Wyoming Delegation Unified in Opposition to Debt Bill Headed to Biden’s Desk

All three of Wyoming’s representatives in Washington opposed the measure, arguing the need for greater cuts

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Jun 02, 2023

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) celebrated after the upper chamber passed a measure to suspend the debt ceiling and avoid default. (Photo by Jon Cherry/Sipa via AP Images)

By Jacob Gardenswartz

Special to the Wyoming Truth

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers in the U.S. Senate passed a measure late Thursday night to lift the debt ceiling for two years in exchange for narrow spending cuts, as the threat of a looming default drove the typically-sluggish upper chamber into uncharacteristically speedy action.

The 63-36 vote came one day after the House cleared the bill, sending the legislation to President Joe Biden’s desk barely 72 hours before the June 5 “X date,” when the federal government was set to run out of funds. With the legislation soon to be signed into law, financial markets can rest easy that the U.S. will not face a first-ever default on its debt.

“No one gets everything they want in a negotiation, but make no mistake: this bipartisan agreement is a big win for our economy and the American people,” Biden said in a late-night statement following the Senate vote. He is set to address the nation Friday night in televised remarks praising the agreement.

But though bipartisan majorities of both congressional chambers backed the bill, Wyoming’s delegation in Washington was unified in opposition. Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.) was one of 71 Republicans in the House to vote against it, and both Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) joined 29 other GOP Senators in opposing its passage.

WASHINGTON – JUNE 1: Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah., followed by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., arrive for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Thursday, June 1, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

“[A]ny legislation to raise the debt ceiling must make substantive changes to how this country spends money in the future. This bill falls short,” Barrasso said in a written statement following the vote. “It does not do enough to match the seriousness of the moment and the dangerous debt crisis our country is facing.”

“The people of Wyoming demand better from those who control our nation’s purse strings and the Fiscal Responsibility Act does not go far enough to make meaningful spending reforms that will set us on a fiscally sustainable path,” Lummis echoed in her own statement.

Opposition to measure highlights importance of messaging back home

Though both Wyoming senators opposed the debt ceiling bill, Barrasso’s “no” vote came only after it was clear that the measure had enough support to pass the chamber without him; in other words, it’s unlikely he would have voted against it had the fate of the bill’s passage truly rested in his hands.

Indeed, just one day earlier the senator had offered lukewarm praise of the bill, describing it in a Senate leadership press conference as a “first step on the road to common sense conservative governing.”

As the third-highest ranking Republican in the Senate, Barrasso was the most senior member of his conference to oppose the legislation — breaking with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who urged his colleagues to support it.

“The deal the House passed last night is a promising step toward fiscal sanity,” McConnell said in remarks on the floor Thursday evening, describing the agreement as “important progress” towards reducing the federal debt.

But Barrasso in recent months has come under fire from his conservative base back home for his closeness with McConnell; former President Donald Trump, in a Wyoming radio interview earlier this year, criticized him as a “rubber stamp” and a “flunky” for the Minority Leader. Voting against the debt measure provided Barrasso an opportunity to break with McConnell without materially impacting the bill’s likelihood of passage.

“This is a missed opportunity to get government growth under control and put our nation on a sustainable fiscal path,” Barrasso’s post-vote statement read. “Much more needs to be done if we’re serious about tackling the debt and beating back inflation.”

Lummis, for her part, was always seen as more likely to oppose the measure; she told the Wyoming Truth earlier this week that she was “concerned that it may not go far enough to get our spending under control.”

During Senate debate on the bill, she offered two amendments: one to incorporate her “Sustainable Budget Act” into the measure, which would have established a bipartisan commission to balance the budget and address the debt. The other would have reduced the period of time the debt limit was extended, opening up the opportunity for further budget cuts later down the line.

Neither amendment received a vote in the Senate.

And while the Wyoming senators’ opposition hinged on a perceived lack of spending cuts, other Republicans were more outraged by the bill’s cap on defense spending — a slight increase from current levels, but significantly lower than some more hawkish lawmakers requested.

“To my House colleagues, I can’t believe you did this,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said earlier Thursday, claiming the bill undercut the military amid growing national security threats from Russia and China. “This budget is a win for China.”

Senate leaders and the White House ultimately quelled such concerns by releasing an unusual, joint statement declaring that the bill “does nothing to limit the Senate’s ability to appropriate emergency supplemental funds to ensure our military capabilities are sufficient to deter China, Russia and our other adversaries.”

Biden, McCarthy emerge victorious — and bruised

That the debt bill will soon be signed into law not only ensures that the government will avoid a catastrophic default; it also earns Biden and McCarthy joint victories during highly partisan times.

In the White House, fears have been quelled that the American people will hold Biden at fault for any economic fallout from a possible default. And the criticism Biden has received from the left for brokering the agreement — which includes modest cuts to social safety net programs — serves in some way as an asset, with the president able to position himself as more of a moderate heading into his reelection campaign.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), meanwhile, can boast about forcing the White House to the negotiating table over the debt limit despite Biden’s initial refusal to do so. He can also claim credit for crafting what he’s characterized as “the largest deficit reduction package in American history.”

Yet both figures also emerged bruised from the exercise.

To win McCarthy’s support, Biden was forced to relent on several top policy priorities, angering progressives in the process. By reducing new funding to the IRS, Biden’s plan to crack down on tax avoidance will be significantly impacted. And the resumption of student loan payments later this summer risks souring younger Americans towards him, a crucial constituency for his 2024 reelection.

But McCarthy’s perils are more immediate. House conservatives in the Freedom Caucus remain incensed over the relatively modest cuts included in the package, and show no signs of burying the hatchet any time soon. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) in a Thursday radio interview called for a “reckoning” over how the debt negotiations were handled; he’s set to sit down with McCarthy one-on-one next week.

And Democrats seem perfectly content to play into such Republican disunity — and highlight the fact that the debt bill passed with more Democratic than Republican votes in both chambers.

“Democrats did a very good job taking the worst parts of the Republican plan off the table,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) boasted to reporters after Thursday’s votes.

“This strategy of trying to be hostage-taking and do threats and hurt the American people unless [Republicans] get their way just doesn’t work,” Schumer added. “I’d hope they’ve learned their lesson.”

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