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Wyoming Senators Hope To Make Progress On A Number Of Issues

Wyoming’s lawmakers just returned to Washington after a summer break that President Trump urged the Senate to cut short to take up more of his agenda. Matt Laslo reports from Washington on what Wyoming lawmakers think they can accomplish this fall.

While the nation’s lawmakers took most of August off from their legislative duties in Washington, the president tweeted at Senate Republicans to get back to the nation’s capital to work on health care reform. But then the hurricanes started hitting. Senate Budget Chair Mike Enzi voted against the funding bill. Enzi says he’s trying to get Washington to set up a rainy day fund just like Wyoming has.

“Those are emergencies that we already have a precedent for doing. I've said since I got here that there needs to be a budget item that puts away money each year for those disasters, so when the disasters happen, we already have the money, we haven't spent it already, and doesn't have the deficit then.”

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, President Trump cut a deal with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to fund the government, the storm victims and extend the debt ceiling until December. Enzi doesn’t like short term spending deals but before the vote, Enzi said he was fine with the deal.

“It's just the part of the operation to get something done. Three months isn't a big policy deal.”

But eventually, Enzi opposed the bill. Other Republicans hate the short term deal Trump struck with Democratic leaders over the groans of GOP leaders. Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins says it seems Democrats won that round.

“I was very surprised by the deal that was struck. Usually, when you have a disagreement with Republicans on one side and the Democrats on the other, you split the difference – and so I was surprised.”

Now that Congress has returned, Enzi is also holding out hope that the GOP can still cobble together a health reform bill this fall.

“I went through the series of meetings on health care. Looks like there will be some bipartisan solutions, both in short term and then assuming that works get into a long term situation.”

The failure of the Obamacare repeal effort before their August recess still stings the president and many Republicans. That has senior Republicans like Enzi looking for a longer term solution, though freshman Republicans, like Georgia Senator David Perdue, are chomping at the bit to get the party in line on Obamacare repeal.

“I think the healthcare vote shows we are very fractured – we lost three chairmen to that vote. So this is a question of, is the Republican Party going to govern? Or are we going to sit here and vote our own personal interest? Right now personal interest is outweighing the national interest and sooner or later we have to come to grips with that.”  

But an effort has emerged by Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana to basically block grant most of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and health care subsidies directly to the states. Wyoming’s junior senator John Barrasso likes the contours of the proposal.

“The issue continues to be the same – we want to make decisions at home in Wyoming, not have Washington dictate. We want Wyoming to decide. So, what Senator Graham and Cassidy were talking about, which were getting decisions out of Washington, the money, the decisions and the flexibility home to each state. That’s what I would like to, I want to get that staff back to Wyoming, and support that.”

Like most in the GOP, Barrasso doesn’t seem to be as focused on health reform as he was in July. As chair of the infrastructure committee, he’s hoping the president’s tax reform proposal can be coupled with a plan for repatriation – the idea to bring hundreds of billions of dollars back to US soil to invest in American infrastructure.

“There is a lot of money still sitting overseas because our tax situation in the past has encouraged jobs to go overseas. We want to bring the money back and jobs back and put them back to work here in America.”

While many Republicans are still upset that Trump reached across the aisle this week, the party is still upbeat it can get key parts of its agenda to the president’s desk this fall. The problem for many in the GOP is that now many Democrats think they can too.

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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