Rep. Mark Amodei said Thursday that there is a growing concern among Republicans and the business community that a trade war is going to hurt the economy and reduce the effectiveness of the GOP tax cuts.
“We’re willing to give the president a little bit of time to do whatever it is he’s doing, but...there is definitely some antsiness out there,” Amodei told a delegation from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce visiting Washington, D.C. during a meeting that also included conversations about immigration and Interstate 11, the proposed highway connecting Las Vegas to Phoenix.
Hugh Anderson, chairman of the chamber’s Government Affairs Committee and a managing director with investment firm HighTower Las Vegas, said the general concern is that there doesn’t seem to be a plan on tariffs.
“Nobody seems to be very clear on what the strategy is. Is this just an attention-getting proposition? Is it going to be carried through?” he said. “But the ramifications are already hitting, because businesses can’t plan.”
While there are brewing U.S. trade disputes, including with Canada and the European Union, Anderson acknowledged that the trade spat with China poses a unique threat to the city’s service economy, which would feel the brunt if China cut back on tourist visas as a way to retaliate on tariffs imposed on goods.
“It’s a very effective way to counteract any tariffs we put on them,” Anderson said, adding “that would be a major problem for us, obviously.”
China imported $130 billion in goods from the U.S. in 2017, while it exported $506 billion to the U.S., according to the Census Bureau. If China tries to match the Trump administration’s latest $200 billion round of threatened tariffs, it will have to move beyond goods.
Amodei added that people’s patience will be wearing thin by the fall.
On immigration, Amodei discussed possible next steps on trying to pass a bill in the House. He has been an outspoken advocate for Congress to act on immigration, including measures to secure the border, fixing the status of young, undocumented immigrants known as DREAMers and those participating in a program called Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which is designed to help immigrants from countries destabilized by war or other disasters. Trump has announced plans to end the program for many immigrants.
Amodei last month voted for two comprehensive, Republican-drafted immigration bills that would have boosted border security and addressed the status of DREAMers, but those measures failed.
He said lawmakers who are moderates on immigration are interested in comparing an immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013, but was never considered by the House, and the even more moderate bill that was defeated last month.
“Someone suggested ‘you might want to compare those two to see what was okey doke in the Senate versus what was not okey doke in the House,'” Amodei said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Another option would be to split up the more comprehensive bills, with separate votes on border security and DREAMers, Amodei said.
But despite continued interest from some members in tackling the matter, it’s unclear that those lawmakers can convince House GOP leadership to consider another immigration bill before the November election.
Anderson said that on immigration, the chamber’s priority has historically been to expand the number of H1-B visas issued. The program allows companies to temporarily employ foreign skilled workers. The cap for fiscal 2019 is 65,000.
“An economy only grows with the growth in population,” he said. “If the birthrate isn’t there, you have to replace it with immigration. So, for us to foster a growing economic climate in Nevada, we need a healthy immigration flow.”
The capital visit, an annual event that the chamber has led for over a decade, helps the members of the Las Vegas business community strengthen relationships with members of the state’s congressional delegation and build new ones with other important lawmakers and the White House.
“All the emails, all the letters, all the phone calls to congressional offices do not match the fact that we have 100 people who invested their personal money and their time to come here and look our representatives in the eye and — those who affect us outside the delegation — and let them know what’s important to us and what we need to have a healthy economy,” Anderson said.
In addition to meeting with the state’s congressional delegation, members met with Rep. Bill Shuster, a Republican from Pennsylvania who is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, on I-11, and Rep. Dave Brat of Virginia, a member of the hardline conservative Freedom Caucus, on fiscal issues.
On I-11, Shuster spoke to the group about his support for completing the route between Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Pieces of the new interstate opened in phases starting last year. In May, a 2.5-mile-long section between Foothill Drive in Henderson and U.S. Highway 95 in Boulder City opened. The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada is working on the remaining 12.5-mile second segment, to roughly the state line with Arizona, could open as soon as August.
The total 15-mile project is expected to cost $318 million with $249.2 million coming from federal sources, $5 million from state funds and about $63.8 million coming from funds raised by Clark County since voters agreed to index the county’s gas tax in 2016.
But with most of the project located in Arizona, the group also wants to help support Arizona’s congressional delegation lobby for project funds.
“Us helping making it a regional issue for our mutual delegations as well as the committees that fund interstate projects will be critical,” Anderson said.
Rep. Dina Titus, a Democrat, is co-chair of the I-11 Caucus, which includes members of the Arizona delegation and works on advancing the project.
“I-11 is moving forward,” Titus said. “They are doing environmental studies in Arizona. They have to pick a route. Until they have a route, there’s nothing I can sell to try to get money for.”
Similar notes of support were struck by Democratic Reps. Jacky Rosen, Ruben Kihuen and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.
Disclosure: Hugh Anderson has donated to The Nevada Independent. His firm is also a client of E Thompson Media, founded by managing editor Elizabeth Thompson. You can see a full list of donors here.