Ted Simons: Arizona representative Ed Pastor has been in Congress since , when he Won a special election to replace an ailing Mo Udall. Pastor represents Arizona th congressional district, which covers downtown Phoenix, along with most of the city's Southern and western areas. Joining me now is Congressman Ed Pastor. Good to see you again.
Ed Pastor: Good to see you. Thank you for the invitation.
Ted Simons: Good to have you here. So much to talk about. We just mentioned with Luige de Puerto, what -- rural counties, if you listen, this is not such a bad deal. What are your thoughts?
Ed Pastor: Well, for the last couple of years, I have been working with a number of hospitals and they have been trying to get and have gotten waivers, for example, Phoenix children's hospital, help them get a waiver from CMS, which does the Medicaid, and they needed these waivers because if you don't have a population to serve that can be paid, in this case, the federal government, you will quickly go broke. The city of Phoenix is working with some other hospitals to try to get them over the bridge, to 2014 . If we don't expand Medicaid, especially in the rural areas, what is going to happen is that the service providers are going to go belly up. It’s that simple.
Ted Simons: You say that, and yet we have had lawmaker after lawmaker, conservative lawmakers on here saying, you know what? These hospitals are making money hand over foot. They can afford to take on these costs. Are they wrong?
Ed Pastor: They're wrong. My experience for the last two years has been that these hospitals, and I'm talking about the major hospitals, as well as rural hospitals, are hemorrhaging, they are seeing patients because of humaneness of it and are not getting paid. These patients they could see and be reimbursed with Medicaid money. The rural counties are passing these resolutions.
Ted Simons: You would agree that there were options there, but there was really no choice?
Ed Pastor: There was really no choice.
Ted Simons: Okay. Let's get on to issues of national concern and here in Arizona as well. We will start with immigration reform. The ideas out there, the gang of eight U.S. senators have their ideas. Is there something coming from the house as well?
Ed Pastor: The answer is yes. We have our group of nine or group of eight, and they have been working also at immigration. You have conservative members like Sam Johnson from Texas, who has been active as well as Gutierrez, who has been a champion of immigration. It will be interesting with the dynamics. The Senate, gang of eight, has been working and I think the administration has said, let's see what the Senate is going to be able to do. And so the expectation is that the bipartisan bill will come out of the Senate, pass the Senate with bipartisan support, comes to the house. Now the question is will the house bill have bipartisan support or will it begin to muck up the whole legislative process?
Ted Simons: What do you think is going to happen?
Ed Pastor: Well, I don't know. That is up to the speaker and the leadership. Because we have been successful in passing major legislation this year from the fiscal cliff to the continuing resolution to the domestic violence bill. The Senate has passed the bill. It comes to the house. The speaker, John Boehner, has said that the republican caucus can present their bill, and if it doesn't pass, then the Senate bill will be on the floor. And so we have been successful in passing bipartisan legislation by this process. And that is the expectation with the immigration bill that Senate bill comes to the house and it will be passed in a bipartisan manner.
Ted Simons: Regarding that Senate bill. I want some of your thoughts here. Securing the border, in there, it's always in there, always being discussed and I always ask the question, what does that mean?
Ed Pastor: Well, it means -- I think it has changed now to effective enforcement. I think we're talking about effective enforcement. We talk about the Yuma sector, Tucson sector. In Yuma we're able to have better enforcement and able to apprehend people as they come over, as compared to the Tucson section. The question is, first of all, what are the benchmarks. What is the benchmark? And how are you going to measure when you reach the benchmark and who is going to measure? I think that that is -- has been one of the hardest in the negotiation to get consensus on what it means by border security or effective law enforcement? And think getting to the benchmark, and also what are the parameters that they're having problems getting to
Ted Simons: What would you like to see as far as benchmarks and parameters?
Ed Pastor: Today, with the number of crossings and apprehensions, we're pretty much where we should be, but it is never enough. I mean, some people want zero tolerance. And other people would expect more. But I think today, with the technology we have on the border, the number of people we have on the border, people that are crossing the property -- I think today we probably have fairly secure border.
Ted Simons: A secure border one of the mandates here, you would say, hey, think we're there right now.
Ed Pastor: I think we're there. If we're not there, we are pretty close.
Ted Simons: Are we pretty close in terms of employee verification? That is part of the Senate plan as well.
Ed Pastor: I think we still need to work with it. There have been problems in the past in terms of glitches. One problem in the federal government is being able to have I.T. ability. They always have had glitches in terms of -- but it is something that is going to be needed. And so we just need to work and make it a better system.
Ted Simons: The idea of admitting new workers only when Americans can't be found, again, what does that mean? How viable is something like that? Would you agree with that idea?
Ed Pastor: Well, if you want to secure the border, you're going to need to have workers come across the border and know where they're at and who they're working for. That is the reality. And the reality is that this country is going to need foreign workers. AFL-CIO, U.S. chamber of commerce have reached some agreement. But I hope that they relook at the number of Visas that they're going to be giving out. You have the agriculture Visas, as well as the high-skilled Visas. You need construction, hospitality -- now I'm told that the construction is capped at 15,000. In Arizona today, the housing market is developing, and it could be going a lot quicker. What is the problem people are encountering is lack of labor force. , may be too small of a cap.
