The Chamber hosted almost 200 local civic and business leaders for the event at the Marriott Plaza San Antonio on South Alamo Street, near the site where a landmark trade deal, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), was signed in 1992.
Chamber Board Chairman Shaun Kennedy, San Antonio regional chairman for Texas Capital Bank, introduced Doggett as “a true leader and champion for Texas business.” The outspoken Democrat – whose 35th Congressional District includes portions of Guadalupe, Travis, Hays, Caldwell, Comal, and Bexar counties – addressed issues ranging from infrastructure and health care to immigration policy and trade wars.
“If you look back over the history of this community, almost from the time of the first founders of the city, trade has been so critical,” Doggett said, discussing the status of current trade negotiations and NAFTA 2.0. “Trade has been very important for San Antonio and remains very important.”
Fortunately, he said, the Trump administration dropped its threat to tax every avocado and auto part that came across the border from Mexico and turned toward an issue Doggett says he supports.
“There are some very unfair practices by the Chinese,” he said. “There are some real problems there that the president was correct in addressing. But how he addressed it is a big issue.”
Doggett wants to see a world that gains, not loses, from trade. “I want it to be on a fair basis. There have been things in our trade agreements that have not been fair,” he said. “But to suddenly terminate NAFTA in Texas, in auto parts, for example, and auto manufacturing, it would be practically impossible to do that because we have things going back and forth between [borders].”
For that reason, he’s not in favor of a bilateral agreement with Mexico or Canada, he said, and thinks negotiators will be successful in making needed updates to NAFTA. “I think that despite my very strong feelings about Trump, he does have some good people within the office of the trade representatives that can get us where we need to be.”
Doggett was not as supportive of the administration’s policies on infrastructure, saying partisan politics ahead of the midterm elections may get in the way of reaching an agreement on how to pay for infrastructure improvements.
“I believe that next year, after a change in Congress, President Trump will be looking for any victory he can find, and this might be an area we can find some middle ground on,” he said. “I hope so because the needs aren’t Republican or Democratic. They are transportation needs that are affecting our economy. We see our competitors in China and elsewhere getting really state of the art, multimodal transportation systems, and we need to be able to compete by having 21st-century infrastructure.”
Doggett also answered questions about proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act. Though the administration last week restored what is called risk adjustment payments to try to provide stability in the market, it eliminated some mandates and other protections.
It is important to protect the employer-based system and have everyone involved, he said, not just sick people. Nevertheless, “we will see some premium increases this fall,” he said. But the biggest risk involves the issue of pre-existing conditions, which he said could affect “almost 50 percent” of Texans.
“We’ll be back to a day when the fine print of your insurance policy … will take away what the large print provides … annual limitations, lifetime limitations, exclusions for conditions, and insurance will not provide protections for what you need when you need it most.”
A senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Doggett is the ranking member on the Tax Policy Subcommittee and also serves on the subcommittees on Trade and Human Resources as well as the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.
Doggett said that during his only face-to-face encounter with Trump, in a meeting about the tax bill, he told the president how much he appreciated one of his tweets referencing the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) that seemingly supported immigrants brought the United States as children.
“Then this incredible tragedy at the border, with the separation of little toddlers from their families, some of whom I believe will never be reunited with their parents, despite what the administration is saying,” Doggett said. “Ultimately held as hostages over DACA … in order to get this silly wall built.”
Doggett said he was pleased to see Southwest Airlines and several chambers of commerce formally oppose – for the sake of the state’s economic well-being – the State of Texas’ lawsuit against the federal government asking to end DACA.
“If you want to change the law on immigration, you have to change the lawmakers,” he said. “There are some people who will never change their mind about this issue.”