Wyoming’s delegation had an extremely busy week in Washington.
From a stunning announcement from President Trump that the United States would be withdrawing from the ongoing conflict in Syria to a fevered effort in both houses to avoid a government shutdown, Wyoming’s lone congresswoman, Rep. Liz Cheney, and its two senators, John Barrasso and Mike Enzi, found themselves alternating between speaking out on the pressing issues of the news day while working to finalize a number of pieces of legislation before the new Congress takes over in January.
One eyebrow-raiser from the past few weeks, however, was Enzi breaking rank to block a bill that would have extended Veterans Affairs benefits to thousands of veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange while serving off the coast of Vietnam, a move that angered colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
But Enzi, one of the senate’s most astute observers of the Office of Veterans’ Affairs, said he has deep reservations with the bill, which his spokesman explained earlier this week.
“Senator Enzi had some initial concerns that the bill would cause complications at the VA if passed as is,” spokesman Max Donofrio told the Star-Tribune. “Thus why he is working with his colleagues now to address those concerns in the bill. As Senator Enzi has said, ‘I’m searching for solution that will actually work, that is fair for everyone.’”
“Senator Enzi is not the only senator who has concerns with the legislation,” Donofrio added. “But the Veterans Administration itself has voiced its own concerns, which you can see listed in a letter. And a bipartisan group of former secretaries of the VA have also penned a letter expressing concerns with the bill.”
Among the concerns: a significant backlog in cases already being experienced within the VA, as well as cost overruns of at least $1.3 billion more than the original estimate, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
“We need to take care of our veterans, but we need to do it in such a way as not to harm other veterans and we need to have a better idea of the costs before we greatly expand a new program,” Donofrio said.
How conservative is your representative?
This past week, the American Conservative Union released its ranking of state legislator’s voting records, including numbers for Wyoming. Considered to be among the nation’s oldest and most well-regarded bastions of conservatism, the report judges lawmakers’ voting records on Ronald Reagan’s “three-legged stool,” which include votes on fiscal, social and cultural policies and on “government integrity.”
Wyoming’s Legislature saw a dramatic drop in its overall conservative score compared to the 2017 session (from 73 percent to 53 percent), however a spokesman for the ACUF did not respond to a request for comment over whether the organization had accounted for the differences between budget sessions or general sessions.
The drop could have been impacted by votes on measures such as providing funding to start-up companies – a well-supported measure in the House of Representatives that contradicts the ACUF’s belief that the government should have no involvement in business. (They had a similar position in opposing a bill banning non-compete clauses from physician contracts, which the legislature ultimately passed.)
You can read the full report here.
Gov. Matt Mead has an exit interview with Wyoming PBS: If you needed more material after our series outlining our final interview with the outgoing governor several weeks ago, Wyoming PBS’ Craig Blumenshine had a nearly half-hour long interview with Gov. Mead earlier this week on several more personal issues we didn’t fully touch on in our conversation.
Eye On Washington
Sen. John Barrasso penned an op-ed in the New York Times arguing against the idea that carbon taxes are the answer to lowering emissions, saying that we have a “collective responsibility” to address climate change. In the article, he argues for greater investment in technologies that reduce the carbon dioxide emissions from our current fuel sources, including coal and natural gas, particularly around carbon capture technologies. This op-ed, my colleague Heather Richards noted in a great Twitter thread last week, follows his trend of arguing that regulations are not the answer to addressing the most dire issues facing the climate, and of applauding increased investment in diminishing industries, like coal, in fighting it.
Sen. Mike Enzi, in the midst of a hot debate over a potential government shutdown, gave a speech on the floor of the Senate, where he urged the nation’s highest legislative body to look into reforming the budget process. The Budget Committee Chairman outlined two goals to solving the seemingly annual issue, including, one, that those reforms should end brinksmanship and the threat of government shutdowns and, two, that reforms should “guide us to create enforceable plans to stop the outrageous growth of our federal debt, which is approaching $22 trillion.”
You can read the speech here.
Rep. Liz Cheney objected to reports that the United States would be withdrawing from the Syrian Civil War and possibly scaling down its presence in Afghanistan. She was also part of a House majority to vote to fund President Trump’s border wall proposal, punting the debate over government funding back to the Senate.
The Week Ahead
Happy Holidays! There is nothing to report this week.
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Lawmakers draft bill to invest “rainy-day” fund to up Wyoming revenues: Members of the Joint Appropriations Committee have fine-tuned a proposal to expand investments of Wyoming’s “rainy-day” fund. The bill making its way to the Legislature in 2019 now includes guidelines that seek to balance ensuring a large pool of money is readily available in times of emergency while still trying to increase Wyoming’s investment income. (via The Wyoming Tribune-Eagle)
Green River councilman pleads guilty to sexual assault: Green River City Councilman Allan Wilson pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement to one count of second degree sexual abuse of a minor. (via The Rocket-Miner)
13 people apply for one county commission seat: Thirteen people have applied for the open seat on the Campbell County Commission, including seven who first applied to the local GOP the first time around. (via Gillette News-Record)
Former state legislator will get no break in probation: Sam Krone will not get an early end to his punishment for stealing more than $9,600 in Park County Bar Association funds during his more than a decade-long tenure as the organization’s treasurer. (via The Cody Enterprise)
Utah to lower BAC requirement for DUI from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent: In neighboring Utah, a previously contentious shift in policy has elicited outrage from lobby groups like the American Beverage Institute, insinuating in a statement that religion played a role in the decision.
“It’s easy to comprehend why Utah was the first to jump on .05,” Jackson Shedelbower, a communications director of the American Beverage Institute, said in a statement. “Many Utahns entirely refrain from alcohol consumption for religious reasons and, therefore, lack a full understanding of its effects — notably that impairment at 0.05 BAC, or after one or two drinks, is not meaningful and shouldn’t become the basis of major legal consequences.”
In 2017, the three counties bordering Wyoming accounted for just 215 of all the state’s nearly 11,000 DUI arrests, according to figures provided to the Utah State Legislature this year. This number, according to the report, has been in steady decline since 2009.
Obamacare enrollment figures hold steady in Wyoming as law faces new uncertainty: Nearly 25,000 Wyomingites have signed up for health care on the federal exchanges as of Dec. 15, a slight increase from last year, even as the Affordable Care Act faces a new wave of uncertainty. (via Trib.com)
The Continental Divide Trail is changing this Wyoming town: “Atlantic City is having something of a resurgence as it’s becoming a hub for hikers and cyclists on the Continental Divide Trail. This past season, close to 400 thru-hikers made their way up and down the 3,100-mile path, along with mountain bikers, equestrians and even a few unicyclists.” (via Outside Magazine)