Arkansas congressman's budgetary proposal draws fire; it’s called ‘sham,’ safety-net ruiner

Posted: June 21, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

FILE — U.S. Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers speaks Thursday, April 13, 2017, during a town hall meeting at Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville.

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Steve Womack's budget blueprint came under fire from Democrats and at least one Republican at Wednesday's House Budget Committee meeting.

The committee is scheduled to vote on the budget resolution today. The proposal was released Tuesday and discussed Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Democratic committee members warned that the measure would devastate the nation's social safety net. U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., portrayed it as another "sham budget" that fails to rein in out-of-control federal spending.

Womack, the committee chairman and a Republican from Rogers, argued that his budget resolution would lead to a balanced budget by fiscal 2027.

With the national debt surpassing $21 trillion, Womack told lawmakers that the country's fiscal situation can no longer be ignored.

"While America has an extraordinary past and is making positive economic strides for our future thanks to tax reform, there are some very real fiscal challenges casting a shadow of doubt on long-term prosperity," he said. "These are challenges that must not be ignored any longer. They must be overcome. And in order to do so, tough decisions must be made in the short term."

Potential cuts, spread over the next decade, include: $157 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps; $537 billion from Medicare; and $1.5 trillion from Medicaid.

Much of the deficit reduction, Republicans said, would come by repealing and replacing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, sometimes referred to as Obamacare.

The budget blueprint also envisions raising the age for Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67.

Brad Watson, the committee's director of budget review, cautioned that many of the proposed cuts are simply "illustrative policy options."

Ultimately, 11 House committees would be asked to come up with $302 billion in spending cuts.

Democrats said Womack's proposal helps the rich and harms the rest of society.

"This budget places the entire burden of deficit reduction on the middle class and struggling families. It does not call for even one penny of new revenue from closing tax loopholes for the wealthy or corporations. In contrast, it assumes a total of $5.8 trillion in spending cuts, [including] at least $2.1 trillion from Medicare, Medicaid and other critical health care programs," said U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky.

"This is not a tightening of the government's belt. These are radical, devastating cuts that will jeopardize the safety, health and well-being of American families and communities while totally undermining our economic competitiveness," he added.

[DOCUMENT: Read the budget blueprint from the House Budget Committee]

Republicans on the committee said the cuts are necessary.

"I firmly believe that if Congress continues to spend more money than we bring in, our nation risks losing credibility and influence in the international marketplace," said U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, a Republican from Hot Springs. "Spending must be reined in. Its growth must be slowed so that [it] more closely aligns with incoming revenues and accurately reflects economic growth in the United States."

Further delays are unwise, he said.

"Perhaps it's time for us to make minor sacrifices now to ensure our children and grandchildren don't have to make major ones in the future," he added.

But McClintock, the California congressman, argued that the cuts aren't deep enough and that the consequences of inaction will be enormous.

"Countries that bankrupt themselves aren't around very long, and I think we're running out of time. And sadly, I don't see this budget getting serious about changing course," he said.

During a break in Wednesday's hearing, Womack said the committee hearing hadn't yielded many surprises.

"It's going as expected," he said.

While Democrats oppose the cuts, cuts are unavoidable, he said.

Without changes, Medicare will be insolvent in 2026, he said. Social Security will be insolvent in 2034, he added.

"We've got to make some tough choices in these programs because it's a ticking time bomb," he said.

While he'd like to see the budget balanced more quickly, Womack says the hurdles are enormous.

"You can't do it without draconian cuts and major tax increases and a lot of things that would be politically just virtually impossible to do. We're trying to do something that just puts us on a different path," he added.

Josh Mahony, the Democrat challenging Womack, said recent Republican tax cuts favored the rich and will add another $1 trillion to the national debt.

"Steve Womack blew up the deficit and now he's trying to fix it by sticking it to the people who can afford it the least," he said in a written statement. "With cuts to education, healthcare, and Social Security, this bill shows the true priorities of Republicans and it's not to hard-working Arkansans."

A Section on 06/21/2018