At their first semi-public town hall this year, all three members of Wyoming’s congressional delegation spoke at a Casper Area Chamber of Commerce lunch Wednesday and took a few audience questions. The overall message? Things are working in Washington, D.C — despite what you may have heard.
“If you just watch television, you listen to mainstream media ... you hear nothing is happening in Washington,” said Rep. Liz Cheney. “It’s absolutely not true.”
Cheney cited dozens of regulations that have been repealed by President Donald Trump and his appointment of conservative judges to federal courts.
Mike Enzi, Wyoming’s senior U.S. senator, said that he was currently working on 30 bills that were directly related to the state. He also said that despite the failure of GOP efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, many good ideas to reduce the cost of health care had been raised.
“There’s a way to bring down those costs,” he said.
Enzi said he was optimistic about the bipartisan effort to fix aspects of the Affordable Care Act being led by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington.
Sen. John Barrasso praised Trump and said it was impressive what his administration has accomplished in the face of unprecedented obstruction by Democrats in Congress.
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“We have a new president and it’s been historic both in terms of the resistance and has also been historic in terms of some of the accomplishments,” Barrasso said.
Barrasso specifically referred to the repeal of 14 administrative rules through the Congressional Review Act and the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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A friendly crowd
The three Republicans have been criticized this year for not holding traditional town halls where members of the public can attend and ask questions. The Wednesday lunch event was open to both chamber of commerce members and the public, who could purchase tickets for $35, though it did not appear to have been widely promoted. The delegation was met by a friendly crowd who gave all three standing ovations and during a short question period at the end of the event asked generally supportive questions.
Prior to the questions, each member gave a short speech and all three took the opportunity to display some folksy charm.
“I tell people for 40 years I sold shoes, and I never made a single pair of those shoes, but I know how to sell those shoes,” Enzi, who previously owned a business in Gillette, said. “That’s what I do.”
Barrasso made a point of how accessible he was to constituents.
“Bobbi and I — our number is still in the book,” Barrasso said, referring to the phone book. “I was talking to a bunch of high school and junior high students ... this student says, ‘Where do you get this book?’”
He drew laughs when he recounted a high school student asking him what a postcard was after the senator said that the federal tax form ought to fit on piece of paper that size.
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Not to be outdone, Cheney recounted biking to Casper’s Grant Street Grocery, which recently reopened, with her sister Mary after school and purchasing candy on a charge account for two glorious weeks until her parents received the bill.
“We would be in better shape in Washington if more people had been raised by Liz and Dick Cheney and understood there was no such thing as a free lunch or candy bar,” Cheney said.
The delegation took three questions, one on rising health care premiums, one on the current status of the estate tax and one on a federal mandate for commercial truckers to use electronic logs.
The trucking question consumed most of the question period, with both Barrasso and Cheney using the opportunity to criticize overall regulation.
Enzi, in his capacity as budget committee chairman, attempted to shepherd the Obamacare repeal through the Senate. While Wyoming hospital leaders roundly criticized the Republican health care legislation, Enzi said he had met with hospital administrators in the state and informed them that whatever difficulties they were currently facing are a result of the existing law.
“I reminded them that’s under the present system,” he said. “That’s not on the system we’ve revised because we didn’t get it done.”
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Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming recently announced it was planning to increase premiums on the state insurance marketplace by 48 percent. The company blamed much of the hike on the uncertainty resulting from the Trump administration’s threat to withhold federal subsidies to insurance companies.
Enzi did not dispute the premise of the issue but framed it as Trump’s strategy to encourage Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“The President is keeping pressure on us and the American people,” Enzi said.
Enzi spoke briefly on tax reform, suggesting that if every federal agency cut its spending by 25 percent the government could balance its budget and cut the deficit. But he also urged those in the audience not to worry about dramatic cuts in Trump’s proposed budget to Congress, noting that it was only a suggestion and that he would take into account the concerns of Wyomingites before supporting major cuts.
“Don’t panic over whatever area you’re interested in,” he said.
Enzi’s concrete suggestions on how to reduce the deficit were to eliminate duplicate programs and refuse to authorize test programs that could become permanent.
Barrasso touched briefly on Social Security and Medicare, arguing that the two popular programs, which account for more than half of the federal government’s mandated spending, were archaic.
He said that when Social Security — “which has done wonderful things — was first created, life expectancy was such that it was a relatively modest program.
“We didn’t actually expect people to live to 65,” Barrasso, who is a doctor, said.
Barrasso added that Medicare was intended to help widows “because by then all the men were going to be dead.”
He did not directly address plans for reforming the programs, but said it was a challenging issue.