Congressman Hill gets down to business for Arkansans

Rep. French Hill

In another recent finance-related legislative success, U.S. Rep. French Hill (R-AR) voted to give Arkansans the opportunity to compete in the nation’s booming economy when the U.S. House on Tuesday passed the JOBS and Investor Confidence Act of 2018, which soon may land on the president’s desk for signature to become law.

“Job creators are the backbone of our country, and today we cut government red tape so they have access to the financial backing they need to create and grow successful businesses,” the congressman tweeted on July 17 following House approval of S. 488.

President Donald Trump on July 17 commended Rep. Hill and his House colleagues for passing S. 488, which “would enact commonsense regulatory reforms to help American entrepreneurs and small businesses raise the capital they need to innovate more and create more jobs,” according to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and “will further strengthen the United States economy.”

The bipartisan S. 488 combines 32 individual bills, including Rep. Hill’s legislation, the Cooperate with Law Enforcement Agencies and Watch Act of 2018, H.R. 5783, which he introduced on May 1. S. 488 now heads back to the U.S. Senate for a final vote.

Inclusion of his bill marks another achievement for the Arkansas congressman, who serves as Majority Whip on the U.S. House Financial Services Committee.

Rep. Hill, who has served in Congress since 2015, faces re-election to Arkansas’ 2nd congressional district seat in this November’s midterm elections. During a July 13 interview with The Ripon Advance, the lawmaker reflected on how such victories during this term bode for his home state constituents.

“Certainly the biggest legislative success that most benefits the people in my state is the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” he told The Ripon Advance, referring to the nation’s historic tax reform bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump last December.

“We have about 7 out of 10 Arkansas families taking the standard deduction before that act, and we expect that to move to 9 out of 10 families. So not only do families have lower withholding – with a typical family having a tax cut of about $2,000 – but they’re also getting a much simpler tax filing process, which is great,” said Rep. Hill.

Provisions under the new tax reform law to expand both the child tax credit and the 529 qualified tuition plan for K-12 students also could be very helpful to Arkansas families, said the Arkansas native.

Additionally, the new law has spurred economic growth, he said, as evidenced in lower unemployment rates in Arkansas, as well as higher wages and stock bonuses, dramatically expanded family leave policies, and an excited venture capital community.

“So I think that piece of legislation is a large success benefiting our communities,” Rep. Hill said, noting other legislative successes during the current 115th Congress, like giving a pay raise to U.S. military service members, as well as long-awaited and badly needed funds for military training and innovation.

In addition to the new federal tax benefits, Arkansans also stand to gain from congressional approvals to increase funding to fight opioids and expand mental health care, as well as Congress’s approval to provide additional monies toward enhancing school safety.

“It has been a robust year and I think that’s something all members of Congress should talk to our citizens about and share broadly,” Hill said. “A lot has happened in the last year-and-a-half that positively affects the economy, but there’s also been a lot of good things that happened legislatively during this time.”

On the flip side, the congressman noted a few letdowns.

“Two disappointments for me this term are that we were not even able to pass a straightforward fix to our broken immigration system,” said Hill. “And secondly, I’m terribly disappointed that after a lot of work in the House and in the Senate that we were not able to pass reforms to the Affordable Care Act.”

Revamping the ACA would have led to more competitive, patient-centered health care with lower prices and better outcomes for Americans, he said. “That was just really disappointing that we could pass it in the House, but we were not able to make progress in the Senate.”

Nevertheless, the Obamacare issues aren’t going away any time soon, said the congressman.
“I believe our broken immigration system and our broken health care finance system both will be major issues for the next Congress,” Rep. Hill said.

Another issue the newly elected members of Congress will have to confront beginning in January 2019, he said, will be making more fixes to the Dodd-Frank Act.

“Reforming Dodd-Frank has been an objective of Republicans in Congress since 2010,” Rep. Hill said. “So for the last eight years, Congress has been trying to correct the unintended consequences of the Dodd-Frank Act to make sure the regulatory system has been right-sized and the regulation is tailored to the actual risk in the system and tailored according to institution size and complexity … and to make sure the act didn’t penalize consumers by limiting their access to competitive financial products.”

