Lummis needs to stop marching with extreme right-wing

By Kerry Drake
— October 15, 2013

To vote to shut down the federal government to force changes in law that a party cannot get through the regular legislative process was pointless and foolhardy, and some Republicans will pay the highest political price for it: they won’t be re-elected.

Kerry Drake

That won’t happen in Wyoming, where Rep. Cynthia Lummis has one of the safest seats in Congress. But she needs to be held accountable for her actions, which harmed federal and state workers and citizens who need the services that government provides.

I’ve searched for reasons why anyone would demand that the federal government be shut down unless the Affordable Care Act was repealed or defunded, and I’ve only come up with three: stupidity, heartlessness and ties to a reckless ideology that are so strong they cannot be broken.

I know that Lummis does not fall into the first two categories so I must conclude that, politically, she has reached a point where she no longer considers the results of her actions and believes that achieving her party’s goals are the only thing that matters.

Like many of the Republicans who pressed for and voted for the shutdown, Lummis has discovered things that the federal government does that she actually thinks are necessary. She is in favor of reopening the national parks, continuing medical research, and funding the Federal Emergency Management Administration and food support programs, among others.

While I applaud her enlightenment, it’s far too little and too late. There are thousands of services the federal government provides, and Congress can’t just fund them piecemeal based on polls that show which ones are the most popular among an outraged public. Lummis and her extremist cohorts also forgot that many vital state agencies and programs are funded by the feds, and that when that money is taken away, the services disappear. So do the checks and benefits for employees.

On Oct. 4, Gov. Matt Mead announced that 231 state employees whose jobs are partially or fully funded with federal dollars would be furloughed due to the federal shutdown. If the federal government is not fully up and running again after Oct. 30, up to 1,600 more state workers are at risk of losing their jobs and along with it, their health insurance.

Among the initial wave of state furloughs were employees in the Wyoming National Guard, the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Family Services’ early childhood program. All provide services that are vital to Wyoming residents. So will the other departments that could be affected if the shutdown continues.

Lummis sent an email to her constituents last week that blames President Barack Obama for the entire fiasco, despite the fact that in August she was one of 80 signers to a Tea Party-backed letter to House Speaker John Boehner that demanded he threaten the shutdown of the federal government if Obamacare was not repealed.

Obama and Senate Democrats made it clear that repealing or defunding of the Affordable Care Act was off the table, and that the House needed to accept the continuing resolution that would temporarily keep the federal government open, and funded at the lower levels that the House Republicans had demanded.

Obamacare was passed by Congress, signed into law by the president, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and reaffirmed by the re-election of Obama. If the GOP wants to change any portions of the program, it must do so though regular legislative processes. For Republicans to hold the government hostage to get their way is completely unacceptable in a democracy, and polls that show a majority of the public blames the GOP for the shutdown confirm that.

Losing on the Obamacare issue didn’t change the minds of Lummis and her party, who pressed to get something — anything — from the Democrats that could be seen as a victory. The entire Obamacare fight was exposed as a sham, an excuse for irresponsible Tea Party Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to shut down the federal government just to prove that they could.

In her letter, Lummis maintained, “Under the existing legal framework to deal with a lapse in funding, the [Obama] administration has deemed certain personnel as ‘essential,’ furloughed remaining personnel, and discontinued associated government functions. In Wyoming, the administration has closed off national parks and other federal lands to visitors, furloughed employees, and curtailed numerous other federal activities and programs on which people and businesses in Wyoming rely.”

In other words, Obama exercised the only legal recourse he had when Congress refused to fund the federal government. What else did she expect him to do?

Lummis, not Obama, cast a vote in favor of the action she now castigates. Yet she wrote, “No matter how one feels about the debate over the shutdown, to use the shutdown as a political hammer to punish some and reward others is an abuse of power. This is gamesmanship at a time when our country needs leadership. … To the extent that the shutdown continues, I will be vigilant in ensuring the administration copes with it by prioritizing the needs of the people, not the political needs of the president.”

