Ripon Society Hosts Seven Members of House Appropriations Committee for Discussion of Spending Priorities and the Importance of Reducing the National Debt

 WASHINGTON, DC – With America’s debt at historic levels and the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction meeting to determine where the federal budget can be cut, The Ripon Society held a breakfast meeting yesterday morning with seven members of the House Appropriations Committee, who discussed “Appropriations in the Age of Austerity” and how their panel is working to get federal spending under control while also making sure that important national priorities are met. The seven Members speaking at the breakfast were Representatives John Carter (TX-31), Charlie Dent (PA-15), Cynthia Lummis (WY- AL), Steve Austria (OH-7), Alan Nunnelee (MS-1), Steve Womack (AR-3) and Kevin Yoder (KS-3).
“We are in a different time in the appropriations process,” stated Carter, who served as a District Judge for 20 years prior to his election to the House in 2002. “Chairman Rogers likes to say we are the ‘disappropriations’ committee. The truth is that we now have an even bigger duty than we did before because we’ve got to be part of the team that saves the country. And that’s hard. We have to turn the ship of state, and turn it in a different direction. That’s a challenge, because we’re going against at least 100 years of tradition and the way things have been done in Washington. But we’re at a turning point, where a real crisis can happen if we don’t get the job done.” The dire forecast aside, Judge Carter did sound a note of optimism. Pointing out that the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction is looking at least $1.2 trillion in cuts, the Texas Congressman noted that the country is also moving in a similar direction — or, as Carter put it, “towards saving money and cutting spending, not spending money.”

In his remarks, Congressman Dent echoed Judge Carter’s comments about the importance of reining in spending as a Member of the House Appropriations Committee, but also spoke of the need for Congress to come together and meet its basic responsibilities to fund the government and run the country.

“I still think it’s the best committee in Congress, because we do have to get things done,” Dent stated. “We have to fund the government. That means we have to do something affirmatively, unlike some others who make a career of voting ‘no.’ We actually have to vote ‘yes’ from time to time just to run the government. I feel like we are the committee that is most responsible to governance … My biggest concern right now with the Super Committee deadline looming is that they might not come to an agreement. I think the public is looking at all of us here and thinking, ‘You guys can’t get anything done.’ Every time we take this government to the brink of closure — which is about every three or four months — people look at us all and think we are fairly ineffective as an institution. I think it’s an indictment on all of us, and it’s the one thing that keeps me up at night. If we don’t have the capacity to govern, it’s a bad reflection on all of us, whether you are a Republican or a Democrat.”

In her comments to the breakfast, Congresswoman Lummis spoke of her appointment to the Appropriations Committee and the importance of returning the Committee to its historic role as “protectors of the taxpayers’ money.”

“I had no idea that I would land on the Appropriations Committee,” Lummis stated, recalling her appointment to the panel in December of last year. “After I did, my husband bought me an old book. He’s a vintage book fan, and it’s an old history of the Appropriations Committee. I’ve read substantial portions of that book, and can see that prior to 1964 the Appropriations Committee really saw its role — whether they were Democrats or Republicans — as protectors of and defenders of the public trust, and defending that fund and taxpayers from all the people who wanted to get their hand in the public till. And it has truly changed since 1964, becoming a committee that is very noted for spending a great deal of money.” The Wyoming Congresswoman added that she remains hopeful that there will be “a culture shift where the committee returns to what Representative [Joseph] Cannon speaks about in the book, to become protectors of the taxpayers’ money.”

Following Lummis to the podium, Ohio Congressman Steve Austria spoke of the importance of funding national defense and other national priorities while also making sure our country returns to “a sound financial footing.”

“Much of my focus during my first year,” Austria stated, “has been in making sure the defense community has what they need to protect our Nation, which I think is extremely important as we go through these challenging times. It’s important that those of us in Washington are doing our jobs so the men and women who are serving overseas are able to not only complete their missions and get home safely, but that that they have the resources and equipment to be able to do that. It’s extremely important to me. I also understand, though, that we are going through a very difficult time with our economy, and that we have to get our fiscal house in order for this country to move forward and be strong economically. I’m deeply concerned — as I think most Americans are — about our Nation’s economic future, and in the difficult spending decisions that we are going to have to make on Appropriations. But they are necessary to return our Nation to a sound financial footing.”

Congressman Nunnelee, who is serving his first term in office, agreed with Austria’s assessment and spoke of the need to change the spending culture in Washington – an area in which, he said, freshmen Republicans have been making an impact.

“As a freshman,” Nunnelee observed, “I think we have been a part of helping to change the culture in D.C. One thing I learned pretty quickly in this town is that you use the same words and phrases that we used back in Mississippi — they just have different meanings. Something simple like ‘cutting spending.’ I found out really quickly that the Washington definition of spending cuts was a cut in the rate of growth. If you plan to spend an extra billion dollars and you only spend an extra $800 million, you cut spending. Folks in Mississippi don’t buy that. What I know from talking with families and small businesses and even local government, they are sitting around their kitchen tables and board tables and making tough decisions. They have every reason to think that their policymakers in D.C. are making those same tough decisions. I think that’s one thing we’ve done as being part of the freshman class. We have helped change the culture in D.C. Now when we talk about spending cuts, we aren’t talking about D.C.’s definition. We are talking about the definition used by the American people.”

In his remarks, Congressman Womack – who previously served as Mayor of Rogers, Arkansas, the ninth largest city in the state – spoke not just of the need for the Appropriations to trim spending, but of the limitations to what the Committee can actually do.

“Let’s just keep in mind,” Womack stated, “that if you took every single program that the Appropriations Committee deals with and took them down to zero, you still can’t balance the budget. So there is a great message to all of us in here. We have a great challenge — to cut and cut appropriately — but to be very careful as we try to balance the federal books on the back of discretionary side of the table. It’s just not possible. So I think that continues to be one of the biggest challenges we have. At the end of the day we have a spending problem we have to deal with, and the appropriators are the ones that are going to have to lead in that regard.”

Congressman Yoder – who, like Congressmen Nunnelee and Womack, is serving his first term in Congress — brought the spending debate in Washington back to its core principles, and spoke of how the debate is being viewed in Kansas and other states across America.

“The challenge we are facing isn’t necessarily about what to cut or what to move from one side to another,” Yoder said. “We’re actually debating what type of an economy we want to have. Is it going to be a government-run economy or is it going to be private sector focused job creation economy? That fundamental values debate — about the free enterprise system vs. a big government system — is really striking. We have Republicans and Democrats in Kansas, and we don’t have very many folks who argue that raising taxes and spending more money is good for economic prosperity. In the Kansas legislature, no one ever got on the House floor and said, ‘We need to tax, spend, and borrow more to build prosperity.’ That battle is just really interesting to the American people. It’s amazing, and it was one of the biggest surprises to me that we were having a debate about core economic facts. The people know that this country wasn’t built on big government programs, wasn’t built on short term stimulus bills, and wasn’t built on borrowing and spending. It was built on the hard work and determination of the people.”

The Ripon Society is a public policy organization that was founded in 1962 and takes its name from the town where the Republican Party was born in 1854 – Ripon, Wisconsin. One of the main goals of The Ripon Society is to promote the ideas and principles that have made America great and contributed to the GOP’s success. These ideas include keeping our nation secure, keeping taxes low and having a federal government that is smaller, smarter and more accountable to the people.