Few committees in the House of Representatives are as influential as the Committee on Ways and Means. As the oldest committee of the United States Congress, it has drafted some of the most important pieces of legislation ever signed into law, including Social Security, Medicare and welfare reform, just to name a few.
And in a year, when tax reform, trade and healthcare loom large, Ways and Means is once again set to leave its mark on history.
Opportunity Lives recently sat down with Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), a Ways and Means committee member, to discuss a broad range of issues that are likely to come up this year. Curbelo is a first-generation American representing Florida’s 26th congressional district, which covers much of South Florida, including Key West and Everglades National Park.
Curbelo is also one of the youngest members of Congress. In the short time he’s been in office, he has distinguished himself as an independent voice in the Republican Party.
Here is annotated conversation we had with the South Florida lawmaker.
OL: Your appointment to the committee on Ways and Means is a big deal. What does this mean for you, personally? And what does this mean for the Hispanic American community given that few Hispanics have sat on this committee?
CC: This is a big deal for me personally, but it is a bigger deal for the people of South Florida. Think about all of the issues that come up before the committee including tax reform and healthcare… Having someone from South Florida on this committee is even more important than what it means to me personally.
OL: As you know, South Florida is home to one of the highest uninsured populations in the country. How will you plan to be a voice in Congress for the uninsured during this time when Republicans are talking about repealing and replacing Obamacare?
CC: For those in my district that have enrolled in the exchange, we want to make sure that they can keep their insurance and stabilize the market. But then we want to transition to a patient-centered plan. The committee wants to make sure that the doctor-patient relationship is more important than protecting the profits of insurance companies and big pharmaceuticals.
Our goal is not just to repeal the law, but also to inject competition in the healthcare system and give people more options. That’s because of the many flaws of Obamacare includes the reality that folks that have been insured through the exchange simply do not have access to good doctors and quality health care.
I feel good that in a month, month and a half we are going to have a good proposal for the American people to look at.
Our goal is not just to repeal the law, but also to inject competition in the healthcare system and give people more options
OL: What’s your message to folks out there concerned that Republicans are going to pull the rug out from folks currently on the Obamacare exchange?
CC: The first thing I would tell them is that the current Obamacare system is not working for millions and millions of Americans. The reality is that this system is collapsing. In other words, we don’t have a choice here, but to rescue the current healthcare system. But again, we will also make sure that there is certainty and a transition period for those that are currently enrolled in the Obamacare exchange so that they can make a decision that is best for them and their family.
OL: What can you tell us about trade policy before the committee? As you know, some are looking at trade agreements, including NAFTA, more skeptically. How will you plan to stand up in support of trade given that your South Florida congressional district relies so much on trade?
CC: Our trade policies are not perfect, but South Florida is a wonderful example of what robust trade can do for regions. For example, one out of every five jobs in the state of Florida is trade-related. Trade sustains families in our region.
The committee is absolutely committed to advancing a responsible trade agenda. We know that closing the United States of America makes no sense.
We also know that the new administration is skeptical of trade. There are talks of opening up NAFTA. We (committee on Ways and Means) are all for improving NAFTA, but what we are not for is tariffs and trade wars that could really hurt our economy, including regions like South Florida.
We want to work constructively with the new administration and help guide them how despite flaws, a lot of the trade deals have really improved the quality of life for many Americans.
Israel Ortega is a Senior Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter: @IzzyOrtega.