Congressman Jody Hice, a Republican currently running for reelection in the 10th District of Georgia, came through Madison on Monday for a small roundtable discussion with the Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA). About a dozen local leaders and business owners attended the event, facilitated by Mike Torino, owner of Amici’s Italian Café.
Hice shared the table with Karen Bremer, chief executive officer for the GRA, an advocacy group that lobbies congress regarding various legislation that affects the restaurant industry.
“Congressman Hice has been very supportive of our industry,” praised Bremer, who thanked Hice for his tax reform vote and other beneficial legislation for the restaurant industry.
Hice addressed the biggest issues facing restaurant owners today: healthcare costs, taxes, and immigration. Hice expressed his support for repealing the Affordable Care Act and getting the “government out of healthcare,” keeping taxes low for small businesses owners, and creating a “robust guest worker program” for immigrants.
“The Affordable Care Act turned out to be anything but affordable,” said Hice. Several audience members spoke about their struggles to provide healthcare to their employees at an affordable rate.
Several of the restaurant owners spoke up for immigration reform, wanting an easier system to allow immigrants to work legally at their businesses, noting the obstacles they face in finding legal workers to do “back of the house” jobs like cooking, dishwashing, and cleaning.
“With the way things are, we can’t fill the back of the house positions without immigrants being able to work those jobs,” called out one man.
Another restaurant owner, Ginger Ryser, owner of the Silver Moon, asked Hice to work with the rest of Congress to reform the immigration system to help illegal immigrants trying to abide by the system obtain legal status to work. Ryser told a story of a long-time employee who was brought to American when he was just 8 years old and is now going to college on his own dime while trying to “follow the rules” of a convoluted immigration system that seems impossible to appease.
“He wants to follow the rules and do everything legally, but the process is so complicated to do correctly. These people don’t want anything for free. They have more tenacity and determination than most people and they really want the freedoms we have in this country. These people are invaluable members of our industry,” said Ryser. “We can just dispel the myth that these people are taking anybody’s jobs. We can’t fill these jobs without them.”
Hice adamantly denounced any legislative efforts that would result in amnesty for illegal immigrants.
“I want to be clear that I am totally against amnesty. People define amnesty differently but for me, amnesty is citizenship and I strongly oppose any pathway to citizenship. They need to get in line with everybody else,” said Hice. “But the good news is that this issue is majorly on the radar with the American people. The President is all over it and I think we are going to work on it. I think the intent is there. The President is going to keep pushing for immigration reform. We need to protect our borders while allowing people in the country to be in a guest worker program that doesn’t take years and years to obtain.”
In addition to healthcare, taxes, and immigration, Hice also expressed support for cutting spending, strengthening the military, deregulation to restore “a free market” economy, and emphasizing faith in public life.
However, Hice bemoaned the gridlock in Congress, blaming the Senate for a standstill that prevents the House of Representative’s bills from moving forward on any of the issues for which he is advocating.
“The House has passed over 400 bills that the Senate won’t even look at,” said Hice. “These are bills that could be helping you all right now.”
Hice said he personally talked to Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, imploring him to use “the nuclear option” in order to override a senate rule requiring 61 votes before a piece of legislation can be debated.
“He won’t do it,” said Hice. “The Senate is my greatest source of frustration. This has been one of the most productive House of Representatives in modern history but nothing goes through the Senate…I think more pressure needs to be on the Senate to get something done. But these Senate rules is an enormous hurdle to get over in the current environment.”
Hice pledged his commitment to representing the best interest of the 10th District should he be reelected later this year.
“I still have the fight left in my belly,” said Hice. “I am a Christian and spend time in the word and in prayer. I run into the battle and try to move the needle in the areas that are so important to us and I will continue to do that.”
But this time around, Hice won’t be running opposed. He has two challengers from his own party seeking the Republican nomination in the primary election this May: Joe Hunt and Brady Griffin. Three Democrats are also duking it out in the primary elections for the chance to run against Hice in the general election this November: Chalis Montgomery, Richard Dien Winfield, and Tabitha Johnson-Green.