As the clock ticks toward the new year, Congress is racing to pass funding for the government for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1
“Well, I was a no vote last week. I think we need to be doing our work. It’s amazing to me that the Democrats have been in control of the White House, the House, and the Senate,” Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Okla., says about the “omnibus” spending package.
The Senate and the House advanced a “stopgap bill” last week that continues to fund existing programs and would give Congress until Friday at midnight to finalize a spending bill. The measure passed 71-19 in the Senate; it passed 224-201 in the House.
“Since January of last year, they’ve not passed a budget,” Hern says. “They’ve not done appropriations in regular order. They have no one to blame but themselves for the almost $5 trillion in spending added to our debt in the last 23 months.
“Here we are at the very end of the funding, which was supposed to be done by Sept. 30, [and we] keep kicking the can down the road,” says Hern, who was unanimously elected last month as chairman of the Republican Study Committee.
Hern joins this episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss the gigantic omnibus spending bill, some of the Republican Party’s top priorities for 2023, and how conservatives can navigate with slim control of only one chamber of Congress.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Samantha Aschieris: Rep. Kevin Hern is joining the podcast today. He represents Oklahoma’s 1st Congressional District, is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, and was recently elected to chair the Republican Study Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
Rep. Kevin Hern: It is so good to be with you today.
Aschieris: Well, let’s dive right into what’s going on right now in Congress. Last week, the House and the Senate advanced a stopgap bill to avoid a government shutdown. Congress has until this Friday to pass funding for next year. First and foremost, what do you think of the spending package?
Hern: Well, I was a no vote last week. I think we need to be doing our work. It’s amazing to me that the Democrats have been in control of the White House, the House, and the Senate. Since January of last year, they’ve not passed a budget. They’ve not done appropriations in regular order. They have no one to blame but themselves for the almost $5 trillion in spending added to our debt in the last 23 months.
Here we are at the very end of the funding, which was supposed to be done by Sept. 30, keep kicking the can down the road. Here we are now looking at a monstrous bill, otherwise known as the omnibus bill, that most are expecting to add another $500 billion to the national debt.
Our citizens across America are sick of this. They want us to get back to doing what we’re supposed to do, which is fund the government in regular order.
Aschieris: Can you speak a little bit more about what’s actually in the package? Do you have any concerns about it?
Hern: We’ve got to fund the 12 appropriations, which fund the government. Certainly, things like military, but all of our social welfare programs as well, our National Institutes of Health, and [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], and all the programs there. Our federal government, funding people, making sure people have their payroll to keep the government moving.
But also, there are all these pet projects, all the earmarks that are in there, whether it’s with our senator friends, Republican senator friends, or Republican House friends who are wanting to spend money to take back to their districts. All of these are going to be lumped in.
That’s what they do when they put these bills together, is to try to entice people to vote for them by giving them special deals, earmarks, pork projects to take back to their home. Some are putting their names on buildings, projects, others are millions and millions of dollars to go to different arts centers in their districts and things like that.
Again, the federal taxpayers, the American taxpayers who fund the government, are sick and tired of this out-of-control spending.
Aschieris: Now, we are just a few weeks away from Republicans taking back control in the House. Why aren’t Republicans just saying no to this package? Why not push for a continuing resolution to get to the next Congress?
Hern: Well, certainly, the three options that we had on the table to look at were an omnibus bill, which would go all the way and fund until the end of the next fiscal year, which is Sept. 30, 2023. The thought there are from the Democrat Party and from the 12 or so Republicans that are going to vote for this and the Senate was to get out so that the president didn’t have to deal with the debt limit with the Republican House. To your point, we’re taking the majority here in just about two weeks.
Then also, there was the longer-term continuing resolution, which meant we would fund at the regular level that we’re currently at until the end of Sept. 30.
What we were pushing for in order to keep the government open was a shorter-term continued resolution that would get us, say, until March 1. And that way the House would get back the opportunity to pass appropriations bill—first pass budget appropriation bills and send them to the Senate to get us moved back in the right direction.
