The Arizona Chamber this morning was privileged to host U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake for a roundtable discussion on issues important to the Arizona business community. Sen. Flake has been an avid supporter of the state’s job creators and a leader in addressing some of the most critical issues of the day.
Not the least of which is the current international environment. Sen. Flake recently joined Sen. McCain and a bi-partisan delegation of five other Sen.s on a trip to Ukraine to meet with top political leaders and show support for the Ukrainian people. Last night, the Senate passed a bill to provide $1 billion in aid to Ukraine, a measure Sen. Flake supported. (I felt the need to ask, but Sen. Flake assured me that he has not yet been sanctioned by Russia.) Sen. Flake also touched on the administration’s interim agreement with Iran to halt nuclear exploration.
Today’s discussion focused primarily on immigration reform, water, trade and federal agencies.
Both Sen. Flake and Sen. McCain have led the charge on immigration reform, participating in the “Gang of Eight” Sen.s who last year proposed comprehensive immigration reform legislation that ultimately cleared the Senate. The Arizona Chamber has been very vocal about our support for the Senate effort, and immigration reform in general, but the legislation has stalled in the House. House Republican leadership announced a set of principles in January that they wish to see reflected in any immigration legislation their chamber considers. Sen. Flake noted that he supports these principles, was encouraged to see fresh efforts to find common ground in recent weeks and promised to continue to push for comprehensive immigration reform.
Sen. Flake has been working on immigration reform since 2004, when he first introduced a comprehensive reform bill with Congressman Jim Kolbe and Sen. McCain.
As Sen. Flake mentioned, when Sen. Kyl retired from the Senate in 2012, he took with him an enormous amount of institutional knowledge on national and Arizona water issues. Fortunately, Sen. Flake picked up some of Sen. Kyl’s key staff, and continues to work closely with Sen. Kyl to ensure that Arizona has the water supply it needs to support projected growth in the coming years. Sen. Flake noted that Arizona has planned well over the last few decades, and has become a model for other states in this regard. As we look to the future, we will need to look at augmentation or conservation, and Arizona is in good hands with Sen. Flake leading on this issue.
Sen. Flake gave an update on another important priority of the Arizona Chamber: securing Trade Promotion Authority for the Administration. He noted that nearly every free trade agreement in the last three decades has been negotiated under Trade Promotion Authority, and urged stakeholders to reach out to the Administration to encourage its continued engagement.
We were very encouraged to hear Sen. Flake predict that the Miscellaneous Tariffs Bill will be reauthorized this year. The bill expired on January 1, 2013, and failure to reauthorize would result in decreased competitiveness for Arizona and U.S. manufacturers.
There was a lot of praise around the room for Sen. Flake’s leadership to ensure Arizona’s voice was heard on commonsense reforms to the EPA’s Exceptional Events Rule. Last fall he was able to secure an unprecedented Arizona-only listening session with the EPA where a wide range of industries were able to share their concerns with the Exceptional Events Rule with the EPA. Last year the EPA issued interim Exceptional Events Implementation Guidance to help air agencies manage air quality data recorded during exceptional events.
As a result, the EPA just recently proposed approval of the Five Percent Plan for the Maricopa County PM-10 Nonattainment Area. We thank Sen. Flake for submitting comments to the EPA urging them to issue final approval of the plan.
Moving forward, Sen. Flake noted that Congress must return to business as usual in passing a federal budget. When the House and Senate are able to go through their appropriations processes, which require agencies to make the case for their funding, Congress has more oversight and ability to reign in overzealous agency regulation. We applaud Sen. Flake for his continued efforts to reduce regulatory burdens for businesses.
I want to thank Sen. Flake both for his leadership and for taking the time to sit down with us this morning. Arizona is fortunate to have such a sharp, thoughtful, committed leader representing us in DC.