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Wyoming’s delegation opposes increasing the debt limit

All three members of Wyoming’s congressional delegation voted to raise the nation’s debt ceiling last year. Matt Laslo reports from Washington that some lawmakers are saying ‘never again,’ which critics say puts the U-S economy at risk. HOST: All three members of Wyoming’s congressional delegation voted to raise the nation’s debt ceiling last year. Matt Laslo reports from Washington that some lawmakers are saying ‘never again,’ which critics say puts the U-S economy at risk.

Matt Laslo:  The debt ceiling is kind of a technicality. The money’s been spent, but Congress has to raise the debt ceiling to avoid defaulting. Last year a bipartisan coalition voted to raise it as a part of a broad compromise setting up a special committee to slash trillions of dollars from the national debt. That so called “super committee” failed. Many Republicans deny they regret voting to raise the debt ceiling last time, so I put the question to Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis.

LUMMIS1Reporter: “Do you regret voting for that at all?”

Lummis: “Yes! (laughs) I do.”

Laslo:  Lummis says she’s preparing to oppose the debt ceiling increase later this year. To not be hypocritical, she’s also planning to oppose most spending bills that come up this year because the debt ceiling merely allows the Treasury to pay off what Congress has already spent. And unlike other Republicans Lummis says it’s not necessarily an easy decision.

LUMMIS: “But right now the strategy I have in mind is one of having regretted my vote to raise the debt ceiling last time, setting my set up to be able to philosophically justify a no vote this time.”

Laslo:  The Speaker of the House John Boehner announced he won’t pass a debt ceiling increase unless Congress agrees to an equal amount of spending cuts. Last year the partisan bickering over the debt ceiling led Standard and Poor’s to downgrade the U-S credit rating for the first time in history. Now, with many Republicans flatly refusing to support a debt ceiling increase, analysts worry the U-S may face another downgrade to its credit rating and potentially worse outcomes. Still, Lummis says she supports the speaker’s announcement.

LUMMIS:  “Because a clean debt ceiling increase would be an absolute nightmare. It would indicate to markets that we are intending to just borrow and spend as usual. And that’s unconscionable. It’s immoral.”

Laslo:  A bipartisan group of senators is working to craft a compromise budget outline that would cut trillions of dollars from the debt. Their proposal is a mix of spending cuts and tax increases – an idea Republicans continue to reject. Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner says it’s impossible to get the nation’s debt under control without new revenue. He says the G-O-P rhetoric on the debt ceiling isn’t helping solve anything.

WARNER:  “It’s Groundhogs Day. We saw what happened when the speaker played debt ceiling roulette last summer – we almost blew up the economy, and with the turmoil in Europe, to kind of lay down these (sic) my way or the highway approach. There’s nothing productive in that.”

Laslo:  Jim Horney is the Vice President for Federal Fiscal Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities – a center left think tank. He says Lummis and other Republicans are clinging to a selfish position.

HORNEY:  “The idea that you would threaten to do real, serious and long lasting, if not permanent damage to the United States if you don’t get your way on some policy issue just seems wrong.”

Laslo:  Horney says Republicans are creating a false debate.

HORNEY:  “The debt limit isn’t really the way to control what the federal government is spending or what the size of the deficits is (sic). By the time you get to the debt limit we’ve already incurred obligations, we’ve bought things, we’ve paid benefits, and then it’s just time to pay the bills. And that’s just not the time to say, ‘oops, we’re not going to do that anymore.’”

Laslo:  But Wyoming Republican Senator John Barrasso says the debt ceiling debate is the perfect time to refocus the conversation in Washington.

BARRASSO: “We need to deal with the amount of spending going on in this country and we shouldn’t just continue to delay it”

Laslo:  Barrasso denies that the debt ceiling debate is a political ploy by his party. Walking through the basement of the Capitol, he contends the nation’s more than fifteen trillion dollar debt is adding dead weight to an already sluggish economy.

BARRASSO:  “To me this focuses on jobs, the economy, the debt and the spending. It’s all wrapped up in this. We need to get more people back to work and if you have more people working and paying taxes that helps address the overall revenue issue.” 

Laslo:  The debt ceiling is just one of a handful of major issues facing this divided Congress before the end of the year. But it’s an election year so lawmakers plan to spend more time on the campaign trail than hashing out their differences on the debt. Analysts say that’s a big part of the reason why the public is so fed up with this Congress.

For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Matt Laslo in Washington.

Based on Capitol Hill, Matt Laslo is a reporter who has been covering campaigns and every aspect of federal policy since 2006. While he has filed stories for NPR and more than 40 of its affiliates, he has also written for Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Campaigns and Elections Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Chattanooga Times Free Press, The Guardian, The Omaha World-Herald, VICE News and Washingtonian Magazine.