• Wyoming’s lone U.S. representative and both senators are among congressional Republicans who say they’ll only support a bill to pay the country’s debts if it’s tied to future spending cuts.
By Maggie Mullen, WyoFile.com
Wyoming’s congressional delegation isn’t budging on budget cuts, as President Joe Biden and U.S. House GOP leadership remain stuck in a standoff over the federal government’s debt limit.
“This country is spending absolutely too much,” U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) said in an Instagram reel on Wednesday. “If we’re gonna raise the debt ceiling — and the House has passed a bill to do just that — it has to be tied to substantive changes in the future ways we spend money.”
The vote to raise the debt ceiling does not authorize new spending commitments, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Instead, it allows the Treasury to continue borrowing money to pay the nation’s already-incurred bills. Debt ceiling bills — historically a routine act of Congress — have been increasingly used as a political leverage point. This year, congressional Republicans are demanding spending cuts in exchange for a higher debt limit. If a deal isn’t reached in approximately one week, the country will run out of cash and default on its debt obligation, according to Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen.
“We have learned from past debt limit impasses that waiting until the last minute to suspend or increase the debt limit can cause serious harm to business and consumer confidence, raise short-term borrowing costs for taxpayers, and negatively impact the credit rating of the United States,” Yellen wrote in a letter to Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-California) on Monday.
The effects of an American default are uncertain, according to the Brookings Institute, but economists largely agree it would almost certainly be negative, and likely catastrophic, for the Wyoming, U.S. and global economies.
Timeline and hangups
“I don’t want to raise the debt limit,” Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyoming) said during a town hall meeting in Kemmerer on May 5. “But we’re in a position that we’re going to have to do something. But we also need to be cutting spending.”
In April, Hageman voted in favor of a House bill to both raise the debt limit by $1.5 trillion — or through March of 2024, whichever comes first — and to peg spending for some federal programs to the levels they were at two years ago. The House narrowly approved the bill which would also limit spending to 1% annual growth moving forward.
“Today’s bill is a major step towards restoring fiscal sanity, as well as reigning in the administrative state and setting us back on the trail to energy independence,” Hageman said in a press release on April 26. The freshman lawmaker also said she would vote no on a debt ceiling increase that wasn’t tied to spending cuts.
As written, the bill targeted a list of Biden policies including renewable energy tax credits, student loan relief and funds already provided to the IRS to upgrade its technology and boost hiring.
Shortly after the bill was passed in the House, the U.S. Department of Transportation criticized reductions to U.S. transit and highway infrastructure. In Wyoming, the proposal would lead to 80 fewer rail safety days next year and would shut down services at two air traffic control contract towers, according to the department. It would also reduce federal funding for transit and highway infrastructure projects across the state by $24 million.
The bill was, however, dead on arrival in the Senate with Democrats and the President expressing an unwillingness to go that far to cut federal spending.
Sens. Cynthia Lummis and Barrasso have yet to vote on a debt ceiling bill but have voiced support for binding it to spending cuts.
“Recent Treasury projections have reinforced the urgency of addressing the debt ceiling,” Senate Republicans, including Barrasso and Lummis, wrote in a letter on May 9 to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York). “The House has taken a responsible first step in coming to the table with their proposals. It is imperative that the president now do the same.”
Republicans criticized Biden for refusing to negotiate for months. Now, the two sides have a matter of days to avoid default. Wednesday, McCarthy told reporters there were “a number of places that we are still far apart.”
As of Thursday morning, the House appeared to be set to recess without a deal.
Should the two sides reach a compromise, a bill still needs to get through both chambers with bi-partisan support. Earlier this month, Lummis applauded House Republicans for their united approach to the debt-ceiling.
“I know how hard it is for the House, especially House Republicans to come together because we think for ourselves, and we tend to act for ourselves,” Lummis said.
Barrasso, Hageman and Lummis did not respond to multiple requests by WyoFile for comment.
WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.