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Chairman Smith Opening Statement – State of the American Economy: Appalachia

February 05, 2023

PETERSBURG, WV – Today, at the first hearing of the Ways and Means Committee under a new Republican majority, Chairman Jason Smith (MO-08) spoke about how the Committee and Congress must put the interests of American workers first by hearing directly from Americans about their struggles and their ideas to improve the lives and livelihoods of their families and communities after two years of crisis under one-party Democrat rule.

As prepared for delivery.

“Welcome to the first hearing of the Ways and Means Committee in the new Republican majority.

“Thank you to Allegheny Wood Products for hosting us.

“As you all may have noticed, the first full hearing of the Ways and Means Committee is not being held in the marbled halls of Congress. Instead, we are in Petersburg, West Virginia for the first of many such field hearings.

“The Ways and Means Committee has a connection to the American public that dates back to the founding of our country.

“Every family, business, farmer, senior citizen, and, frankly, foreign nation is impacted by our work. More importantly, our values are reflected in that work.

“But over the last few years, this committee’s work – and that of Congress – has drifted from the needs of these good people. We must course correct. We must prioritize the voices in rooms like this one, and not those of the Washington political class.

“We will hear today about the state of the American economy. And it is in danger.

“Historic inflation, high energy bills, declining real wages, labor shortages, spikes in interest rates, the supply chain crisis, China’s unfair trade practices, and so much more. These are some of the challenges confronting working families that Republicans will work to solve.

“If we want to put our nation on sounder footing, we need to prioritize our most valuable resource: the American worker. And the first step is listening to Americans on the front lines of our economy, hearing their stories and their ideas for improving life for their families, their neighbors, and our country.

“The people of West Virginia are resilient, but life is undeniably harder than it was just two years ago. Communities like Petersburg have seen their voices drowned out by special interests in Washington calling for more spending and more regulation that has fueled the fire of inflation.

“For many Americans, it feels like Washington has forgotten about them.

“In West Virginia, the cost of living has increased 15.1 percent since President Biden took the oath of office, costing families a total of $7,000 and counting.

“For parents, it means choosing between new shoes for school or filling up your tank to get to work.

“For seniors, it means figuring out each month whether to pay for groceries or the heating bill.

“Gas prices have risen 42 percent in this state since Biden became president. Up and down the supply chain, farmers, businesses, and workers are being crushed.

“In West Virginia, there are two job openings for every unemployed person. Across this country, too many Americans have been incentivized by misguided Washington policies to sit on the sidelines of our economy and miss out on the dignity and the paycheck that come from a steady job. For small towns, it can mean treasured local establishments shutting their doors from lack of workers.

“Today, we will hear from Tom Plaugher, a 25-year employee of Allegheny Wood Products – our host today – Ashley Bachman, a mom of three, and local restaurant owner, Wylie McDade, a veteran and co-owner of a local distillery, and Jamie Ward, West Virginia native and 30-year veteran of the coal industry.

“The stories of our witnesses, Americans trying to make ends meet and provide for their families, tell the real state of the union.

“When President Biden gives that speech tomorrow, he’ll claim the nation is finally turning a corner on inflation – the same inflation he spent a full year denying, and which his Chief of Staff called a “high class” problem. The truth is that inflation has risen 13.9 percent across the country since Joe Biden took the oath of office. Skyrocketing costs are even worse in rural communities, where inflation is 130 percent higher than urban areas and real wage growth is 25 percent lower. And after increasing government spending by $10 trillion, he will ask the taxpayer, through this Committee, to approve a clean increase of his ability to borrow more.

“President Biden will take credit for falling gas prices. Few things could be more insulting to the coal miners of West Virginia and energy producers across the country than to hear the President take credit for their hard work. In fact, this Administration is shutting down fossil fuel production, while throwing billions at green energy projects run by the Democrat donor class.

“Who knows if President Biden will bother to mention the supply chain.

“Small businesses waiting for parts and equipment on backorder know that our supply chain issues haven’t been solved. The struggle means lost revenue for businesses, smaller paychecks for workers, and higher prices for families. Instead of negotiating trade deals to bring supply chains home and sell more American goods abroad, the Biden Administration is out to lunch.

“His speech will likely not mention the worker shortage, even though his party’s war on work helped create the problem. The result has been “Help Wanted” signs everywhere and the lowest labor force participation rate since Jimmy Carter. We need to reconnect more Americans to work; that’s how you help lift families out of poverty.

“Where I come from in Missouri, people work hard and play by the rules. They buy Always Save Mac & Cheese, and they shop at Walmart to stay in their budgets. They get excited if a restaurant lets kids eat for free, because it means they can afford to spend a family night out. They deserve the same opportunities as the people who walk the halls of Congress.

“That’s why we are here in Petersburg to partner with the American people to find solutions. It is their voice that matters most in writing the next chapter of American history – not K Street lobbyists. To that end, for those from the community in attendance here that are not testifying, and the employees of Allegheny we want to hear from you too. We will be providing a notebook for you to share your thoughts with this committee and which we will insert into the official record of this hearing.

“I want to thank our witnesses for taking time away from their families and work to be with us today and share their stories.”