After 15 minutes of general commentary, Kevin Yoder received a hearty round of applause from his Fairfax-oriented audience. The topic? Yoder mentioned he had introduced legislation to reduce Congressional pay by 5 percent and curtail lifetime pensions for members of Congress.
Yoder spent the lunch hour on Thursday with approximately 100 members and guests of the Fairfax Industrial Association. The group had postponed its regular monthly meeting to accommodate Yoder’s schedule.
Questions from audience members stimulated interesting commentary. “What about a flat income tax?” asked one constituent. “Entrenched special interests are blocking tax reform,” Yoder explained. “Flat taxes could generate the needed revenue, but resistance to change is nearly impossible to overcome.”
Most of the Congressman’s remarks focused on his point of view on the continuing fiscal discussions in the nation’s capitol. “Mandated government spending is two-thirds of the expense side of the national budget,” Yoder explained, “even if we cut the discretionary expenses, including defense, from one-third to zero, we still can’t balance the federal budget.”
“In the past 50 years, Congress has produced only six balanced federal budgets,” Yoder emphasized. “You couldn’t run your business or your household that way, and we shouldn’t run the government that way either!”
Explaining that the nation’s spending problem is the next fiscal hurdle, Yoder observed, “There is simply no way that we can balance the budget unless we deal with the spending on entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Social Security.” Yoder tempered his comments by saying that any adjustments to existing programs had to be reasonable and fair, especially for those already in the programs or nearing eligibility.
The Congressman commented that a public misconception about some spending is not based on knowledge and cited foreign aid as an example. “Surveys have shown that citizens generally estimate that foreign aid is about 25 percent of the federal budget, and among those, that reducing foreign aid to 10 percent would be more acceptable. In reality, foreign aid is about 1 percent to 2 percent of the budget. So the policy question based on taxpayer feedback becomes ‘should we spend more or less on foreign aid?’
One additional policy conundrum mentioned by Yoder was the often expressed desire to make government more efficient. “We have actually heard from advocates who flatly state that if government becomes more efficient, jobs would be eliminated, helping drag down the economy. Even natural disasters, such as mega storm Sandy’s destructive impact on the East coast, are touted as job generators because of the need to rebuild.”
“These are false propositions for several reasons,’ Yoder noted. “Maintaining inefficient government operations and citing disasters as positive job creators is just wrong. Taxpayers deserve better treatment and there’s no net gain from rebuilding to pre-disaster conditions. The correct measurement is to look at driving overall productivity.”
In concluding remarks, Yoder said he believed the mostly ignored recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles Commission provided a good framework for future discussions that could result in common economic sacrifice.
A former state legislator, Yoder is a first-term Republican member of Congress representing Kansas’s 3rd District. He was unopposed in the November general election.