Crypto Regs, Western Issues and Spending Cuts: Sen. Cynthia Lummis Talks 2023 Priorities

Wyoming’s junior senator promised oversight of the cryptocurrency industry and a return to pre-COVID spending levels

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Jan 19, 2023

In a call with select Wyoming news outlets Wednesday, Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) was pressed by the Wyoming Truth about her stance on raising the federal debt limit. (Wyoming Truth photo by Jacob Gardenswartz)

By Jacob Gardenswartz

Special to the Wyoming Truth

Wyomingites interested in Washington politics may be focused on their new congresswoman, Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.), but one legislator serving in the upper congressional chamber seems intent not to be overlooked.

In a call Wednesday evening with select Wyoming media outlets, including the Wyoming Truth, Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) laid out her priorities for the new Congress, chief among them a continued push to regulate the cryptocurrency industry and a desire to showcase Western issues.

Lummis also shared her views on the drama surrounding the historic race for House Speaker, which resulted in 14 failed votes for Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) before he finally clinched the gavel.

“It might have looked messy on the outside,” Lummis said. “But the results were fabulous and will make for a better U.S. House of Representatives.”

After touting agreements McCarthy made to some of his holdouts related to spending cuts, Lummis was pressed by the Wyoming Truth on her position on the debt ceiling. Unless Congress acts to raise the limit capping the amount of debt the federal government can accrue, the government will default on its credit, something which has never happened before and would likely wreak havoc on global financial markets.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrote to McCarthy in a letter last week that the U.S. was set to hit its borrowing limit on Jan. 19, after which the Treasury Department would use “extraordinary measures” to keep paying bills through “early June.”

“I respectfully urge Congress to act promptly to protect the full faith and credit of the United States,” Yellen wrote.

Asked if she’d support a so-called clean debt ceiling — raising the credit limit without conditions — or if she’d allow a default on government debt, Lummis rejected the question as a false choice.

“That’s not an either or choice,” Lummis said. “I am not willing to support a clean debt ceiling. I’m also not willing to let the government default.”

Instead, Lummis argued she wants “concessions” in exchange for her vote to raise the debt ceiling. She proposed returning to federal spending levels in fiscal year 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“Since 2020, spending has increased so dramatically because of the response to COVID,” Lummis said. “COVID was an anomaly. We should never continue to spend at the rate we did during COVID.”

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried leaves Manhattan federal court, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in New York, after he pleaded not guilty to charges that he cheated investors and looted customer deposits on his cryptocurrency trading platform. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

But returning to such a spending cap would mean steep cuts to federal expenditures, something unlikely to happen in a Democratic-controlled Senate. Even capping spending at fiscal year 2022 levels, a policy McCarthy reportedly endorsed to win over holdouts during the speaker’s race, would require cutting over $130 billion, or 8%, of the spending authorized in the recent 2023 omnibus bill.

In addition to cutting entitlements, some House Republicans have floated cutting defense spending as a means of reaching that goal, framing such cutbacks as pushback against the Biden administration’s “woke” military policies.

“Maybe focus on getting rid of all the woke policies in our military,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said on Fox News earlier this month.

Asked if she’d endorse cuts to defense spending — something long seen as a third rail in GOP politics — Lummis wouldn’t rule it out.

“I think everything needs to be on the table,” Lummis said in response to questioning from the Wyoming Truth. “As soon as we start taking things off the table, we limit our options for achieving 2020 spending levels. So I want to keep everything on the table for now.”

The “Crypto Queen” leans into regulations

Chief among Lummis’ priorities for 2023 is a continued focus on regulation of the digital assets industry. Once dubbed Washington’s “Crypto Queen,” Lummis herself owns somewhere between $170,000 and $230,000 worth of Bitcoin, though she put such holdings in a blind trust amid criticisms of favoritism towards the industry.

On Wednesday, Lummis spoke of her intention to reintroduce her bipartisan “Responsible Financial Innovation Act,” a measure cosponsored with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) which she described as a “comprehensive bill to regulate cryptocurrencies.”

Amid the fallout over the alleged fraud perpetrated by Sam Bankman-Fried and crypto trading firm FTX, Lummis argued the need for her measure “was assured.”

“It may be broken up among various committees in both the House and Senate,” Lummis added. “But it is the framework that, once it is put together, will ultimately govern cryptocurrency in this country.”

Asked whether she still supported the crypto industry amid the market slump and FTX saga, Lummis said such scandals shouldn’t distract from the overall benefit of digital currencies and highlighted existing state-level regulations that she argued could have prevented such a fraud from taking place.

“I do still believe that certainly Bitcoin is a gold standard for a store of value,” she said. “Wyoming has a legislative framework that, had it been used by FTX and other companies, would have prevented some of the fraud that we saw.”

Wyoming leaders in the Western spotlight

Lummis also highlighted her role as chair of the Senate Western Caucus, a post she said will enable her to push for action on issues impacting Wyoming and the West.

Among such priorities Lummis mentioned were action to address the growing water shortage in the Colorado River, implementing conservation logging as a means to fight forest fires and showcasing western states as “incubators of innovation.”

Lummis noted that Gov. Mark Gordon will similarly serve as chairman of the Western Governors Association, something she said will enable collaboration between the two Wyoming leaders to ensure they’re “legislating in a manner that allows the West to set itself apart as the leader in responsible energy production and in strong environmental standards.”

As Wyoming’s governor and WGA chair, Gordon, a frequent critic of the Biden administration, will be in Washington in early February, where he’ll attend a bipartisan summit of governors at the White House, his spokesman confirmed to the Wyoming Truth.

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