If anyone is playing political games, it’s Lummis and the minority of Tea Party Republicans who took over the House GOP Caucus and forced the shutdown over an un-winnable issue. That’s not leadership, it’s a childish, victory-at-all-costs mentality that is severely damaging this country.

Addressing her party’s disastrous threat to not raise the debt ceiling, Lummis asserted that Republicans in the House “are choosing not to hand over the already maxed-out federal credit card yet again without some semblance of accountability on the part of the president and Democrat-controlled Senate.”

This statement shows she lacks a basic understanding of how the process works. Raising the debt limit isn’t like increasing a credit card limit for future purchases; it’s agreeing to pay the debts that Congress has already approved. To do otherwise would throw the world economy into chaos, which apparently makes sense only in the minds of those Republicans who have repeatedly demonstrated that they don’t care about the consequences of their folly.

Last week, Lummis was one of 50 House Republicans who wrote to Boehner and said he should demand cuts in Social Security benefits in exchange for a short-term increase in the debt ceiling. It’s incredible: the GOP insists on hurting the elderly poor or it will tank the economy. Is there no limit to the party’s rampant cruelty to our most vulnerable citizens?

As I mentioned in last week’s column about the feud between Lynne Cheney and Al Simpson, politics can take a tremendous toll on friendships. I write this one with great personal pain, because I have been Cynthia Lummis’ friend since the 1970s, when she was Miss Frontier at Cheyenne Frontier Days and I was a beginning reporter. Her husband, Al Wiederspahn, a former Democratic state legislator, has long been one of my best friends. I respect both for their public service, along with many other admirable qualities.

Throughout the years, I have always been a staunch liberal, and Lummis has become increasingly more conservative. We have always agreed to disagree politically. But I can’t accept her decisions that I believe have hurt the lives of so many people, and I can’t look past her failure to accept responsibility for her part in this mess while blaming Obama.

Lummis will likely remain in Congress as long as she wants to, because unlike Sen. Mike Enzi, she doesn’t run the risk of being “primaried” by an opponent intent on being even more conservative. And I don’t see any moderate Republicans who may be upset with the shutdown and debt ceiling debacles itching to take her on in a primary. It may be possible for such a politician to make a legitimate stab at ousting her with the backing of a coalition of like-minded Republicans, Democrats and independents, but it would also take a lot of money. Well-financed, entrenched incumbents are hard to beat.

So my hope is that when she takes stock of what’s happened this term, Lummis can consider altering her hard turn to the extreme right-wing of her party, and think about her role in the shutdown and the negative impact it has had on many of her constituents and the rest of the nation.

Wyoming needs people who can lead, not blame; who can look ahead and evaluate potential consequences, not blindly push rigid political ideologies; and who are willing to compromise with their opponents for the good of the country, not cast them as demons. This is my friend Cynthia Lummis’ opportunity to show that she is one of these people, but she needs to admit that the Tea Party blew it.

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is the editor-in-chief of The Casper Citizen, a nonprofit, online community newspaper. It can be viewed at www.caspercitizen.com.

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Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. I remember a young tow-headed Kerry Drake as an undergrad that used to frequent a place called Copper’s Corner back in the seventies when I managed it. I think he brought his fiance in towards the end of his academic career. Among the faculty, students and administrators that regularly frequented the place I would have to say you, if you are the same Kerry, have carried on the atmosphere we worked to nurture. Whoever you are, you write well and speak for a lot of us in Wyoming. There was a rule in Copper’s Corner back in the day: “Never let your mouth overload your ass.” Lummis probably was one of ours back then, but she isn’t now. Thanks for the sanity.

  2. Part Two, The ACA, Republican donors/ leaders have spent Millions in spreading lies about the ACA/ “Obamacare”, without even knowing what is in it! the leadership in congress took up the cause in order to insure continued endowments to their campaign coffers, they wish to eliminate it entirely, just to belittle the President,, PERIOD!! they offer no solutions, no alternatives, no plans, just obstruction!
    As a nation we have the most expensive insurance and healthcare in the world and the most ineffective, it needs to be fixed,, NOW!!!

