Lummis: balancing the budget will be a ‘15-round fight’
Douglas – “I had no idea that serving on the House Appropriations Committee would put us in a position where we could get some things done that are of substance, including the wolf rider on the appropriations bill,” said U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis at the Cattlemen’s Conference on Aug. 17 in Douglas.
She explained that, while Congress used to be noted for earmarks, or special funding programs for different projects, the current Speaker of the House and the Senate have done away with earmarks that were used to filter tax dollars to certain districts.
“It was a corrupting component of the process in Congress, and while those types of appropriations have been done away with, what we can still do on appropriations bills are riders, which are just the opposite of an earmark,” she stated. “While an earmark says ‘this much money should be spent on this project,’ a rider says none of the money appropriated should be spent on a certain project. It allows us to prevent federal agencies run amok from using monies to implement rules that are hurting jobs and our economy.”
She gave the dust rules at EPA as an example, and said, “I had an amendment that included six pages of rules that have been put out by EPA, or are being considered by EPA, for which we are prohibiting monies.”
“Another rider we were successful in adding to the House Appropriations Bill on Interior and Environment deals with the wolf in Wyoming. It provides that if the Governor and the Fish and Wildlife Service were to come to an agreement adopted by the Wyoming legislature, then litigation of that agreement could not go forward, and that would be the accepted law of the land,” she added.
Since that rider was added in committee, Governor Mead and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have reached an agreement, which will now move to the Wyoming Legislature.
“I’ll be very curious on how that is received,” said Lummis. “I think it sounds like a reasonable alternative to get this out of the way to take over management of a specie that’s providing tremendous devastation to wildlife, livestock and pets. Even the Fish and Wildlife Service admitted in sworn testimony before Interior Appropriations that the wolf is fully recovered.”
Of the Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill, Lummis said the House was debating it as the debt ceiling issue came front and center. Two hundred amendments had been filed on the floor, and Lummis explained the Speaker has provided open rules for all appropriations bills, which means that anybody who wants to amend an appropriations bill has unlimited opportunity to do so.
“It’s such a departure from how Pelosi handled the process. It’s made for an exhausting process for me, and to accommodate it we’ll work until three, four or five in the morning, but I’d much rather do that and have every member have access to the appropriations process,” she said. “It’s a dramatic improvement on the way we do business in the House, but it’s time consuming.”
Because they were in the middle of the appropriations bill when things finally percolated with the debt ceiling vote, Lummis said they left for the August work period without completing the work.
“There are 12 appropriations bills, and six have passed the House. The Senate has done one bill, Military Construction, and none of the rest,” she stated. “This continuing resolution, under which we now operate, expires Sept. 30, and we’ll be under a new budget Oct. 1. Because the Senate is so far behind, and under the control of Harry Reid and his party, they’re just not doing the work of Congress, and it remains to be seen whether we’ll actually complete all the House bills, or if we’ll take the work product of the House as it existed when it left the House Appropriations Committee and go to conference on the entire set.”
Lummis explained that wouldn’t be all bad for Wyoming, because all of Wyoming’s amendments were added to the base bill in committee.
“It would be somewhat fortunate for us if the process was shortened, without all the amendments that were being considered on the floor,” said Lummis. “Nobody knows how the process will proceed, but it’s not in the way we learned about in ninth grade civics.”
Of the Senate’s position far behind the House on appropriations decisions, Lummis said, “Right now the House passes the bills they want to, and the Senate doesn’t. They just sit on them. It’s like the House is playing tennis alone – there’s nobody to hit the ball back to us. It’s been over 800 days since the U.S. Senate passed a budget, and it’s shocking that the majority party in the Senate thinks that’s appropriate governance, I see that as shirking their oath of office, and I suspect our Wyoming senators would agree. It’s painful to watch the majority party in the Senate deal with issue the way they do, which is sitting on their hands.”
Of the debt ceiling issue, Lummis said everyone knows the frustrations and the parts of the deal that nobody likes, but she said the good part is the continuing resolution passed earlier in 2011 actually had a lot greater impact on cutting spending than she thought it would.
“It made adjustments to the baseline of agencies, so those reflected real cuts,” she explained. “And when you add together the real cuts in the continuing resolution in the spring and the debt ceiling agreement that passed Aug. 1, that represents real cuts of $2.1 trillion over 10 years. When people say it was a mess and we didn’t get what we wanted, we didn’t get the $4 trillion, but we did get $2 trillion in cuts, and that represents the largest cuts in the history of the Congress of the United States.”
She said Congress is a body used to spending more every year, and that changing the culture in Washington to where more people are thinking about reducing spending is a Herculean task that has happened.
“Now everyone’s talking about the extent of the cuts,” she said.
Lummis said the 12 people who will sit on Debt Commission will have their feet to the fire, because if they don’t come up with $1.5 trillion in additional cuts in 10 years there will be cuts implemented by a process called sequestration from entitlement programs and Defense.
“They’re cuts that are significant and are worthwhile for both parties to avoid, so it compels them to make their best effort to come up with a solution,” she said.
Lummis explained another aspect in the deal is that both houses will vote on a balanced budget amendment.
“In 1995 a balanced budget amendment passed the House and failed in the Senate by one vote,” noted Lummis. “In the time that happened, had it actually passed and gone to the states and been ratified, we could have prevented over half of the debt ceiling increases that we now have. That tells you how significant it would be to pass a balanced budget amendment.”
“It’s also disingenuous when we hear the President and others say we don’t need a balanced budget amendment, we just need Congress to do its job,” she continued. “We have a long history that points out Congress won’t do its job. Forty-eight states have a balanced budget amendment in some form or another, and they work, and it’s necessary for Congress to do the same thing. Be supportive of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution – it’s absolutely necessary.”
“Senator Enzi, Senator Barrasso and I are all supportive of the cut, cap and balance proposal that passed the House and went to the Senate, where Harry Reid scheduled a very quick vote to table it, because it was building such momentum,” she noted. “There is more momentum than meets the eye for holding Congress’s feet to the fire, and for turning the great ship of state around.”
“We are making progress, don’t be discouraged,” said Lummis. “There is much to be encouraged about. We have completed round one of a 15-round fight, and it will be ugly. Washington is functioning the way it should – this is a turning point for our country, and a significant battleground in the marketplace of ideas that are going head to head. The next round will be the budget, and after that what the group of 12 comes up with, and after that something else.
“This is a multi-round battle in Washington, so be patient with it. It won’t be pretty, but it’s necessary for us to get our arms around the situation.”
Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.