U.S. Rep. Steve Womack (R-Rogers) was right in the middle of the latest grueling vote to cut $100 billion in federal government spending, but he warned state business leaders on Tuesday (Feb. 22) that two votes later in the year will be equally gut-wrenching.
"What you just saw — that’s a baby step," Womack told about 70 corporate executives and small business owners at an Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas luncheon in Little Rock.
It’s not just idle talk from the freshman Congressman. Womack is a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and is a member of the relatively exclusive House GOP whip team. In addition to the Appropriations Committee, Womack was appointed to three House subcommittees: Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies; Energy and Water Development; and Financial Services and General Government.
The U.S. House of Representatives spent the better part of last weekend amending a continuing resolution to fund this year’s federal government operations. Republican leaders, including Womack, were looking to cut $100 billion in agency spending to attack a $1.5 trillion deficit.
"It was painful for a lot of people," Womack told the group. "But kicking the can down the road has to stop."
The House, Senate and President must come to terms on a budget before March 4, a deadline that will doubtfully be met since the Senate must pass a measure and the two Houses of Congress must hammer out a compromise in conference committee.
The time crunch has led many political observers to suggest that a government shutdown could occur if an agreement isn’t reached.
Womack believes a short-term — maybe two-week continuing resolution — will be offered when Congress reconvenes in order to buy additional negotiating time. He said the 112th Congress is committed to getting a grip on the excessive deficit and the equally out-of-control national debt, which has reached $14 trillion.
"If you cancel every discretionary spending program in the budget, you still can’t eliminate the deficit," Womack explained.
He argued that reforming entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicaid and especially Medicare would be crucial to reclaiming balanced budgets in the nation’s capitol.
Womack warned that a vote to raise the debt ceiling — currently set at $14.3 trillion — is fast approaching. He expects by late April or early May, Congress will have to cast a "gut-check" vote on raising the debt level and he confided that the decision would be difficult for many members of Congress.
"I don’t want to see a country default on its obligations," he warned. "But we’re going to have to get something done because where we’re going is unsustainable."
After the meeting, Womack told Talk Business that he is withholding his position on extending the debt ceiling. He said his vote would be a "bargaining chip" in return for more spending reductions.
"I want my decision to be an informed decision. That will only come once we know what we’re able to get in terms of budget concessions," he said.
Another crucial vote, Womack predicted, would take place later this summer. When, or if, Congress resolves its current budget controversy, it will still have to mold a 2012 budget before an Oct. 1 deadline.
"The (Obama) administration’s budget spends, borrows and taxes too much," said Womack.
He predicted more austere budgeting may make the current debate look like child’s play.
"You ain’t seen nothing yet," said Womack.
He also told Chamber members that he thought next week Congress would take up a measure to remove a burdensome 1099 reporting requirement that was enacted as a result of the health care overhaul. Womack also reported that financial regulatory reforms related to the Dodd-Frank law would soon "be out there on the table for scrutiny."