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Wyoming vs. D.C.

Apr 10, 2014 - By Steven R. Peck

Sen. Barrasso points out a few lessons the latter could take from the former

Of Wyoming's two U.S. Senators, John Barrasso maintains a higher national profile than Mike Enzi, at least to the extent that he pops up more often in the national news media.

The point is made purely as an observation, not a judgment. Enzi got a taste of the hotter glare of national attention last year when Liz Cheney announced that she would challenge him in 2014. She has since dropped out, and the spotlight has moved away from Enzi, which appears to be just the way he would like it as he goes about his work.

Barrasso appeared on the two-hour C-SPAN interview and call-in show "Washington Journal" a few days ago, braving questions from callers nationwide interspersed with questions from the host.

He steered most of his answers back to the talking points he had established during the interview portions of the program, most of them tied to criticism of the Obama administration, but to his credit, Barrasso gives real answers to more questions than most of his Senate cohorts do when they are on the national stage.

Toward the end of the show he got a couple of questions from the host about Wyoming, and he brought up some points of distinction between the Wyoming Legislature, in which he served as a state senator from Casper early in the new century, and the Congress of the United States.

He said Congress could take a lesson from Wyoming in several ways. One would be not to spend so much time in session. Our U.S. Representatives and Senators could never get all their work done as part-timers, which is what we require our Wyoming legislators to do, but Barrasso detects a healthier, more realistic atmosphere around the Wyoming Capitol, whose occupants work at other jobs when the Legislature isn't in session, than in Washington, where the closest thing to an outside job is giving speeches for high fees at various political functions around the country.

He noted an obvious advantage to state government in Wyoming, where the law requires a balanced budget every year. We last had one of those at the federal level during the Clinton administration, and the likelihood of it happening again in today's weaker economy and anti-taxation political climate is the longest of long shots. Truly, we might not see it again for a generation -- if then.

Another difference Barrasso noted between Wyoming and Washington is that in Wyoming a piece of legislation can't have more than one topic. When you vote on a bill about the speed limit, you are voting on a bill about the speed limit -- nothing more. In Washington, a vote about the speed limit also is likely to include amendments about funding for the arts, scientific study based on stem cell research, burning the flag, teaching (or not teaching) evolution in schools, a senator's pet project of squirrel fur processing back home, and the price of toilet seats at the Pentagon.

In Wyoming, legislators usually read all the bills, Sen. Barrasso noted. In D.C., it's standard procedure that a bill is passed into law without having been read in its entirety by anybody. They are just too big, and there are too many of them. One effect is the universally despised -- but universally practiced -- system of "earmarking," in which individual pork-barrel or controversial policy items are tacked onto huge, important bills and passed into law without much public attention or consideration.

No matter where a person lives in this country, there are pros and cons. One of the pros for Wyoming is that our population, and, therefore, our legislative system, is small enough that the people and the government can keep a much better eye on each other than could ever be possible where John Barrasso must toil.

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Legislature, Wyoming