'There is so much at stake': US Rep. Veronica Escobar on state of Congress

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U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar addressed a long list of challenges facing the country in her address at this week's El Paso Chamber of Commerce's "State of Congress."

Rising inflation, supply chain disruptions, climate change, mass shootings, global pandemics, reproductive rights for women, and migration, Escobar said Congress had faced one crisis after another, but it's been a productive summer for Democrats.

Escobar, D-El Paso, voiced her unequivocal support for the Inflation Reduction Act, which she said would invest billions in fighting climate change and tackling rising costs for families. Less than 24 hours later, she joined Democrats to pass the act, the subject of intense negotiations with the House and Senate.

"I know that the state of the economy is what is top of mind for everyone," Escobar said. "There is a real impact on people, and it is especially impactful in a community like ours."

The Inflation Reduction Act – a pared-down version of President Joe Biden's original Build Back Better plan – will now go to the president's desk for a signature.

The event at the Hotel Paso del Norte provided borderland leaders in governance and business to hear from Escobar on the work she has been doing in Washington.

Among those in attendance were Texas Reps. Joe Moody and Claudia Ordaz Perez, El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, commissioners David Stout and Iliana Holguin, El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser and Councilman Henry Rivera.

Escobar said the Inflation Reduction Act will cut carbon emissions by 40% by 2030, save the average family more than $1,000 per month on energy costs, extend affordable health insurance to 13 million Americans, cap senior drug costs at $2,000 per year and cut the national deficit by nearly $2 trillion.

Escobar's party has recently passed a gun control bill, the CHIPS Act to boost high-tech manufacturing, and the PACT Act to aid veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, as well as approving Finland and Sweden's entry to NATO.

A 'strategic approach'

When discussing immigration back at home, Escobar heaped praise upon El Paso's elected leadership for "protecting the dignity" of migrants entering the city and stepping in to assist where the federal government has failed to do so.

"I still have colleagues, and there are still people in the American public, who believe we can address this situation solely at the border," Escobar said. "We have to address this in a more strategic approach."

After speaking with President Biden regarding the financial strain being shouldered by local governments and nonprofits in the absence of federal immigration reform, Escobar said a new program had been launched to reimburse those entities for expenses related to immigration.

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She also chided Republicans, particularly the Freedom Caucus, for torpedoing an attempt at immigration reform in 2013. The lack of action has caused the problems at the border that many in Congress revile now.

"Believe it or not, Congress has not reformed immigration in three decades," Escobar said.

Democrats in Congress have been drafting a flurry of bills aimed at the issue, Escobar said, including one to civilianize migrant processing via the Reimagining Asylum Processing Act. Still, she's worried that Republican victories during the November midterms could spell doom for those proposals.

"So, we have some big challenges on our hands if we don't pass immigration reform," Escobar said. "This will take time."

Escobar will face Republican Irene Armendariz-Jackson in November. In the 2020 election, Escobar defeated Armendariz-Jackson with more than 64% of the vote.

Reducing gun violence

Escobar also discussed her work on gun violence prevention, noting that the issue has a unique prevalence for those in El Paso.

"All of us who lived through Aug. 3... we were all impacted... in a very heartbreaking and traumatizing way," Escobar said. "This whole community, we are survivors of gun violence."

While Escobar called for lawmakers to "come together and find these solutions" to gun violence, she added that there is a responsibility to call out the root causes of the continual mass shootings seen in this nation, which are "fueled by racism, by hatred, by a very dangerous conspiracy theory."

"We also have to call out the fact that our neighborhoods are flooded with guns," Escobar said. "There are more guns in our country than there are people."

More:Canada’s bold moves after horrific mass shooting hold lessons for Texas, US

The House has passed several bills aimed at gun violence prevention, including an assault weapons ban, the Protecting Our Kids Act, the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act, the bipartisan Safer Communities Act and the STOP Violence Act, but the only one to clear the Senate did not address access to high-capacity, assault-style rifles.

Protecting basic human rights

Following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, Escobar said the basic human rights of Americans are more at risk than ever before, noting that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has already expressed a willingness to take up cases contesting same-sex marriages.

"I never thought that in 2022 any of these issues would be debatable or these rights eroded," Escobar said. "But the fact is our personal rights are at risk."

On that front, Escobar and Democrats in Congress have proposed a barrage of bills, including the Women's Health Protection Act, the Ensuring Women's Right to Reproductive Freedom Act, the Right to Contraception Act and the Respect for Marriage Act.

Investing in El Paso

Escobar criticized Texas leaders for failing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and noted that communities like El Paso, where poverty rates are high and many go without health coverage, suffer the most.

"This is why I work so hard to bring federal resources home to you," Escobar said.

Along with her office's work completing more than 1,000 constituent cases and recovering more than $2.1 million for area taxpayers over the last year, Escobar said she has secured $11.5 million for a Crisis Intervention Team for El Paso County, wastewater projects in the Upper Valley, upgrades to technology at Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe, as well as the $25 million for projects this year.

"There is so much at stake, more than ever before, really," Escobar said. "These are serious times and they require serious policies and governance. There really is no easy fix and you should not believe any politician that ever tells you there is a quick and easy fix."

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This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: US Rep. Veronica Escobar on state of Congress at El Paso Chamber event