I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Congressman Mike Simpson, who represents Idaho’s 2nd district.
Rep Simpson was gracious and generous with his time, reflecting a politician who values personal connections with his constituents and with the community.
Background on Congressman Simpson
Mike Simpson has a long history of public service. Before his election to Congress in 1998, he served in the Blackfoot City Council and in the Idaho State Legislature, where he was elected as Speaker of the House.
Since being elected to Congress, Rep Simpson has shown himself to be an effective leader, serving on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, where he serves as the Chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development. He also serves on the Interior and Environment Subcommittee and the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee. Together, these committees have jurisdiction over a variety of programs important to Idaho and to the West.
In discussing current trends in Congress, Rep Simpson immediately referred to the appropriations process as an area in need of attention.
“We need to get back to regular order,” Simpson said, “and working across the aisle is key.”
Congressman Simpson is a member of the “Go Big” coalition, along with other representatives such as Steny Hoyer (D-MD). The purpose of this group is to fundamentally reform entitlement programs and find consensus in the area of comprehensive tax and spending reform.
“Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill were able to work on entitlement reform in the 1980s -- why can’t we do it now?”
Simpson used the recent victory on the Medicare “doc fix” issue to illustrate that Congress can find consensus if it simply makes that a priority. The House was able to pass a bill that can be approved in the Senate and can be signed by the President.
However, he was much more pessimistic when it came to the Affordable Care Act. At the five year anniversary of the bill, he doesn’t see much good about it.
“The American people were lied to,” Simpson said. “The President knew people wouldn’t be able to keep their doctors, but he said they would. He knew they wouldn’t be able to keep their health plans, but he said they would.”
He continued, “This is the problem of passing legislation in such a partisan manner. The reason no Republican voted for the bill is the Democrats in charge refused to include any Republican ideas.”
One of his main concerns is skyrocketing costs in healthcare.
“Costs were supposed to go down [with passage of the ACA], but they have only gone up. My own insurance has gone up $6,000 since it passed. As a result, employers are already dropping people from health plans. Even though the President is violating the law and not enforcing the business mandate, employers are anticipating that it will be enforced. They would rather pay the fee for noncompliance than face the large increases in health insurance from the Affordable Care Act.”
However, Rep Simpson thinks Republicans need to get more serious about developing a plan to deal with the Affordable Care Act.
“I’ve voted to repeal Obamacare every time it came to us for a vote, but it hasn’t happened yet,” Simpson said. “Five million people lost health plans as a result of the Affordable Care Act, but they are now on new plans. What do we do about them? We can’t just throw them back out of their plans. Republicans need to develop a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.”
He thinks the fear of being exposed to attacks from the other side is holding back Republicans from putting out new ideas. This serves to perpetuate the problems and prevent true reform from taking place.
Rep Simpson continues to be a strong advocate for nuclear energy, commenting that this resource is vital to our country.
“It is the only way to provide for our energy needs with low to no carbon emissions,” Simpson said.
He is also a strong proponent of emerging technology involving small modular nuclear reactors. These reactors are so small that they can be placed on a train and taken wherever the need exists. They can even be used in situations such as natural disasters, where traditional energy production capabilities have been damaged. Furthermore, these technologies can be placed closer to where people live and where demand is coming from, which reduces transmission costs and makes energy generation less expensive.
Congressman Simpson believes his wilderness bill is going to move this year. Senator Risch has also introduced the bill in the Senate that will designate over 275,000 acres of wilderness, closing the land to mechanized use. However, it will also set aside significant amounts of land for recreation and multiple use.
“We have been working on this bill for 12 years, but I am confident we can get this done. However, it will take everyone coming together to make it happen.” Simpson continued, “This is hard to do but we have to do it.”
He pointed out that as the world becomes more urban, we need to set aside areas where people can get away and enjoy nature.
Simpson believes the Endangered Species Act needs to be revised.
“The designation of the sage grouse could impact our ability to do anything in the West,” Simpson said. “It will specifically impact our ability to produce and transmit electricity, especially wind power.”
He remains frustrated by the process being adopted by the Interior Department.
“We are taking great pains to find a path forward. We have been able to prevent [the sage grouse] from being listed this year but we have a lot more work to do. We in Idaho are being impacted by the decisions of other states in how they manage these birds.”
“The way we fund wildfires in the budget is crazy,” Simpson commented.
He argues that costs are going up so much that forest management is suffering. However, he remains committed to finding a workable solution.
“We’re trying to find a better way.”