” Conaway said.
Conaway said if you ask anybody if it’s in America’s best interest to know who and what is coming in and out of the country, most people would say yes. What is on the table right now, Conaway said, is $5.7 billion to buy 2,000 employees and infrastructure improvements along the border where it’s needed. There are many fences already up on the border needing to be replaced, Conaway said, with different sectors of the border that have different needs. While Trump initially wanted a concrete wall, Conaway said Border Patrol has told them a see-through fence would be better.
“Let’s be smart about it and spend our resources properly, but operational control of the border is in our best interest,” Conaway said.
Conaway said he didn’t think revoking the pay of Congress members during government shutdown would speed up the issue, because many of the faces of the shutdown, like Trump and Pelosi, are independently wealthy and wouldn’t be affected, and said it didn’t have an impact in October 2013 when the government was completely shut down.
He expressed concern about how the shutdown affects employees who live pay check to pay check.
Sen. Ted Cruz introduced a constitutional amendment Friday that would create term limits for Congress members — three terms for representatives and two terms for senators. But Conaway said he would not be in support of term limits, and would like to know if this means Cruz will not run for a third term.
Conaway said term limits would be a solution in search of a problem. Were term limits to be enacted, Conaway said Congress members could do what they want during their last term.
“You want that threat there,” Conaway said. “It’s also particularly un-republican in the sense that if I’m earning people’s votes, I should be able to get those votes. Do you really want government telling you who you can and can’t vote for?”
Conaway differentiated this from presidential term limits by saying the position of the president is so powerful that it’s essential to not have that power engrained, while one Congress member, on their own, isn’t nearly as powerful.
One of the latest bills Conaway was able to get passed was an $867 billion farm bill, passed in December with a 386-47 vote. One part of the original bill Conaway pushed for, but wasn’t passed, was increased work requirements for Supplement Nutritional Assistance Program beneficiaries. This would have raised the age limit requiring SNAP recipients to work 20 hours a week from 49 to 59.
“That 20 hours says that if you were to be on food stamps for more than three months out of 36, you need to work 20 hours a week,” he said. “If you do that, you can stay on food stamps in that regard. If you choose not to work and not help yourself, we’ll limit food stamps because you ought to go get a job.”
Conaway also wanted to limit the waiver for work requirements, which he said had been abused. But he said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue had authority over the waiver process because the U.S. Department of Agriculture sets the process in place.
What he did get in the bill, Conaway said, was program integrity. There will be a database created by the USDA to catch people who are “double dipping,” as in, people who are on individual SNAP programs in separate states.
Conaway added that Perdue had told him he had released a proposed rule to do what was in the House version of the farm bill regarding the waiver issue.
“The advantage of Sonny doing it is that it becomes $15 million of deficit reduction,” Conaway said. “From a fiscal conservative standpoint, that’s actually a better answer.”