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Wyoming Lawmakers Spar With Obama On Middle Class Agenda

Flickr Creative Commons, User Ron Cogswell

Republicans now control the gavels on Capitol Hill, but last week they were given a stark reminder of how limited their power is here in the nation’s capital when President Obama delivered his State of the Union address where he touted recent economic gains.  

"So the verdict is clear. Middle class economics works," Obama said. "Expanding opportunity works. And these policies will continue to work as long as politics don’t get in the way. We can’t slow down businesses or put our economy at risk with government shutdowns or fiscal showdowns."

The president and his team of political advisors are now aiming squarely at the middle class. They want to hike taxes on the wealthy in order to do things like offering guaranteed sick leave and free community college. Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis says Republicans like her are also focused on the middle class.

"There is a big difference," she says. "I believe that the president’s agenda is one that he articulates and doesn’t follow through on. In fact I believe the president’s policies are harmful to the middle class." Lummis brushes off the president's new agenda. "His policies about energy and about Obamacare, which brought about the largest tax increase we’ve ever seen in this country’s history, hit the middle class harder than any other group. So I quite frankly believe that it’s disingenuous of him to feign concern for the middle class."

The president is set to unveil his new budget proposal Monday. That pits him against Wyoming's senior senator Mike Enzi who is now chairman of the Budget Committee. Enzi is already critical about the president's new free community college proposal. 

"Well, it’s an unfunded mandate to the states, and he knows that and he should be ashamed," Enzi says. "The president is still on the campaign path. He’s not providing serious numbers for us. I’m hoping next week when we get his budget that they’ll be more serious than his State of the Union speech."

Enzi sums up the differences between the two party's visions this way: "Well, we have different approaches on how to help the middle class out. His is to spend more money, add to the debt and then request higher taxes. Our approach is to stimulate the economy, get people better training for better jobs and more money."

Wyoming's junior senator John Barrasso is a member of the Republican leadership in the Senate and doesn't stop to talk to Wyoming reporters as much as the state’s other two federal lawmakers, but he did offer this brief critique of the president's policies. 

"Job growth is going to be fairly slow over the next ten years," Barrasso said. "The president ought to be doing more to help the country and help the men and women who are looking for work."

But what about the president's new energy policies? The President says he wants to combat climate change, but his administration says it's also going to expand oil and gas drilling off the east coast. He also wants to make it harder to drill in ANWR - that decade-long debate over resources sitting in a rugged part of Alaska. Senator Enzi says he remains frustrated over the President's stance on energy.

"He has no energy policy," he says. "He’s anti-energy and he’s doing everything he can to stop it and he’s successful on all the public lands."

You may be saying, "Wait, the U.S. is producing records amount of energy and gas prices are so low?" Lummis says that's all in spite of the president. 

"It is – it is really low and it’s because it is a global market. But when we restrict the production of oil and gas from federal land, when we don’t allow things like the Keystone pipeline, we minimize our ability to make the current price of gasoline sustainable."  Lummis is predicting a spike in gas prices soon. "So this is going to be a very short-term decline in the price based more on what OPEC, Saudi Arabia specifically, do than what we’re doing. So the long-term strategy of the Obama administration is to raise prices."

The president Isn't taking the critiques from the GOP lightly. He says he's willing to go to battle for his priorities. 

"We can’t put the security of families at risk,” he says, “by taking away their health insurance or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got to fix a broken system. And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things I will veto it. It will have earned my veto.” 

The president has less than two years left in office and Republicans control Capitol Hill for that period. If neither side budges, it may be a long two years.

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