Rep. Westerman discusses federal budget, Puerto Rico debt, and women drafted for military service

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 283 views 

Fourth District Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, says he thinks Congress will meet a May 15th deadline to approve a budget. He also says Puerto Rico needs to restructure its debt – not default – and he’s opposed to opening up the military draft for women, which Congress may vote on this year.

Noting that the U.S. House missed an April 15 deadline to pass a budget, Westerman – who sits on the House Budget Committee – said he thinks a May 15 deadline is possible to meet.

“If we don’t approve a budget by the 15th [of May], then the appropriations process will start going forward. The problem with that is there’s no restriction on the appropriations process. I don’t think the appropriators will write bills to a level higher than what’s in the budget,” he said.

Westerman said one budget approved by his committee has several hundred billion dollars less in discretionary spending than the 2009 budget. The sticking point is in mandatory spending.

“I think the biggest issue is coming up with about $30 billion in savings from mandatory spending, which is something I’m all for,” he said. “There’s a lot of wrangling back and forth, but I think we’ll work through and come up with a budget so we can continue on with the appropriations process.”

When asked if he prefers Arkansas’ budget process, which includes the Revenue Stabilization Act, to control spending priorities based on revenue collections, Westerman said he wished the federal government would operate under a similar model.

“I’m all for modifying the budget process up here. I’d much rather have a budget process here that’s like the one we had in Arkansas where the budget actually controls the numbers,” Westerman said.

Another looming budget crisis for Congress to consider is the potential default of nearly $71 billion in debt currently held by the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. Westerman’s seat on the House Natural Resources Committee has oversight over the situation. He’s opposed Puerto Rico defaulting on the debt, but also says the U.S. government shouldn’t bailout the island territory’s problem.

“No, I don’t think we should let the debt default. I think Puerto Rico should renegotiate their debt, restructure their debt, whatever terminology you want to use so they can pay their creditors,” he said. “We’ve got an example on how you do this. It wasn’t easy, but you’ve got to take responsibility for your previous actions and the federal government is in no position to go in and bail out Puerto Rico. If we did it, we’d just be bailing them out with more debt here.”

Westerman penned an op-ed on the subject in The Washington Post last week that draws comparisons between Puerto Rico and Arkansas, which faced a similar debt crisis in the 1930’s and 1940’s. You can read it here.

Another major issue coming to the U.S. House for a vote is a measure that narrowly passed out of a defense committee last week that would require women to sign up for the Selective Service for military duty like men do at the age of 18.

A Supreme Court ruling years ago said women could not be forced to sign up for the Selective Service because they were not eligible for combat duty. Under the Obama administration, women have become eligible for front-line defense duty and Congress is debating the restriction that once prevented them from mandatory signing up.

Westerman hasn’t had a chance to see the legislation, but opposes it in theory.

“It’s something I’m really opposed to, but again, I’ve got to look at the exact language on it. I’ve got a 17-year old daughter and the last thing I want to do is require her or any other young lady to sign up for the draft.”

He says that the draft may be outdated. “Realistically, if you look we’ve had a volunteer army for the past 40 years. I’m not sure how pertinent the draft even is anymore,” said Westerman.

Watch his full interview below, including how Rep. Westerman thinks the new $1.3 billion Sun Paper Co. project near Arkadelphia will help south Arkansas’ struggling timber industry.