Can Steve Womack bring balance to the Budget Committee?

Steve WomackUncle Sam is now $20.5 trillion in debt, or about $62,700 for every American man, woman and child. This year, Arkansas’ congressmen, particularly Rep. Steve Womack, have an outsized influence regarding how quickly that debt grows.

Let’s play a little Q and A to explain why.

Q. What’s the latest?

A. The news this week is that Rep. Steve Womack, who represents Northwest Arkansas’ 3rd District, now chairs the House Budget Committee. That means, theoretically at least, he’ll play a leading role in creating the framework for how the government collects and spends your money.

Q. What will Womack try to accomplish as chairman?

A. Not balance the budget. We’re nowhere near that, particularly after Congress just passed a huge tax cut signed by President Trump but hasn’t cut spending. Instead, Republicans in Congress are talking about achieving balance in a decade. “Balance” doesn’t mean paying off the debt. It just means we’d stop adding to it, starting 10 years from now.

Rather, his primary task will be to restore the process. Committees should hold hearings and then deliberately pass a budget. Instead, Congress lurches from one manufactured fiscal crisis to another. The next potential government shutdown is Jan. 19 – next Friday.

Q. Just how powerful will he be?

A. Let’s not go overboard. Just like your household budget doesn’t necessarily control your family’s finances, the Budget Committee doesn’t necessarily control the nation’s. At least two other House committees are probably more important: Ways and Means, which is in charge of tax policy, and Appropriations, which handles part of the spending side.

Moreover, there’s talk that the Senate won’t even try to produce a budget this year. If that happens, the House budget would mostly be a political document meant to produce talking points and shore up support among Republican base voters.

Q. So why are we reading this column?

A. Because it’s an important committee and because chairpersons are really important in Congress, especially in the 435-member House because they have a platform and extra power.

Also, Arkansas has more than its share of seats on the two Budget Committees. Rep. Bruce Westerman, who represents southern and western Arkansas in the 4th District, is also on the 36-member House Budget Committee. Sen. John Boozman and Sen. Tom Cotton both serve on the 23-member Senate Budget Committee. So out of 59 committee members, Arkansas has four of them, all in the majority party.

Q. I’m one of those people who’s worried about the national debt. What kind of leadership will Womack offer?

A. He talks about the debt. He’s willing to try to address the challenges facing the government’s big, popular entitlement programs – Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. However, he’ll want to spend more money on the military, in which he served more than 30 years with the National Guard. He’s more practical and pragmatic than some members of the House – perhaps coming from his days when he had to fix potholes as mayor of Rogers. He accepts the reality that government programs must be funded through taxes, though he won’t try to raise any of them at the federal level. For years, he’s fought a losing battle to allow states to enforce sales tax collections on out-of-state online retailers. He argues that letting them avoid sales taxes lets them charge cheaper prices than Main Street mom-and-pops.

Q. Arkansas has had some powerful congressional chairmen, including Rep. Wilbur Mills, who headed Ways and Means for 16 years, and Sen. John McClellan, who led the Senate Appropriations Committee for part of that time. Could Steve Womack follow in those footsteps?

A. Seems unlikely. It’s hard to amass too much power in a Congress that can’t get anything done. There had been some press talk that he’d give up his chairmanship if he had a chance to be a subcommittee chairman on the House Appropriations Committee. His press secretary, Heather Neilson, says he’s focused on the job at hand. If the Democrats take over the House in November, which historically is a real possibility, he’ll be in the minority and will lose his chairmanship.

Q. So why are we reading this column again?

A. That would happen a year from now – time enough to add up to another trillion dollars to the debt. Womack’s in a position maybe to help it be a little less.

Related: The return of $1 trillion deficits

By Steve Brawner

© 2018 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

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