If you look across the country over the last two years, inflation has gone rampant, highest in 40 years. It’s been Democrat economists that have said it was because of spending. And even my Republican colleagues out there who love to spend are just not listening to what the American people are saying.
Aschieris: Yeah, it’s been really interesting to see the last couple of weeks leading up to this omnibus bill. And now, of course, we’re down to the final crunch before the House flips.
I want to talk just longer term with Republicans. As we’ve been talking about taking back the House, how can you, with the Republican Party, avoid landing in a similar situation next year when you’re negotiating the spending package for 2024?
Hern: Yeah, so, looking at what’s happened in the past, and future [House Speaker Kevin] McCarthy has spoken to this, is that Republicans in the House have kind of worked back and forth with the Senate and actually missed deadlines because they’re trying to put together a package on the House side that the senators, the Republican senators, will support, only to find out when they send the bill over there that it gets changed so much and it comes back to the House. And there’s just been total disgust with what we’ve seen.
So what Kevin McCarthy has said, and I totally agree, is we’re going to pass a budget out of the House that cuts discretionary spending, that looks at the opportunities we have out there to get our budgets balanced and put a balanced budget on the floor, and then send that and the appropriations bills to the senators and let them deal with it. And let them tell the American people, which will be a Democrat control, let them tell the American people why they don’t want to balance the budget just like our citizens do or states do. And then also, it’ll be upon the White House to say that they don’t want a balanced budget. But the House representatives will push out a balanced budget.
You mentioned in your opening that I’m the chair of the Republican Study Committee for the next two years. For the past two years I’ve been the budget chairman and we’ve created two balanced budgets. By the way, the only two budgets that have been done in Congress were done by the Republican Study Committee last year and this year.
Aschieris: And just along the lines of budgets, can you talk a little bit about how Congress is budgeting given that we’re already in $31 trillion worth of debt and rising?
Hern: Well, it’s really no different other than the numbers are just huge—it’s no different than what you have to do in your own household. You have to neutralize spending more than you earn first before you can actually start paying back your debt. That’s no different than in the federal government.
And that’s why we have to have a balanced budget. And it needs to balance sooner rather than later because what that means is at balance point, the House, the Republican Study Committees last year was about six years, this was about seven years, meaning it would take that long of trimming costs, cutting expenses, growing revenues to get us to a point where our outputs every year match what we were taking in.
And at that point, as those crossed, we would have excess dollars to start paying down our debt. Most Americans would say that’s impossible. As a matter of fact, that’s happened in all of our lifetimes. Back in ’97 through 2001, we actually had budget surpluses under President Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and Trent Lott.
So when people come together—Republicans, Democrats, House, Senate, House, Senate, and the White House all come together—we can actually do the work. We just have to sit down at the table and make it happen.
Aschieris: And Congressman, we’ve heard in the news a lot that this budget for the next year, if it does pass, would be the Pelosi-Schumer-Biden agenda. How do you feel about locking in a Biden-Pelosi-Schumer agenda for the next year, even though Americans, as we’ve talked about, voted for Republicans to control the House?
Hern: Well, I’ll be voting against it. I think it’s wrong. I think the Democrats have lost the House. They should have funded the government back in September. At this point in time, forcing this late year-end spending at Christmastime is absolutely ridiculous.
We will go ahead and do our work underneath this. We will pass a budget on the House floor. We will work on the appropriations bills. We will do the work that we’re supposed to be doing on the House side.
It’ll be yet to see of what the Democrat-led Senate does or what the Democrat-led White House does. But coming through this year, we will have a budget starting on Oct. 1, 2023, going forward, that represents conservative ideas, which means not spending more than we earn and start getting us back to a fiscal-responsible nation.
Aschieris: Now, as we’ve been talking about, in just about two weeks, start of the new Congress with the GOP having the majority in the House. As we’ve also been talking about, as I mentioned at the top, and you also talked about you being the new chairman of the Republican Study Committee. What are some of your top priorities for the next Congress?
