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Enzi Prepares For Retirement

Senator Mike Enzi

After more than two decades of representing Wyoming in the United States Senate, Mike Enzi is retiring. Some of his colleagues say his departure is going to leave a huge deficit in the upper chamber.Enzi first came to Washington in the sixties to get his bachelor's degree in accounting from George Washington University. After heading home, he served in the Wyoming Air National Guard, was Mayor of Gillette, then spent time as a Wyoming State Representative and a State Senator. He came full circle in 1997 when he came back to Washington as U.S. Senator Mike Enzi. But he's glad that time has come to an end.

"I'm ready to be in Wyoming. I'm excited about it," Enzi said.

Since November, as party leaders have been scrambling to fund the government and pass another round of coronavirus stimulus for the ailing economy, Enzi sold his home here and has been packing decades of memories up from his office. So when I asked about what he was thinking on his way to cast one of his final votes at the Capitol, Enzi wasn't thinking about his legacy.

"[I'm] too busy to have much going through my head," Enzi said.

Some of the Senate colleagues Enzi's leaving behind have been discussing his legacy, and they agree that his retirement is going to leave a huge hole in the Capitol. Indiana Republican Senator Mike Braun is a first term senator. One of his main committees is the Budget Committee that Enzi chairs . Braun laments that Enzi was given a gavel by GOP-leaders, but never the power to rein in federal spending like Enzi always wanted.

"Well, it's gonna be a big loss, because it should be the most important committee in the US Senate and, sadly, budgeting has been thrown aside," Braun said. "That's why we've got structural trillion-dollar deficits. And Mike has been a calm, reasoned voice citing it, and a lack of political will in this place in general, that's why we do nothing about it."

Some could say Enzi was a broken record when it came to federal spending: Even as both parties sought to rack up deficit spending over the years, Enzi was most always a thorn in leader's sides.

"Not just loud - consistent voice," according to Oklahoma Republican Senator James Lankford. "And that's what's been there is that he's always bringing up the issue of debt and deficit, dealing with budget points of order. What does this really mean long term? He'll be missed cause he has a real skill and wisdom in that area."

Lankford never served under Enzi, but he says he made a mark on him and others.

"He'll be missed because he has a real skill and wisdom in that area, that when people bring something up, he has the ability to be able to look at it and say, 'This is what that really means.' And so some people will say, 'Yeah, that sounds fine.' And he'll say, 'Hey, are you aware?'" Lankford said.

Enzi is known as an old school lawmaker who most always sought to forge compromises across the aisle, so his departure is bittersweet to more moderate, deficit-focused Democrats like Delaware Senator Tom Carper.

"Actually, during the time he's been Budget chair, we've had the largest budget deficits in the history of the country."

Carper says even though Enzi warned his party's leaders against using the nation's credit cards, the nation's debt was still able to hit its record $27-trillion under his tenure.

"Despite his leadership, we have gone the wrong way. Unfortunately, the president's not much of a fiscal conservative, so regardless of how good the budget chair was, the leadership at the top wasn't with him."

Enzi is being replaced by former Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis who is also known as a fiscal hawk. And even though Oklahoma Senator Lankford served with her and respects her, he says…

"Oh yeah - she'll be helpful, but there aren't two Mike Enzi's. I mean, he's an accountant. He understands the issues well," Lankford said. "He knows all the ins and outs. So anybody walking in will be playing catch up ball. And I've worked on the budget issues for 10 years now, but I'm still playing catch up ball to what he already knows."

As he's been packing his bags, belongings and towers of boxes of late, Enzi says the issue he devoted his Senate career to - the nation's fiscal health - has been far from his mind.

"I've always worried about that. It's not my job now," Enzi said.

As for leaving Washington? Enzi's ready to be home in Wyoming.

"I'll miss the people, not the place," Enzi said. "Not the schedule, for sure."

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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