Senator Mike Enzi (ME): Good Morning. This is Mike Enzi in Washington.
Jason Wood (JW): Good morning Senator.
Rob Black (RB): Good morning Senator. This is Rob Black in Cheyenne.
ME: Good to get an opportunity to visit with you. I just returned from Wyoming. I've now been to every single county in the state since I got sworn in January seventh. I've had a very vigorous traveling schedule. I've only been in Washington one weekend during the entire time that I've been in office. During this recess, of course I've been out in Wyoming. I got to take a look at the Yellowstone brucellosis problem, the Jackson feedgrounds. I've been to Riverton and Shoshone, and up to Great Falls, Montana and been part of a small business hearing that we held up there dealing with small meatpackers and some of the problems they have, particularly in light of the comparison between the ease of shipping Canadian meat into the United States versus the small meatpackers being able to ship their meat across state lines, which at the moment is prohibited. The next day we went to Casper and held a small business hearing there that I got to chair. I was very pleased to be able to chair a field hearing in my own state as a freshman. It's an unusual occurrence. One of the reasons we got to do it of course is that we made quite a case for the need for solving some of the problems, particularly in reducing regulation and fixing taxes for small business. It was a tremendous hearing. We had some great people participating in the hearings. Just a great variety of individuals from a large number of fields, of small business in the state. The Motel and Hotel Association, the Wyoming Retail Merchants Association, we had a couple of people from the Legislature. We had ranching, we had oil. We had some of the state regulatory agencies who were able to tell us of some of the restrictions that the federal government puts on them as regulators, and some of the ways that they're trying to change the federal perception of how you do enforcement. We're trying to take the edge off some of the regulations, and take the emphasis off of just doing the paperwork, and putting the focus on what we're really trying to achieve by doing the paperwork. A lot of the suggestions in the tax areas focused around the estate taxes and capital gains taxes and things for small businesses like the home office deduction and also independent contractors. There's a lot of use for independent contractors, but the federal government tries to make it so difficult by making a number of criteria before they can be considered independent contractors, that they eliminate the potential for a lot of people to start small businesses. So we just had a tremendous amount of suggestions that we'll be trying to put into either law or getting the government agencies, preferably, to just change their regulations. We also talked about the comp-time bill that's already made it through the labor committee that I serve on. That comp time bill will allow more flexibility for workers provided the workers agree. It takes an agreement between workers and the employers to even put the plan into effect. But if it goes into effect with the agreement of the two, then hours can be saved up from one week to be used at a time when something might be happening in the family or for medical reasons, or any other purpose. It's a much more flexible, broader program than the Family Medical Leave, and it doesn't have all the paperwork restrictions that go with that. It's just flexibility between the employers and the employees provided that they both agree. We also took a look at the OSHA laws and some of the safety problems that there are, and some of the restrictions that the law itself puts into place. We're going to be working on some modernization of the OSHA concept, and make it a little easier for people to have good safety, and make the safety the focus rather then the paperwork being the focus. Those are some of the things that came out of that hearing. I was really pleased with people taking their time and to come and make their presentations. It's a little more formal structure than most small business people are used to, but it does provide us with great ammunition for back here. Those real life stories that we pick up from going to those hearings are just invaluable in making committee presentations and floor presentations back here, and I think it will result in some good regulation reduction and tax simplification for small businesses. So with that little lead in, I'm ready to take question.
RB: Senator, this is Rob Black. What are the chances of some of these ideas of yours actually getting passed?
ME: Well, I'm an eternal optimist. Just from the brief experience that I've had here in this first quarter, I think we can get it done. We're not going to try and bite off any of the radical presentations that are normally made with these things. We're going to take some incremental legislation and get it started, show that it works and then come back with even bigger revisions in all of the things that we're talking about. We're going to make a bi-partisan effort to get these things through. For instance on the OSHA bill, each of the last three years, each party has submitted and OSHA reform bill. And each of them have had a number of items they've agreed on, but there were always some radical ones in each of them. So the both wound up on the trash heap of undecided legislation. I've been given the lead in trying to rectify that, I've been working with people in both parties to see what the common interests are. We will begin with that safety package, and see which way we can stretch it for both sides, and then get it passed. I'm having some good success in talking to people. They recognize the common sense, modernization is necessary and necessary now. So I think we can get it passed, and the same with the tax issues we're talking about.
