President Donald Trump told voters he would come to Washington and shake things up, which he surely has but not in the way many people expected. He spent much of last year frustrated that he couldn’t get much of his agenda through Congress. But he did have success unwinding regulations, especially many in the oil and gas industry. While riding the subway under the Capitol Wyoming Senator John Barrasso explains that in the New Year he’s hoping to revive a bipartisan energy bill that lawmakers have failed to get both chambers to agree on.
“Energy is always a big priority for me. And we do have a good, bipartisan bill with lots of support – need to get it combined with the House but I’d like to work on that.”
Barrasso says Trump has been great for energy and Congress now has a role to play in helping him expand U.S. exports.
“We know there is a demand because we know that Vladimir Putin uses energy as a weapon. President Trump talks about energy dominance for America – no longer just energy security or energy independence, but actual energy dominance and I want to be a part of that.”
For Barrasso energy legislation also means infrastructure, because increased drilling is meaningless unless you can get the oil and gas to the markets.
“Additionally there are infrastructure issues that we need, in terms of roads and bridges, ports as well, and from a Wyoming standpoint infrastructure is a big part of this.”
But Democrats say the GOP has moved so far to the right that it’s hard to negotiate with them on anything. Pennsylvania Democratic Senator Bob Casey says that’s why Democrats were able to win an Alabama Senate seat for the first time in twenty-five years. He says the politics from races like that are having an impact on policymaking in Washington.
“I think they’re letting the extremes to drive the bus every day, and that’s one of the reasons they had the result in Alabama. You saw the extremes getting not just getting support but getting nominated, but I think it’s also hurt on policy.”
But it’s a new year, and Casey and other Democrats say they’re willing to negotiate and pass bills with the GOP majority, but only if Republican leaders give them a seat at the table.
“Oh sure, I think certainly on infrastructure, which we should have started 2017 with, I think even the president would admit that I hope that’s still an area of focus for Republicans.”
Wyoming’s senior senator, Mike Enzi, is eyeing one area that may bring the two parties together: Budget reforms. He’s the chair of the Budget Committee and is hoping to convince his fellow lawmakers to move from funding the government annually to doing a biennial budget like they do in Wyoming. Enzi also says he’s been busy crafting his committee’s budget in advance of the release of President Trumps, which is new.
“He or she, as the case might be in the future, always have the right to give us suggestions – that’s what the president does, but we’re in charge of the purse. And so I want to reform the budget so it plays a more responsible role. A budget here lasts about 40 days before they start waiving the provisions in it, so I want to reform budgets so they play a more responsible role.”
After the Senate failed to repeal Obamacare, bipartisan talks have intensified to fix some of the problems with the current health system. Enzi is hoping lawmakers in both parties will work this year to strengthen small business health plans and to boost health savings accounts, among other items.
“One of the things that happened with the health care debate that we had, was when it started the Democrats said ‘We don’t need any changes we just need more time and it will be fine.’ By the end of the debate, the Democrats were saying, ‘You know if you just slow this process down and work with us, we’ll do some bipartisan changes and we’ll fix it.’ Well, that’s where we need to be and that’s what we’ve been working on.”
Over in the House Republicans remain frustrated with the slow pace of the Senate and because Senate Republicans failed to overhaul Obamacare. Congresswoman Liz Cheney says she’d rather Senate Republicans scrap the Affordable Care Act than fix it with their Democratic counterparts.
“I think it is going to be crucial for the Senate to deal with several things, one of them is Obamacare obviously. People back home are just facing skyrocketing premiums and people are going to go bankrupt or they’re just going to go without insurance.”
Cheney says her party’s future depends on what lawmakers in Congress do this year.
“Whether we are successful in keeping our majority next year will depend in large part on what we get done. And so we’re going to have to continue to make sure we get things done. And I think it will, hopefully, it will inspire people to be even more constructive and really begin moving. Because I do think that our majority will depend upon whether we can get stuff done.”
2018 is an election year. That often means more gridlock than usual. Optimists in Washington hope it will drive both sides to the middle so they have something to brag about on the campaign trail.