Sam Vale discusses his earlier meeting with US House Speaker Paul Ryan with Hidalgo County executive director Bobby Villarreal and McAllen Mayor Jim Darling.

WESLACO, RGV – U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan was impressed with the Rio Grande Valley and fully understands the importance of U.S. trade with Mexico, says a Valley leader who met with him in McAllen on Wednesday.

Sam Vale, president of Starr-Camargo Bridge Company, was one of six business leaders who met with Ryan privately Wednesday morning to discuss international trade. The meeting took place in the McAllen hotel Ryan was staying at. Among the other members of Congress present was Rep. Kevin Brady, chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee.

Sam Vale

Asked if it was a productive meeting, Vale said: “Amazingly so. Very intelligent, both he and Congressman Brady. Kevin Brady is chairman of Ways & Means. All taxes by constitution originate in his committee. They are looking at this hard.”

Vale gave an interview to the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM immediately following a business hearing hosted at the offices of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council in Weslaco by U.S. Reps. Filemon Vela and Vicente Gonzalez. The hearing was titled Border Business is America’s Business. Vale said he spent about an hour and a half with Ryan and Brady before leaving to attend the hearing.

Vale was a panelist at the hearing. Rep. Vela asked Vale to tell fellow panelists and the audience how his meeting with Ryan went. Vale said:

“We talked about the logistics of international trade and how not to punish the good actors with the bad. We did not recommend an across the board adjustment tax. To be fair to everybody that it had to be tailored to the individual entities that they are trying to induce to create jobs in the United States. We focused very much on the supply industry that creates a lot of jobs in the United States, even if it is overseas manufacturers.

“We need to give them incentives as well as try to use taxes to change the way people do business, to be an enhancement. There is an issue that Mexico has a value-added tax of 16 percent, so all of our goods do pay a tax. But, we would like not to be matching that, maybe get that lowered or some other combination that would be beneficial to growth along the border as well as along the logistics chain.”

Interviewed later, Vale said of the House Speaker: “He was very open, he was very candid. (We had) in-depth discussions.”

Asked about Rep. Brady’s proposal to have a border adjustment tax, Vale said: “Obviously, Mexico does have a value-added tax. They call it the IVA. They (Ryan, Brady and the House leadership) are looking at some way to ameliorate that and how that comes back to the U.S. They cannot tell Mexico what to do but that could be a discussion in the NAFTA 2.0, which all three countries and most industries wanted to do. They threw it into TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) but now TPP is off the table. So, it comes out.”

Vale said he has a copy of a congressional research document that shows “all the stuff that was in TPP related to Mexico-U.S., different from Canada.” Vale said the Valley business delegation that met with Ryan and Brady suggested a tiered approach to a border adjustment tax.

“For example, if the manufacturer over in Mexico is using 60 percent components from the U.S., he should have a smaller tax rate than the guy who is doing 40 or 20 (percent). So, that is an incentive to purchase U.S. supplies. The supply chain is the most key part of all of this. Where is the supply chain going? He (Brady) is trying to revert the law back to where it is attractive for the supply chain to be close to America.”

Vale said an across-the-board border adjustment tax was not the way to go. “And they (Ryan and Brady) tended to agree. They have to do a lot of work on the rules of origin. That is a big deal.”

Ryan’s congressional district has many companies that deal with Canada so Valley business and political leaders feel he should fully understand international trade. Asked if Ryan “got” the  importance of trade with Mexico, Vale said:

“I think he has heard that. I think he understands that. He has just never been here and seen it. But they were quite impressed with the region. He understands trade.”

On the discussions on Capitol Hill about restructuring taxes, Vale said: “He and Brady seem to be very much in lockstep. I think what they are ready to come out with, they’ll still have a negotiation with the senators from their own party. I think the worst thing you could do is have everything totally blocked because that leaves the pulse that we have to do something. If we can get something accomplished that is reasonable to everybody I think we are better off than a total, shut it down. Get something going on, now let it go for a walk, see where it goes.”

Vale added: “I was very impressed by Paul Ryan’s grasp of the issues, as well as Kevin Brady’s grasp of the importance of fair tax legislation.”

Hidalgo Judge Ramon Garcia meets with Speaker Ryan

Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia met with US House Speaker Paul Ryan on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017.

Another Valley leader to meet Brady on Wednesday was Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia. Garcia’s right-hand man, Bobby Villarreal told the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM that the meeting was productive. Among those in the meeting was U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, and U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, chair of the House Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee.

“The Judge said it was a productive meeting.  Speaker Ryan and Chairman McCaul and congresswoman McSally were receptive to the message they gave them,” Villarreal said. “The Judge said a border wall was not good idea, that technology is more effective. However, the federal levy in Hidalgo County needs more work and if they want to invest in that as a version of a barrier that may be workable as it would provide a natural security barrier and provide flood protection for our residents.

Villarreal added: “The entire (Valley) group (that met with Ryan) was concerned that the rhetoric from the President is detrimental to relations and commerce between the U.S. and Mexico. Not just detrimental to the border but our entire country. The Judge hopes Speaker Ryan and his group will get the message to the President. He hopes more members of Congress would come to the border to understand the issues at hand before they vote on things that pertain to the border.”

Speaker Ryan toured the region in a helicopter and also boarded a Border Patrol riverboat on the Rio Grande. He did not give interviews to the media but did issue this statement afterwards:

“When you see with your own eyes the many challenges facing our law enforcement professionals along the border, it gives you even greater respect for the work that they do day in and day out. But more tools and more support are needed for them to do their jobs effectively. Congress is committed to securing the border and enforcing our laws, and together with the Trump administration, we will get this done.”

The Speaker’s office also put out a tweet with a picture of Ryan in a helicopter touring the Valley. It said: “I toured the Rio Grande Valley today to see with my own eyes the challenges facing law enforcement along the border.”

Other VIPs to meet with Speaker Ryan included the Bishop of Brownsville, Daniel Flores, Sister Norma Pimentel of Catholic Charities RGV, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño, Starr County Judge Eloy Vera, Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, and Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell. Darling said their meeting lasted about an hour.

Editor’s Note: Reporters Apolonio Sandoval, Jr., and Stephanie Jara contributed to this story from Weslaco, Texas.