Two Congress members civilly discuss their differences - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Two Congress members civilly discuss their differences

May 9th, 2018 development
Two Congress members civilly discuss their differences

By Wayne Schutsky, Staff


The East Valley Partnership’s annual Statespersons Luncheon brought together two members of Congress from across the aisle who bridged the partisan divide to discuss NAFTA and other issues that affect Arizonans.

Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, whose District 9 includes parts of Ahwatukee, Tempe, Mesa and Chandler, and Republican Andy Biggs, who represents a large swath of the East Valley in District 5, participated in the event for the second-straight year.

Sinema previously took part in the luncheon series for several years alongside former Rep. Matt Salmon.

Sinema and Biggs did not always agree, but they remained cordial – reminding attendees on multiple occasions that they are good friends – throughout the hour-long conversation.

That geniality was in stark contrast to the acrimonious relationship between the Republican and Democratic parties in Washington, D.C. – a point not lost on Biggs and Sinema.

Both representatives spent a good deal of time talking about the need to improve the relationship between the two parties in order to end the gridlock in Congress.

The two representatives have different ideas about how to get there, though.

Sinema said that she believes in retaining the Senate’s cloture rule, by which 60 senators can circumvent a filibuster and quickly end debate on a bill.

Instead of doing away with the oft-used maneuver, she said the country needs more senators who won’t invoke cloture in order to avoid debate.

“I think the solution is to get senators who are more willing to work together across the aisle to solve problems and get things done, because we used to have a Senate that worked,” Sinema said.

Biggs disagreed, arguing that cloture “dilutes representation” and is an arcane rule that “needs to go.”

He blamed cloture for the last-minute spending additions that ballooned the price tag for Congress’ $1.3 trillion omnibus budget bill and the fact that hundreds of other bills passed by the House currently sit untouched in the Senate.

The bills, he said, “are sitting there with no action, and it’s because of the 60-vote cloture rule.”

Both Biggs and Sinema touted the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act – legislation they co-sponsored that expands the AMBER Alert system into tribal communities – in hopes that their example can work as a template for how members of Congress from both parties can work together to pass legislation.

If they can continue to work through the stagnation in Congress, both Biggs and Sinema are focused on a range of national issues that could have major effects on Arizona.

A big area of concern was NAFTA, the free-trade agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada that has drawn frequent criticism from President Donald Trump and could potentially be renegotiated in the future.

Any renegotiation of NAFTA could have a massive impact on the Arizona economy. Mexico and Canada are Arizona’s top two trade partners and account for nearly 50 percent of the state’s foreign exports, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Biggs said he has heard that “tremendous progress has been made” and that the renegotiations will likely result in two bilateral agreements between the U.S. and Mexico and U.S. and Canada.

“It is going to look a lot like the NAFTA deal that is in place now with some updating on things like environmental regulations – which we have much more onerous regulations than our neighbors to the south… (and) intellectual property; from both sides we have been victimized in intellectual property theft and abuse.”

Sinema offered a different perspective, saying that there have been five meetings between the three countries and “they have not gone particularly well.”

“The renegotiation of NAFTA is really important for Arizona. If it is done well and benefits the U.S., then we are in a good place,” she said. “But if the talks fall apart or go poorly, then Arizona can really lose from the renegotiation or the end of NAFTA.”

Sinema said the Trump administration has unilateral control over the negotiations and Congress has no formal input on the process, though Congress would have to approve any “substantive changes” to NAFTA.

Biggs said he requested a meeting with the U.S. trade representative to gain further information on the progress of the negotiations.

Sinema said that representatives on the Arizona delegation – both Republicans and Democrats – have reached out to the U.S. trade representative to advocate for issues of importance to Arizonans, such as agricultural trade and manufacturing exports.

The hour-long conversation also touched on other topical issues like the national debt, a potential trade war with China, the U.S. role in the Syrian Civil War and healthcare – a topic that Sinema said she hears about most from her constituents.

“People are really concerned about healthcare,” she said. “Businesses are concerned because the costs are continuing to increase. We expect to see more increases this October, so the premiums are going to go up again.”

She added that healthcare exchange “is not working in Arizona” as counties in the state have only one insurance option on the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

Next year’s Statespersons’ Luncheon could look very different. Biggs is up for re-election in District 5, and Sinema will not seek re-election in District 9 as she attempts to win the Senate seat vacated by Sen. Jeff Flake’s impending retirement.