Texas Lawmaker: Border Wall Is ‘Absolutely Critical’

Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, joins us to share his thoughts on border security. He’s also the senior physician in the House, and he’ll give us his take on the so-called Medicare for All proposal. Listen to the interview in the podcast or read the transcript below. Plus: If you’ve ever wondered which states are the most sinful, well, there’s a new study for you, and it lists everything: greed, vanity, lust—and each state gets a ranking.

We also cover these stories:

  • House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., announced Monday a major investigation into Trump world.
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell conceded the Senate had enough votes to block President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration.
  • Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., is again being criticized for making anti-Semitic remarks.

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This is a lightly edited transcript.

Daniel Davis: We’re joined now by Rep. Michael Burgess. He is a congressman representing Texas’ 26th District in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Congressman, thanks for being on.

Rep. Michael Burgess: Thanks for letting me be with you.

Davis: Congressman, I want to ask you about a couple of issues. First, starting with an issue that’s highly relevant to your state, immigration and border security.

The House Democrats have, as you know, passed a bill to try to block the president’s declaration of an emergency. Obviously, it’s probably not going anywhere, but it marks a change in the debate. You’ve been in Congress for, I guess, over 15 years now. So, how have you seen the debate change in your time in Congress?

Burgess: Well, the debate actually has been pretty consistent, as has been the consistency of not getting to a conclusion. I mean, all was set with the backdrop of the 1986 law. I wasn’t there then, but the Simpson-Mazzoli law [that] President [Ronald] Reagan signed into law … provided amnesty for those people who were in the country without benefit of citizenship.

The deal was supposed to be that now we will have the border security so that there will be no more people who would require amnesty in our country.

But we all know it didn’t work out that way. And, in fact, the numbers continued to increase, even though the amnesty was provided. So now, especially the area where I represent, when citizens contact me, they are concerned, because, No. 1, they are fearful that once again the numbers have gotten so high, people in the country without benefit of citizenship, that Congress is going to do some type of amnesty again. So, they don’t want to see that.

And the fact that never, since that bill was signed in 1986, through none of the succeeding Congresses, through all of the difficulty surrounding 9/11, 2001, never have we had the border security as we need it.

A lot of discussion occurs around the fact that in 2006, and I was in Congress in 2006, we passed what was called the Secure Fence Act. The fence was never completed. Four hundred and more miles under President George W. Bush, over 100 miles under Barack Obama. But the job was still left undone.

And for Texans, that place that is the most vulnerable is the lower Rio Grande sector. And it is overrun with people who come across.

“Coyotes” who bring people across the river … drop them on the opposite shore, disappear. And these folks are then picked up by our game wardens, customs, Border Patrol. They are then brought to centers where they are processed.

If it’s unaccompanied minors, they go into shelters that the federal government provides.

But it is a phenomenal number of people. I think I saw a figure just the other day for last month. It was in excess of 7,000. It is an incredible influx of people that is uncontrolled. No one knows much about their backgrounds. From the children’s standpoint, the vaccination status is either unknown, or the likelihood that they might have a contagious disease themselves is unknown.

So, it is a significant undertaking of dollars and personnel to just simply do the right thing for people that we pick up off the side of the river in our state in of Texas.

So, the president has said we need to solve this problem. I think the president a couple of weeks ago in El Paso referenced the fact that he had 900,000 immigration cases pending before his courts. He said that’s unacceptable. It’s unmanageable, that large a number.

So, I get it. Why citizens are concerned about … they look at these large numbers that are reported coming across, the large numbers that are reported being in this country without the benefit of citizenship, and the large number of people who are clogging the courts, and they, again, are fearful that at some point we’re just going to say, “Oh, we can’t deal with all of this. Once again we’ll provide the amnesty. And then, by golly, we’re going to get you some border security.” They don’t want to hear it. And I understand that. I get that.

Look, there are a lot of things that are immediately within our purview to do. But the president is correct. Without border security, really, everything else is meaningless.

