Wyoming's Congressional Delegation Prepares For A New Reality

Jan 11, 2019

While many pundits are predicting pure gridlock for the next two years, Wyoming's senior senator Mike Enzi senses an opening to completely revamp how Washington spends money. He's the chair of the Budget Committee and he's using that perch to call for overhauling the way both parties dole out cash and blow up the federal debt and deficit, including Republicans over the last two years. That's why Enzi wants to start by changing from an annual to a two-year budget process, like they have in Cheyenne.

"We have too much money to consider trillions of dollars in one year, so we need to spread it over two years. Then the agencies would also know in advance what they're going to have to spend - they can plan for two years instead of just one year."

Enzi is also taking aim at the naming conventions used at the Capitol that he says are used to hide how money is moved around - and even hidden in plain sight. See Enzi chairs the Budget Committee but he isn't in charge of any federal spending - that's handled by the Appropriations Committee. He says the names themselves need updating.

"In every one of the state legislatures that would be called the Budget Committee. In Wyoming, it's the Budget Committee. Now what my job is is to set limits for the spending, and that's in categories - not specifically. So I think the committee that I chair should be The Debt Limit Control Committee," Enzi said.

During the 2016 election, Enzi held thirteen hearings exploring sweeping and even small changes to the budget process. He hoped to get them enacted before voters cast ballots for either Trump or Hillary Clinton in order to take the politics out of it. But the effort was derailed, and Enzi sees an opening to revive it this year.

"So I think we can start where we left off and get that done. And once again, nobody knows in two years who the president's going to be or who Congress is going to be. So at the very worst what we'd like to do is make the budget reforms go into effect after the next election."

If Wyoming's junior senator, John Barrasso, has his way, some of that money will go to an expansive infrastructure bill. He chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee. Last year his committee was able to strike a broad bipartisan compromise on a water infrastructure bill that passed the Senate by a vote of 99 to 1 before Trump signed it into law. Barrasso explained how he wants to use that model to fund roads, bridges, and the like.

"Then, of course, we're going to have to work with the administration as well as the House, and the House is under new leadership. But I think in terms of what we can do in a bipartisan way, we've proven it in the last Congress that we can do that in a bipartisan way and the goal is to do it again."

Then there's the Environment portfolio under Barrasso's control. Just before Christmas, he penned an op-ed in the New York Times laying out his vision for addressing carbon pollution, which he says doesn't need to include a tax, as many Democrats and even some Republicans have called for. He says besides nuclear power, innovating how we use dirty fossil fuels is the way to avert the potential environmental catastrophes scientists predict will stem from climate change. Barrasso maintains that he's been working on this since he's been in Washington.

"When I was early in the Senate, in my career, we put out legislation that established prizes for carbon capture, ways to deal with utilization, make carbon profitable, carbon sequestration - so that's been 10 years ago so this continues to build on that goal I've had from the beginning."

House Democrats say they're tackling climate change head-on.

New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone is the new chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He's with Barrasso on pushing for an expansive infrastructure bill, but the two are destined to butt heads because Pallone and other Democrats want that bill to address climate change without skirting the issue.

"Certainly there are a lot of different things that can be done as a part of an infrastructure bill. That's a priority of the House is to move an infrastructure bill, so that's certainly an opportunity to put some things in. But we'll probably do a lot of different things."

As for Wyoming's sole House member, Congresswoman Liz Cheney starts this new year in a new position: She's now the number three House Republican. A role that puts her in charge of messaging for the party, and Cheney is vowing that her party isn't going to just lie down and roll over even if they are now locked in the minority.

"We need to get on offense and I think especially because we're in the minority now, we've got to be in a position where we're making sure that we're out there everyday fighting, and I think we've got to be sure we're winning the news cycle. We need to make sure we have a more aggressive approach, especially because we're in the minority."

Cheney said a big part of her job is going to be merely coaching her fellow Republicans to highlight the progressive agenda being pushed by Democrats. But Democrats are still flying high after making historic gains in the House in November, and they're itching for the battles to come - especially because the next presidential election seems to be hanging over everything that happens in Washington these days.