Brownwood News – U.S. Congressman Mike Conaway visited in Brownwood on Tuesday, September 8. Conaway has represented Texas District 11 since 2005, but last year announced that he will not run for re-election. In November the voters of District 11 will select a new representative, either Republican August Pfluger or Democrat Jon Mark Hogg. Both candidates are from San Angelo. Conaway was making his final visit to Brownwood as our Congressman, and after his remarks we asked him a few questions. Below is a transcript of that conversation.
In your remarks today you mentioned that Congress has two more major issues to deal with in this term. The first is the federal budget. Please explain.
The only thing the Congress is required to do, year in and year out, is fund the Government. The fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30. We are coming to the end of this fiscal year. We have not yet passed appropriation bills in both houses (of Congress) and had them signed by the President, which means we either have to get it done by the end of September, or do what is known as a Continuing Resolution, or a CR. I don’t anticipate getting the appropriation bills done this month. There’s just too much animosity in the system and too much ill will to actually make that happen. So a CR means that in the new year, you spend money in exactly the same way you spent it in the old year. And for most of the government that works OK, but for the Department of Defense it is terrible. It’s a disaster, because there are big programs and big spending that needs to go away, and new things need to start up, and they can’t do anything. They are just hung with status quo, and it really restrains their ability to do what they are doing.
I would anticipate that we will have a CR that will run through at least the middle of December, maybe longer. It will be relatively clean, I think, because if either side, the Republicans or Democrats, try to load it up with riders of controversial issues, the other side will object. Nobody wants to shut the government down on October 1. That’s a political disaster. So I think we’ll get it done relatively easily.
The other big issue is possibly a new COVID stimulus bill.
On the (COVID) stimulus spending, there has been a lot of conversation about that. Speaker Pelosi has proposed a bill of $3.4 trillion in new money, borrowed money. Leader McConnell over in the Senate has a bill that is about $1 trillion. I don’t think Speaker Pelosi is willing to negotiate on how you get between those two numbers. I think anything between those two numbers is still way too much. I don’t think it’s in our nation’s best interest to load more debt on future Americans. The $2.5 trillion that we’ve already committed to the Corona virus pandemic, every dollar of it is borrowed. And we’ll have to borrow more money in 2021 to fund the deficit we’ll have there, so I am in all likelihood going to be opposed to any new stimulus package.
You have served in Congress for sixteen years. What changes have you seen in Congress in that time?
A lot of different faces, obviously. I’ve had three Presidents. I think the system today is more partisan than it has been in the past. I think our tools that we use to communicate with each other, and try to drive public opinion, whether it’s social media, cable TV, cable radio, all those things are more effective at getting out the divisive message that either side wants to pitch. And so we are really good at driving ourselves further and further apart. Also those systems can be used to punish those Members (of Congress) who want to work across the aisle, who attempt to try to negotiate with the other side. They will be called Turncoats or a RINO or whatever derisive pejorative that you want to use, to criticize someone who is just trying to work in our nation’s best interest. So everything takes on a partisan tone.
I was worried if that was the case we would require some sort of national disaster, some sort of national threat, that would cause us to drop the jerseys, go shoulder-to-shoulder and do what is best for America. It’s hard to imagine something bigger than this pandemic happening to us. But it’s happened and we have not done that, we have not dropped the jerseys. This disease is a common enemy, it doesn’t care if you are a Republican or a Democrat, a conservative or a progressive liberal. It doesn’t care. It’s a common threat. You can’t point to an instance where everyday American lives have been impacted like this since World War II. Every one of us has lived a different life over the last seven months. Yet all the solutions, all the conversations start with a partisan taint, and that’s just wrong. Now you are going to have natural disagreements in how to move forward, but it shouldn’t be argued Republican or Democrat. It should just be argued on the merits of “does this make sense to do X, Y, or Z, how do we get past this and move forward?” That didn’t happen.
It’s disappointing that we have not rallied to our flag. It’s disappointing that we have not dropped the jerseys in a more fulsome way. We are coming up on the 19th anniversary of 9/11. You know that three weeks after 9/11, we did it. We rallied behind our flag. There weren’t a lot of Republicans and Democrats out there. It was just us against the rest of the world, us against radical Islam. I had hoped that in response to something as big and threatening as this pandemic would be, that we would have pivoted that direction as well, but we haven’t. And quite frankly, it’s really disappointing.
As the sun sets on your career in Congress, what do you think of about your time in Washington, your District, and the people of District 11?
I think about all the people out there that my team has helped. I have two responsibilities: one, to put together a good District team; and two, whatever I do in D.C. Everyday the Constituent Services folks I have, like Hilary Stegemoller here in Brownwood, help everyday American’s lives be just a little bit different, a little bit better. They may have problems with Social Security, problems with Medicaid, whatever it might be, we get to help make their lives a little better. I don’t do any of that, but I get credit for it. So I take a lot of pride in the rewards that I get that “Hey, Hilary helped me.” I think I am proudest of the fact that we have had really good people across all of the 36 counties (in the first eight years) and 29 counties (in the second eight years) in helping the good folks in District 11 make their lives just a little less difficult.
The other thing I am really proud of, I got elected with meaningful numbers eight times. When you vote for somebody and you say I put my trust in you to do the job I am asking you to do, for people to overtly trust me that way, I have taken it to heart every single day. To make sure I didn’t violate that public trust, and to continue to operate in ways that, if they were doing the job, they might do it the same way.
So I am proud of my service in Congress. It’s been a wonderful job. I still love it. I’m not tired of it. It’s not why I am coming home. It’s a great responsibility, and I just can’t thank the folks in District 11 enough for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s been the highlight of my professional career. I’ve had some good jobs in the past, but none comes close to approaching my service in Congress and the folks in District 11.