Remember the spike in unaccompanied minors started as a consequence of Barack Obama in 2012 saying, “If you have come to this country as a child, and it was no fault of your own, I am going to provide you a status so that you can come out of the shadows and get a job and not have to worry about being deported”?

Seemed like a humanitarian thing to do but, oh, by the way, the coyotes in Central America decided to use that as a marketing strategy and said, “If you pay us money to get you across the border, you will get what’s called the permiso,” and it’s basically a slip that will allow you to stay in the country of America until they do the next amnesty. So they sold that. It was a marketing ploy.

Every time we talk about something like that in the United States Congress it gets translated downstream and used by those people who profit from trafficking people across the Mexican deserts.

Davis: Well, we’ve heard talk of comprehensive border security. So, walls, other technology. Would you say the wall really is the most important element of that?

Burgess: Wall, fence, barrier. It is absolutely critical. And [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi stood up in front of a microphone after the president gave his Oval Office address. She and [Senate Minority Leader] Chuck Schumer did kind of what looked like to be a hostage video in the Capitol.

But she said, “We want sensors, and we want to be able to detect when someone has crossed our border.” No. With all respect to the speaker, we want to prevent someone from crossing our border.

It does us no good to detect it, and then a week later, we can get someone out there to see where it was that they crossed. That’s not helpful when you’ve got numbers to the degree that we’ve got.

And, look, I don’t minimize the problems that people are having in other countries. But I will say this, the United States … First off, we’re the most generous country on the face of the earth when it comes to immigration: 1.1 million people a year come into this country legally.

And people shouldn’t forget that because we’re oftentimes branded as being heartless, putting a “closed” sign up on the State of Liberty. No. We are the most welcoming country on the face of the earth. All of the other countries combined do not allow the people in that we allow in.

In Central America, we send the foreign aid. Their governments are corrupt. They don’t do the work that is required to protect their people, and their people get hurt. And so they decide to come north.

What is the matter with the governments in Central America that they will not do the work? Look, no one forced those individuals to run for those offices. There was no one who said, “You’ve got to run for president. You have no other choice, or we’ll come hurt you.” No. It was a voluntary action on their part.

So, do the job that you volunteered to do. And part of that job is to provide safety and security for your citizens. But if you will not, and I have introduced a bill for a couple of Congresses that said, “We are sending you foreign aid generously, courtesy of the taxpayers of America. If you are not willing to do the job to take care of your children, when we end up taking care of them on our side of the border in facilities run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement … it’s an expensive venture … We are going to charge you a surcharge per child.”

No, we know you’ll never pay the bill. We’ll just deduct it from your foreign aid check. It will be smaller when it arrives.

Davis: Well, Congressman, I want to pivot to another issue you’ve worked a lot on. You are a physician. You’re the most senior doctor in the House of either party. And you’ve worked a lot on health care reform. Right now, the Democrats are pushing what they call Medicare for All.

Burgess: It’s a misnomer.

Davis: A misnomer. I wanted to ask you about that.

Burgess: They are pushing a centrally, government-controlled, Soviet-style command-and-control.

Davis: I think that should be the branding.

Burgess: OK. Right. Medicare. Some people say, “It seems to work OK for my mom and pop.” This is not Medicare for All. This is a centrally-run health care system.

Look, I ran for Congress. People probably did ask me when I was running, “Do you think the government’s too big, too small, or just the right size?” Obviously, it’s too big. That has not improved over the years that I’ve been in Congress.

If they want to be critical of me for that, they’re probably correct. However, you are not going to get to a situation of a smaller government if you give government the responsibility for all health care in this country. In fact, you’re guaranteed to get a bigger government.

We used to talk about banks that were too big to fail 10 years ago during the financial meltdown. You have got agencies that are too big to work right now.

The Department of Health and Human Services, bless their hearts, they do hard work, but at the same time, they are asked to do so much that they literally don’t do anything well. That is going to get worse if you move more health care from the private sector to the government.

