Congressman Raul Labrador, never one to cozy-up to leaders of his own party, is at it again. This time, he’s calling out House Speaker Paul Ryan and top Republicans for sending out Congress on a seven-week summer furlough instead of taking care of business in Washington.
As a result, the House and Senate have passed another one of those continuing resolutions that will keep the federal government’s lights on until December. The battle over whether to increase spending or shut down the government will come later.
Expect the debate to follow its usual course. Republicans will say “no” to more spending, Democrats will talk about how crucial it is to keep the federal government’s doors open. “Conservatives” – as if that term truly applies with a $19 trillion debt – might be successful in shutting things down for a few days. Eventually, the gridlock will end, and everybody will have a Merry Christmas.
Labrador wants none of that and gives much of the blame to “establishment” Republicans for the budgetary mess. “Both parties have proven they have no intention of balancing our budget or showing the growth of our crushing debt,” he said in a press statement.
There are no rumblings that Labrador will work to take out Ryan, as he did a year ago with former Speaker John Boehner. But Labrador makes no bones about his disgust with how business is being done. A year ago, the new GOP leadership team – led by Ryan – promised to pass the 12 bills needed to complete the appropriations process. It didn’t get done.
“The broken promise leaves me both saddened and angry,” Labrador said. “I’m saddened because we had made progress in the last five years, trimming annual deficits by nearly 70 percent. I’m angry because we weren’t permitted to do our work. Congress should have stayed to meet its responsibilities, but now we’re taking another extended break.”
For trick-or-treating, no doubt.
Challenging party leaders is nothing new for Labrador. During his days in the Idaho House, he was a thorn in the side of Gov. Butch Otter – successfully beating the governor on proposed gas-tax increases, and later on party leadership. Last year, Labrador and his band of conservatives made Boehner’s life miserable enough to resign from office.
That’s no way for Labrador to gain friends in high places. But somewhere in Coeur d’Alene, or the Nampa areas, conservative followers must be cheering him on. The two-term congressman has done exactly what he said he’d do.
Sen. Mike Crapo also is doing what he said he’d do, but from a different place in the political spectrum. He’s campaigning for re-election on the theme of trying to control spending in Congress, yet he voted for the continuing resolution with Democrats. But if Crapo had gone the other way, he’d be breaking his promise to veterans to fix claims processing, electronic records systems and advanced funding for benefits such as disability compensation.
Crapo says he will fight another day on the budget, when (or if) Congress gets around to passing the appropriations bills. Until then, he said, “Our country’s fiscal picture remains unchanged and the congressional budget process is still broken.”
Sen. Jim Risch, who voted against the continuing resolution, understands Crapo’s dilemma. “One of the things you can’t do is fight hard to get something, then vote no,” Risch said in an interview on KID radio in Boise.
Risch said his vote was about taking a stand against the federal government spending $11 billion a day, to the tune of $2.8 trillion a year. “Somebody, somewhere, has to say this can’t go on. There isn’t anybody who is doing anything about this.”
Congressman Mike Simpson, who sides with Crapo on veterans’ issues, says there was another practical reason for favoring the continuing resolution. “Funding provided by this legislation is necessary to keep the government operating.”
The contrasting votes in Idaho’s all-Republican delegation show that issues are not painted in black and white. Although Labrador and Risch voted against the resolution, they are not sworn enemies of the veterans. Crapo’s and Simpson’s support for the resolution doesn’t make them flaming liberals.
They’ll all get their fair share of praise from certain factions, such as the budget hawks and veterans. But all four of those no-win votes left plenty for critics to shoot at.
Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly and an editorial writer with the Idaho Press-Tribune.