House Representative Dennis Ross spent Thursday afternoon at a Brandon Chamber of Commerce luncheon, answering questions and previewing his goal's for Congress following the end of the summer recess.
Ross represents Florida's 15th district, which is comprised of Brandon, Plant City, Lakeland and Bartow.
Ross opened by giving his opinion on the Affordable Care Act, of which he and the rest of the House Republicans have voted to repeal 40 times. While he levied the usual criticisms of the law, Ross also took the time to criticize those who weren't putting forth any alternatives.
“To come home to you and tell you that this is a bad healthcare bill, which it is, it's going to cost you more money, which it will, there will be more to stifle your economic development. Then to say it's bad, but do nothing in terms of an alternative is not right. I have a bill called the Patient Act that I believe is a great way of starting to look at alternatives.”
The Patient Act was submitted by Ross on July 15. A press release by Ross's staff describes it as encouraging “healthy competition among providers and manufacturers to help lower the cost of health insurance”. It is currently in committee, with govtrack.us giving it a 1% chance of making it through.
Ross was also hesitant on the benefits of a government shutdown over the law.
“The reality is you're not going to get anything done as a matter of law unless you have a consensus in the Senate and the signature of the President and we have to decide what is really worth looking at in order to go down this path of shutting down government for whatever period of time it may be.”
Ross then segued towards future debt ceiling talks, which he warned the audience will likely include the removal of several tax loopholes.
“We will take up some type of tax reform … Please do not be concerned but be aware that, especially realtors, mortgage brokers and bankers , that they will be looking at taking away the mortgage interest deduction. They are looking at taking away the charitable contribution deduction. Everything is optional. That doesn't mean it's going to happen. All I'm suggesting is that everything is going to be on the table and have to be justified.”
When asked by an audience member about the culture of gridlock in Congress, Ross described it as almost inescapable, comparing each member of the House to quarterbacks with their own goals in mind. He encouraged public action in pushing legislation they supported or opposed, referencing the boycotts by websites that lead to the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill he co-sponsored, losing its support.
Ross also clearly defined his take on immigration reform, opposing the proposed pathway to citizenship but open to fine tuning the current legislation.
“Immigration is an issue that is going to be on the forefront. I am not a supporter of a pathway to citizenship. We have a pathway to citizenship today. It is clogged because our system is broken. We have over 40% of the people that are here illegally here on expired visas. We know when they come across, we don't know when they leave, we don't know when they expire. That is a fault of the system. We have students at USF and other universities that come here and we invest in their education and they now must go back because they're not here on extended stays. We have agricultural communities that can't find the labor pool, we have small businesses who come over here and invest and start companies on expired visas. We need to look at our entire visa program, our entire guest worker program, strengthen our border security, have a program that is in correlation with a strong labor pool and put it in place.”
The question and answer session took the format of submitted questions being read by a moderator, with the format only breaking when an inquirer wanted Ross to publicly proclaim his belief that life began at conception.
“What is amazing to me is that we have as a symbol of our country the bald eagle which is a beautiful creature,” said Ross. “It is illegal to have any remnants of a bald eagle. It is illegal to harm a bald eagle. It is illegal to harm an egg of a bald eagle. That's punishable by this country and yet we can't have the same laws in place for a child in an embryo. I have a hard time reconciling that.”
The response elicited the event's largest applause.
Other highlights of the question and answer session included Ross' take on the lack of movement on the Water Resources Development Act, a bill seen as critical for the Port of Tampa, which he cites as an unfortunate victim in the House's crackdown on earmarks. On education, Ross said he prefer the federal government stay out of it for the most part, favoring a more localized approach, as he felt that one size fits all solution fails to represent the diversity of the country.