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Congressman O’Halleran talks budget bill, school shootings, DACA and more

U.S. Rep. Tom O'Halleran represents Arizona's Congressional District 1, which includes Oro Valley, Marana as well as Flagstaff and much of eastern rural Arizona. He recently spoke with the Tucson Weekly about the latest in Congress.

Why did you vote in favor of the $1.3 trillion spending bill last week?

When we first started this session, I was deluged with the concerns by cities, towns and counties on a multitude of programs that were going to be cut tremendously—community development block grants, TIGER grants for roads, on and on and on. There were a tremendous number of programs in there that basically were going to be cut, and we finally found a way to create an environment where, after we approved the military budget—which we raised considerably because of what's going on in the world—we needed to find a way to address some of the core issues that are also important to America. Many of these programs offset increases in local taxes. They help us, whether it's a big city, small town in rural America or Arizona, it helps them create the projects that are needed for those areas to have the infrastructure that's needed to have economic viability.

There have been some complaints that this bill went through very quickly once it actually emerged last week and then it was approved within 48 hours. Your thoughts on the way the bill rolled out?

If it were me, I would not like to see it roll out this way, but we've been in discussions on all these issues at least since June of '17, so none of these are a surprise. Maybe the numbers have switched a little bit—like on the discretionary side of the budget, numbers went up—but those also went up in areas on the discretionary side for the FBI and Homeland Security and a number of other areas that are important to the security of our nation. Defense had gone up, and so the defensive caps were lifted, so we also lifted the sequester caps on the other discretionary projects.

Let's talk a little bit about the school shootings. We have a lot of kids and adults who joined the March for Our Lives to call for better background checks, bans on guns like the AR-15, other gun violence measures. Do you support what they are asking for—or any of the elements of what they're asking for—and do you think any of it can get passed in Congress?

First of all, the budget bill had some of that in there. It had one of the issues that I was always concerned with. There's a bill back in 1996, the Dickey Amendment, that made it so that we couldn't study gun violence in America. Not all people that are living in our society live in safe neighborhoods. It's a shame when Americans feel that their children can't play in the street or can't go to school and feel safe about it. So we have to do something. The bill did a little bit, not enough. It dealt with the NICS system, which is the background check system. It does not have universal background check, though. It addressed the bump stocks. It didn't raise the age to 21.

Congress and the White House did not strike a deal to provide some kind of legal status for undocumented youth of this country. The courts have put the DACA elimination on hold for now, but is there any realistic hope of legislation for undocumented people who came to the country as children in between now and the 2018 election?

First of all, the courts have intervened, and so DACA recipients can re-register. They can stay in America and so forth. There are three bills are out there. We have asked that each one of them, whether it's the Republican bill or one of the Democratic bills, be brought to the floor and vote on it. We are sure that there's enough votes on the floor of the House of Representatives to vote at least one of those bills out of the House. Leadership on the Republican side has failed to do that time and time again, although the American people, 80-some percent of the American people, want this done. The president wanted to negotiate it from the issue of the wall. That hasn't been a well-thought-out process. While we did have a little bit of money in there for wall repair and 30 miles of new wall, it's not a solid wall. It's what the Border Patrol had asked for. They have to see through this wall to know what's going on on the other side. We have hopes that DACA will eventually be dealt with prior to the election, and if it's after the election, then I know we will deal with it if we're the majority party.

What do you think of the army's decision to shut down the Apache helicopter training center in Marana and transfer the helicopters elsewhere?

I just had a meeting with Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley, who is the four-star general that's in charge of the entire Army. We've met with the head of the national guard. We just had a meeting with the relevant parties that are working on this issue from the standpoint of they were failing to release some information. We finally got them to release that information, and had an extensive meeting with them at the Capitol about a week-and-a-half ago. They're still reticent in their concerns that they have. I'm on the Armed Services Committee. One of the issues that came before us time and time again is that we have to have readiness, and you can't have readiness with a National Guard that's lacking the ability to train and keep pilots, and that's one of the core areas of this issue. We have great pilots right here in Marana. Not only are they trained, they are battle-tested. It's going to take the Army, which does not have enough pilots for Apaches, about two-and-a-half years to train each and every one of those new people that are not battle-tested. So it makes no sense at all what's going on, and we raised the amount of money that the Army's going to get tremendously more—$20 billion—and they need to step up to the plate and recognize that it's a joint-force process. The Army was cut down in size a number of years ago. The reason is that we have a reserve in the National Guard and an Army Reserve that is efficient and ready to go to battle within a given amount of time. With what's going on in the world now, whether it's Korea or Russia or China or some of the terrorism issues, we have to have a force that's ready to go when we need it to go. If we're involved in China, we don't know if Russia's going to try to take advantage of that on a European front. We don't know how many days or months or years China would be a conflict, what that would do in that section of the world, so we have to be prepared for these issues. We are not ready. Our forces are not ready right now.

What do you make of these tariffs that President Trump is enacting?

I think that—as most people who are in economics feel—this is not a good idea. I think in the next few days that you'll see China come out and say, "OK, if you're going to put that $60 billion tariff on us, plus the steel, plus the aluminum, then we're going to put major tariffs on you." We do send a lot of commerce to China. Part of this whole issue is the value of the dollar. It's not just raw deficit. The other part of the issue is we have trading partners all over the world that are going to eventually have to succumb to the tariffs, and we create this whole new system without having talked to them in the first place. This is a new administration. It's been in existence about 15 months. It hasn't gone out and talked to the trading partners in a meaningful way to try to resolve these issues, whether it's through the world trade process or through a commission or through face-to-face bilateral negotiations. That's what's needed. They shocked Canada and Mexico when they announced these tariffs and finally we had to back down. There are other countries like France and Italy and others that are going, "What about us?" It looks like we're going to allow them not to have tariff increases. That means to me that things weren't well-thought-out at the beginning. Obviously, that's part of the problem because it came as a shock to a lot of the people within the administration. ■

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