MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Let's go back to the budget deal that Congress passed yesterday. The deal avoided another government shutdown and will also increase spending by about $300 billion each year and raise the deficit to a record $1 trillion. Now, some conservative Republicans voted against the budget, citing those record deficit numbers. But Bill Flores, a Republican congressman from Texas, voted yes to the deal, although he has voted against increasing the deficit in the past.
We wanted to talk to him about this, so we called him at home in Bryan, Texas. Congressman, thank you so much for speaking with us.
BILL FLORES: It's great to be with you this weekend, Michel.
MARTIN: Your colleague Mark Sanford of South Carolina told my colleague Scott Simon this morning that this budget makes President Obama look like a fiscal conservative. Now, you voted against these budgets in the past, citing the deficit. This budget increases government spending and the deficit. So how come?
FLORES: Our military is really in dire straits when it comes to a long-term, stable funding solution. And given the risk profile that the world faces today, it was very important to get the military spending plussed up to the point that meets our needs - and also to provide the stability of funding that they need.
MARTIN: This budget puts you 13 percent above what President Obama had proposed in spending for the same year. You know, you said it's also the need to provide more stability in military spending. Are you saying that that spending outweighs all other economic considerations?
FLORES: Yes, it does. If we don't take care of our national security, we are not going to have economic security. And plus, if a weakened military puts us in a position to wind up with a crisis somewhere in the world, that crisis, if it goes kinetic, is going to cost considerably more than investing in our military today. If you maintain a strong military, you're less likely to have security challenges in the future.
MARTIN: With the major Republican tax cuts and the added $300 billion in yearly spending, economists say that by next year, the federal deficit will exceed 5 percent of gross domestic product. Are you comfortable with that?
FLORES: No, I'm not. And - but I will say this. I do believe that if you look at the rapid rate of economic growth that we're having, which exceeds where we thought we would be when we passed tax reform late last year, I believe that we're going to see some of those deficits reduced compared to where the current forecasts are because of rapid, higher-than-expected economic growth.
MARTIN: And what if it doesn't?
FLORES: If it doesn't, that's going to cause us to have to look at what the drivers of our debt are. And the drivers of the debt are the autopilot programs that haven't been touched since the '80s. Those are things like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Left untouched, Medicare and Social Security are each going to have huge fiscal challenges in less than a decade. And we think it's important to deal with those.
MARTIN: One of the criticisms that Republicans had in the Obama era is that Democrats would push for these sweeping changes on things like the Affordable Care Act without any buy-in from the other side. And now, during the Trump era, Republicans are doing the same thing - sweeping changes with major impact on the economy without any buy-in on the other side. And now you're engaging in the same conduct. And - is this OK with you? You think this is the way it's supposed to work?
FLORES: Well, unfortunately, that's the way Washington is working today. I wish that there was a way that each side could move in from its respective corners to try to get something done - unless it's really, really watered down like this budget deal was. What are you trying to achieve? And is what you're achieving - in this case, military spending - does it offset or exceed the value of the things that you're having to give up? In this case, I felt like it did.
MARTIN: That's Bill Flores. He's a congressman from Texas. We're talking about his vote in favor of the budget deal, despite his past record as a fiscal conservative. He was kind enough to talk to us on his day off from Bryan, Texas.
MARTIN: Congressman, thank you so much for speaking with us.
FLORES: Good talking to you.
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