Dodd-Frank, for instance, “contributed to the end of free checking and the enormous stack of paper required to obtain a first mortgage on a house,” he said, “which really caused a lot of people, who before the act could afford, who could pay back, and who could qualify for a mortgage, to no longer be able to do so.”

The House passed the Financial Creating Hope and Opportunity for Investors, Consumers and Entrepreneurs (CHOICE) Act last year, which aimed to repeal and replace aspects of Dodd-Frank. While that measure did not gain Senate approval, the Senate was able “to pass a much more modest Dodd-Frank reform measure, S. 2155, which has been enacted into law,” said Hill, calling it “an important step in the right direction.” S. 2155, the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, was signed into law on May 24.

But what’s missing, he added, “is that we’ve done nothing to reform the secondary mortgage market – that is to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Again, that remains a major issue for the next Congress because they were principal contributors to the financial crisis and yet were not addressed in the Dodd-Frank Act.”

Looking ahead, the congressman also would like to see Congress use its Article 1 powers under the U.S. Constitution to reform the appropriations process and rein in government spending.

Fighting for home-state farmers
The U.S. trade tariffs are a major challenge for American farmers and particularly for those in Arkansas, which is a major farming state, said the congressman.

Nicknamed the Natural State, Arkansas is the largest U.S. rice producer, Rep. Hill said, and is a major cotton, soybean and corn producer. The state also has a big poultry-raising industry linked to the publicly traded Tyson Foods Corp., which is headquartered in Springdale, Ark.

In the midst of the looming trade war between the United States and China, with the latter retaliating against U.S. imposed tariff increases by raising its own on soybeans and pork from America, the farmers in Arkansas have been hit hard, Hill said.

“About a third of soybeans produced here are sold to China so there’s a definite impact on price,” he said. “And farming has come down during the last two seasons and so this is an added injury to an already weak earning year for our farmers.”

While he agrees that China should be taken on by the U.S. as a bad trading partner, Hill said “tariffs are a very blunt instrument to try to accomplish that task,” though he said he understands why President Trump has been inspired to be “more forceful and aggressive now” against China’s predatory market and trade policies and he supports him.

“It’s a very, very interconnected, complex topic,” he said.

Getting personal
In Arkansas in 2016, about 400 people died from a drug overdose, Rep. Hill said.

“It’s touched a lot of our families, including my family,” he said. “I have a soon-to-be 19-year-old son and a 21-year-old daughter and we have seen them lose their peers over the last five or six years.”

“It’s been heartbreaking for me as a dad because when I was 18 to 21 years old, I didn’t know or have any friends who died from a drug overdose,” Hill said. “It’s just a toxic, toxic environment being faced across our country with a lot of underlying causes.”

In his home state, Hill said the death toll related to opioid drug overdoses is not as high as the national average. However, the rate of overprescribing opioids in Arkansas is significantly above the national average, he said.

“Overprescription is certainly a problem in our country,” he pointed out.

On April 10, Rep. Hill introduced the Ending the Fentanyl Crisis Act of 2018, H.R. 5459, which would amend the Controlled Substances Act and the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act to modify offenses relating to fentanyl, among other purposes, according to the congressional record summary.

Hill explained that the legislation would make sentences stiffer for convictions related to the laws, and the bill deals with how the chemical screening process for drugs such as fentanyl should be handled through the U.S. mail, which is how many deadly synthetic opioids get shipped illegally into the states.

“Fentanyl is being cut into heroin and sprinkled into street marijuana, all in an effort to hook you into having a bigger high and making you come back for more,” Hill told The Ripon Advance. “Inhaling a certain amount can be fatal … so it’s dangerous for EMS, fire and police officials, as well as postal workers.”

H.R. 5459 would make additional chemical screening devices available to the United States Postal Service to interdict fentanyl, other synthetic opioids, and other narcotics and psychoactive substances that are illegally imported into the United States, including such substances that are imported through the mail, according to the bill.

“This is a major issue for our families,” said the congressman. “We want our families healthy and we want our children healthy. I do think this problem can be corrected and part of the solution involves education.”