Liz Cheney

Rep. Liz Cheney speaks during the Wreaths Across America event last month at the Oregon Trail State Veterans Cemetery in Evansville.

Josh Galemore, Casper Star-Tribune

CHEYENNE — Wyoming’s lone U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney said she is proud of her the first year in Congress.

Of three big successes that come to mind, federal tax reform rose to the top for the first-term Wyoming congresswoman.

“We’ve already begun to see the economic impact of that, and I think you’ll see even more in terms of cutting people’s taxes, increasing economic growth and, hopefully, bringing jobs back,” Cheney told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle recently.

The GOP tax reform was the first major legislative victory for Republicans after taking control of the House and Senate in the 2016 elections. It was a much-needed victory for Republican President Donald Trump and his party members in Congress heading into 2018, as Democrats are hoping for upsets in the midterm elections.

Tax reform legislation tied with deregulation, Cheney’s second big Republican victory in 2017.

Cheney said the combination should reap a greater degree of economic benefits in Wyoming. Cheney cited increased revenue in oil and gas lease sales in the state as an indication of what’s happening because of reduced regulation.

“That’s something we’ve seen both because of action by the president and also action in Congress through the Congressional Review Act,” she said.

Market forces drove Wyoming into an economic downturn that resulted in two consecutive years of cuts to government spending in the state Legislature. Even with a somewhat improved economic outlook in late 2017, most economists aren’t expecting a boom in the state anytime soon under the current conditions.

But Cheney said tax reform and deregulation will provide significant relief nationally and in Wyoming. While critics of the tax legislation characterize it as mostly benefiting the wealthiest individuals and corporations, Cheney said it’s a cut to everyone’s taxes.

“Taxes are too high, people know how to spend their money better than the government does, and our president and leadership in the House was really focused on making sure this was relief for the middle class,” she said.

Cheney said she had not yet had a chance to examine how the tax reform would benefit her family compared to other tax brackets in Wyoming, but was “certainly hopeful it will provide the same kind of benefit for every Wyomingite.”

The plan lowers tax rates for each income level and doubles the standard deduction, but critics are skeptical whether individual tax cuts will be retained after 2025. In order to extend those tax cuts past that year, Republicans are counting on increases in revenue to offset deficits.

Some fear it could also result in cuts to federal spending on health-care and poverty programs, such as Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. Candidate Trump promised none of those programs would be cut, but House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said in December that Republicans could aim to reduce spending on certain welfare programs. Ryan also said last month Republicans would not look to make significant reforms to Social Security.

Cheney said she did not anticipate cuts to any of the programs, period. She anticipates the tax cuts would yield the anticipated revenue necessary to keep the lowered individual rates and avoid making cuts to the aforementioned federal entitlements. However, Cheney did say there is a need to make fixes to the programs to prevent abuse, especially in Medicaid.

“The problem with the abuse you see in Medicaid is you get people who draw on Medicaid who don’t need it and end up pushing off the people who do need it,” she said.

The third success story for the GOP in 2017 related to increases in spending for national security, Cheney said. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, she pointed to the National Defense Authorization Act and measures in the appropriations bills to start increasing resources for the military, including nuclear modernization at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne.

It’s a busy time in Washington, D.C., however, and there was no shortage of areas to ask for Cheney’s perspective. The coming months are sure to yield several high-interest matters for her constituents to keep an eye on.

Bipartisanship and health care

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is a close ally of Cheney’s colleagues in the other chamber—Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi, both Wyoming Republicans. McConnell started off the new year by calling for a higher degree of bipartisanship, as did Trump.

Cheney said it’s hard to tell whether congressional Democrats would be willing to work with Republicans on policy matters such as immigration, infrastructure and more.

“It’s hard to tell,” she said. “I think it depends on the issue. ... I haven’t served in Congress during an election year, but I would imagine things get more partisan, not less.”

Before tax reform received Trump’s signature, Republicans were carrying an albatross of repeatedly failing to pass health care reform. It passed in the House with strong support from Cheney, but the GOP’s slim majority in the Senate saw it fail on multiple occasions before Republicans threw in the towel.

Cheney said it was regrettable to see attempts to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, fail in the Senate. While Congress has a hefty agenda before the 2018 elections really start to heat up, Cheney said she expects health care reform will rise back to the top of the Republican agenda.

“That’s got to be at the top of the list this year as we return to Washington to make sure we provide relief,” she said. “I’m hearing from people all over the state that they’re seeing their premiums skyrocket, and we have an obligation to address that.”

The Mueller probe

Controversy around former FBI director Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and potential collusion between Trump’s campaign and foreign agents, came and went in waves in 2017. Near the end of the year, more congressional Republicans became increasingly skeptical of the tone of the investigation, characterizing many on Mueller’s team as partisans bent on ousting the unconventional president.

Cheney said she wouldn’t speculate as to how she’ll react if Trump were to remove Mueller. She praised the firing of former FBI Director James Comey in a tweet that was subsequently deleted.

Mueller’s investigation and people at the FBI were yielding troubling developments as the process dragged on in 2017, Cheney said. Emails, tweets and other exchanges between FBI agents indicated a potential trend of opposition to Trump, she said.

While she expects Mueller will treat Trump fairly, Cheney said a “complete, professional, objective investigation” would not overlook “real abuses seen by the FBI” during the 2016 campaign.

“I think there are serious questions that have been raised about the nation’s law enforcement,” she said.

“It’s really important for people to be confident in our law enforcement agencies, so I support the idea we’ve got to have an investigation to understand what kind of investigation the FBI was conducting.”

North Korea threats

As he’s known to do, Trump shocked many earlier this week by tweeting about his willingness to launch a nuclear attack against the totalitarian regime in North Korea. The president tweeted he had a bigger button to press at his desk than the North Korean dictator had, leading many to question Trump’s approach to communicating with foreign nations.

However, Cheney said she fully supported the administration’s approach to foreign relations with North Korea. The only way to avoid armed conflict with North Korea was to lean on China to step up and get in line with U.S. policy, she said, adding that Trump’s unabashed approach to exchanging nuclear threats was accomplishing that.

“We’re on the right track,” she said. “It’s important for our allies and adversaries to know we’re going to defend ourselves.”

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State Politics Reporter

Arno Rosenfeld covers state politics including the Legislature and Wyoming’s D.C. delegation, focusing especially on the major issues facing the Cowboy State like economic diversification and what it means to be the most conservative state in the nation.

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