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Jason Smith plans focus on ‘security’ issues in new Budget panel role

Missouri lawmaker edges Ohio’s Bill Johnson for ranking member post

Missouri Rep. Jason Smith is the incoming top Republican on the Budget Committee.
Missouri Rep. Jason Smith is the incoming top Republican on the Budget Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Jason Smith wants Republicans to be the party of “security” with an emphasis on the “working class” as he prepares to take the top GOP slot on the House Budget Committee next year.

Referring to what he terms economic, community and educational security, the three-term Missouri Republican said he will stump for minimizing taxes, guaranteeing funding for the military and law enforcement and providing parents with more school choices.

Smith said he’ll be aggressive in attacking what he considers far-left policies advocated by House Democrats, and he is convinced Republicans will win back control of the more narrowly divided House in the 2022 midterms.

“We will win the majority in two years,” he told CQ Roll Call after his election as ranking member Thursday. Democrats, he said, “just keep dividing themselves in an internal war where it’s the progressives vs. the normal, what I would say back home in Missouri is the regular Democrats versus the progressive socialists.”

Smith, the outgoing House GOP conference secretary, edged out the more senior Bill Johnson of Ohio to win the Budget ranking member job. Smith also serves on the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax policy and major entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.

In his pitch to the House GOP Steering Committee, Smith said he stressed that Republicans are “the party of the working class and the Democrats are not. They’re more the party of big tech and Wall Street and the social elites.”

Smith, a lawyer and farmer, told the conference that Republican budget initiatives should promote economic, community and educational security.

“I want to make sure that hard-working Americans keep more of their money,” he said. “I don’t want their money being spent on a progressive wish list.” He said Republicans will fight proposed cuts to defense, police departments and border security funding.

Smith challenged the notion that the GOP has only become a party of the “working class” under President Donald Trump, whom he has strongly supported over the past four years.

“Our party has been the working-class party for a long time,” he said, adding that his heavily Republican district in southeast Missouri is “about as working-class as you can get” and “one of the poorest congressional districts in the country.”

While expansive on themes, Smith is vague about what specific policies Republicans will push on the panel.

For example, he said House Republicans will have to discuss whether they favor extending the statutory discretionary spending caps on appropriations, which expire on Sept. 30, 2021, or what approach they will take with regard to fast-growing entitlement programs for the poor and elderly.

“We’re going to have to look outside the box,” he said. “We’re working on some different directions to go.” He said he wants to “push what our conference can all get behind and that’s exactly what I will be spending so much of my time doing.”

Looking ahead to the July 31 expiration of the current debt limit suspension, Smith said that’s another issue the GOP will have to reach consensus on.

In the past, Republicans used the need to raise the statutory debt limit — when Treasury runs out of borrowing authority and can only use cash on hand and incoming revenue to pay for day-to-day expenses — as leverage for spending cuts. A debt limit showdown in 2011 led to imposition of the spending caps that expire next year, for example.

House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., favors doing away with the debt limit. Not Smith.

He said Yarmuth is “not really as concerned about debt as much as I am, I can tell you that.” Smith said eliminating the debt limit “just gives an unlimited credit card.”

The historic role of ranking members of committees in the House is to find fault with the majority’s proposals. Smith, though, said he hopes to work “across the aisle” as well as with Republican colleagues. He said he was looking forward to a Friday phone call that Yarmuth initiated.

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