After the House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club on Wednesday morning, the media welcomed U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers.
On Thursday, Womack told the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas that the congressman’s first inquiry was about Rep. George Santos, the New York congressman charged on several federal counts.
Womack called the incident a “distraction” and a “punch line,” but on Thursday he said the attention on Santos is part of a greater issue about the nation’s political woes.
“There is the poster child for what’s wrong in America, what’s wrong in this town,” Womack said. “We get distracted by junk, noise, and a small handful of people make all of this happen.”
Womack and other Arkansas congressional delegates addressed the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas’ annual Washington Fly-In conference on Thursday. Arkansas business leaders asked lawmakers questions and received legislation updates.
Washington was busy during the trip. The White House and Congress are negotiating a debt ceiling increase. Republicans criticized the removal of Title 42, a public health emergency order removing illegal immigrants, as the House passed a broad immigration package Thursday along party lines.
House Republicans, who control the chamber by nine seats, scrambled Wednesday to garner enough support from their caucus to pass the immigration plan. Womack acknowledged Santos’ importance in passing conservative initiatives given the tight majority.
“It’s no doggone wonder that the American people out here who are getting up every morning, going to work, doing their jobs, educating their kids, paying the mortgage, and dealing with inflation and all of things that are going on in this country,” Womack stated before ending.
Congress fiddles as Rome burns. This is our challenge.”
From Womack’s perspective, Congress and the nation must overcome the “division of the body politic.” House Republicans have passed several conservative policies, but the Senate is controlled by Democrats.
“There are so many issues facing us right now, and yet we are so politically divided,” said former Rogers mayor Womack. “Everything up here is a weapon. Everything here is political weaponized.”
The congressman added: “It’s sad that the greatest country in the history of the world has this great political divide going on that’s keeping it from doing its most basic function.”
Debt ceiling initiatives show the divide. President Joe Biden and congressional leaders discussed a compromise Tuesday with little progress. Last month, House Republicans authorized a debt ceiling hike until March with limitations on discretionary spending and recovery of unused coronavirus relief money. Democrats want a clear debt ceiling rise and worry that the House approach might cut federal services.
Today’s Biden-lawmaker meeting was canceled.
Arkansas’ four House members backed the chamber’s 217-215 measure.
“If you read what we passed two weeks ago, you would think that the House Republicans are trying to reclaim some moral high ground on deficit and debt, and nothing could be further from the truth,” senior House appropriator Womack said Thursday, calling the bill a “small baby step.”
“It would only bring us back next year to have to revisit this same stuff.”
Womack said national policymakers must evaluate Medicaid and Social Security expenditures, the “elephant in the room,” to reduce annual deficits.
The House plan reduces neither program.
“We’re going to have to talk about it,” Womack added. “Don’t assume I’m recommending we reduce entitlement benefits. They’re too dependent.”
“Full-throated, sober, adult conversation” about government spending would include discussing such programs, Womack said.
“You were sent up here to manage some of the nation’s most difficult challenges,” he told colleagues. “It’s going to require some tough votes.”
“We got to get Congress working together again, and we got to find some bipartisan solutions, which means that I’m probably not going to get everything I want, and they’re probably not getting everything they want,” Womack said. “Whatever we build may make everyone furious, which may be the litmus test for its quality. We must remedy this.”
Debt limit negotiations have weeks left. If Congress doesn’t act by June 1, the Treasury may be unable to satisfy obligations.