Look: Here’s the fundamental difference between people on the right and people on the left. In a perfect world, individuals are responsible for their health care.

I recognize that insurance and the reasons that you would want to have protection against a catastrophic event. So, yes, insurance has now kind of dominated the discussion. And many people get their insurance through their employer. And that’s a good thing.

That is a consequence of wage and price controls that were in the Second World War. The Supreme Court had a ruling that if a person got retirement and health care benefits through their employer, it is non-taxed. So, that was seen as a benefit, and it has endured over time.

That’s why our system has grown up the way it has. I’m OK with that. I think if an individual or through their employment, if that is how they secure access to their health care, I think that’s great.

Safety net for people who, for whatever reason, are not able to provide, I’m OK with that.

In the Democrat world, they would rather your government just be in charge of everything. And so, if the government is in charge of everything, then really you have very little freedom for anything that’s left over.

It is troubling for me to see the rapidity with which people seem to accept that that’s an inevitability. We, of course, went through all of the debates with the Affordable Care Act, with Obamacare.

Remember all the criticism? Why can’t America be more like Canada? What people forget is, Canada, their health care is on budget. That is, they get a big block grant for the provinces.

When the dollars are spent, the dollars are spent. And so, if the dollars run out in October, you’d better wait till January for your hip replacement. And that’s why you have so many people of means from Canada coming to this country to get their procedures done, because they simply can’t wait any longer.

In this country, we do not put health care on a budget. It’s what’s called an entitlement. It’s automatic spending. The bill is incurred. It’s paid by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

And Congress now has no role in that expenditure. So we do not appropriate money for Medicare and Medicaid. It is simply charged to the government, and the bill is paid when it comes in. So, that by definition is the entitlement type of spending.

I’m a little bit confused with some of the versions I’ve seen of the health care bill that they talk about, which is the government-run, single-payer system.

Some places I see it talked about as a block grant. OK. Maybe we’ve got something to discuss there. Because as I say, it will be on budget. Other places they talk about it being an entitlement. Well, an expansion of an entitlement right now, when we can’t afford the ones we have … and I’m not talking about my generation, I’m talking about your generation … because as bad as the debt and deficit is today, it will grow significantly.

And you’ve heard the estimates that people like the Mercatus Center … have put out: $32 [trillion to] $36 trillion. These are massive amounts added to what is already possibly an unsustainable [amount] of debt. But there’s no way to ever get out of it if you go down that road.

Are there other solutions? You know and I would say look what has happened since Donald Trump was inaugurated. Five million more people are working.

These are people that previously were the long-term unemployed. They were out of the workforce. They weren’t even counted any more in the unemployment rate because they’d given up looking for work.

These are people who’ve come back into the workforce. Many of them have job-associated insurance policies now, health insurances. So Trumpcare, if you will, is … I would love to see the Congressional Budget Office create the coverage numbers, the number of people who have been covered by employer-sponsored insurance since Donald Trump took office. And I think you would see a big spike in that.

Of course, they won’t do that. They’ll criticize me for the work I tried to do a couple of years ago. I tried to roll back some of the Affordable Care Act. They’re going to kick all these people off their insurance.

What about acknowledging the people who have been welcomed into an employer-sponsored insurance? And you know what? That’s probably the best of all situations, because under a group of laws called ERISA laws—these are employee laws that govern employee benefits—under ERISA laws, that health insurance does not allow for an exclusion for pre-existing conditions.

Wait a minute. Have we heard this term before? This is not Obamacare that protected them from pre-existing conditions. This is ERISA law passed back in the l970s, and Donald Trump has made more policies available to more people because he expanded the economy.

He cut the tax rate. He grew the economy. More people are at work today than ever before in our history, and that includes minority groups. That includes women as well as men. This is a positive story that the president can tell. And he’s used the tools that were available to him; so, credit to him for that.

Davis: Well, I think we’ll leave it right there, Congressman. Michael Burgess represents the 26th District of Texas in Congress. Thank you, Congressman, for being on.

Burgess: Thank you.

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