Differing philosophies on federal spending and balancing the national budget were expressed by the incumbent 3rd District Congressman and his two opponents at AETN’s “Debate Week” program Tuesday in Conway.

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, seeking his fifth two-year term in the House, faced off with Democratic Party candidate Josh Mahoney of Fayetteville and Libertarian Party candidate Michael Kalagias of Rogers.

Womack, the former mayor or Rogers and a retired Army National Guard colonel, said the budget proposal dubbed Brighter American Future passed by the House Budget Committee this summer achieves a balanced budget in nine years. Womack, chairman of the House Budget Committee, noted at a recent Fort Smith town hall the budget plan calls for increasing the age requirement for Medicare Part A to age 67.

“I don’t want to cut these programs,” Womack said of Medicare and Social Security. “If I wanted to cut those programs I’d do nothing, because they get cut on their own. In 2026 the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund goes broke. In 2033-34 Social Security goes broke.”

Womack said there would not be enough money to pay the benefits if the programs continue on the current trajectory and grow “exponentially” with more and more people growing older and using the benefits.

The other 30 percent of the national budget is made up of “discretionary spending,” Womack noted, with programs for things like education, national defense, cancer research, and national parks. With “no solution” for discretionary spending, this sector is “getting squeezed” to make up for mandatory spending, Womack said.

Kalagias, a retired public school teacher who served five years in the Navy, said there are solutions but "special interests" keep them from being initiated. The Libertarian candidate said while he recognizes portions of mandatory spending could be cut to balance the budget, there are also areas of discretionary spending that should be cut.

“We’re going to have to cut mandatory spending, but without raising the requirement age or cutting benefits we can look first to the SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance),” Kalagias said in a phone interview Tuesday. “That’s $150 billion alone … There are plenty of long-term and short-term disability options in the private market. There’s not any reason to put that in Social Security.”

The only recommended change to Social Security in Womack's budget proposal is “closing a loophole with disability insurance” that “allows you also to collect unemployment." There is no change to Social Security eligibility, Claire Burghoff, communications director for the House Budget Committee, explained to the Times Record in August. 

Kalagias urged Congress to “get the government out of health care,” and said he has heard plans from Congress for the past three decades that call for balancing the budget within 10 years. The closest any Congress has come since 1957, Kalagias noted, was in 2000 when the deficit was down to $18 billion following an improved economy, interest rates and, paradoxically, gridlock between President Bill Clinton and the Newt Gingrich-led House of Representatives.

While he is uncertain what will come of President Trump’s call for the first audit of the Pentagon, Kalagias has seen how the “military industrial complex” operates and has a few ideas to cut spending there. Initially, it would be by ceasing operations in Afghanistan.

“There’s nothing left to accomplish in Afghanistan,” Kalagias said. “That’s $30 billion to $50 billion a year.”

Kalagias also pointed to spending methods for C-130 aircraft construction, with various parts produced in many states to "put undue political pressure" on Congressmen and continue spending in their districts. Kalagias also expressed ideas on Navy ship development that could save billions.

The Libertarian candidate said in his opening remarks Monday that Womack’s votes have added $8 trillion to the national debt, about $1 trillion for each year in office. As of noon Tuesday, the national debt was about $21.6 trillion, escalating at about $100,000 every five seconds according usdebtclock.org. Without reining in the national debt, projects related to infrastructure, national defense and education will not be possible, the Libertarian said.

Mahoney, past president of both the Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund and the Ozark Literacy Council Board of Directors, said he would "fight to protect Social Security and Medicare" and encourage a "boom in sustainable energy." He criticized Womack's budget proposal as being "paid for on the backs of seniors" with a 20 percent corporate tax cut that adds $1.5 trillion to the national debt over 10 years.

"We did not need to put this on the backs of hard-working Americans, especially our seniors, by cutting Social Security and Medicare," Mahoney said. "We can be more thoughtful about how we do these things, to come up with a balanced budget that works for everybody and does not unfairly benefit the wealthy or unfairly penalize hard-working Arkansans who have worked their whole lives to pay into a program like Social Security and Medicare."

Mahoney said "health care is a right" and argued with Womack's characterization that Medicare and Social Security are "entitlements."

"I don't see these as entitlements," Mahoney said. "These are earned benefits that our seniors have worked to pay into their whole lives and they deserve to have those programs there. We can fight to have a moral document that is our budget, and make sure that Social Security and Medicare is protected and respects the middle class. Those are our job creators. When they have more money in their pockets, they buy more goods and start businesses. We don't have to give major tax cuts to wealthy corporations."