By Stephen Smoot
On Monday, Pendleton County’s new member of Congress teamed up with its former member to help bring the powerful House Committee on Ways and Means to neighboring Grant County. Representative Carol Miller told West Virginia Metro News that “I’m excited for my colleagues on the most powerful committee in Congress to hear directly from my fellow West Virginians and understand what we can do to represent their interests best.”
Committee chairman Jason Smith, a Missouri Republican, said in a statement that “we will hear directly from small business owners, workers, and families about how they have been affected by inflation, supply chain problems, and high energy costs.”
Miller, Congressman Alex Mooney, and members of the committee sat in a large semicircle flanked by Allegheny Wood Products’ merchandise ready to ship. Mooney, though not a committee member, participated because Grant County lies within his newly drawn district. Behind them sat a large truck with a banner identifying the committee. A bus escorted by West Virginia State Police transported the members to and from Washington, DC.
Four West Virginians sat before them to give their stories and answer questions about their struggles. These included Tom Plaugher, vice president of operations for AWP, Ashley Bachman, owner of Cheetah B’s outside of Petersburg, Wylie McDade, co-owner of Devil’s Due Distillery in Jefferson County, and Jamie Ward, plant manager at a Consol facility in Wyoming County.
Smith gave the opening statement, explaining that “the people of West Virginia are resilient, but life is harder than it was two years ago.” Evidence he provided included a 42% rise in gas prices in the state, a 15.1% rise in the cost of living nationally under the Biden Administration, and other issues such as low workforce participation. Under such conditions, he said, “businesses and workers are being crushed.”
On her turn to speak, Miller described the “unnecessary struggles that we face are part of an overreaching federal government,” concluding that “President Biden is more interested in shipping jobs overseas than products.” She also stated that “the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was essential for the booming economy under Trump.”
Representative Don Beyer, a Democrat from Virginia, was the only member from 18 in the minority party to attend the hearing. He shared that “It’s wonderful to be here in West Virginia.” In his statement, Byer praised last year’s passage of “tax credits and investments that benefit West Virginia.”
He gave those acts credit for West Virginia adding “thousands of high-quality manufacturing jobs” in recent years. Byer then listed a number of programs promoted by his party that he said would help homeowners to buy green energy technology that could assist in lowering bills.
Mooney then explained how rising double-digit inflation forces West Virginia families to make hard decisions, saying “the value of hard-working West Virginians’ paychecks has decreased because of inflation.” He also touted the passage of the bipartisan Expanding Access to Capital for Rural Job Creators Act that he sponsored, along with GOP Representative Henry Cuellar of Texas and Chris Pappas, a New Hampshire Democrat, as a measure to help small businesses.
“There is much more that can be done,” Mooney said, “and I think this committee will bring back valuable information.”
Plougher named no names, but criticized policies of Presidents Joe Biden and Donald Trump in terms of their negative effects on AWP’s ability to conduct business in the United States and around the globe. The “trade war,” for example, as Plougher described it, under Trump hurt company exports.
He also shared five current pain points suffered by AWP, including increased gas prices due to “the war on fossil fuels,” the difficulty in obtaining vital parts and equipment during the ongoing supply chain crisis, lack of qualified labor, especially after COVID, rising interest rates, and a federal government that “places new burdens on business at every turn.”
Bachman opened by describing her struggle to establish her restaurant early on and also how COVID forced her to pivot her business model to a drive through. Recently, however, the biggest threat comes from rising costs. Bachman shared with the committee that “bone in chicken wings used to be $40 a case, now they are $150 for the same.” Propane gas for cooking “has more than doubled in price over corresponding costs in 2020.”
“I see lots of my old customers,” Bachman described, “who apologize because they haven’t eaten there lately.” Because of inflation, many, she says, are struggling now to just feed their families.
Bachman also focused her testimony on how expanded government benefits under and since COVID have hurt workforce participation. Later on, Byer asked Bachman “do you mean that we’re paying people to stay home?” She responded simply, “yes.”
McDade shared evidence of how supply chain disruptions have created problems for Devil’s Due Distillery. Prior to COVID, he said “choice in products was plentiful,” but “much has changed in the past two years.” The Navy vet related that lead times that were once an acceptable factor of two have ballooned to 10 or more. Additionally, he has to buy more in bulk lest he get caught short if supplies of key products run low.
Ward told the committee about the powerful impact that the Consol facility has had on the nearby Mullens community. It employs 25 employees and works with multiple local contractors. He also described the impact of regulations and other adverse federal actions over the years that caused many coal companies to “consolidate, go bankrupt, or get bought out.” Ward blames “anti-coal policies pushed in Washington, DC, by people who’ve never seen where I grew up.”
The hearing began at 11 a.m. and lasted for hours. Each member received five minutes to ask questions and each witness provided thorough and detailed answers.