  3. I can understand, rdb, when Fox News is your only source then you are setting yourself up, but try doing a little research next time, The Affordable Care Act/ “Obamacare” is 906 pages long,
    http://www.leadertelegram.com/blogs/tom_giffey/article_c9f1fa54-d041-11e1-9d01-0019bb2963f4.html
    The Republican obstruction, since before President Obama’s first inauguration in ’09 when the plot was put into action, Robert Draper: ‘Do Not Ask What Good We Do’, http://www.examiner.com/article/newt-gingrich-and-the-republican-party-exposed,,, has been unsurpassed in history, that Plus Senators that bought into Mitch McConnell’s historic obstruction promise: McConnell: ‘I refuse to help Barack Obama get re-elected’
    Sen. McConnell: “Making Obama A One-Term President
    Is My Single Most Important Political Goal”

    Guess what? We, The Nation, reelected him, and he is now a Second Term President, live with it!
    And now your worst and most shameful claim, that Americans do not want to work, when many have to work two or three jobs just to support a family and needs food stamps to feed them besides,, well that is just wrong, the President has put forth many jobs bills only to be obstructed by the Republicans “Promise” to obstruct everything he does, people Want To Work, quit obstructing them!!!
    And now the real kicker, Republicans shut down the freaking government because they don’t want to pay the bills they themselves have racked up?? Do you order a $15.00 meal, and when you get the tab ask your other if you should only pay $10.00? Republicans took this nations/ and the worlds for that matter, economy hostage to argue paying the tab THEY approved of ringing up,, Seriously???

  4. The ACA is one of the most divisive bills ever passed. Every Republican and many Democrats voted against it. It makes many of the problems of our insurance based healthcare system worse. It will make our country less competitive in a world that is becoming more so. I for one and am glad Cynthia took the stand she did. While the attempt to make our country more competitive and to lower our long term debt outlook ultimately failed, it is good to know that there are a few good men and women doing everything in their power to turn the tide.

  5. GWarnock – what do you call the 2,300 page document the liberal element in this country pushed through called “ObamaCare?” Do you think the politicians read that document? Even today they have no idea what they have done. We are all trying to figure out the ramifications of this boondoggle called ObamaCare. Higher health care rates, for less coverage, more taxes, more people tied to the government gravy train. More paperwork, more regulation, more resources dedicated to government.

    It goes both ways. The President is an easy target because he has no real world experience – the luster has worn off and the lack of experience and leadership has really become apparent the last six months. The Media constantly gives him a free pass, but the luster has almost warn off. The President is a fraud, he is not a leader, just a mouth piece for the liberal element in this country that wants just a little more……..he is the most unqualified individual this country has elected in 100 years.

    Forget the politicians, Republican or Democrat, it is the underlying entitlement society we have created in this country that is the problem. It is the entitlement society agenda that Mr. Drake continues to put forth. We have lost the work ethic, the drive to succeed in this country. Opportunity is everywhere in this country, it just takes some effort, education and willingness to participate with the skills the economy demands. Not everybody succeeds, but everybody has that opportunity. But, the more we put people on the government dole, the less incentive people have to take advantage of the American dream. Liberalism is pushing us closer and closer to the number of people on the government dime exceeding those moving the Country forward……..and pretty soon, as the well runs dry, we all lose, Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives………

  6. I love Wyoming, except for the “rdb”s and our lawmakers in Washington and state, that want to blame everything on President Obama, the whole system is broken, when ALEC and corporate lobbyists write laws that our representatives sign without question, then what would you expect? Our John “I Never Met a TV Camera I Didn’t Like” Barrasso tells bald faced lies about policies of the Democrats and rails against everything not Texas! We need to wake the —- up!!
    Lummis has received massive farm subsidies, yet votes to take away help and insurance from the poor, claiming fraud? Prove it!!
    President Obama makes a good whipping post, but actions speak louder than words, and all I have heard from our lawmakers is fabricated lies and plenty of fear and hate for our “black” President,,, Fox News anyone?

