ROCK SPRINGS — The impact of the coronavirus was apparent Monday at the Wyoming Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show hosted by the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.
The event had been postponed two months before opening this week at the Sweetwater Events Complex in Rock Springs, and organizers encouraged people to take advantage of handwashing stations and keep a “long cow distance” apart.
“Every part of Wyoming has been impacted by coronavirus,” said U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.
He joked how he missed the annual River Fest in Green River, which had been scaled back earlier this month, and said he was pleased to attend the event in person Monday.
Barrasso stressed the importance of the cattle industry, and said, “Beef is our No. 1 cash crop.”
He said agriculture is a major leg of Wyoming’s economic stool, which also depends on tourism and energy.
“It’s a part of our history and heritage,” he said, adding it’s going to be a part of our future.
When asked how the public can support the industry, his advice was simple.
“Eat more beef,” he said and laughed. “Eat more lamb.”
He said people should remember how ag supports many communities in the state. He cited the example of U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, who has said when he owned his shoe store in Gillette, it was able to continue thanks to the farmers who came into town.
When it came to the work of the congressional delegation, Barrasso said Wyoming’s legislators worked to improve the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or C.A.R.E.S., Act. He said it directed about $68.5 million to help Wyoming agriculture producers.
Barrasso said an early draft of the bill left some things out, but after receiving feedback from Wyoming ranchers and working with the Department of Agriculture, “we were able to get it right.”
Barrasso noted Wyoming received $1.25 billion in COVID-19 relief funding, which means it received more per capita than any other state.
He also pointed out that money from the Paycheck Protection Act went toward about 13,000 small business loans in Wyoming. With an average of about $78,000 per loan, he said that provided over a billion dollars in potentially forgivable loans.
“The impact of the coronavirus has been pretty dramatic,” Barrasso said, pointing to parts of the economy that flatlined.
Negotiations over a new round of COVID-19-related aid are stalemated in Washington, D.C., and the senator expressed frustration with the Democrats’ position.
He said Democrats are seeking to include funding for environmentalism, the National Endowment of the Arts, and bailouts for states.
Alternatively, he said the bill should focus just on the disease, getting kids back in school and returning people to work, and take everything off the table.
“Then you can find a path forward,” Barrasso said.
Following last week’s primary election, Barrasso said he was pleased that Wyoming Republicans renominated Liz Cheney in the U.S. House race and that they picked Cynthis Lummis in the U.S. Senate race.
He said he has worked closely with both, such as Lummis’ eight years in the House before she stepped down and Cheney was elected to the post.
Barrasso said all three them of them are committed to improving the quality of life of the people of Wyoming.
When it comes to absentee voting, he said, “Wyoming does it right.”
He praised the preparations of the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office and county clerks.
“They handled it well around the state,” he said.
Barrasso said while he liked the system in place that lets Wyoming voters request ballots that can be submitted in advance of election day, he wants to keep election decisions local.
“(We) don’t want Washington to tell us how to vote,” he said.
Barrasso said the 2020 race is “the most consequential election in our lifetime.”
Looking back on last week’s Democratic convention, he said it seemed to be focused on attacking President Donald Trump and not providing specifics about what Democrats plan to do.
The senator said it was “interesting how they hid what their agenda was … hid what they were going to do.” He said he expects a Democrat-led White House and Congress would look to pass statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, one-size-fits-all health care, and a Green New Deal that eliminates coal, natural gas and oil production.
“The party has moved far left,” he said.
Barrasso there was no mention of public safety or the Supreme Court, and very little mention of China.
When it comes to the Republican convention, which started Monday and Barrasso said he planned to listen to on the drive home, he predicted people would hear about hope and opportunity and freedom.
“The president will lay out our agenda about putting America back to work,” Barrasso said.
He said there will be a focus on American exceptionalism at a time when China is making moves to be a military, economic and technology superpower.
Barrasso said he’s often asked, “How are things going in Washington?” and he responds, “Things are always better in Wyoming.”
When questioned about legislative developments regarding meet processing and inspection, the senator said right now it’s difficult to get anything passed with Democrats and the media thinking Republicans are going to lose.
He said he is pushing for less restrictions regarding in-state meat processing, such as fewer inspections required if the product stays in state.
Barrasso was also asked about infrastructure. He said Democrats in the House passed a bill, but he expressed disdain for it, calling it a rebranded version of the Green New Deal.
Debt and funding also drew his attention. Barrasso said President Trump, who has a history has a businessman and developer, sees debt as leverage, but he sees debt as debt. He said many conservative legislators are asking how they are going to pay for things.
For example, he cited the Highway Trust Fund, which funds highway and mass transit projects and is supported by gas taxes. With reduced travel during the coronavirus pandemic, he said incoming funding reached an all-time low.