RB: Is this some of the federal bureaucratic inertia you have to overcome, because it seems like a lot of these are just common sense ideas?
ME: Yeah, but if they called them common sense, then why isn't it more common? I agree with you. Part of the problem, I think, is that first of all, there hasn't been a bi-partisan effort done with it. We talk a lot about bi-partisan efforts back here, but there really aren't even many opportunities for the Republicans to meet with the Democrats. Even the social events are kind of for Republicans or for Democrats. Somehow, we've got to get to a point where we can visit with each other a little bit about our common goals and the things that we agree on, and get them going in legislation. And I think there are some things in place that will cause that to happen.
JW: This is Jason Wood out in Evanston. I was just curious at that conference with small business, did you get a chance to address tourism and how it's going to affect Wyoming. Especially, with this summer here in Southwest Wyoming we have the Centennial of the Mormon Pioneer Trail. We're focusing a lot on that industry as a means to improve our economic stability because we had a difficult time really bringing in businesses and trying to do a lot of things with economic development.
ME: Yes, we did talk about that. Of course one of the things that we really looked at in Wyoming is making sure they don't shorten the national parks seasons. There are some things coming up with funding, particularly in light of having a new national park in Utah, that we're kind of concerned about. Funding is being reduced for all of them, and its being used as an excuse again to shorten the seasons. But we did talk about it, like I said. We had representation there from the hotels and motels, also from the restaurants. All of those folks present a view of promoting the tourism within the state. I'm very excited about what's going to be happening with the re-enactment of the trip across the Mormon Trail. In fact, I hope to get down there and have a chance to push one of the handcarts to see what that was like. I think it would be pretty incredulous to travel 15 miles in a day doing that. And I want to see what that is like.
RB: Senator, it's tax season here. I'd like a few thoughts, if we could, on any headway that you're making on simplifying the tax code?
ME: Of course that's one of the most difficult things to go after, particularly at this time of the year, because all of the people that normally would be able to help on it are busy filing their taxes. But it is at the top of our agenda to start on April 16th, while everything is still fresh in everybody's mind, on what needs to be done on taxes. It's very gratifying to me to know that even the accountant's want it simplified. They're to the point that they're liability for filing taxes is so high that they need simplification. Even the Society of CPA's is going to be helping to get suggestions together for ways that this can be made easier so it can be it shorter forms, so the average person can fill out an average tax form. There will still be special situations that'll come up, but I'm really pleased at the response that I've gotten from all the people that are involved in filing tax forms. One of the things that we do, for instance, is in the area of depreciation. About every other year the federal government comes out with some new mechanism for doing depreciation. Whatever method you pick, you're stuck with for the life of that piece of property, which may be a 30 year life, may be a 50 year life, maybe only two or three years. That means that we've kept in place dozens of systems that are outmoded and old and should be modernized and simplified. That's probably the most difficult area of taxes, figuring out the deprecation. Hardly anybody can do it without having an accountant do it for them. If they were allowed to modernize those so that each person had to know one system of depreciation for all of his property, it would be a much easier thing to figure out. I'm looking forward to working with the people as soon as the official day of the tax filing is over and getting some simplification together. I do have of a number of groups, businesspeople that are already working on sending me things that they think would make it much simpler. Or at least, and this would be very helpful, if people would send us questions that would help us. The way they help us is to let us know about forms they're filling out, they have no idea why, so that we can find out the why on them. Usually that leads to simplification. Or if there's something that they see that is difficult to do and they don't understand why they are doing it, those sorts of things, actual examples, are very useful to us in getting this list together to simplify the taxes. We still have the hearing record open on that small business committee hearing for about eight days yet. So we'd appreciate any suggestions and they don't even have to have them in for the record either. Anything they want to send me on ideas for tax simplification, we'll take a look at. I have a huge burden, but it's also a tremendous advantage, because I'm the only accountant of the United States Senate. So there are a lot of people relying on me to be coming up with the ideas for simplification of the tax code.
