SHERIDAN — At times during Thursday’s U.S. Senate debate at Sheridan College, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, and his Democratic challenger Gary Trauner seemed to be living in different realities.
Fundamentally, the two candidates differed not only over the path forward for the country but also where it stood presently.
Barrasso presented an upbeat vision of the state and the country since the election of President Donald Trump two years ago. The tax bill the Republican-controlled Congress passed last year combined with efforts to scale back federal regulations had the economy on the right track, Barrasso said, and citizens in Wyoming have more money in their pockets and more confidence and optimism in their government as a result.
“We must be traveling around in different states,” Trauner countered. “When I travel around the state, we’re coming out of a bust, and people are sort of cautiously thinking that things might be getting better, but for the average worker nothing has changed.”
He said average working wages have gone down since the tax bill’s passage and the true beneficiaries of the bill, and the true beneficiaries of much of Congress’s recent legislation, he charged, were corporations and wealthy donors.
Trauner framed himself as a Washington outsider who would work to reform a corrupt, misdirected Congress. He described Congress as a body debased by corporate money and blind party allegiance that has abandoned regular citizens; and he implicated Barrasso in that failure.
Barrasso, though, insisted the gridlock in Congress was overstated. Repeatedly, he offered examples of bipartisan legislation he has co-sponsored, on issues like water infrastructure, carbon capture projects and regulations on opioid producers. When asked whether he was worried about the possibility of Republicans losing control of Congress in the coming midterm elections, Barrasso said he was confident he could work productively across the aisle, regardless of the election outcomes.
The disagreement between Barrasso and Trauner extended to their solutions for health care, where Barrasso called for the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act and facilitating a more competitive private insurance market, while Trauner stressed the importance of programs like Medicare and called for a system that would combine the U.S. population into one risk pool in order to protect high-risk patients.
Thursday’s debate, hosted by Wyoming PBS, The Sheridan Press and Sheridan College, was the only scheduled meeting between Barrasso and Trauner, for which Trauner has criticized Barrasso. Voters will have the chance to choose between the two candidates during the Nov. 6 election, or through early voting, which is currently open.