FORT BLISS — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on Thursday continued his campaign against the White House’s health care plan during a tour of this El Paso army base, finding an ally in the president of the city's 1,700-member chamber of commerce.
On immigration, however, El Paso's business community is at odds with Texas' junior senator, said Richard Dayoub, the president and CEO of the El Paso Greater Chamber of Commerce.
Cruz's Fort Bliss visit, where he held roundtable discussions with business leaders, capped off a short border visit. He traveled to the Rio Grande Valley earlier in the week, but a trip to Laredo was canceled following an emergency Senate Armed Services Committee meeting on Syria. Despite the abridged trip, Cruz said he heard a clear message.
“It doesn’t matter where in Texas you are. … The No. 1 concern small-business owners are raising right now is Obamacare,” he said. “When you ask them, 'What are the challenges facing your business?' the answer that comes over and over again is that Obamacare is the biggest job killer in this country.”
Dayoub said that position is in line with the results of a recent survey about the state of the El Paso's businesses.
“First on the list was that we need to get rid of the national health care plan. It is crippling our business and the costs are staggering already,” Dayoub said. “Two is regulatory issues and tax structure. We have duplication of efforts at the federal levels and at the state levels.”
About 60 percent of El Paso County’s civilian labor force ages 16 and older is employed, compared with the state average of 65.5 percent. About 4.4 percent in El Paso County are unemployed, compared with 4.7 percent statewide, according to U.S. census data.
About 2.4 percent of those who have jobs in El Paso County are in the armed forces, thanks to Fort Bliss, compared with about 0.6 percent statewide. In 2007, Hispanics owned just over 61 percent of El Paso's businesses, compared with the state average that year of 20.7 percent.
But Dayoub said some of the businesses that employ low-skilled workers, like fast food chains, are cutting hours once managers and owners realize they have to provide health care to full-time employees.
“How is that helping the economy?” he asked.
Cruz said the only other time the country had an average annual economic growth of less than 1 percent in consecutive years, as has been the case since 2008, was in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
“That was coming out of the Jimmy Carter administration that was the same failed economic policies of out-of-control spending and taxes and regulation,” he said.
On immigration reform, meanwhile — which the chamber president said was crucial to the local economy — Dayoub argued that there needs to be more dialogue. Cruz calls himself the biggest proponent of legal immigration in the Senate and has advocated for various changes to the system’s legal framework, including tripling the number of green cards available and eliminating the caps on how many immigrants can arrive here from foreign countries. But he is adamantly opposed to providing a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally.
“That’s where we don’t agree,” Dayoub said. “I think to ignore something that significant would be fundamentally negligent on our part. It’s rare that the business sector sees 100 percent alignment with any political policy.”
Cruz said he was optimistic that Congress could work together on a solution if partisan politics took a back seat. The majority of Americans who live outside of Washington, D.C., are clamoring for some sort of reform, he said. But he added that he loses hope because he sees Democrats and the president using immigration reform as campaign fodder for upcoming elections.
“I call on President Obama to stop looking for an issue in 2014 and 2016 and instead focus on areas of bipartisan agreement,” he said.
On Thursday, Cruz also reiterated his stance that military action in Syria is not in the best interest of the United States.
“I am continuing to listen to the arguments raised by this administration, but at this point I am deeply, deeply skeptical,” he said. “In my view, President Obama has not laid out a credible case that putting the United States in the middle of a sectarian civil war in Syria advances our national interest.”
He said that doubt was fueled by credible intelligence that indicates seven of the nine rebel forces in Syria have ties to terrorist groups, including al-Qaida.