News Column

U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego Wants to Help Fix Congress

October 21, 2013

By Marty Schladen, El Paso Times, Texas

pete gallego
U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego (official portrait)

AUSTIN -- Pete Gallego believes in campaigning and governing from the political center.

Over a 22-year career in the Texas House, the Democrat repeatedly won a diverse West Texas district that covers more territory than any other in the state.

Gallego's bipartisan credentials are so great that, in 2008, he narrowly missed being elected speaker of the Texas House, even though the chamber was controlled by a narrow Republican majority.

In 2012, Gallego beat former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, who was widely perceived as more liberal, in the Democratic primary for the District 23 seat in the U.S. House.

Geographically, the largest district in the country, the district stretches all the way from San Antonio to Soccoro, and is considered the only toss-up seat in Texas. In November, Gallego beat incumbent Republican Francisco "Quico" Canseco and went to Capitol Hill in January.

He didn't like what he found -- a chamber divided on issues such as immigration reform, which some argue has gone unaddressed even though much of the American public says it should be a high priority.

Then, divisions in Congress over budget issues and the Affordable Care Act led to a shutdown of the federal government at the beginning of October.

The fight spilled over into a battle over whether to lift the federal debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and many economists warned that if the ceiling wasn't lifted by Thursday, confidence in the worldwide financial system would be shaken, possibly touching off a global depression.

Wednesday evening, as he waited to vote to reopen the government and lift the debt ceiling, Gallego took a few minutes to talk about partisan dysfunction on Capitol Hill and what might be done to fix it.

Q:What do you think was the point of all the drama that played out in Congress this month?

A: A lot of this was about grandstanding. I don't think an issue is important enough to shut the government down or put the country's credit rating at risk. This was completely a congressionally created crisis. I think Congress should be about solving problems and not creating them. Congress right now is lurching from one self-manufactured crisis to another.

Q: Has anybody learned any lessons from this, or are we going to watch a similar crisis play out again in the next three of four months?

A: There are certainly a lot of lessons to be learned, but whether the folks who are in the leadership have learned those lessons is anybody's guess.

Q: In 2008, you came close to being elected speaker of the Texas House of Representatives even though the Republicans held a narrow majority, what can the U.S. House learn from that?

A: The Texas House is not as fractious. In the Legislature, there is a season for campaigning and there is a season for governing. In the U.S. House the leadership never moves from campaigning to governing. Decisions are constantly about the politics and not about the policy. I think the lesson is that you should always put your patriotism ahead of your partisanship.

Q: Should the Hastert rule (an informal principal that a Republican speaker should never bring anything to a vote that won't get the support of a majority of Republicans) be trashed?

A: I read an interview with (former Speaker Dennis) Hastert in which he said the Hastert rule was never intended to be used the way it is now. I don't believe that the Hastert Rule is good for the House of Representatives. I don't think it's good for the country. When you have an opportunity to put together a governing majority, you should take it. You should take every opportunity to bring people together, as opposed to taking advantage of every opportunity to keep people apart.

Q: Will you propose any reforms to enhance bipartisanship on Capitol Hill?

A: I try to put my money where my mouth is -- engaging in activities that are bridge building. Whether it's bringing members together for bipartisan functions or getting to know people in the other party. I don't think Congress has always been this dysfunctional, so I've also been trying to get to know people who have been around awhile so I can figure out exactly where along it the line it jumped the tracks.

Q: You helped lead Democrats in the 2003 Texas redistricting battle and you led them in a rebellion against Texas Rep. Tom Craddick's (R-Midland) speakership, which most observers saw as highly partisan. That means you've been through some hard-core political fights, yet most people see the Texas House, which you left less than a year ago, as a model of bipartisanship. What can Congress learn from that?

A: There's always a time and a place. But when you're talking about the full faith and credit ofthe United States; when you're talking about people's paychecks; when you're talking about decisions that are going to have a real-life impact on the interest rates people pay, you don't play politics with those things. There's a time when a problem is big enough to see, but small enough to solve. Bringing this up five days before the deadline (to fund the government) was crazy. We knew it was there in March or April.

Q: Anything you want to say about your colleague in the Texas delegation, the junior senator (Cruz.)

A: (Laughs.) Well, we have a very different style.
Original headline: US Rep. Pete Gallego wants to help fix Congress


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Source: (c)2013 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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