Texas Congressman talks to local businesses on legislation presented during the 115th Congress at the Austin Chamber’s fifth Pulse on Policy event
Austin Chamber members heard directly from U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20) as he discussed NAFTA, DACA, healthcare, and taxes in the Central Texas region. Sponsored by AT&T, the Pulse on Policy event was the fifth in a series of discussions led by local, state, and federal lawmakers.
The event was held in the Austin Chamber Boardroom. Below are highlights of the discussion.
North American Free Trade Agreement
No other state has more riding on free trade than Texas. After NAFTA took effect in 1994, Texas exports have grown exponentially. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Texas is more competitive domestically. In 2015, Texas exports reached $247 billion while other cities like California ($163 billion) and Washington State ($86 billion) lagged. These exports supported approximately 990,000 jobs spanning from manufacturing, oil and gas, food, metal, plastics and rubber products, to transportation equipment.
“I said very clearly that we should not allow NAFTA to be terminated. Texas has seen great benefits from NAFTA,” said U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro. “So I fully support a successful renegotiation of the agreement and have been talking to Republicans and Democrats in Congress to make sure that we do whatever we can to preserve the agreement.”
Nearly 75 percent of the U.S. Mexico land trade (nearly $343 billion in 2015) crosses a Texas port of entry with most imports going to Northern states. Between 1994 and 2015, Texas generated nearly 4 million service based jobs with per capita real income up from $30,000 to $47,000.
“It would be a very hard hit to Texas economy if it were to go away completely,” said Congressman Castro. “You all know the industries that have sprung up in manufacturing and other things because of NAFTA. So we are trying to make sure we preserve it.”
The Greater Austin Chamber supports NAFTA reauthorization and works with the Texas-Mexico Trade Coalition, an affiliated group of the Texas Association of Business, on economic issues that impact the Central Texas region.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
In September, President Trump announced an end to DACA and urged Congress to pass an alternative in six months. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protects young undocumented immigrants who were brought to America from deportation. Nearly 120,000 Texans will be affected based on this policy.
“In Texas, we have 120,000 DACA recipients or DREAMERS who basically could start facing deportation in March, about 1,000 a day at that point unless we find a solution that will allow them to stay,” said Congressman Castro. “So we are in heavy negotiations on that. I am optimistic that we will actually reach a solution.”
Congressman Castro shared a story on why he was optimistic that Congress will reach an agreement regarding DACA and immigration. His reasoning is based on the total number of Democrats and Republicans that are in favor of some sort of solution that addresses the issue. “In Congress, you need 218 for a majority. The number at that time was 223. So it shows you there is a clear majority of people who want to do something and that number has only grown since then.”
After a Texas border agent was recently killed, discussions around building the Texas border wall has ensued. As Congress talks about taxes, the issue is expected to be brought up in December. Earlier this year, the Greater Austin Chamber Board of Directors issued a resolution to improve federal immigration policy.
Congressman Castro serves on the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and has been leading their working group to create a solution to the problem. “One of the things I am proposing to them is when we think about border security we really beef up customs enforcement for example,” said Congressman Castro. “Basically to combat the opioid crisis. Our strategy would be centered on the bad things coming here rather than the idea that DREAMERS are bad people coming here. Remember 93 percent of them are employed. So this is by and large outstanding folks who are contributing to society.”
For the past couple of months, Congress has debated on the Affordable Care Act also known as ObamaCare. Democrats remain poised on reforming the policy while Republicans want to end the program. Despite arguments and attempts to jeopardize the legislation, open enrollment is up for healthcare.
“There have been a few moves to undo Obama Care. Those attempts have failed. I suspect the future attempts between now and the next of November will ultimately fail also,” said Congressman Castro. “Now bear in mind that the tax bill in the Senate actually appeals the mandate so there is some crossover between healthcare and that legislation. But I think what we ought to be doing is fixing the healthcare system as it exists.”
In 2015, the rate of uninsured Texans fell to 17.1 percent due to the convenience of the Affordable Care Act. Although this number fell two percentage points from 2014 (then was 19.1 percent), Texas has the highest percentage rate of people without health insurance in the county. Nearly 4.5 million residents are uninsured.
“Texas still has about 17 percent of people that don’t have any healthcare coverage at all after the Affordable Care Act. So I think that we should work together, Republicans and Democrats, to fix the system now,” said Congressman Castro.
Open enrollment for ObamaCare is expected to end December 15.
On November 16, the U.S. House of Representatives passed their tax bill with 227 votes. The Greater Austin Chamber supports the federal tax bill, which was adopted in our 2017 Federal agenda. The bill has now been sent to U.S. Senate for consideration.
“I voted no on the bill yesterday. It goes to the Senate now where they are doing their own bill actually. Their bill is a little bit different. They are going to repeal on the individual mandate for healthcare in that bill. It also doesn’t fully repeal the estate tax for example. And there are some other differences but those are two of the big ones,” said Congressman Castro. The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the tax plan when they return from Thanksgiving break.
Congressman Castro serves on the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He is a passionate advocate who created the Trailblazers College Tour, a program that exposes underprivileged youth with visits to national college institutions and founded SA READS, San Antonio’s largest literacy campaign that generated over 200,000 books to more than 150 schools and shelters across the city.
Greater Austin Chamber
The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce focuses on how the Austin Region works. We serve as the voice of business for 2,800 organizations representing a combined workforce of about 330,000 employees throughout Central Texas. Our mission is to provide leadership that facilitates the creation of a prosperous regional economy and effective advocacy for members.