Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer
Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer
By U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer
R-Missouri


Washington, D.C. – As the Third District has known for quite some time now, the pandemic is in our rear-view mirror. Businesses are serving their customers, children aren’t being forced to learn through a computer, and life has gone back to as normal as it can be with the economic headwinds we’re facing.

Even President Biden admitted “the pandemic is over” in his recent "60 Minutes" interview – much to the dismay of his staff. But the disruption caused by the pandemic – much of it, government imposed – was enormous and as a nation, we’re still working to fully recover from the economic setback.

As you know, when shutdowns were happening across the country Congress established the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to keep workers employed and families able to afford necessities. There was a great deal of fear of the unknown at the start of the pandemic, with a mystery illness we knew little about quickly moving across the world.

We were all told at the very beginning to stay home for two weeks to “slow the spread,” which turned into months and months of lockdowns nationwide and American business owners suffering the consequences. The PPP provided critical funds for small businesses across the country to keep their doors open and employees paid when they needed it most.

The PPP, the largest pandemic relief program at $800 billion, provided small businesses with financial support in the form of forgivable loans through private sector lenders, mainly banks and credit unions.

While this program was administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Department of the Treasury was charged with expeditiously onboarding new lenders. PPP was certainly instrumental in saving millions of jobs, but any program of that size is bound to have some hiccups. As the top Republican on the House Small Business Committee – the committee with sole jurisdiction over the SBA – it has been my job to provide the necessary oversight of PPP and, now that the program has closed, the loan forgiveness process and potential fraud.

Congress recognized our oversight need when funding these programs. Due to a law passed in late 2020, both the SBA Administrator and the Secretary of the Treasury are required by law to testify before the Small Business Committee no less than twice each year. The SBA Administrator has complied with the law and appears before the committee.

However, Treasury Security Yellen refused to show up. The law stated that Secretary Yellen’s first appearance must happen no later than April 26, 2021. 515 days have passed since that deadline and Secretary Yellen has testified a grand total of zero times.

If following the law isn’t enough of a reason for Secretary Yellen to come to the Committee – it is clearly not – you would think giving the country an update on how and where their billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent would be. The law doesn’t require Secretary Yellen to testify just for the sake of having her go to the Hill. Policy makers need to discuss the program so we can address outstanding problems, recapture fraudulent payments, and ensure small business owners and their workers actually received the relief they were supposed to.

In a rare but welcome show of bipartisanship in Washington, my Democrat counterpart on the Small Business Committee, Chairwoman Nydia Velazquez agrees that Secretary Yellen’s refusal to follow the law is unacceptable behavior from a member of the president’s Cabinet. She has joined me in official requests, letters, and public demands to compel the Secretary – all of which have gone ignored.

Unfortunately, one thing the chairwoman has been unwilling to do is exercise her subpoena power. Only the chairman of a committee can issue subpoenas, and because Republicans are in the minority, only Democrats can be chairman until the end of the year. I can assure you, if I had the authority, I would have issued that subpoena 515 days ago.

It is worth reminding everyone that the Treasury Secretary oversees the IRS along with many other federal regulators. If you chose to ignore the law and refused to pay your taxes, don’t you think the Secretary would mind? If your local bank or credit union made an error on paperwork would the regulators she oversees just blow it off? Of course not. She expects citizens to follow the law and she’d have no problem recommending prosecution for anyone who doesn’t.

In fact, the president’s most recent spending bill just authorized the hiring of 87,000 new IRS agents to scrutinize every little detail of our taxes. But the Secretary of the Treasury – a member of the president’s cabinet and the fifth person in the line of succession to the presidency – has been admittedly breaking the law for 515 days.

This week, I used a procedural action in the Small Business Committee to demand answers from Secretary Yellen. My resolution is privileged which means the chairwoman cannot ignore it. While it cannot physically force Secretary Yellen to make the 1.5-mile drive to the Capitol, it should allow us to perform proper oversight and due diligence of PPP, the forgiveness program, and potential fraud that needs to be brought to light. I will keep putting pressure on the Administration to follow the law. Whether they like it or not, it is their duty to answer questions and provide information to the American people, and I won’t stop applying pressure until they do.