RB: How are we coming on possibly ending the estate tax, or reducing it because we hear a lot about that in Wyoming, and how it hurts family businesses and ranches. Any possible movement there?
ME: Yes. There's a bill that's already been submitted. I'm a co-sponsor on the bill. It will provide for first, raising the amount of money that will be tax free under estates, and then eventually eliminating the estate taxes. It also starts with the caps moving it up so that we can see what the effect is on the loss of revenue to the federal government and also so there's a logical progression through the process. It will help out the small ranches and the small businesses immediately, so that they don't have to sell off a portion and make their ranch or their business a non-viable entity by selling off that portion and going out of business and losing jobs. What we're trying to do of course is keep jobs. Everybody I think is pretty convinced that for small businesses and ranches that there is a tremendous problem, and that's going to be one of the first things we're going to correct.
RB: Thank you Senator.
ME: Any other questions?
RB: Wondering if you could tell us where we stand on this whole brucellosis issue right now?
ME: Of course, our Wyoming team has been working on that, and the Wyoming team includes the governor. The governor has the lead on that particular one, because the state has been working with the other states to make sure they don't panic over some of the misinformation that's been given out. I've been real pleased with the progress he's made in getting Oregon to back off of their sanction against Wyoming. Alabama hasn't yet, but then Alabama doesn't get much beef from Wyoming. And Alabama doesn't even take advantage of the APHIS (Anima; Plant Health Inspection Service) system right now. They don't even have their cattle checked to see if they have brucellosis. So Alabama isn't a big player in it, but all the other states seem to be convinced and relaxed a little bit as our program is being audited and checked out to make sure that it does work and I'm convinced that it does work. So I don't think there will be any major problems as long as people wait to see that the system works. As for the solution on the bison and the elk, I think there's some things in place that will take care of that as well. When I got to take a look at the sorting facilities that they had, I think they have a mechanism there for checking out the bison that are trying to leave the park, and they're going to have to figure out some way to reduce the herd, and this winter has reduced the herd significancy, but according to a lot of the people that are involved, probably not as significantly as needs to be done to have grazing in the park that will provide for the size of the herd that they've got. That leads to some brucellosis problems too. Now, I happened to leave the function in Gardiner just before the bucket of internal organs was dumped on the table in front of the people at the hearing. The lady that dumped those is now very concerned because she has learned since she did that that her daughter coming in contact with those internal organs could have allowed her daughter to get brucellosis (undulant fever in humans). It is a human problem as well, and that of course is why there has been all the control of brucellosis on cattle over the years is to keep humans from getting it. As people realize it's a human problem as well, there's a lot more concern and a lot more work for the issue.
RB: I guess there's a lesson to be learned when we carry buffalo guts around. I have one other questions and then I'll turn it back over to Jason if he has any follow up questions. Do you know when the Senate is suppose to vote on or debate the partial-birth abortion bill, and what are your feelings on that bill?
ME: I don't know when we're scheduled to debate it. I know it will be before Memorial Day. I've always been opposed to the partial-birth abortions, and it passed rather handedly in the House this time, and I expect it to in the Senate as well. Particularly in light of the fact that the person who testified on it before Congress in the hearings has now come back and said that he really apologizes and that he wants us to know that while he said there were very few of them done, there are actually quite a few of them done. They aren't always done for the kinds of purposes for the health or life of the mother. So now what we're seeing is an overreaction to the reaction that he caused by not telling the truth in the first place. I expect it to pass rather handedly as well as it has in the House. And I will be supporting that.
RB: Thank you Senator, that's all I have.
JW: I don't believe I have anything further either.
ME: O.K. Well I certainly appreciate you participating in this with me this morning. I really enjoy doing this on Monday mornings.
JW: Thank your very much for your time.
RB: Thanks Senator.