Hern: Yeah, I think it’s one of certainly economic security. If you look at national security that every American talks about every day, we know about our military and what it does around the world. But on the domestic side, when you look at national security, it really boils down to sort of a three-legged stool.
It’s border security. We see what’s happening right now with lifting a Title 42. What’s going on there in the next couple of days. Massive amounts of people coming across the southern border. You got Democrat mayors really up in arms, screaming at the White House, “We need to do something.”
When you look at what’s happening with energy security, this president, this White House, these Democrats have worked overtime to destroy our fossil fuel industry in our country, only now to go beg Iran and Venezuela to start up their oil production and for us to send literally billions of American taxpayer dollars to these rogue nations when we could be doing that work here.
And then, finally, going back to this economic security, we’ve got $31.5 trillion in debt and growing. There’s no end in sight with the current spending of the Democrats. We’ve got to fix that. We got to do it now.
So we’ll be working on those three areas—economic security, energy security, border security—looking at how we fix our national security stance and the posture in those areas. And holding the Republican leadership as well in the House to most conservative bills that can be brought out of the House in these particular areas, especially when it comes to spending.
Aschieris: And just along the same lines, what is a policy area that maybe Republicans haven’t focused on as much in the past that you would like to see them focus on next year?
Hern: Well, not just focus on, I think, as Republicans, we need to come together on the House side and really fix our immigration issue in America once and for all. It’s not difficult. It’s going to take hard work. It’s going to take people sitting down at the table to get this done.
But the folks on the border are correct in saying that it is a constitutional requirement job of Congress to fix it and for the White House to come alongside and make sure that it gets done as well. It’s not the responsibility of the states. Unfortunately, and sadly, they’ve had to take on a federal role in protecting their borders from a foreign nation. That sounds like back in the 1800s doing that, not now in the modern age. And Congress has really shirked its responsibilities of not fixing our border security issues. And we have to do that once and for all.
So I think we’ve kind of put that to the side.
We’re going to be talking about health care as we go forward, how we make it more affordable for the American people.
The Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, was supposed to be about lowering health care costs. It didn’t lower health care costs, it removed your ability to keep your doctor. Pharmaceutical costs are going through the roof. And so we’ve got a lot of work to do and we’ve got a short time to do it. So we need to get our speaker elected on Jan. 3 and we need to move forward.
Aschieris: And just one final question for you as we head into the new year, can conservatives get any wins, in your opinion, in the new Congress when the GOP doesn’t control the Senate? And if so, how?
Hern: Well, I think the way you get the wins is that you demonstrate that we can actually get our stuff together in the House and we can elect a leader and we can start on the policies that need to be pushed forward, like, again, economic policy.
But also, I think we have a Congress, not just Republican Congress, all of Congress has a responsibility of oversight on the executive branch of government. Just because the Democrats didn’t do it in the last two years doesn’t mean that it didn’t need to be done.
So you’re going to see the oversight action, the accountability action of Congress move forward and bring highlights to stuff that maybe it happened in the Department of Justice with the FBI, even with the White House. And when that takes place, you’re going to start having people look at lack of confidence in the leadership.
What you’re also going to find, I think, is the Democrats have gone so far left, so far progressive, so far toward the socialist democrat factions of their party that the American people that are moderate Democrats are going to start pulling the party back toward the center, which is what happened in the days of Bill Clinton.
They had moved to the Left and they realized in the modern day, New Democrats, they had to move back to the center. And Bill Clinton picked out some areas where he needed to work with Republicans to save the nation. And that’s when we’ve got the Welfare to Work to get people moved off of the social safety nets, back into jobs.
And I think you’re going to see the White House have to do some of that if they have any hopes for a Democrat to be in the White House starting in 2025.
Aschieris: Well, Rep. Kevin Hern, thank you so much for joining the podcast today. We really appreciate your insight and we’ll have to have you back on for any updates. Thank you so much.
Hern: Thank you. And Merry Christmas.
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