Senator Mike Enzi (ME): Good morning.
Pat Blair (PB): Good Morning Senator. This is Pat Blair in Sheridan
ME: How are you today?
PB: Just fine. How are you doing?
ME: Oh just fine. It's a great Monday.
PB: We have snow here. How about you guys?
ME: If it was cold enough, we've have quite a few inches of snow here too . It's been raining overnight. Do we have Rick Haines on there too?
Rick Haines (RH): Yes you do Senator. Thank you for allowing me to sit in this morning.
ME: Glad to have you. I'll start off with just a little quick update on what's going on around here, and then take your questions. The main thing that's been happening for the last month of course is the Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment that we've been trying to bring to a vote and been considering a lot of amendments on it. And we are going to be voting on that tomorrow night at 5:15. At the moment it doesn't look real good for getting the Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment passed. Both Senator Torricelli and Senator Johnson, Torricelli's from New Jersey, Johnson's from South Dakota, both promised that they would vote for a Balanced Budget Constitutional amendment when they were in the house. They voted on this exact Constitutional Amendment. Now they're saying they can't support it unless it's a little bit different. We're not sure what kind of presidential concessions have been made to them. We know there was a lot of presidential pressure to keep them from voting for it. It's a tremendous disappointment to us. We expected to be one vote long. We're one vote short at the moment. We're hoping that within the next day that one of them, or another one of the Democrat Senators, will change their vote. Of course, one hundred percent of the Republicans are voting for the Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment in the form that it's in, and a number of the Democrats have joined us on that. But it's a big disappointment when somebody promises in media ads during their campaign that they will vote for this Constitutional Amendment, and then go back on their word to the voters just a couple of months after they make those kinds promises. Another thing I've been working on is something called the TEAM Act, which will allow private businesses to have voluntary groups that will address some of the safety and quality issues in the business that can be put together on a relatively short notice. That's been the subject of a filibuster by Ted Kennedy in the Labor Committee to keep that from happening. And he's taking an approach that everything in the economy should be a pipeline to increase Union membership. He's taking a big Union approach to it, and doesn't even realize the way the technology has changed, or the kind of jobs that are available now that actually need that kind of quick committee work. One of them is in the computer programming industry. If you're dividing up the job of a computer program, it's necessary to get people together on short notice and talk about what each of their scope in the project is. And that's possibly illegal at the present time, and they're trying to get some union recruiting efforts built into that bill before they'll even allow it to be debated in committee. Of course the Endangered Species Act is up for revision at the present time. I'm also working on a bill to revise the Fair Labor Standards Act at the present time. So those are some of the main activities right now, but the Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment is the one that's primarily on our mind today through the vote tomorrow. Of course, no matter how that vote comes out tomorrow, we'll utilize the words of all the people that have debated the balanced budget on the floor to put pressure on them to actually balance the budget, to do it immediately, instead of waiting until the year 2002, and that's all of them including the President. He said, 'we can balance the budget, we don't need a balanced budget constitutional amendment. It just takes action.' And then of course two days later, late on turning in his budget, he turned in one that didn't balance. It's out by, depends on whose estimates you use, but the best estimates are $107 billion out of balance, and that's after including a number of new taxes in the bill. And so, our freshman class has met, and opposed those tax increase that he's talking about. We will be holding people's feet to the fire now that they have promised they could balance that budget and they can do that action, that it just takes the vote of Congress and the signature of the President. And we'll see if he'll follow through on that. It's kind of discouraging at the moment.
PB: Senator, back to the Endangered Species Act, because that's kind of fresh on my mind because Craig Thomas got some interesting comments from the audience on that one when he was here. What do you see, what needs to be done for the Endangered Species Act?
ME: Well of course I should mention that Craig Thomas is taking the lead on that for our delegation. He and Barbara are both the ones in the primary positions with committees to be able to handle those things. I'm following it with them. I have more of the responsibility in the areas where we're dealing with the accounting issues since I'm the only accountant in the United States Senate. I've been working the Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment in those areas where additional amendments to the amendment dealt with accounting. But I'm also keeping up on the Endangered Species Act as we go along with it. And of course one of the big problems with that has been the ease of getting an animal on the list of endangered species and the extreme difficulty of ever getting one off. Of course the act itself doesn't appear to have been very useful in preserving any species at the moment. We're very concerned the current draft talks about some of the state water rights primacy, and also, we're glad there's some provisions in there for some cost analysis when they're talking about things that they'll do, particularly as we put a burden on private land owner. We seem to be anxious to save species on a national level at the expense of an individual. And if we're going to take a national policy on doing that, and I think there is an important role for a national policy on doing it, we've got to protect it so that it isn't putting the cost all on an individual. That we're picking up the costs for what we believe in as a nation.
