Partisan divide apparent during San Diego congressional luncheon
San Diego’s congressional representatives had a sweeping, sometimes boisterous discussion Friday on issues ranging from the proposed expanded border wall and the federal budget to health care and President Donald Trump’s taxes.
Some partisan divisions surfaced during the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual congressional luncheon at the Manchester Hyatt downtown.
But all five members of the delegation stressed that they consistently pull together on local matters for the benefit of San Diego County, despite their differences on national and international issues. During the question-and-answer session led by veteran political reporter Carla Marinucci, who heads up Politico’s California operation, the members often displayed collegiality even amid sharp disagreements.
Any health care bill needs to have several provisions to earn his support, Rep. Darrel Issa, R-Vista, said. First, it must keep a “phase out” to make sure that people who are on Medicaid do not suddenly see their personal expenses skyrocket as they make more money and no longer qualify for government benefits. Rather they need to see their personal healthcare expenses rise in-step with their paycheck increase, he said.
Workers also need to be able to keep their health plans when they change jobs or retire, and to allow states and employers to consider more flexible plans, he added.
Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, said Issa’s demands are “reasonable” but Congress seems set on quickly forcing a new plan through the House without getting input from across the spectrum.
“It has to be bipartisan” to pass, Peters said. “That’s the striking thing about this, how consistent they are about not talking across the aisle.”
The expanded border wall between the U.S. and Mexico Mexico is not necessary, and will be a budget deal-breaker, said Rep. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego.
“I never voted for a wall, and I am not going to vote for a wall. I think it is a spite wall,” he said.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, said he supports either a fence or a wall — he’s not too concerned about what it’s called — and he wants the president to use the various obstacles between San Diego County and Baja California as a model for other parts of the country.
His support elicited scattered boos from the crowd of about 500 people.
Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, along with Peters and Vargas considered the wall a waste of money that should be spent on other things.
Issa would not say whether he supports Trump’s plan to build an expanded border wall, stressing that there’s been a fence along portions of the San Diego border for a long time and that it works well. He noted that border crossings allowed a high level of commerce between San Diego and the Tijuana region.
He further said he supported border security measures backed by border law enforcement agencies.
Davis said she was concerned about the Trump administration’s plans to hire 15,000 more immigration, customs and border agents. Hiring surges of that size, she said, often loosen standards “in a way that is not appropriate” in order to fill all the positions.
Issa said the the Trump administration is taking the right approach to pressure China to reign in North Korea’s threat to global security, noting that China was responsible for propping up the nation militarily during the Korean War in the 1950s.
“The reality is, China needs to do something about a rogue nation that has been enabled by their efforts,” Issa said
Peters said China needs to not only get North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, but also make sure that it doesn’t use conventional weapons against nearby major cities, including Seoul and Tokyo.
Vargas objected to what he considered to be provocations by the Trump administration that didn’t do anything but inflame the situation.
Shutting down the government
The members seemed optimistic that Congress and the president will be able to pass a funding bill and avoid a federal government shutdown, but they cautioned that there will be consequences if lawmakers do not enact a regular budget.
“One of the things that businesses need is predictability.,” Davis said. “We are signaling a very unpredictable rule.”
Issa said he believes that they’ll pass a continuing resolution to keep the government operating.
But government departments and contractors, while preferring a continuing resolution over a complete shutdown, say that only maintains current funding levels is inefficient, and it makes it difficult to adjust spending to new needs, or to start new programs.
Trump’s tax returns
All but Hunter said they thought it would be best for Trump to release his tax returns as past presidents have done.
“I don't care,” Hunter said.
The three Democrats said that Trump should make those documents public.
“Absolutely” Davis said.
Issa said it would be a good idea for the president to release his taxes, but he would also defend Trump’s right to privacy (by law tax returns are private documents) if he chose not to.