Volume 8, Number 48 - February 19, 2009
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
by Derek Farr
It is about as far from Washington, D.C., as U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) could get – and that may have been his goal.
On Tuesday, Sen. Barrasso held an informal, roundtable discussion with 12 constituents at the newly opened Moondance Diner in La Barge.
Hours earlier in Denver, President Barack Obama signed into law a $797-billion stimulus package, and La Barge Mayor Larry Stepp’s first question, unsurprisingly, took dead aim at that topic.
“I think we have concerns on how it’s going to work,” he said. “And I don’t think we know enough about it to be comfortable with it.”
Barrasso, becoming animated at times, explained that both he and U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) voted against it.
He held up a newspaper with the headline “$797,000,000,000.”
“It’s the largest spending bill in the history of our country,” he said. “And to make that decision in four or five days – it’s a big decision and a big amount of money.”
Barrasso said he spoke on the Senate floor and asked members to take a week to read the 1,200-page document, then travel home and discuss it with constituents.
That way the American people could decide, “Is this the right way? Or should we come up with something that is less money.”
He said only 22 percent of the bill will be spent in the next year.
“Let’s wait until September to see how we should spend next year’s money because we are going to know a lot more about how the economy is doing then,” he said. “My worry is they are going to fire all their bullets at once.”
After the meeting, Barrasso explained why lawmakers rushed the bill through Congress only to have it wait three and a half days for the President to sign it.
“They rushed it through in such a way, not a lot of people could take a look at it,” he said. “And there were things in the bill people wanted that were pent-up pet projects for the last decade.”
Barrasso would have preferred a $400-billion bill with some targeted spending for shovel-ready projects such as building and maintaining Wyoming highways “that are actually going to improve the infrastructure and make a difference in people’s lives.”
But his primary focus would have been on tax cuts for small businesses.
Regardless, the bill passed in a different form and that equals about $400 million for Wyoming.
Barrasso said the state did not receive a smaller slice of stimulus money even though the state’s legislative delegation voted unanimously against it. He pointed to an article in USA Today that showed Maine receiving less infrastructure money than Wyoming (Maine is home to two of three Republican senators who voted for the bill).
It was a small silver lining in a bill Barrasso vehemently opposed.
Wyoming vs. Washington
His trip to Lincoln County was part of a week-long tour of the state. Before reaching La Barge, Barrasso visited high schools in Evanston and Kemmerer where he said students are aware the stimulus bill is coming out of their pockets.
With a hint of cynicism and a strong undercurrent of disenfranchisement toward Washington, D.C., Barrasso appeared relaxed and almost relieved to be surrounded by constituents.
“Where else in the United States today do you have a United States senator sit down with 10 folks for an hour to just talk about stuff that’s going on in their lives?” he asked. “This is the beauty of Wyoming. It’s so wonderful.”
It was a common theme: Wyoming does it right and Washington, D.C., does it wrong.
He gave several examples.
He said the State Legislature (a body he served in for five years) is forced to balance the budget where in Washington, D.C., it is not and virtually never does.
He said state lawmakers consider one bill on one topic, where in Washington, D.C., lawmakers attach riders onto bills that have nothing to do with the original legislation.
And he explained that when the Wyoming House and Senate pass different forms of a bill, the bill goes to a conference committee that finds a middle ground between the two bodies, where in Washington, D.C., a compromise often becomes an excuse to spend millions, even billions of dollars. He cited a compromise version of the stimulus bill that funded an $8-billion high-speed monorail from Disneyland to Las Vegas.
Politically, Barrasso said, the capitol’s partisanship is unlikely to change with the current Democratic leadership.
“We have a bipartisan breakfast that meets every Tuesday in the Senate – about a dozen Republicans and a dozen Democrats – but (the Democratic) leadership doesn’t attend,” he said.
Barrasso said he feels optimistic about the recent elections in Iraq, saying, “Democracy seems to be on the way in Iraq,” while he feels the U.S. has challenges ahead of it in Afghanistan. He has visited both countries and plans on returning later this year.
He said the nation must focus on clean-coal technology while building transmission lines to deliver Wyoming’s wind-powered electricity.
Because the Department of the Interior’s Secretary Ken Salazar is from Colorado, an upper basin state in the Colorado River Compact, Barrasso felt Wyoming’s water rights were in fairly good shape.
“To have him as Secretary of Interior … I have a little more comfort than if we had a Secretary of Interior from Arizona or California,” he said.
Photo credits: Derek Farr
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