RH: Senator, with regards to your Balanced Budget Amendment, is it not true that everything has to be put on hold until this does or does not fly? It seems to me like that when you talk about real estate taxes, rural health care, everything else that's involved in Capitol Hill Policy setting ideas right now, has to be worked through the Balanced Budget Amendment first before you even know if you have money to operate on.
ME: Well, we certainly made the Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment the absolute top priority. And we set aside the month of February and as much time as was necessary to debate that to its fullest so that we could have everybody. Nobody would be able to complain that they didn't have the opportunity to get their view point in. We will go ahead with balancing the budget regardless of how the Constitutional amendment comes out. The Constitutional amendment is a very difficult way to get people on the line to balance the budget, because it takes a 2/3 vote of each of the houses of Congress. And then it takes a 3/4 ratification by the States. And I do think it would be ratified by the states faster than any constitutional amendment that's ever been done, because most of the states already have their own Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment. They know how they work. They know that they do work, and that they know they can live with them, and they think the United States ought to have to live with the same rules they do, and I think so too. But we can go ahead and balance the budget without the constitutional amendment. The constitutional amendment just puts a little, each of us under a little additional pressure because we swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and if we put the Balanced Budget into the Constitution, then we're swearing to uphold that and balance the budget. At the present time, there isn't that kind of pressure on us. And we've got to do something to get spending under control. We've only balanced the budget once, and it has been 29 years ago that we did it. You have to go back forty years to hit another one. So it has been a long time since we've done it, but it can be done. I think there's a growing number of people here who want to have that done. They recognize that we can't keep passing on that incredible debt to our kids and our grand kids. We're doing taxation without representation on the next generation. We're cosigning on notes for them, without their permission. And that's not right, never has been right. And we've got to end that practice right now, and there's a growing number of senators and congress people that feel that same way, that it's time to end it. And one of the things that amazes me by being back here is that it shouldn't be that painful to end it. One of the things that we could do to end it is just stop adding new programs we keep talking about, because the Democrats who do not want to vote for the Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment kept talking about how it's going to hurt Social Security. If we don't have funds in place to pay off the bonds for Social Security, it's really going to hurt Social Security in the future. It is imperative to Social Security that we get a balanced budget. It's not a harm to Social Security to get a balanced budget, we all want to protect Social Security. So there are a lot of rumors out there about what it's going to do, when in fact if we just stopped adding new programs, we could balanced this budget. The President's budget had $107 billion out of balance. He had a $136 billion in new programs that he wanted to add. New giveaways that we were going to do, and in some cases, new entitlements. One of the things, and I have a son in college, and a daughter who's going to be in college next year, and so I'm concerned about college costs. The President has a proposal that would be a new entitlement for college. It would give people a scholarship for their first two years of college provided they maintain a B- and they don't get hooked on drugs. Once that's in place, it will be an entitlement just like everything else, and I don't think we can afford to start new entitlements like that no matter how badly we would like to. I think that we also degrade some of the benefit of college if we don't expect the kids to do something at the same time for their college. But that's just an example of one of many kinds of new programs that are being suggested. Everybody has some constituents that they would like to give something to. And that's where we start getting into trouble is when we say, 'Oh Yeah, that's a great idea, I'd love to do that,' and we go and we vote additions to the budget that have never been there before.
PB: How about existing programs, Senator? What programs has Congress been looking at with an eye towards possibly eliminating or reducing them?
ME: With all of the existing ones of course there's always a big constituency. That's how they got there in the first place, and then once the money is in place the constituency grows. Every single program has to be looked at. I mentioned during the campaign that I was highly in favor of strategic planning. That's where each agency has to have a mission statement and then goals and then make those goals measurable, and evaluate down to the very smallest agency, exactly what it is they're trying to do, and what they're doing that ties in with that mission. And if we do that, what we wind up with is employees saying, 'These are some programs that we shouldn't be doing.' And of course when the public finds out they always say, 'We didn't even know you were doing those sorts of things.' And those become easy cuts. The government has never been forced to look at the fat in government that way. Instead they try to eliminate high profile things like Yellowstone Park, because they know there'll be a national furor against doing that, and there should be. But, that furor then keeps us from looking at the really low profile things out there that ought to be eliminated. And so I was going to push for strategic planning. Since I've gotten back here, I've found out that there's a Government Performance Act that was passed in 1993 that already requires that. Now we've got to enforce it so that we can get the agencies to do the kind of detailed planning and prioritizing and measurable goals that I've been talking about. When they do that, it'll be much easier for us in the budgeting. Now I think what may come out of that, of course, will be some agencies and departments that will question whether they're getting anything done. One of them is the Department of Energy. People think that might be where the oil and gas and coal tie in, it really isn't. It's in charge primarily of nuclear waste and we haven't got any nuclear storage. We haven't solved the nuclear waste problem. And they don't even know how they're going to do it, yet. Now if you've got an agency that's been working on it for 15 years and they haven't gotten a solution, are they worth having? Maybe what they're doing is being duplicated by others, and it is. So we're talking about eliminating that department. And some others. Of course we'll start with the proposal of where the fat is, and cut the fat out and see if there's anything worth having the department left in some of those areas. But we'll be looking at every department, but clear down to the smallest agency that it has. And pushing for some strategic planning. I'm getting some support for that through the Senate.
RH: Other areas that I am aware of is the "Spend it or Lose it" practice that has been in place for years. For example, a department hits the end of its budget year, and if it they don't spend the money, and this will be the information that I've been given, if they don't spend the money, they have funds left over because they had been frugal, if they don't spend those funds, they're not going to get an appropriation for next year of the same kind of appropriation. Is there any look at changing this type of accounting procedure to encourage departments to save money, be frugal on their own?
ME: There are a couple of approaches that we're doing now. One of them is to go to a two year budgeting process. I've been working with Senator Thomas on that. Under a two year budgeting process, it would work like the Wyoming legislature where we'd have this main budgeting thrust every other year, and then we'd have an opportunity for oversight on how they're spending their money in between. And we'd have a chance to step back and look at their mission and their goals and also whether they're doing that end-of-the-budget increased spending that you're talking about. I think that would help. I also think it would help if we built in some incentives. I really haven't had the time to work on it yet in the eight weeks that I've been back here.
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RH: Senator, you mentioned in your eight weeks that you've been back there. Let's talk about your optimism level. This is a job of course that you campaigned very hard for and then you get back there, you have your agenda, some things you want to get done on your own. Like you said, you're the only accountant in the U.S. Senate. Do you find it frustrating sometimes working with the powers that be?
ME: No, quite the contrary. I came back very optimistic and I've developed a little bit of a niche by being the only accountant in the United States Senate. I'm being called on to work on those issues that deal with accounting issues, and when I do that, I'm able to work in a couple of the things that I have on my agenda as well. And so I feel like I'm making progress. Now, it takes a long time to get anything through here. We've been working on the Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment for a month. And things will speed up once we get that out of the way. But there's a tremendous learning curve for it, and I've got some really great committees that are tied in with... I wanted a balanced budget, I wanted to reduce regulations for small business, and to simplify the taxes. And make them fair. I'm on the Labor Committee which deals with all of the labor rules and regulations that need some simplification for particularly small business. I'm on the Small Business Committee, that does that same thing. The Labor Committee also handles education, health, and welfare. And those are some areas that can use those same types of reform. I'm on the Banking Committee and I'm on the Aging committee. So I'm going to get to look at a lot of the things that at least effect Wyoming and I'm taking them all from a rural aspect. And that's a very difficult thing back here. One advantage that I have is that I just came from the working ranks last year. A lot of the people have been here considerably longer than I have, and they've been working in this atmosphere rather than in business itself. And so when I'm in committee meetings, I'm able to use examples from last year of things that happened in paper work, in drug testing, in safety, in quality development, that tie in with the bills that we're talking about right here. Several times in committee I've heard people, when I start to tell one of the stories that tie in with the bill, 'Oh he's doing it again, he's doing it again, another one of those stories.' But it has an effect and I'm making some progress with it, so I'm still very optimistic.