Womack: Party must learn basics
Congressman speaks at Political Animals Club lunch in Fayetteville
FAYETTEVILLE — Congressional Republicans “haven’t learned how to govern” and must get used to accepting only part of what each of them might want at a time, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., told a bipartisan crowd Friday.
The remark was one of several Womack made chiding some of the most conservative members of his party and the Trump administration during a Political Animals Club of Northwest Arkansas lunch. Dozens of local politicians in both parties and other professionals gathered for the informal club’s event.
“It’s easy to say no,” Womack said, referring to almost uniform Republican opposition to much of former President Barack Obama’s agenda during his term.
But now the Republican Party has the White House and majorities in both chambers of Congress, its efforts to alter tax and health care policy and pass a federal budget are being hamstrung by internal division and demands of ideological purity, Womack said.
“Every important negotiation I’ve ever been in in my life, I’ve never gotten 100 percent of what I wanted,” he said. Using football as a metaphor, he said first downs and advances of a few yards at a time — different sides and parties negotiating, in other words — are much more successful than “Hail Mary” passes flung all the way down the field.
Womack’s talk came during a brief lull in a congressional session that has sparked protest and concern in Northwest Arkansas and throughout the country. Much of the dissent has focused on the Republicans’ proposed alternatives to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare.
The House’s health care bill and a Senate counterpart that’s still under debate would repeal several Obamacare taxes, loosen regulations on health insurance and restrict federal spending on Medicaid. Medicaid covers care for around 1 million Arkansans, ranging from babies to the elderly, who have low incomes, disabilities or other medical needs.
Womack and Arkansas’ other representatives voted for the House version. Womack called it a “huge step” at
the time toward addressing Obamacare’s inability to control health spending more effectively.
“As imperfect as it was, at least we got it done,” so the Senate could take its own shot, he said Friday.
Womack said any wide-ranging federal budget cuts should include the government’s mandatory spending, a category that includes Medicaid, Social Security and other programs. He criticized the Trump administration’s hopes of cutting non-mandatory health research and education spending to pay for more defense as “a fantasy.”
Opponents to the Republican health bills have said the changes will lead to unacceptably expensive care for the people who need it most, with many congressional Democrats calling for bipartisan tweaks to Obamacare rather than a full repeal.
Renee Philpot, a Siloam Springs resident whose teenage son receives Medicaid support for a developmental disability and other needs, said in an interview Friday afternoon she could appreciate the idea of reining in government spending. Everyone who can work and contribute to their coverage should, she said.
But Philpot worries cutting Medicaid could leave her son and others like him without the coverage they need. Medications, specialized food and other care would run the family more than $10,000 a month, she said.
“If we lost it, I don’t know what we’d do,” she said. She urged Womack and other members of Congress to remember: “However they vote and whatever they write, there’s a face to go with that legislation. There are consequences, positive and negative, to what they do.”
The bills divided the Republican Party at every step, with some saying they go too far while others say they don’t do enough to undo the existing law. Most of the party fell in between. Womack called the pattern a “three-headed monster,” blaming a widening gulf between the country’s political sides.
Similar divisions have formed in the Senate and is bleeding into other issues, such as budget negotiations for defense and other spending, Womack said. Meanwhile, the country is facing Russia, North Korea, the Islamic State terror group and other threats, and other issues are also distracting Congress, he said.
“We have to deal with Twitter feeds more regularly than I think any of us expected,” he said, obliquely referencing President Donald Trump’s notorious social media habits. “It’s no wonder that Congress has a hard time doing even the most fundamental of things.”
Russell Hill, Washington County’s assessor and a Republican, said Womack’s observations and calls for more reasonable give-and-take in politics rang true.
“I really stay out of D.C. politics because it is frustrating,” he said, referring partly to hardliners in his party. “I would love to see not only our party come together, but I would love to see our country together.”
“We have to deal with Twitter feeds more regularly than I think any of us expected. It’s no wonder that Congress has a hard time doing even the most fundamental of things.”
— 3rd District U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark.
U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., talks Friday with members of the Political Animals Club of Northwest Arkansas after speaking to the group over lunch in Fayetteville. He said the Republican Party in Congress hasn’t yet “learned how to govern,” stalling its plans to change taxes and health care policy.