House committee budgets rise as GOP plans US roadshows End-shutdown

WASHINGTON — When the House Ways and Means Committee traveled to Petersburg, W.Va., last month for its inaugural field hearing on “the state of the economy in Appalachia,” it met at the headquarters of a manufacturer hardwood whose chief executive has donated the maximum campaign contribution allowed to a Republican member of the panel.

Your company logo was prominently displayed during the event.

When the committee descends on Yukon, Oklahoma, this week for its second field hearing, this one on “the state of the economy at heart,” it will meet at Express Clydesdales, a restored barn and event space owned by a major donor. the super PAC aligned with Chairman Kevin McCarthy, the Republican National Committee, the Senate Republican campaign committee and former President Donald J. Trump.

The owner, business magnate Robert Funk, has also given the maximum campaign donation allowed to another panel member, Rep. Kevin Hern, R-Oklahoma, for the past three cycles.

Determined to get their message directly to voters at a time when they are hard-pressed to do anything concrete on Capitol Hill, House Republicans are increasing the budgets of their congressional committees and taking to the streets, planning a busy schedule of field hearings. in all corners of the country with the aim of promoting their agenda outside the Circunvalación.

The Judiciary Committee, for example, which held a field hearing at the US-Mexico border to criticize the Biden administration’s immigration policies and is planning more, requested a travel budget of $262,000 for this year. That’s more than 30 times what the panel spent on travel last year. (In 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic significantly reduced travel, the Judiciary Committee spent about $85,000 on travel costs, according to a public disclosure form, a third of what Republicans plan this year.)

It’s part of a hackneyed political ploy to reach voters where they live and generate local media attention for an activity that would likely attract little attention in Washington.

Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said last week that he had “made it a priority” to get the committee’s work “out of the halls of Congress, away from the politically connected voices of lobbyists in Washington and to communities of the American people whose voices have been ignored for far too long.”

But it also has a direct benefit for Republicans, allowing them to reward top donors with publicity and exposure for their businesses.

In West Virginia, Allegheny Wood Products CEO John Crites, whose company hosted the first Ways and Means field hearing, awarded the maximum allowable contribution to Rep. Carol Miller, a West Virginia Republican and panel member, during the past two cycles

A committee spokesman declined to comment on the choice of venues. Staff aides noted that some of the witnesses they may hear from in remote locations may not have the time or resources to travel to Washington to testify.

Getting out of Washington and into “real America” ​​is part of a mandate that House Republican leaders have issued to their members, whose narrow four-seat majority, coupled with deep party divisions, makes it difficult to pass any legislation. important. .

“One of the things that we committed to is to bring Congress to the people,” Rep. Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, said at a news conference last week. “We would really have field hearings in communities across the United States to hear from real citizens.”

The rebound in budgets comes as Republicans pledge not to raise the federal debt ceiling, threatening a first-time default, unless Democrats agree to deep budget cuts and end what they describe as wasteful bureaucratic spending. .

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His plans to spend a substantial amount of money on field hearings have met for the most part little pushback from Democratic Caucus leaders, who hope to win back a majority in two years and are eager to codify the precedent for bigger travel budgets.

“If we’re going to be able to hold more field hearings, which I think are important, we’re going to need more money,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., who chaired the Energy and Commerce Committee in the last Congress and said that its ability to hold such sessions was limited by lack of funds.

But the focus on getting out of Washington also appears to be deepening partisan divisions in congressional committees, where Democrats complain they were given insufficient notice of the trip or reject excursions on principle.

Last month’s Judiciary Committee hearing on the “Biden border crisis” in Yuma, Arizona, capped a two-day tour of the border in which House Republicans accompanied law enforcement officials on a failed effort to see undocumented immigrants cross the border.

Democrats on the panel boycotted that hearing, dismissing it as a political stunt and saying they had not been consulted about it.

“It’s unfortunate that no Democratic members of Congress are joining us on this trip despite weeks of notice,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican. of Ohio and the president.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the committee, said Democrats on the panel planned to make their own trip to the border to hear from government officials and community members.

“Republicans are so desperate to change the narrative of their failed agenda that they are preparing to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on political stunts,” he said. “These guys roam the desert at night as part-time vigilantes, looking for migrants with their flashlights and the right-wing media in tow. That is not a solution; That’s a made-for-TV stunt.”

Only one Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr. of Virginia, attended the West Virginia hearing. “There was very little notice,” he said in an interview, explaining the absence of his fellow Democrats.

Mr. Beyer said he was concerned about the cost of relying primarily on field hearings, which often require the use of chartered planes to get members to the venue. For the upcoming Oklahoma hearing, he said, “the majority of its 25 members and at least eight Democrats will fly in, fly them in and feed them. There’s no reason not to, but we still live in a world of scarce resources.”

Two different subcommittees of the Committee on Energy and Commerce scheduled two different field hearings last month in Texas, about 18 hours and 600 miles apart. When inclement weather ruined the lawmakers’ business travel plans to get to the second hearing in Midland, they ended up chartering a plane to get there on time.

Republicans said they planned to increase travel over the next two years despite criticism, whether or not Democrats join them, and that they would need substantial budgets to achieve it.

“We would like to do many more field hearings,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. “The reality is that they also cost a lot more money.”

Rep. Bruce Westerman, Republican of Arkansas and chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, testified last week before the House Administration Committee, which oversees the panels’ budgets, that he anticipated his committee would hold “10 to 15” hearings on field every year. That’s a significant increase from previous years.

Some panels seem to be taking the mandate to travel to more extreme extremes than others. Rep. Mike Bost, Republican of Illinois and chairman of the Committee on Veterans Affairs, said panel members should be prepared to “go out on the field” in “the blink of an eye” to respond to crises at veteran facilities. in all the country. He requested a travel budget of $150,000, up from $100,000 last year.

So many panels called for more travel expenses this year that it surprised some during the House Administration Committee hearing when some said they did not plan to do so. When Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Rules Committee, testified that he was not requesting a budget increase for his panel, a Republican member of the Administration Committee seemed surprised.

“Aren’t you going to have field hearings in Alaska or something?” asked fellow Republican, Rep. Greg Murphy of North Carolina.

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