Congressman Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, can make quick work counting how many times Texas’ congressional delegation has spent time with the president since Barack Obama was first elected.
And that includes Wednesday’s closed-door session the Texas delegation had with President Obama on the budget, immigration and gun control.
Obama met with members of Congress soon after he was first elected in 2008, the night before Congress was to vote on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Burgess said. Even though no Texas Republican voted for the measure, there was hope that members of Congress would be consulted before a bill like that hit the floor again, he said.
“Maybe that could have set the tone [for the future], but it didn’t happen,” Burgess said.
Since then, Burgess has been part of just a handful of meetings between the president and the Texas delegation, the largest Republican bloc in the legislative branch.
Burgess contrasted that with the frequent meetings the Texas delegation had with President George W. Bush.
“It was not uncommon for President Bush to come — but I don’t know that on the same day he went and talked to the Democrats,” Burgess said, adding that both the House and Senate were controlled by Republicans at the time.
Meetings with both presidents have underscored the importance that the executive and legislative branches don’t work in isolation, he said.
“It speaks to the power of that office — that the president can put oil on troubled waters,” Burgess said.
During Wednesday’s meeting, it was clear that there were striking differences between the Texas delegation and the president, although the conversation was always respectful, Burgess said.
The president was not as concerned about the deficit as the Texas delegation was, but that philosophical difference will likely always be there, Burgess said.
“He [the president] may be right and it may be years before the deficit becomes a problem — or it could be in the next year or two,” Burgess said. “The problem is, no one knows when the music is going to stop.”
Every Tuesday, the Bureau of Public Debt issues another $110 billion in public debt, and for the most part, interest rates are low and stable. But, Burgess said, he worries about the day that there aren’t buyers and then interest begins to spiral upwards and have an effect on parts of the economy.
Constituents sometimes see the conflict not as philosophical differences but as political battlefields, where representatives make a lot of noise but seemingly cover little ground in solving the nation’s problems.
Burgess said some of those philosophical battles will always be there, but Congress is getting its work done, too.
The sequester — the current arrangement that has made automatic, across-the-board cuts in federal spending — was a compromise between the White House and Congress to start to get a handle on the deficit, Burgess said.
Some skeptics predicted Congress wouldn’t be able to reauthorize the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by September of last year, the first time the FDA’s reauthorization came up in a presidential election year. But Congress worked for a year — which included hearings in Burgess’ committee, the House Energy and Commerce Committee — and got the agency reauthorized in July, he said.
Congress also reauthorized the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, which the president signed this week.
Still, Burgess wasn’t sure whether the political battles would have played any differently over the past four years, especially reflecting some of the hard-fought elections last November.
Sen. John Cornyn issued a statement Thursday afternoon about the meeting, saying that it was clear to him that balancing the budget and cutting spending were not “top priorities” for the president.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .