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Eye On Boise

Posts tagged: Congress

Idaho dairy industry still awaiting farm bill; Congress won’t act ‘til after election

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Idaho's $2 billion milk industry failed to get Congress to pass a farm bill this month with provisions to help dairies mitigate rising costs and volatile markets that have spurred three quarters of losses. Though a farm bill cleared the Senate, it's languished in the House. House GOP leaders in Washington, D.C., say they didn't have the necessary votes, with conservatives demanding deeper food stamp cuts and Democrats opposing such austerity. After Congress quit Saturday, a bill likely won't be voted on until after Election Day. That means the current farm bill will expire first. U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, who represents Idaho's dairy country, pushed for a vote this month. Rep. Raul Labrador declined to publicly back a September vote, however, saying he wants more-robust spending reductions in the bill. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Labrador works to bring conservative GOP freshmen’s voices into the news

Idaho GOP Congressman Raul Labrador's work to bring together tea party-backed freshmen and get their voices into the news through the new monthly “Conversations with Conservatives” event – the second event was this week – is chronicled in an article today by McClatchy reporter Sean Cockerham; you can read the full story here in today's Spokesman-Review. Labrador told Cockerham, “Usually they don't want to talk to a freshman. We wanted to make something that is interesting, that would attract people, but at the same time have the opportunity for us to raise issues.” The on-the-record forum invites reporters and bloggers to hear from a dozen or so conservative lawmakers, and ask them about anything.

Labrador wants to eliminate green energy tax incentives, cut corporate taxes

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador held a press conference in Washington, D.C. today joining, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, to announce that he's co-sponsoring legislation to do away with “all energy subsidies,” including tax incentives for plug-in electric and fuel cell vehicles, the production tax credit for renewable energy and the investment tax credit for equipment powered by solar, fuel cells or geothermal. “Instead of America's hardworking taxpayers footing the bill for billions of dollars in government subsidies, our legislation would empower the free market to determine which forms of energy our families and businesses use each and every day,” Labrador declared.

The measure is sponsored by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas; Labrador said it would eliminate $90 million in energy tax subsidies over the next 10 years, while reducing the corporate tax rate by a like amount. Groups backing it include Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity, a group backed by oil billionaire David Koch. You can read Labrador's full news release here.
  

Labrador puts wife on campaign payroll, says move saves money for ‘frugal’ campaign

Freshman Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador has put his wife, Becca, on his campaign payroll with a monthly salary - a practice that, while legal, has drawn much criticism since a 2006 congressional scandal. Labrador defends it, saying he has “the most frugal campaign in the state.”

In 2007, the House voted to ban campaign payments to congressional spouses other than reimbursement for travel expenses, but the bill died in the Senate. The issue came under scrutiny in 2006 after then-Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., was discovered to be paying his wife Julie, a professional fundraiser, a 15 percent commission on all contributions to his leadership PAC and additional commissions on fundraising for his campaign, adding up to close to $140,000 between 2003 and 2006. He abandoned the practice the next year, and after being investigated in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, left office in 2010.

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo was among those who subsequently came under scrutiny from the press and watchdog groups for paying his wife, Susan, $78,514 between 2000 and 2006, for everything from organizing campaign events to driving the senator to them. Crapo still pays his wife for campaign work for both his leadership PAC, the Freedom Fund, and his campaign, spokesman Lindsay Nothern said. However, his campaign finance reports for the past year show no payments to Susan Crapo; his PAC reports show she was paid $4,677 from Jan. 1 to July 31 this year, mostly for expense reimbursements and gift bags she prepared for donors.

Labrador has paid his wife a $2,050 monthly salary since May to keep the campaign's books and submit FEC reports; under FEC rules, members of Congress can pay spouses through their campaigns or PACs - though not through their congressional offices - as long as they provide “bona fide services” and the payments reflect the fair market value of the services.

Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a watchdog group that focuses on campaign finance and consumer issues, said the practice long has been common, but said, “It still raises ethical concerns, because that means some of the campaign money is going directly into the family pockets.” Those funds include money from PACS and lobbyists pushing for the members' attention on pending issues.
  

The other two members of Idaho's congressional delegation, 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson and Sen. Jim Risch, don't pay their spouses for campaign work. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
  

Risch drops from 15th- to 16th-richest member of Congress

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch has dropped one spot on Roll Call's list of the 50 richest members of Congress - from 15th last year to 16th this year. The Capitol Hill newspaper analyzes congressional financial disclosures, adding up the minimum value reported for assets and subtracting the minimum value listed for liabilities. It reported that Risch is worth $19.78 million, up just half a percent from last year's $19.69 million. Meanwhile, No. 1-ranking Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, saw his wealth balloon by nearly 300 percent to $294.21 million, largely because of the holdings of his heiress wife; McCaul ranked fifth last year. Second-ranked was Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., whose $220.4 million net worth was up 37.7 percent since last year, when he also ranked second. Risch was the only lawmaker from Oregon, Washington or Idaho to make the top-50 richest list; you can see the full report here.
  

Idaho congressional delegation’s statements on death of Osama bin Laden

All four members of Idaho's congressional delegation have issued statements on the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of U.S. troops:

From Sen. Mike Crapo:
“Over the last few hours, as I have reviewed the information regarding the death of Osama bin Laden, I share the relief that Americans have expressed.  The military action that resulted in his death was impressive and carried out with precision, and we owe eternal gratitude to those who conducted that operation as well as to all those who have served in the war on terrorism for nearly ten years.  While bin Laden’s death carries huge symbolism and is a blow to the al Qaeda network, it does not end the threats to our country and American citizens.  We must stand ready to guard against those who would attack us and support those who remain on the front lines of our defense at home and overseas.”

From 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador:
“Osama Bin Laden was responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent Americans. Many of America's bravest men and women lost their lives pursuing him and in the ongoing War on Terror.  President Obama and former President Bush deserve praise for their resolve in following through on this long mission of justice.  All U.S. military and intelligence personnel once again proved they are the best in the world and I thank them for their tireless dedication.  This is a great day for America and freedom.”

From Sen. Jim  Risch:
“Today is a day that brings some closure for the victims of the September 11th attacks, the American people and those who have suffered from terrorism around the world. For nearly 10 years, capturing Osama Bin Laden has been our number one objective.  The dedication and persistence the U.S. military and intelligence community have shown in accomplishing this deserves our praise and gratitude.  We should be proud of what this operation achieved, but we must also remain vigilant in the war on terror because al-Qaeda and others are determined to bring destruction to America and our allies.”

From 2nd District Rep. Mike Simpson:
“It goes without saying that news of Bin Laden's death is welcome news here in the United States and across the globe and stands as a stark reminder to would-be terrorists that our nation will not rest until it brings to justice the many faces of terror. While we celebrate this news, it is important that we remember the victims of terrorism and offer our gratitude to the men and women of our nation who have sacrificed so much to protect our freedoms. It is also important that we remain vigilant against those who would do us harm and act prudently in the coming days, weeks, and months to guard against future acts of terrorism.”

Senate passes spending cuts bill 81-19, both Idaho senators vote ‘no’

The U.S. Senate has voted 81-19 in favor of H.R. 1493, the spending cuts bill that passed the House earlier today, sending the bill to President Obama. Among those 19 “no” votes: Both of Idaho's senators. Lindsay Nothern, press secretary for Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said, “He didn't think the cuts went far enough.” Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, has expressed a similar view.

The bill is identical to the one that passed the House - so it includes Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson's rider lifting endangered species protections from wolves.

Idaho congressmen split on spending cuts bill

When the spending cuts bill passed the House today, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, issued a statement lauding its passage and noting that it includes his language to remove wolves from endangered species protections and defund the Department of Interior's Wild Lands initiative. “Congress has the constitutional responsibility to fund government operations, and choosing not to do so would have been a failure of leadership,” Simpson said in a statement. “It is important to recognize the sea change in public debate about spending has been taken up by Congress.  Just a year ago the conversation was about the government’s growing appetite for spending.  Today we passed a bill that cut more in spending than any other single bill in our nation’s history.  We still have a long way to go to address the deficit crisis facing our nation, but passage of H.R. 1473 is an important step in the right direction.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, voted against the bill. “I have been on the record supporting the delisting of wolves and defunding of the wild lands policy,” Labrador said in a statement. “I co-sponsored separate legislation designed to achieve both of those goals. There were some other aspects of this bill I agree with, but the level of spending cuts simply wasn’t high enough to garner my support.”

Click below for a full report from the Associated Press on today's House vote.

Simpson: EPA has ‘run amok,’ is ‘bloated’

Speaking of the EPA, Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson, newly named chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment, which oversees funding for the EPA, said of the agency: “The EPA is the scariest agency in the federal government, an agency run amok. Its bloated budget has allowed it to drastically expand its regulatory authority in a way that is hurting our economy and pushing an unwelcomed government further into the lives of Idahoans. As Chairman of this subcommittee, I look forward to bringing some common sense to the EPA and some certainty for our nation’s job creators.” Click below to read his full statement.

New Congress sworn in, including Idaho Rep. Labrador

Idaho's next Congress was sworn in today, including new Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador. New House speaker John Boehner, shown posing with Labrador and his family, administered the oath. Labrador issued this statement: “It is a true honor to be sworn to protect and uphold the Constitution of the United States as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.  My Congressional offices are open and my staff and I will be dedicated to providing the best level of constituent services for the people of the First Congressional District.  I hope Idahoans will contact these offices, the People's offices, with their input on how America should be governed and with particular assistance they need from me.” Click below for contact information for Labrador's new congressional offices in Washington, D.C. and Idaho.

Roll Call: ‘Idaho’s Minnick says he’s done for good’

The Capitol Hill newspaper “Roll Call” reports today that Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick says he’s “gone for good” from elective politics. “I think I’m done with elective politics,” he told the newspaper.  “I’m not sure what I’m going to do, but I think it’s time for somebody else.” The article examines the dismal elective record of Democrats in Idaho in the past three decades, and the Idaho party’s future prospects, perhaps with conservative, well-funded Democratic candidates like Minnick. “I might’ve fit the profile of a winner, but it was a bad year,” Minnick told Roll Call before one of his last votes in Congress. “It was a big wave, and I was on a low island.” You can read the full article here.

Idaho could get $51M under fed jobs bill

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The state Department of Education says Idaho is expected to receive $51 million as part of a $10 billion job saving measure that has passed the U.S. House of Representatives. The legislation is part of a larger, $26 billion jobs bill aimed at helping teachers and other public workers avoid layoffs. The bill now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature. State education officials are still getting details on how the money will be spent or distributed.

Minnick spending-cut bill gets picked as model for new administration proposal

Legislation proposed by freshman Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick to make it easier for the president to push Congress to slice specific items out of big spending bills has been latched onto by the Obama Administration, which last week introduced its own bill modeled after Minnick’s. Minnick’s chief of staff, Kate Haas, said prospects for the bill’s passage are good. “I think you’ll find bipartisan support in Congress for reduced spending and restoring fiscal discipline,” she said. “It’s something that is near and dear to Walt, but near and dear to others also.”

Both bills - Minnick’s was called the “Budget Enforcement Legislative Tool Act of 2010,” or the BELT Act, while the Obama Administration’s is the “Reduce Unnecessary Spending Act of 2010” - would let the president pick out a list of items from a bill and send it back to Congress for a fast-track, up-or-down vote. It’s a step toward a line-item veto, but one that’s been declared constitutional by the House legislative counsel; an actual line-item veto that Congress passed in 1996 was overturned as unconstitutional two years later. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

The cost of plastic…

For Idaho restaurant owner Kevin Settles, the fees that credit card companies charge for every transaction are outrageous - 2 to 2.5 percent off the top, in a business where the average profit margin is 3 to 5 percent. “It’s almost equal to my utility bills, gas and electricity,” said Settles, who owns the Bardenay restaurants in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Eagle. “That’s a big number.” He joined the Idaho Lodging and Restaurant Association and a national group called “Consumers for Competitive Choice” to speak out Thursday for legislation to regulate the transaction fees that credit card companies charge. Robert Johnson, president of the national group, said Americans paid $48 billion in such transaction fees in 2008, triple the amount paid by consumers and small businesses in 2001. “We’ve created an unregulated financial behemoth,” he said. “We’ve reached the point where we’ve got to put brackets on it, and make sure that there’s fairness and not price-gouging that’s going on.”

