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SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, RGV – The growth and economic development that is underway right now in Cameron County is “inspirational,” says U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.

Texas’ senior U.S. senator spoke at a luncheon hosted by the South Padre Island Chamber of Commerce on Friday. It was held at the Hilton Garden Inn on South Padre.

“I know with the great growth and prosperity and opportunity come additional challenges. There are a lot of regions of the country that would love to have the problems that this region has, whether it be infrastructure, education, trade and the like,” Cornyn said.

Among the things happening in Cameron County right now are the development of UT-Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville, the UT-RGV School of Medicine in Harlingen, and SpaceX at Boca Chica beach. There are plans to deepen the ship channel at the Port of Brownsville, and preparation is underway for a Harlingen ‘Aerotropolis’ at Valley International Airport, a major conference center in Harlingen, and a major commercial development on I-69 East in San Benito.

In his speech, Cornyn gave some examples of where Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C., are working together for the common good. One example he gave is the Cross Border Trade Enhancement Act of 2015, legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate by Cornyn, a Republican, and in the U.S. House by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat.

“One of the things we heard this morning about the Port of Brownsville and all the ports of entry, whether they be land-based ports or water ports is that we don’t have the staffing, much less the infrastructure to facilitate the flow of commerce across our borders,” Cornyn said.

“But what we have tried to do, Henry and I, with this Cross Border Trade Enhancement Act is to encourage public-private partnerships and indeed we have seen the Department of Homeland Security begin to take that model and use that here along the border with Mexico in ways that allow the public along with private enterprise to contribute to help the staffing and other issues that have slowed down and backed up commerce across our border.”

The Cross Border Trade Enhancement Act came about in part due to increased fiscal constraints in Washington. Border communities and bridge owners felt they had to try to find alternative funding mechanisms for ports of entry improvements to expand lanes and hours of operation. The legislation from Cornyn and Cuellar would allow Customs and Border Protection and other federal agencies to partner with local governments or private entities in order to improve staffing and infrastructure at land ports of entry. The bill requires the General Services Administration to expedite a review of alternative financing arrangements to ensure that proposals do not gather dust on desks in Washington.

Among those to back the Cornyn/Cuellar legislation are the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Border Trade Alliance, the Texas Border Coalition, the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, Cameron County, the cities of Brownsville, Laredo, El Paso, McAllen, Mission, Pharr, Harlingen and Hidalgo. Another big supporter is Sam Vale, owner of the Starr-Camargo International Bridge Company in Rio Grande City.

Rigoberto Villarreal, superintendent of bridges for the City of McAllen has pointed out that although the City of McAllen received $7 million in infrastructure funds to expand the Anzalduas International Port of Entry, there is no legal mechanism for McAllen and Mission to partner with the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection – thus the need for the Cornyn/Cuellar legislation.

Cornyn said South Texas communities and bridge owners have “already demonstrated the potential for this partnership, contributing additional resources to support improved staffing levels and increase through-put under a temporary pilot project that began just last year.”

Many business, health and education leaders, as well as elected officials from Cameron County were present at the SPI Chamber of Commerce luncheon. They included Cameron County Judge Pete Sepulveda, Jr., Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez, and Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell.

“There is a lot we need to do there. We need much better investment in our border region and in trade, recognizing that as many as six million jobs in the United States depend on the bi-national trade between the United States and Mexico,” Cornyn said.

“I know you understand the importance to your local economy here in the Rio Grande Valley of binational trade. I know that you are dedicated and I am dedicated to working with you to find ways of increasing the amount of trade that crosses all of our ports of entry.”

Another example of bipartisanship at work in Washington, D.C., Cornyn said, is the way he and U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela are working together to ensure Mexico pays its water debt under a Mexico-United States international water treaty.

Another example of bipartisanship at work in Washington, D.C., Cornyn said, is support for President Obama’s pick for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas – Judge Rolando Olvera. “My hope and expectation is he (Olvera) will be confirmed in the very near future by the entire Senate,” Cornyn said.

“It does demonstrate that although Republicans and Democrats sometimes have differences of opinion on policy and those are important to all of us, there are areas where we can work together for the greater good. Whether it is good quality nominees, like Judge Olvera, whether it is trade, whether it is national security, whether it is education, whether it is healthcare, there are areas where we can come together to try to find that 80-20 solution.”

Cornyn then explained what the 80-20 solution is.

“Just to tell you what I am talking about, years ago, when I got to the Senate, Teddy Kennedy was one of the great liberal lions of the Senate, he was a force of nature, as you can imagine, a member of that legendary Kennedy family. I asked one of my colleagues who was very conservative, from Wyoming, how is it that you and Teddy Kennedy can work together so productively. He said it is easy. It is the 80-20 rule,” Cornyn said.

“I said, I think I know what you mean but explain it a little further. He said, well, we look to find the 80 percent that we can agree on and we leave the 20 percent we cannot agree on to fight another day. I said, well that sounds like a very practical way of addressing the differences and he said, well, it has helped us make progress… making sure that we do not sacrifice our principle but in the meantime not letting areas we do disagree on prevent us from agreeing on anything.”