Ranking Member Steve Womack (R-AR) Opening Remarks at Hearing on Lifting Americans Out of Poverty

Remarks As Prepared For Delivery:

Thank you Chairman Yarmuth.

Exploring ways to help lift people out of poverty is not new to this Committee. In fact, led by then-Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Budget Republicans have a long history of championing policies and programs that help low-income Americans climb the economic ladder, earn their own success, and escape the cycle of poverty.

On this issue, we often hear some of our friends across the aisle say that the bigger the price tag, the better the policy.

That may sound good on paper, but, in practice, it has not achieved the results Americans deserve — especially when it comes to reducing poverty.

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared the War on Poverty with the goal of not only alleviating the symptoms of those in poverty, but also preventing poverty altogether. Since then, the federal government has directed tens of trillions of dollars toward scores of anti-poverty programs across more than a dozen different agencies.

Despite these investments, the poverty rate has only marginally declined. If history is any indicator, more spending, bigger government, and higher taxes — the solutions that have too often been proposed by some of our Democrat colleagues — are not the tools we need to truly move the needle.

Those may address what President Johnson called the symptoms of poverty, but they certainly aren’t curing it.

According to a recent poll by YouGov, 63 percent of Americans enrolled in some type of anti-poverty program believe the War on Poverty is failing. The same poll found that 76 percent of those enrolled in these programs believe the government should focus on creating more opportunities to climb the economic ladder — not increasing government spending.

In fact, adding more dollar signs to our enormous debt will only lead to higher taxes that often penalize those who can least afford them, making it even harder to escape the cycle of poverty. I am especially concerned by the proposed tax increases on low-income Americans that many in this Congress are considering, including new payroll taxes and energy taxes.

So what has paved a pathway out of poverty for low-income Americans? A strong economy, which creates more opportunities to find a job, earn a paycheck, and get ahead.

Following historic tax cuts and deregulation, families are seeing more jobs and bigger paychecks, with average hourly earnings increasing by more than three percent. And the unemployment rate has dropped to 3.6 percent, its lowest level since the 1960s.

We should be focused on policies that continue this trend and help more people earn their own success, including linking more anti-poverty programs to employment opportunities.

Serving our country has also paved a pathway out of poverty for many Americans. They have been given an education, they have learned skills that are then applicable to business and other fields. And they have learned leadership skills as well as the value of working in teams.

As someone who served in the Arkansas Army National Guard for over 30 years and has been serving as the Chairman of the Board of Visitors at West Point for three terms, I have seen how our military has helped improve the lives of young men and women from challenging circumstances.

And I know I’m not alone. There are seven veterans — and one Member currently serving — on this Committee. Five, including myself, on our side of the aisle. Three on the other side of the aisle.

I want to take a brief moment to thank the Members of this Committee who have served our country in uniform.

Perhaps we can explore this notion of service for individuals, and the opportunities made available later in life by the United States military, some more today in this hearing.

I also look forward to hearing about the roles our families and communities are playing in helping reduce poverty, from providing on-the-job training opportunities to counseling troubled youth, to ensuring young children have access to a quality education, regardless of their zip code.

I don’t think there is a person up here who doesn’t want to help every American achieve the American Dream.

But our success should not be measured by dollars spent or beneficiaries added. It should be measured by how many people we are helping lift permanently out of poverty, so they can earn a living and provide a better life for their families.

With that Mr. Chairman, I yield back.