Wyoming delegation splits votes on ending shutdown, debt ceiling lift

By Gregory Nickerson
— October 19, 2013

Wyoming’s delegation split their votes when Congress voted to end the government shutdown on October 16, just hours before the U.S. Treasury expected to run out of money to pay the nation’s bills. Sen. Mike Enzi and Rep. Cynthia Lummis voted against the bill that reopened the federal government, while Sen. John Barrasso supported it.

The measure approves federal spending until January 15th and temporarily gives the executive branch power to raise the debt limit until February 7th.

In the days before the shutdown ended, Sen. John Barrasso said he supported reopening the government and lifting the debt ceiling, while also calling for action on America’s long-term fiscal problems.

“It’s important that we stop this shutdown, that we get the government open and that we get people back to work,” Sen. Barrasso said in an October 15 interview on Fox News (see video below). “Fundamentally though we cannot continue on this spending binge that we have in Washington.”

At one point, Rep. Lummis said she would support a temporary bill to raise the debt ceiling, but said she ultimately voted against the bill that ended the shutdown because it included no significant fiscal reforms. The bill passed the House in a 285-144 vote.

Rep. Lummis issued this statement in her weekly “Cattle Call” featured in the video above:

“Once again we are kicking the can down the road. Once again what we should have been talking about … is how we are going to deal with this unsustainable debt and deficit, how we are going to learn to live within our means and balance our budget, how we are going to make Obamacare work instead of being the failure it is for rural America and especially for Wyoming. I hope in the weeks to come that we’ll have an opportunity to pursue that dialog for the good of our nation.”

Like Lummis, Sen. Mike Enzi voted against the bill because it didn’t achieve sufficient spending reforms.

“I didn’t want to vote to raise the debt limit without a plan to decrease the deficit. I have a penny plan that would get us out of deficit spending in two years but no ideas like that were even considered,” Enzi said in a statement.

As of now, there is no clear plan to eliminate annual federal spending deficits. Due in part to cuts enacted by the sequester and a healthier economy, the 2013 budget deficit did decline about 37 percent this year to $670 billion, marking the first time the budget gap has dropped below $1 trillion since 2008. Government spending dropped by about 2.9 percent.

However the deficit is expected to grow in coming years when a wave of retirees joins the rolls for Medicare and Social Security. The national debt, which is the accumulation of all past federal spending deficits, stands at nearly $17 trillion, with no obvious plan for reduction on the horizon.

“I respect the efforts of my colleagues in working to end this government shutdown, however, this deal is yet another promise to work on the problem tomorrow,” Enzi said.

WyoFile feature: Al Simpson says fed shutdown doesn’t touch real fiscal problems  

Sen. Barrasso voted with the majority of his party in the 84-18 vote that reopened the government, and subsequently faced criticism on his Facebook page for being a “RINO.” Barrasso insisted he didn’t oppose the Republican tactic of attaching spending reforms and changes to Obamacare to the debt limit negotiations.

“Raising the debt ceiling is the time when you actually have to focus on making responsible decisions,” Barrasso said in a Fox News interview. “When someone wants a new credit card with this kind of money, you just can’t give it out without concessions on spending.”

Ultimately Republicans gained no significant concessions to change spending policy, and secured only a minor change to the Affordable Care Act that requires certification of enrollees’ income levels.

The bill passed on October 16 allows the government to continue spending up until a January 15th deadline when a new budget bill must be passed.

The law also includes a provision that suspends the debt limit of $16.669 trillion until February 7. The rule allows the Treasury to issue just enough debt to keep up with the country’s rate of spending. For the time being, that would prevent a minority of lawmakers from again creating a showdown over the debt limit.

After February 7th, Congress would again have control over the debt ceiling, meaning a return to today’s policies and the requirement to stop borrowing or raise the debt limit in the future to prevent default.

The law also puts together a bicameral budget committee to try to work out a new spending policy by January 15th.  The group includes the entire Senate budget committee and eight members from the House. It will be headed by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Sen. Mike Enzi will be the only member of Wyoming’s delegation to serve on the bicameral committee. He was among the nine Republicans in the group that voted against the bill that ended the shutdown and set up the budget committee, as reported by the Washington Post.

Sen. Enzi has not wavered in defending his vote against the bill to end the shutdown. “I do what I believe is right whether it is popular or not. I want the government to be open for business, but we have to stop crisis-governing and actually do something real,” Enzi said in a statement.

During the shutdown Enzi called for a return to a more normal budget process that includes a dozen individual bills funding different parts of the federal budget.  By following a process of taking a week to debate and amend each of the 12 bills, he says Congress would have a better hope of creating effective spending policies, rather than simply extending past laws through omnibus bills.

The main work of the budget committee will likely center on discussions about the next round of sequester cuts set to arrive next year. Both parties will likely seek adjustments to the plan for new across-the-board cuts, while Democrats may push for new tax revenue.

“I hope more people begin to understand we have to go beyond the moment and make substantial, sometimes difficult, choices for the future. Hopefully then both sides will sit down and work on solutions to the actual problem instead of temporarily delaying the consequences,” Enzi said.

 Full text of bill to end the shutdown:

— Gregory Nickerson is the government and policy reporter for WyoFile. He writes the Capitol Beat blog. Contact him at greg@wyofile.com.

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Gregory Nickerson

Gregory Nickerson worked as government and policy reporter for WyoFile from 2012-2015. He studied history at the University of Wyoming. Follow Greg on Twitter at @GregNickersonWY and on www.facebook.com/GregoryNickersonWriter/

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