U.S. Reps. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.; District 5) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.; District 9) were featured guests at a panel discussion Tuesday where they conversed on a host of national policies including the federal budget, immigration and fostering trade issues affecting the U.S. and Arizona.
The event was part of the East Valley Partnership’s 2013 Statesperson’s Luncheon held at the Hilton Phoenix East/Mesa hotel, 1011 W. Holmes Ave. The panel was moderated by APS spokeswoman Jessica Pacheco.
Pacheco first asked the lawmakers to detail the condition of federal budget negotiations.
Sinema said there hasn’t been much progress, as the House and Senate continue to squabble down party lines only to come up with partisan legislation that she said — with Republicans holding the majority in the house and Democrats holding the moist Senate seats — has little chance of passing through.
“Until those two parties come together … we’re not like to see any real movement on the budget,” Sinema said.
Sinema said the leadership of both houses is to blame — stifling descent that could lead to compromise – but she also said there is new hope in a group of freshmen congressmen and congresswomen from both parties who are working toward bipartisan solutions to end the tug-o-war that has paralyzed the process.
Salmon said the issue being missed in budget talks is a strong analysis of mandatory spending, while leaders waste too much time debating discretionary spending affected by the sequester.
Mandatory spending programs like Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and debt service, Salmon said, are the real problem.
“We’re not really getting to the heart of the problem,” Salmon said. “The fact is mandatory spending programs … right now comprises 65 percent of the federal budget. In a few short years it will be 80 percent.”
He warned that it won’t take long comprise the entire budget if costs of those mandatory programs are not reined in.
“A lot of people are going to get hurt, a lot more than we talked about in the sequestration process,” Salmon added.
The two leaders had more optimism that immigration reform will be completed by the end of the year.
They stated that the issue is comprised of three elements: border security, guest-worker programs and a pathway to citizenship. Both leaders lamented the loss of able-bodied and skilled workers who are educated in the U.S. but then cannot get the proper visas and return to their own countries just to compete with U.S. workers.
“We ought to be allowing people who want to work in this country work in this country,” Salmon said.
Sinema said enough people on both sides of the aisle are close to a common ground.
“I think it’s inevitable that we will get immigration reform done this year,” Sinema said.
She said the House of Representatives is “very close” to finalizing a comprehensive immigration package.
Another issue that the U.S. and Arizona face is trade.
Salmon said the state and the U.S. need to take fuller advantages of relationships with trade partners Mexico and Canada, the nation’s largest. He said the opportunities that Arizona has with Mexico is in the “embryonic stages” of its potential.
Salmon said Arizona should market itself as a destination for rich medical tourists to have their procedures and recover in the state’s favorable weather. He also proposed selling green cards to foreigners in exchange for investing large sums in the U.S. economy, pointing out that the country could potentially lure more investment by China and other wealthy nations.
Sinema also said the goal should be to enhance trade with our neighbors and enter into a transpacific agreement with them and other regional nations.
Another issue Sinema said affects trade is the nation’s ability to fight off cyber-security threat — not only on the government, but amongst private industries. She said the inabilities to control threats and protect private and federal property has cost the country amounts in the trillions of dollars.
“We can do a better job at international trade when our allies and partners in the international community can depend on us” to control cyber threats that would threaten investments or intellectual property, Sinema said.
For more about the East Valley Partnership, visit www.evp-az.org.
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