Policy and Politics

Congressman Tom O’Halleran talks Obamacare, internet privacy and immigration

Congressman Tom O'Halleran is in his first term representing Congressional District 1, which includes Oro Valley and Marana, as well as Flagstaff and much of eastern rural Arizona. He recently appeared for a one-on-one interview on the televised edition of Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel. This Q&A is an edited excerpt from that conversation.

So that whole repeal and replace thing with Obamacare—what happened there?

I guess they couldn't get together after saying for six years that the the Republican Party had an answer on how to cure the healthcare issues of America and as they got into it, the more they started trading off issues to gain votes. And when you get into that, you better start reevaluating what you really need to do because that is not trying to get us forward on health care in America

So what's next? We heard the bill was dead and they were moving on; we've heard that the bill is coming back; we heard it was not coming back. House Speaker Paul Ryan wants to work only with Republicans; President Trump wants to bring in Democrats. Do you have a sense of where this thing is going?

I would hope that we find a way of working with this issue across party lines, that we sit down and evaluate what the real needs of America are. What are the cost drivers? Who's going to be impacted? Make sure that 20 million people who are currently covered continue be covered and making sure we can continue as much as possible to get the cost down and revive the insurance market.

What did you think of the House vote to reverse the Federal Communication Commission's rules on Internet privacy and Internet service providers?

That was one of the easiest "no" votes for me. I just don't understand—at a time when when there's a lot of intrusion into people's lives, that the lack of privacy is increasing—why we would come in and do away with a rule that help protect people's identities and their information?

Sen. Jeff Flake, who sponsored this legislation, and Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally say that they think the Federal Trade Commission should be handling the privacy regulations rather than the FCC. What do you think of that argument?

That's an argument to have before you vote to do away with something. If you want those two agencies to hash that out, come before committees. work on the process and then develop a bill if you have to change that. But this is a whim on the basis of "We want this instead of that" instead of "What is the appropriate public policy and how do we protect the information of the American people."

One of the big themes in your campaign last year was ethics reform and you've recently sponsored legislation to strengthen the Office of Congressional Ethics, which was nearly gutted by members of the Republican caucus as they first got to work this year. What do you want to see happen with your legislation?

First of all, I was just amazed that they would put forward a bill that would have gutted the agency that doesn't have enough power anyway to truly investigate the ethics of legislators. Then, as a former police officer, former investigator, I know the need to have as much information as possible with which to find out the factual information on an investigation, so subpoena power for that agency is one of the bills I put forward. That's something that we should have. And what I especially like about my second bill is raising the number of years that a legislator can come back and work either in a public policy perspective from with a firm or as a lobbyist from two years to five years. People don't pay me to be there a while and then come back and make much more money because of the knowledge that I gained and the impact I've had and friendships I developed from my legislative experience.

There's a lot of talk about tax cuts. There's a lot of talk about stimulus. It sounds to me like you might be headed towards a bigger budget deficit and increasing the national debt.

I'm surprised at that. This is from people that have said we have to decrease the federal debt and not increase it. But I'm willing to take a look at their ideas and concepts but not at the expense of—using the healthcare bill, as an example—cutting $54 billion dollars out of critical elements of our safety net and our agencies, especially like the Secretary of State and the EPA. These are all agencies on the discretionary side of our budget that have been cut for six years in a row. At some point, your down not only to the bone but you're cutting into the marrow and we can't do that. I think the cuts for the Secretary of State's office is something that that is going to be critical. Our generals tell us that there's an interconnection between the Secretary of State's Office being able to be funded appropriately and making sure that we don't get into wars we shouldn't get into. Our citizens all want clean air and clean water and we we need to continue to do that. And Meals on Wheels? I'm sorry, but these are critical programs for our elderly and some of the other cuts are hurting the elderly and our children more than anybody else.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited Nogales to announce new guidelines for federal prosecutors in terms of how to handle cases of undocumented immigrants entering the country. What was your reaction to those new policies?

Well, it's nice of him to finally get down to the border. I don't think he's been down there very much. I've been down there a number of times. I'm going to be down there again next week. But we need a comprehensive approach. He's not looking at a comprehensive approach. I have no problem with it getting the felons out of the country but some of these people that they're taking out of the country have children that are Americans and they have not had a violent felony conviction and here we are taking mothers away from their children. That's not acceptable. I was a Republican at one time. We used to run on the value of families and keeping families together and so I am concerned about Mr. Sessions and his approach to immigration.

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