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How Do Wyoming Lawmakers Fit Into Dysfunctional Congress?

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Wyoming lawmakers are asking you to put them back in office on November fourth, but how effective have they been? 

You probably won’t be surprised to hear, this Congress is the least active in the nation’s history. In the past two years, they’ve passed only 181 bills that were signed into law by President Obama. Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, doesn’t rate it very highly.

“This is an embarrassing and miserable Congress. Really one of the worst I've ever seen.”  

So how do Wyoming lawmakers rate? Of bills that are now laws, the state’s lawmaker’s were the lead sponsors of just one – giving them just one half of one percent of the laws passed in the nation over the last two years. Ornstein says you have to dig a little deeper than that though.

“Now it’s true you can't just measure a Congress by the number of bills enacted, the quality matters too.”

Wyoming Republican Senator Mike Enzi’s name was attached to that lone bill – The Powell Shooting Range Land Conveyance Act – it took BLM land and turned it into a shooting range. Enzi says every bill that’s signed into law is a major accomplishment in this hyper-partisan Congress.

“That’s what they say about any bill that passes, that they must have been easy. They aren't easy. Legislation is not easy, in this atmosphere specifically.”

While Enzi is a quiet lawmaker who rarely grandstands, he says the legislative process is involved and requires a lot of conservations with people he doesn’t always see eye to eye with.

“You have to build coalitions, you have to work with people one on one. You have to make sure you're getting all of the unintended consequences taken care of, and you've got to bring the American people along with you, particularly the groups that are interested in that piece of legislation.”

Enzi also notes that the only law in the 113th Congress with his name attached to it is a little misleading because he’s got his fingerprints all over other bills. Take one job training bill as an example.

“If you take a look at the record on the Work Force Investment Act you'll find that everyone that helped pass that did a speech and mentioned that I was significantly involved in that. Because I worked on it for eleven years.”

Enzi blames Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for most of the problems plaguing the nation’s capital, because he often closes off amendments that Enzi and others want to offer to help craft legislation.

“Right now the leader brings it to the floor, he precludes having any amendments and then he starts negotiating for which amendments he would allow. He negotiates for three weeks and then decides he’s not going to allow any amendments.”

Enzi’s Democratic opponent, Charlie Hardy, says the state’s senior senator is mistaken.

“He has been in there with both democratic and republican presidents. He has been in there with both democratic and republican leadership – he has not been effective. And so to toss the blame on Senator Reid is just another one of these things. It is passing the buck instead of assuming responsibility for something he should have been assuming responsibility for.”

Hardy says it’s not just Enzi.

“Our delegation is there so that they will raise their hands whenever the republican leadership says to raise their hands this way or that way but as far as really accomplishing anything – no – they are just there...sitting in their seats.”

Let’s get away from the Senate campaign and back to legislating, or not legislating. While other senators have introduced 70 or even 100 bills, Wyoming’s two senators each introduced around 30 bills over the past two years, while Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis introduced 16 bills before Congress left Washington to hit the campaign trail this fall. She says that’s only way to judge a lawmaker.

“Most of what happens legislatively that becomes law of course is not through direct sponsorship of legislation. It is getting writers on appropriations bills, it is getting amendments on authorizing bills. It’s working on legislation that you oppose to make it better. It is killing legislation that is bad for your state.”

So how does it feel for Wyoming lawmakers to be in such a dysfunctional body? Lummis says it’s a headache.

“Its terribly frustrating to be in Congress.”

So how should you judge your lawmakers when you go into a polling booth? The congressional scholar, Norm Ornstein, says the nation needs problem solvers.

“I believe the screen that voters ought to use is the screen of problem solving. Do you have a lawmaker or a candidate whose major interest is coming to Washington to help solve problems that face the nation?”

Ornstein says a part of the reason gridlock is so persistent on Capitol Hill these days is voters have become as polarized as lawmakers. He says many independents skip elections and allow the two extremes to decide who represents them in Washington. Ornstein says it is important for those people to vote.

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