Congress should move as quickly as possible to balance the federal budget, rid the tax code of loopholes and allow more immigrants to work in the U.S. legally, says Raul Labrador, the second-term Republican congressman in western Idaho's 1st District.
Labrador spoke April 3 at the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce's latest congressional forum. His comments are condensed from a transcript prepared by the chamber's public relations director, Caroline Merritt.
UPWARD MOBILITY IS GETTING HARDER
One of my core principles in public service is really the essence of what the chamber is all about, which is promoting and advocating for a free-market society where the American dream is still possible. A society of opportunities where you can pioneer your way, build a business, raise a family, and enrich your life.
But this dream feels more and more out of reach for a lot of Americans. I'm not just referring to the effects of the economic crisis that we're currently facing. I'm referring to a society which is increasingly making it harder for upward mobility, and where the ladder of success is being pulled out from under those trying to climb it.
This is what happens when our society continues its slide toward more government, higher taxes and more spending. This path will inevitably cut off our children and future generations from their shot at the American dream, something everyone here supports and everyone wants to keep alive. That's why I've been fighting so hard in Washington and, at times, I've been very vocal in Congress for a responsible, effective government that lives within its means.
I was very proud of the time that I spent in the Idaho Legislature and the time that I spent fighting in the Idaho Legislature. We had to make some really strong and hard decisions the four years that I was there. We actually had to cut spending, we had to balance the budget, we had to do all the things necessary to actually have Idaho prosper in spite of the recession and those are things that most congressmen aren't willing to do.
CUT SOMEONE ELSE'S PROGRAM, NOT MINE
The day of a congressman is pretty simple. You have hundreds of people coming into your office, and this is what they tell you. They say, "Hey, I understand we have to cut spending. But let me tell you about my program. There's one program that you shouldn't cut. Because this is what this program does."
Well, what happens in Washington is that most politicians will tell every one of those people that they're not going to cut your program.
If you think about it, if you're meeting between four and five people every day, four or five days out of the week, and you have promised all of those people that you're not going to cut their program, by the end of the year, you have promised thousands and thousands of people that you're not going to cut their programs.
The reality is we cannot afford all these programs and we cannot afford the amount of money that we're spending.
'I HAVE SAID NO TO A LOT OF PEOPLE'
I think it's important for our children. I have five children. I think most of you have children. It's not us who are going to be paying this debt. It's going to be them. Every single child right now, every single adult, in America owes $50,000 of this national debt.
I joke around that's no one's ever going to vote for me because I always say no. But a lot of people who leave my office thank me for being honest. And I think the American people will reward politicians who tell the American people the truth.
That's one of the reasons why I supported the Ryan budget, the Republican budget that just passed out of the House of Representatives. It was a path to balance. I actually would have done it even quicker. I want us to balance the budget tomorrow. Just like we do in the Idaho Legislature. But that's really not very realistic at this time.
Under the Ryan budget, we can do it in the next 10 years. And I think we will see more growth and prosperity.
WHAT TO DO WITH THE LOOPHOLE MONEY
The other thing is that the Republican plan actually gets rid of all the loopholes that are in the tax code. All of us can agree that we have a broken tax system, and this tax system needs to be fixed. It's totally and fundamentally unfair that we have people who can get tax deductions just because they can hire the right lobbyist, just because they can have the right attorneys and accountants.
What I want is a flatter and fairer tax. The difference is that the president wants to get rid of those loopholes and his party wants to get rid of those loopholes, just like I do. Don't let anybody tell you in the media that Republicans don't want to get rid of the loopholes. We want to get rid of the loopholes. But what does he want to get rid of the loopholes for? So he can actually increase spending. Every time you listen to the president, he says we need to get rid of this loophole so we can pay for this program. And we need to get rid of this other loophole so we can pay for this other program.
'WE HAVE A BROKEN IMMIGRATION SYSTEM'
Now, some of you may have read that I'm also working a lot on immigration reform. And immigration is something that I think is one of the top two or three problems we have in America. If we don't fix our immigration problem, we're not going to be able to have, I think, a century of progress here in the United States.
As most of you know, I was an immigration lawyer for 15 years. I worked for a long time within the immigration process. I also was a state legislator for four years looking at the different issues the state had to deal with immigration. And now as a congressman for two years, I have seen that this system has to be completely modernized.
We have an immigration system that is not allowing people to prosper, not allowing people to come into the United States.
I think there are some things that we can do. We are working in the House on actually fixing the immigration system.
The first and foremost issue that we have to face is that we have a broken border. We also have to make sure that we have interior enforcement.
WHY THE 1986 REFORM OF IMMIGRATION FAILED
There was a bill that passed both houses of Congress. Ronald Reagan supported it, a strong Republican. And it granted amnesty to about one to three million illegal aliens in the United States.
Why did that reform not work? The main reason is they did not enforce the law after they granted the amnesty to the people who were here illegally. The second reason is they did not create a guest-worker program that people could use.
So those are the two areas that I concentrate most of my time on. The media loves to talk about the 11-12 million people who are here illegally. That is not my foremost concern. My foremost concern is preventing 11-12 million additional people coming in the next 10 to 20 years so we're not overrun once again with illegal immigration.
MAKE GUEST-WORKER PROGRAM WORKABLE
The thing you need to look at is exactly where the Senate Democrats are going to be with a guest-worker program. At this point, they're trying to create a guest-worker program that is unworkable. It's a guest-worker program that very few people are going to use and it's going to be too costly, and we will have the same issues that we have today with illegal immigration.
With low-skilled guest workers, we're talking about ag, dairy and those industries. But for Idaho, the other area that's extremely important is the high-tech industry. We have a lot of high-tech businesses that are not able right now to bring guest workers to the United States to work in the high-tech field.
Microsoft, in Seattle, actually had to open a plant in Vancouver, Canada because they could not get enough H-1B visas. We need to reform the H-1B process. We need to reform the STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] visas.
IMMIGRANTS WILL BOOST U.S. PROSPERITY
We need to be able to allow more people to come into the United States under these visas. Those people are coming to create jobs. It's not just the job and the taxes that they're going to pay themselves. As these companies thrive, they create other businesses and employment for other people, and you can have economic growth.
For the first time in our history, Canada just surpassed the United States in per capita income. I believe one reason they surpassed us is because they have a vibrant guest-worker program for their high-tech employees. They allow people with advanced degrees to come into Canada. It's an easy system.