Ted Simons: Also apparently a dispute over wages for lower-skilled workers. Business community, and republicans are saying, you know, let's cap it at a certain point. Democrats, unions saying no. Fewer workers, but higher wages. Where do you stand on that?
Ed Pastor: I think that any time that you have a person working, that they should get a livable wage and have some protections in terms of they -- that they can organize if -- and stop any abuses. I think that those are conditions that we need to consider, because you don't want the livable wage to go down just because you are using foreign workers.
Ted Simons: Is that sticking point something that you think could, as you mentioned earlier, muck up the whole works?
Ed Pastor: Well, it might. But I think -- think that as I understand what is happening between the AFL-CIO and chamber of commerce, that they're talking about livable wages and that the workers have protective rights with them.
Ted Simons: Last question on immigration, and reading up on this, I noticed Latino activists were not happy with you. They say you have not been vocal enough on comprehensive immigration reform. How do you respond to that?
Ed Pastor: I have been at this almost 10,12 years. I voted for the dream act. I have been dealing with comprehensive immigration. So, in terms of working with members of Congress, I have worked with a number of members of Congress, and so I am more effective in terms -- probably won't see me at a lot of press conferences and stuff like that, because for me, I don't think that that is where I can be more effective. For me, being more effective is helping students with their DACA applications, stopping deportations, and trying to get votes to pass the immigration bill.
Ted Simons: All right. Let's move on to sequestration and the impact on your district and Arizona and the country. What's going on back there? What is happening here?
Ed Pastor: I have the same question. Because my belief was that no one was against sequestration, that nobody wanted it. Neither party wanted it. Administration didn't want it. And we have had two or three opportunities to stop sequestration, but we haven't done it. The most recent experience was the continuing resolution. Our expectation, or at least my expectation was that the administration was going to come out and say let's do something about sequestration. Neither one of the parties in the Senate or the house was going to do something. We kept sequestration and we just gave the agencies a little more flexibility in determining how the moneys were going to be cut.
Ted Simons: Let's talk transportation projects. You are big on transportation. Funding for light rail and some of the bigger projects in Arizona. This call comes to a screeching halt.
Ed Pastor: It won't come to a screeching halt. You still have moneys in the pipeline. It just means there is less money. Here in Arizona, we have contracts with the federal government for the light rail expansion. So, the ones that are going to have a hard time, what we call new starts. If your particular city does not have a light rail project right now, you are going to have a very difficult time. For us, at least we're building and we're progressing, expanding, and so we have an agreement already that allows us to go back and use those moneys as we raise the money that were matched by the federal dollars.
Ted Simons: What else do we wath out for? I know the Aerospace industry and defense, hits keep on coming until something is down here. What are you concerned about?
Ed Pastor: Basically defense, defense was one of the agencies in this continuing resolution to have greater flexibility. So, now the defense department is going to have the ability to decide where they're going to be and what systems they're going to keep and make those decisions. I think what we're dealing with right now in Arizona is to get the testing sites for the drones. That is still on the table. So, there’s other that are still there that we need to seek out and try to get.
Ted Simons: Is this going to be a death by a thousand cuts kind of thing? Is anyone going to step up and say enough is enough?
Ed Pastor: Well, the next possible effort is going to be when we do the budget resolution. The Senate has a budget, the house has their budget. There will be a conference. And hopefully during those negotiations, that one of the determinations will be how are we going to do the next deal, and determination of the budget, so that we will meet the sequestration requirements at the same time fully fund whatever programs we want to fund.
Ted Simons: I can't let you go without talking about gun control. The president is out there as we speak trying to get his points across. Where do you stand regarding gun control, especially in light of some of the horrific stories we have seen here as of late. What are your thoughts?
Ed Pastor: In 1994, I voted for the ban on assault weapons. I started in 94', believing that the second amendment has reasonable limitations. Like any other, an amendment, bill of rights has the amendments and has our rights but all of the rights have reasonable limitations. You can't fire in an auditorium -- all of them have reasonable limitations. I believe assault weapons should be left with law enforcement and the military. Magazines of high capacity, we should restrict them. And that we ought to have universal background checks.
Ted Simons: I have seen national polls of variety showing up to and even above 90% approval for universal background checks, and, yet, we're not seeing that out of Congress. What is going on back there?
Ed Pastor: NRA.
Ted Simons: That's it.
Ed Pastor: That's it. The NRA. Because basically it says I have supported you in a number of campaigns, and if you live in a district that is solid democrat or solid republican, if you are no the with us 100%, then you are going to get a primary challenge.
Ted Simons: You think even with -- 90% approval, that is pretty overwhelming, that is a mandate right there. Even with that mandate, you think some folks back in Washington not willing to budge?
Ed Pastor: Well, I believe they're going to listen to their NRA handler and look at the score card that NRA keeps on them and they're going to hear those words. If you are not 100%, you are going to have a primary. So, in those cases, then, guess what? You don't want to have a primary, and you can talk to your constituents and say well, I was with you as far as I could.
Ted Simons: So what you are basically saying is things are changing back there, but they're not changing all that much.
Ed Pastor: You got that right.
Ted Simons: All right. Always a pleasure to see you. Thank you for joining us.
Ed Pastor: Thank you. Have a good day.