It’s an issue because these days, people are putting everything on their credit cards, particularly at restaurants. “About 85 percent of all restaurant sales are paid for with a credit card, and the number has been gradually rising over the years,” Settles said. He said it costs him only 10 cents to process a check, but 2 percent or more of the transaction for a credit card. Contracts the major credit companies require businesses to sign prevent them from offering discounts to those who pay with cash or checks. Johnson said, “Is 2 percent correct? I don’t know. We know that is the highest rate in the world, so I suspect that’s a subject worthy of inquiry.” His group is trying to generate attention to the issue as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd crafts credit card reform legislation. So why did his group reach out to Idaho? Our senior senator, Mike Crapo, is a member of the Senate Finance Committee.

Politico: Minnick making waves with financial reform proposal

An article today on Politico.com says Idaho Rep. Walt Minnick has floated a new plan for financial regulation reform - an alternative to President Obama’s proposal - that’s drawing support from his fellow Blue Dog conservative Democrats and others in Congress. Minnick told Politico, “I’m trying to serve as a broker and a catalyst to the process, within the confines of the Financial Services Committee.” The article notes Minnick’s surprising credibility on the issue as an Idaho freshman, due in part to his degree in economics and Harvard MBA, and his career as a timber industry executive. You can read the full article here. A followup article on the Huffington Post, however, notes opposition to the “Minnick alternative,” including from key Rep. Barney Frank.

Minnick: Bill will help troops transfer credits

Here’s a news item from AP:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho congressman says a provision in the student aid bill House lawmakers passed Thursday will allow troops to more easily transfer academic credits they’ve earned while serving to four-year colleges. Democratic U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick’s office says there have been reports that community colleges and universities do not have plans in place to accept these credits. An amendment Minnick added to the student aid bill will require schools receiving money as part of the federal legislation to address this issue and ensure the credits are transferrable.

The bill House lawmakers approved represents the biggest overhaul of college aid programs since their creation in the 1960s and aims to oust private lenders from the student loan business and put the government in charge. The bill goes next to the Senate, where its fate is a little less certain.

Group lauds rep who beat its favored congressman

Here’s a link to an interesting piece in CQ that leads with this slightly odd news: Club for Growth, the anti-tax group that was the major funder of former GOP Rep. Bill Sali’s initial campaign for Congress in 2006, has given a perfect score to Sali’s replacement, Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick, on its latest rating, the “RePork Card” rating House members’ efforts to rein in public spending. While most Democrats fared poorly in the group’s eyes, Minnick joined 21 Republicans in earning a perfect, 100 percent score for voting for all 68 amendments the group tallied that were aimed at stripping out earmarks from spending bills. The reason Minnick’s in Congress now and not Sali: Minnick defeated Sali in the last election, denying him a second term.

Contractors: Blitz will help industry ‘weather tough times’

Here’s a group that’s certainly not bashing U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick’s upcoming “economic blitz” during the congressional summer break: Idaho businesses who are planning to participate. “Congressman Minnick’s ‘blitz’ is being received positively by my contractor members,” said Mark Dunham, executive director of the Idaho Associated General Contractors. In fact, one of the four events, a session on how Idaho businesses can become federal contractors and bid on federal contracts, will be held at the Idaho AGC’s building in Boise, and the group is helping put it on. “The Idaho AGC appreciates working with the congressman in identifying ways to help the construction industry weather tough times,” Dunham said.

Minnick launches ‘economic blitz’

Freshman Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick says in his seven months in office, he’s become convinced that creating new jobs in Idaho is the most pressing issue he can address, and there’s federal money, contracts and more that could help - if Idahoans just had a little help to tap into them. Minnick announced that during the five weeks Congress is on its summer break, he’ll launch an “economic blitz” in Idaho, holding four events around the state, with Web access, to bring together businesses, communities, economic development officials and more with federal officials, his congressional staffers and other resources to help them get at the federal funding. “It’s making sure that going forward, that no opportunity goes by because we haven’t made proper effort,” Minnick said. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Minnick to forgo earmarks

Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick says he’s not going to seek any earmarks for Idaho in the federal budget for the coming year; click below to read his letter saying why not.

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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