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Sen. Enzi Gets A Gavel - The First Accountant Ever To Chair The Budget Committee

Senator Mike Enzi (R)

Republicans now are the majority in both chambers in the U.S. Congress, which means they control all the gavels on Capitol Hill. Wyoming's senior senator, Mike Enzi, gets to wield one of those gavels in the all-important Budget Committee.

Senator Enzi is quiet and unassuming, but his D.C. office is adorned with Wyoming paraphernalia. Today, he’s at his most gleeful, if still subdued, because of his new chairmanship. 

“I’m very excited about that,” he says. “It is nice to be in the majority and it’s nice to be a chairman again. It’s good to play offense instead of just defense.”

That's the equivalent of an end zone dance for Wyoming's senior senator. Enzi's proudly a numbers guy.  

“I’m the first accountant to chair of the Budget Committee in the history of the Budget Committee. Yeah, the rest have been attorneys or a schoolteacher.”

So what is the Budget Committee? you might be asking. They lay out the blueprint for most all federal spending, or as Enzi describes it, “The people on the Budget Committee are the ones that get to say how much can be spent next year and then we’re in charge of enforcing to make sure that that’s all that gets spent. And we can make assignments to the different committees on how much they ought to save.”

Enzi says he promises to use his new perch to take aim at the nation's mind numbing eighteen- trillion-dollar debt. 

“People across American and particularly in Wyoming are concerned about the national debt and what that’s going to do to the next generation. And the budget’s one place that we can get a handle on that.”

He interestingly was voted by staffers as the nicest senator, which is, you know, he's nice to everybody. And he has been very gracious towards other members of both parties during his entire tenure here. So he has respect, he has camaraderie; and I think that you're going to see this role for Mike Enzi perhaps being his crowning achievement here in the Congress.

You may remember the controversial Ryan Budget. It was authored by former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, the former chair of the House Budget Committee. It angered Democrats for basically turning Medicare into a voucher program, but won praise from the GOP for balancing the budget in a decade. That wasn't good enough for Enzi. 

“You know, one of the problems I’ve had with budgets that I’ve looked at is that they use a lot of gimmicks.”

Enzi says Ryan's budget was misleading because it called for the repeal of so-called Obamacare but applied the mathematical underpinnings of the health law towards deficit reduction. Enzi's mum on the details of what he plans to propose but he’s promising a serious document calling for cuts that will anger voters across the political spectrum. 

“It’s never easy when you’re talking about money,” he says. “And everybody in America gets something from the federal government. And any time we talk about cutting something, we’re cutting about some federal employees who immediately heat up at least ten or twenty people that have benefited from the program to flood in here to make sure that we understand how important it is.”

Wyoming Republican Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis says Enzi is well situated to tackle some pressing issues at home too.

“The abandoned mine lands raids where money is taken from Wyoming and given to eastern states--and taken only from Wyoming and given to eastern states. I’m hopeful that Senator Enzi will be in a position to right that wrong,” Lummis says. “Also, the fact that mineral royalties were taken from states that have onshore production, and it only happened to people who have onshore, not offshore. So I am hopeful that Senator Enzi will use his perch on Budget to right some of those wrongs.”

Lummis says she expects Enzi to be an effective chairman because he’s actually likeable in an institution filled with big egos, many who notoriously treat their staffs like slaves.

“He interestingly was voted by staffers as the nicest senator, which is – you know, he’s nice to everybody. He’s nice to everybody on Capitol Hill. And he has been very gracious towards other members of both parties during his entire tenure here. So he has respect, he has camaraderie; and I think that you’re going to see this role for Mike Enzi perhaps being his crowning achievement here in the Congress.”

It’s not just Republicans. Virginia Democratic Senator, and former governor, Tim Kaine serves on Enzi’s committee and looks forward to working with him.

“Yeah he is a very, you know, he is an old fashioned guy in the sense of civility and courtesy, let’s listen to each other even if we have very different points of view. If we listen to each other maybe we’ll find some commonalities. I think he’ll be a good chair.”

The clock’s already ticking though. Enzi needs to produce a budget by April fifteenth to meet the statutory deadline. But Congress is out for a two-week recess right before the deadline, so he’s aiming to get it done in March.  

“To get it done that fast, it will be a master achievement just to get a budget passed that balances in ten years. Then we can refine it, modify it, enforce it and cover the other proposals that still need some salesmanship in order to get done.”

Enzi also has his eyes on reforms, like moving from an annual budget to a two-year budget like they have in the Wyoming legislature.

“We try to go through the twelve appropriations bills, the spending bills every year,” Enzi says. “That’s one-and-one-tenths trillion dollars of decisions we actually get to make on the budget. There’s twice that much that we don’t even get to touch because that’s in the mandatory spending. But to touch one-and-one-tenths-trillion dollars – nobody can imagine how much money that is. So it really isn’t scrutinized.”

Enzi also is lobbying lawmakers on his Penny Plan, which would cut spending by one penny for every dollar the government spends. To get those pennies to add up Enzi and his staff are working overtime these days, and you’ll hear about the results this spring.

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.

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