GUEST COLUMN | STEVE WOMACK: As work of Congress awaits, majority stymied by chaos of picking a speaker

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, shown during an event in Rogers on Nov. 11, 2019, says he is ready for the criticism after voting to approve a $1.7 trillion spending measure. 
(File Photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, shown during an event in Rogers on Nov. 11, 2019, says he is ready for the criticism after voting to approve a $1.7 trillion spending measure. (File Photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

While the nation's political attention is focused on the ongoing debacle of the election of the speaker of the House, those who are politically astute cannot ignore the fact that the 2024 election season is now under way. That's not good for our House majority. The inability to elect a speaker surely has the discerning electorate asking the question: Are they worthy of the gavel?

It had not happened in a century -- the failure of the House to elect a speaker on Jan. 3. And, after two days of voting, the GOPs pick for speaker, Kevin McCarthy, was no closer to winning than he was on day one. Twenty members of the majority's right flank were steadfast in their opposition to McCarthy.

Not a good start to 2023.

I have repeatedly said how we govern early in the 118th Congress will frame our effectiveness over the next two years. With a narrow, four-seat majority, it is essential we hit the ground running and quickly execute our Commitment to America. After two days, House members have still not been sworn in. A chamber full of representatives who have yet to take their oaths of office -- it's hard to wrap one's head around it. In the spirit of Oaklawn, when the starting gates opened, the new majority threw its jockey.

Worse yet, even if the swearing-in was today, several key committees can't function because their chairmen have yet to be selected. The Steering Committee, which makes those selections, won't meet until after the speaker is elected. That means the Ways and Means, Education and Labor, Budget, and Homeland Security committees aren't populated and staff hasn't been hired. It's a mess.

I've always tried to be a rational, practical voice in Washington. Our government is designed to function. As a former mayor, I've never believed shutting it down or defaulting on the full faith and credit obligations of our nation is the right answer. Fundamental to our job is funding the government. It's never easy; in divided government, it's markedly more difficult. Both sides have competing priorities and reaching compromise is essential.

I saw this storm brewing during the debate over the omnibus funding bill in late December. Against my own party's opposition, I couldn't turn my back on the men and women in our military, the important resources we secured for the Fort Smith F-35 mission and nearly a dozen other projects benefiting my district.

From Mulberry infrastructure, XNA and education programs to the Berryville Library, Mill Branch Park and programs that support our law enforcement's ability to keep dangerous drugs off our streets, important priorities are being directed home and to our rural communities. These even include critical resources and policy impacting the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where I am chairman of the Board of Visitors and several Third District cadets are proudly on a path to serve our nation.

Looking back, my vote -- and the votes of Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton -- were the right ones. I can only imagine what this place would be like if we had a government shutdown looming on top of electing a speaker.

Meanwhile, we will continue the insane exercise of calling the roll of the 118th Congress without a different outcome. But I look on the bright side: At least we are getting the opportunity to put a name with a face on the new members! You've got to take the victories, no matter how small.

Amid the chaos, I will continue to use each vote to fight for hardworking Arkansas families and the future of freedom and opportunity they want charted forward. Strong policy, superior constituent service, and upholding the Constitution remain my targeted focus.

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