  7. What is stupid is the continued growth in the entitlement society, spending money we do not have. What about the harm ObamaCare is doing and will do to small business – the very same small business that creates the jobs and economy in this country. 15-40% increases in health insurance rates for lower quality rates, increased taxes, fees, bureaucracy and regulations. More government is not the answer. More government does not create jobs, does not create economic prosperity.

    Maybe it’s the clear-thinking so called mainstream voters in Wyoming that need to take a step back and think about where this entitlement society is really taking this country………it’s not a pretty picture.

    This is what happens when you elect an inexperienced community organizer with liberal east coast ideas. While I blame liberals, conservatives, democrats and republicans for this mess, a real leader would have the experience and ability to build consensus and lead. In this case, the President has been exposed for the sham he is, unable to lead or build consensus. He promised change, and this is the change he brought you. Be careful what you ask for. He is good at playing golf though……..

  8. Of course we should absolutely hold Rep. Lummis accountable for her deplorable actions in the government shutdown. However, if we want to understand why her actions make political sense even when they appear to harm the people of Wyoming, we should question the assumption that her seat is safe. Even Lummis must have noticed what happened in the last Republican primaries; if she didn’t, she would still have taken note of the new Tea-flavored factions from her own state, all sniffing for political blood. The sudden appearance of Liz Cheney in Wyoming underscores this point. The threats are everywhere: Cheney moved from the East Coast to Wyoming because she or her backers sensed weakness; CROW and other groups sprang up quite literally in Lummis’s back yard because they too smelled blood.

    While no one could accuse Lummis of being an independent thinker, her recent actions suggest that she fears for her career, now in it’s fourth decade. What’s unexpected is that she seems focused on threats from within her own party rather than on threats to the interest of her campaign supporters (or even her electorate). This is precisely the contradiction that could bring down the entire Tea Party, as I think we’re about to see.

  9. How unfortunate that Wyoming can not, or will not elect even moderately enlighted legislators, rather than the three we have. While the rest of the country moves toward marijuana legalization and equal rights for gays, our state clings to the absurdity and hatefullness of the past. It is time for a change.

  10. If the Republicans truly planned in advance to take the nation hostage, why can they not be charged with terrorism or treason? May we all come together to insure the Tea Party loses some of it’s 90 seats in Congress. Fundamentalists of any sort scare me with their short-sighted, single-minded beliefs. A “voice of reason” to represent Wyoming? Now, That would be something to gather around.

  11. Kerry, you could easily write similar columns about Enzi and Barasso, how they’ve embraced the extreme right and ignored opportunities to use negotiation and compromise in addressing the budget situation.
    Like Lummis, they’ve moved from Main Street to whackadoodle land, embracing Sen. Cruz and Tea Party extremism. They have done so to avoid primary challenges from the right. True, Enzi has the Liz Cheney cross to bear, but you’d get very long odds from Vegas on Liz beating Mike. All three of our congressional critters are gambling that the increasingly discredited label of “Republican” will give them easy re-elections. That might be true in the past, but Lummis may be more vulnerable that common wisdom would suggest. Her actions are putting her in extreme Barb Cubin country, making a Democratic challenge more realistic and viable.

  12. So where is the voice of ‘reason’ from Wyoming voters? Lummis has fallen over the far right-wing cliff and Barasso was already in the chasm to catch her. Lummis has ignored all pleas from NW Wyoming to take a moderate approach in keeping government, the national parks, and our economy open and working. Both of these two have taken poorly thought-out, self-serving, divisive and, frankly, impractical approaches to the Affordable Care law – which neither understand and continue to describe with untrue statements that do not help the citizens of Wyoming understand the law and have hurt our benefits from the law.

    I hate to think that Lummis has a seat for life and that clear-thinking, mainstream voters in our state don’t deserve a better representative. It is time for her to start listening to the people or get out of Washington.