Wyoming’s senior Republican Senator Mike Enzi is on a special budget conference committee that he says has already become a moot point. Matt Laslo reports from Washington on why he’s given up on the group before its really gotten to work.
MATT LASLO: Senator Mike Enzi, along with seventeen Senate Republicans, voted against the final deal to reopen the federal government and avoid a potential default on the nation’s debt.
That deal to reopen the government – which passed without their votes - set up a budget conference committee the goal of which is to come up with a budget outline by December thirteenth. Enzi is one of the biggest proponents of Congress doing its committee work and not just cobbling together last minute deals. So why's he complaining about this formal budget conference committee?
MIKE ENZI: “Well it’s not regular order. This should have been done before April, 15. That’s what the budget law requires."
LASLO: Enzi says the conference committee’s work should have been done months ago so that the Senate could have worked on actual spending bills, not mere budget outlines.
ENZI: “And had we started voting on those, one a week starting in April, we would have been done well before October. There would have been no shutdown of the government. Every agency would know exactly what they could spend for the next year. That’s how it’s supposed to work. We have to get back to doing that.”
LASLO: But the government did shut down. New York Democrat Nita Lowey, who is also on the panel, says that fact increases pressure on Enzi and the 28 others to reach a deal now.
NITA LOWEY: “The shutdown cost our economy 120,000 jobs, billions in economic activity, this conference committee must be successful.”
LASLO: Most lawmakers hope sequestration - the indiscriminate budget cuts - can be rearranged by the committee. Many Democrats want it unwound completely. But Enzi says he doesn't mind having it on the books even if many people back home hate it.
ENZI: “I’d like for sequestration to cut the worst first. And in that case I’d like for it to stay in. It’s the first time we’ve reduced spending since the Korean War for two years in a row. So it is making a difference. We do need to reduce spending.”
LASLO: Enzi adds that the reductions need to be meaningful, unlike what he says the president has been doing.
ENZI: “He’s been selective, and it shows up: the discontinuance of the White House self-guided tours. That’s an $18,000 cost every year. I don’t know how you make a trillion dollar savings out of that.”
LASLO: As for the pain being felt by sequestration, Enzi says programs like Head Start have faced bigger cuts under sequestration because bureaucrats have been hoarding money instead of distributing it to places like Wyoming.
ENZI: “The pain ought to be in Washington. Not out where the kids live.”
LASLO: Democrats say sequestration could be unwound if Republicans like Enzi just agreed to tweak the tax code. Maryland's Chris Van Hollen is the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee. He says it’s unhelpful that Enzi and others in budget negotiations are rejecting tax reform from the get go.
CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: “These tax loopholes are spending through the tax code. So we don’t see any reason to leave these off the table. Why do you want to save special interest tax breaks for hedge fund managers?”
LASLO: Enzi says Democrats still haven't gotten the message from voters. He says they just want more taxes in order to get more spending.
ENZI: “They’re playing politics with it and they’re trying to find ways to raise more revenue so that they can spend more. If it were raising more revenue so they could find ways to pay down the debt there might be some common ground there, but it’s raising more to do a whole bunch of new programs and I don’t think that’s what the American people want.”
LASLO: U.S. representative Lowey - the New York Democrat – says this conference committee offers lawmakers in both parties a way to fix the economic damage caused by the shutdown.
LOWEY:“This just amplifies the stakes of our conference committee’s work. And I hope that our committee will really begin working in earnest in the coming days to prevent the economic damage that partisan politics and the sequester could cause in the coming months.”
LASLO: But Enzi isn't holding out any hope. He predicts lawmakers will merely fund the government at the same level as last year.
ENZI: “What I see coming out of it is not a Budget Committee deal, just another Continuing Resolution to allow the government to continue spending the way that it is now and that isn’t going to work either.”
LASLO: Enzi is hoping to use his perch on the budget conference committee to call for spending reforms and reductions. It’s the same message he's been bringing for years…one that seems to perpetually fall on deaf ears.
For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Matt Laslo in Washington.