Wo­mack: Party must learn ba­sics

Con­gress­man speaks at Po­lit­i­cal An­i­mals Club lunch in Fayet­teville

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - DAN HOLTMEYER

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.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/DAN HOLTMEYER

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.

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