U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, vowed to uphold the Constitution of the United States against enemies foreign and domestic when he took an oath in 2011 as a freshman member of the House of Representatives. But he always wondered who the domestic enemy was, he told attendees of Friday’s (Jan. 6) First Friday Breakfast presented by Kraft-Planters and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce.
“I think I’ve figured it out,” Womack said. “It is the tremendous debt hanging over this country that has encumbered not just our generation and not just my children’s generation, and sadly not just my grandchild’s generation. We’re now facing $15 trillion in debt, and that number is moving up exponentially.”
Womack struck a somber tone with his address.
“If we’re unable to do long term deficit reduction, and we can’t whittle it down now while money is still as cheap as it is today, the net interest on the debt is capable of bankrupting this country, ending the republic as we know it,” he said.
ENTITLEMENTS, REVENUE DEBATE
For Womack, the problem is ideological differences on both sides of the aisle.
“One side doesn’t want to touch entitlements, and the other doesn’t want to bring revenue into the equation,” Womack said.
Clarifying his position after the address, Womack told The City Wire, “We need to restructure the entitlement programs so they have long term sustainability. There are a lot of structural reforms being offered in Congress. Nobody is talking about hurting people 55 and older at all, but for those younger we need a program that is going to be there for them when they need that social safety net. Something that is sustainable. That’s why I’ve said restructuring reforms to the entitlement programs have to be discussed by this Congress because that’s what is driving the debt.”
When asked what he felt the biggest problem area is, Womack responded: “Medicare and health care spending is the biggest driver. Social security has its problems, but it pales in comparison to what is happening with Medicare.”
While Womack’s goal is to focus on entitlements as he heads back for his second year as a member of the House, he’s not closed off to bringing in more revenue.
“If we close the loopholes and restructure the tax code in a way that will be fundamentally good for our country, then there will be revenues introduced by that,” Womack said. “There’s a reluctance, though, on our side to simply throw revenues on the table when we know we have a spending problem, and we’d like to see action on the spending side before we bring more revenues to the table. Because in our opinion, just bringing more revenue to the table is a license for more spending, and this country doesn’t have a taxing problem. It has a spending problem.”
188TH FIGHTER WING
It was first announced Nov. 22 that the 188th Fighter Wing based at the Fort Smith Regional Airport may be one of the many military cuts possibly to result from Congressional failure to reach a deficit-cutting agreement.
The unit employs about 350 full-time personnel, with about 1,000 on the base once a month for training.
The budget threat comes four years after the 188th converted from the F-16 fighter jet to the A-10 ground support aircraft. Conversion to the A-10 was the product of a last minute reversal of a decision to close the 188th. During May 2005, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission was faced with 834 closings or realignment recommendations from the Department of Defense.
“We know that there are some other missions that are possible that were floated once before. One of those was an unmanned drone type mission. Not as many jobs, but it would still be a mission. And then the Army National Guard is talking about the relocation of some of its helicopter assets up here because of the relationship to Chaffee, and that would help mitigate it,” Womack said. “But look, I’m not ready to panic yet. Until I see credible evidence that the 188th could be on the block, we just simply need to be leaning forward in the foxhole right now, paying attention, and being ready to respond when that time comes.”
Womack said the 188th has “a great story to tell” with respect to the cost efficiency of the A-10 platform and the performance of the unit. However, Arkansas is at a “political disadvantage” because it is a small state with two air wings.
“We have two wings, and we know there is a desire on the part of the Air Force to keep a wing in every state, and if we’re competing with a state that may lose its only wing, then we could be odd man out,” Womack explained.