In the News

The New Democrat Coalition is made up of moderate, pro-growth House members trying to make government work better for Americans. The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board met with four coalition members this week to discuss DACA, health care, international trade and other issues.

Here is an edited transcript of the interview with Ron Kind of Wisconsin, Pete Aguilar of California, Kathleen Rice of New York and San Diego’s own Scott Peters.

Q: So New Dems, tell us why this group is necessary at this point in time?

KIND: We’re 61 strong right now, which is about one-third of the entire House Democratic Caucus. I’ve been there since the founding of the group, during Clinton’s second term. This is a group of pragmatic, innovative, fiscally responsible, think- out-of-the-box type of members who have a policy lunch every Wednesday and work really hard trying to develop good relations across the aisle too to get things done. It’s been a bit difficult in Washington lately with the hyperpartisan and polarized atmosphere, and that’s why a group like the New Dems is as relevant now as ever before. We try to bridge some gaps and form some coalitions to get things done and a few of the issue areas that we’ve been working on are the future of workforce given the change that’s taking place and the need for skilled labor to meet the growth demands of companies to early stage capital for startups to education reform. We lean in heavily on health care reform in the area of delivery system and payment reform figuring that’s really going to be the key to affording 21st-century health care system. This group has leaned in too when it comes to trade policy. I think when you see something happening in a bipartisan fashion, you’re typically going to see the New Dem Coalition right in the middle. We’ve also made a point to have frequent policy lunches with a group of more pragmatic House Republican members called the Tuesday Group just to get in the same room together, to talk to each other, get to know each other and by doing that, finding some areas of common ground that we can work on together and we’re planning on continuing that. I think it’s exactly what the institution needs to be doing right now, rather than all the finger pointing and back and forth.

Q: Health care is in the news. What do you guys think about this plan that’s percolating in the Senate?

KIND: I think they’re have difficulties because it wasn’t done through regular process … no committee hearings, no discussion with members. It’s something they concocted to try to figure out a way to get something passed and that makes for bad policy. None of this has been vetted in the House and there are some fairly strong-willed conservatives in the Republican Party who may not vote for a plan that does retain all the ACA revenue measures which is what the Senate plan currently calls for right now. They’re running out of time and making policy of this magnitude, major transformation of our health care system just to beat a reconciliation deadline by the end of the month … again a lousy way to make policy that could affect millions of lives. They’re talking about doing away with the subsidies and the exchanges. They’re talking about doing away with the Medicaid expansion. It’ll be interesting to see what the (CBO) score has to say about it and the number of uninsured that would go up under their proposal. There’s a reason why the federal government felt we need to help Medicaid funding and Medicare because the states couldn’t do it on their own and now this devolves everything back to the states and set block grants and expecting them to solve all these problems. I think they’re setting states up for failure with this proposal. I think John McCain is right and we have to figure out a way to depoliticize health care change. Start recognizing what works, let’s fix what isn’t working and let’s focus on health care costs. That’s where we ought to be focusing our energy rather than having this endless discussion about Obamacare and whether it’s evil or whether we need a whole new approach to it.

Q: Let’s talk about DACA. Where is your deal making in that coming down?

AGUILAR: I think it’s an opportunity. We need to find that path, but we shouldn’t be trading out buckets of other immigration pieces. This is a solution that needs to be developed, where we look at how ingrained these young people are in our society, in our schools, in our jobs, working side by side, living with us, in our military. This is an earned path to citizenship that should be offered. If they’re in the military for two years. If they’re working and going to school … those are the qualifications. This isn’t a broad-based amnesty piece as Breitbart and other publications would say. This is an earned path to citizenship for those individuals that meet this qualification. What I think we get a little bit of anxiety about as Democrats is when we start talking about border security, which none of us are opposed to. But the thought process that you have to have increased border security packages with a Dreamers fix implies, to me, that these Dreamers are some sort of national security threat which couldn’t be farther from the truth. On a stand-alone basis, are we going to support increased border security? It depends on what that looks like, no wall, increased technology. There are examples where that increased investment pays dividends. So people don’t have to wait three hours at the border to cross, whether it’s trade, whether it’s people and tourism. So there are solutions that can be addressed, but I think that these young people deserve a stand-alone shot. I think that having the Dream Act come to the floor I think it would have the votes. A lot of us have been having conversations with colleagues about it. This is a bill that added two Republican co-sponsors last week. It hopefully will become the baseline according to what has been discussed from the Schumer-Pelosi-Trump conversation. I’m the whip of the Hispanic Caucus as well and I’ve been involved in a bunch of meetings last week with Schumer, with Democratic leadership, with our House Republican colleagues. Based on press reports, the president and Pelosi and Schumer discussed where in the next two weeks they could end up in negotiations with staff. What would it look like? There was an agreement to have an agreement. There wasn’t a deal that was made.

Q: Do you see that happening in the next couple of weeks?

AGUILAR: We hope so. We want to build the number of Republican co-sponsors on the Dream Act. That should become the vehicle that we move. Republicans have some funky rules when it comes to the old Hastert rule. You have to have a majority of the majority in order to bring something to the floor. That’s where this gets gummed up, is in the politics of where the Republican Caucus is. If the mindset of the speaker was of 435 people, where are 218 on any given day? We govern in a different world. So that’s the challenge that they have is navigating their politics, but we feel that there’s a policy solution that has north of 240, 250 votes there.


PETERS: There’s this sentimental feeling that Christmas is the right time.

AGUILAR: The guidance that the administration gave, the talking points that were given to our Republican colleagues, said, you should tell these DACA kids to start making plans to self-deport. That’s not the message we need to be sending. Young people who are serving in the military, being trained to be doctors and lawyers in our schools, that’s not what we need to be doing.

KIND: The president purposely avoided the W word ]wall] during his bipartisan meeting knowing that that was a dead-stop no on our side, but I think they’re gonna try to leverage DACA fix with as much money and resources that they can throw to the southern border so that they have something to point to at the end of this, a victory, for them and that’s what it will come down to.

PETERS: We’re for border security. We want good border security. We would like investment in biometrics to scan our cargo better because there are drugs coming across and guns and potentially people. We’d love that investment, that’s border security. He could find a lot of Democrats who thought that was a good idea, that both promotes trade and promotes security.

Q: What about trade and TPP?

PETERS: We lost a big lever against China by giving up the economic influence that TPP would have established for us in Asia, where 40 percent of the world’s customers are, and so I think it’s a really bad retreat from global leadership. America needs to lead, the world needs America to lead and I thought that TPP was an example of a real failure on our part.

KIND: There wasn’t unanimity in the New Dem Coalition when it came to TPP or the trade agenda in general. We had a sizable portion that was very supportive, but I’ve been around a lot of these trade debates before, and I believe that our withdrawal from considering TPP would be one of the great strategic mistakes we’ve made in the 21st century because it takes us out of the game in the fastest growing economic region in the globe, the Pacific Rim area, and now we’re on the outside looking in. China is now establishing the rules of trade and the other countries are moving on without us. The other 11 are planning on moving forward with or without us and they’re also looking to China now in order to strike their deal because they’re the only game in town and the EU is filling a vacuum that’s leaving us behind too. It will be interesting to see where the administration ends up with NAFTA renegotiation and our advice to them is first do no harm. We can’t afford a trade war with one of our largest trading partners to the south of us. It would devastate our agriculture industry, my dairy industry in particular. Our number one export market for dairy products is Mexico. As a group, we’re all about elevating standards when it comes to worker protections and environmental standards, even human rights standards are part of the agreement, fully enforceable like any other and level the playing field for our businesses and workers and farmers in this country so they can compete effectively in the global market.