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Firefighting costs continue to eat into Forest Service management budget, while disaster funding bill languishes…

A new report out today from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that costs allocated to fighting wildfires have grown from 16 percent of the U.S. Forest Service’s overall budget in 1995 to 42 percent today. “This has led to substantial cuts in other areas of the Forest Service budget, including efforts to keep forests healthy, reduce fire risk, and strengthen local economies,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement today as he released the report.

Those percentage figures don’t include so-called “fire borrowing,” he noted, in which the Forest Service borrows from other areas of its budget once it’s used up its allocated amount for firefighting but blazes are still going. Vilsack renewed his request to Congress to allow an existing disaster funds to cover firefighting costs in years when they exceed allocated amounts.

A year ago, Idaho GOP Sen. Mike Crapo and Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, along with Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, gathered at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise to kick off a push to end the borrowing and instead tap disaster funds when firefighting costs balloon over allocated amounts. Their bipartisan legislation had been picking up support in both houses – Idaho GOP Rep. Mike Simpson is among the House sponsors, along with Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon – but paradoxically suffered a setback earlier this year after President Barack Obama not only endorsed it but included it in his budget.

“That spurred some folks to be cautious about it,” said Lindsay Nothern, Crapo’s press secretary. “Honestly, it’s been kind of bottled up. It’s been affected by politics.” The House version of the bill has 131 co-sponsors, including Idaho 1st District GOP Rep. Raul Labrador. The Senate version has 18 co-sponsors including Risch.

In the House, “Some folks are concerned about changing the spending matrix, primarily Paul Ryan, head of the budget committee,” Nothern said. “We did go out and get a CBO report that showed it is budget neutral, because we already spend disaster money on disasters such as this.”

He added, “There is support for it among leadership in both the Senate and the House, on both sides of the aisle.” But on its first attempt at passage, Nothern said, the proposal got lumped in with other issues including the president’s border proposal, and it didn’t pass. “We are hoping for a stand-alone bill, and then the only opposition we have is Ryan.” He said backers of the measure are hoping they can persuade Ryan to drop his opposition by showing it won’t spend new money.

Vilsack strongly agreed. “Bipartisan proposals to fund catastrophic fire like other natural disasters could help ensure that efforts to make forests more healthy and resilient and support local tourism economies aren’t impacted as significantly as they have been in recent years,” the secretary said. “These proposals don’t increase the deficit, they just budget smarter by allowing existing natural disaster funding to be used in cases of catastrophic wildfires.”

Nothern said there’s a slim chance the bill could be brought up in the September session, but it’s more likely that it won’t get considered until the “lame-duck” session that follows the November election. He’s confident, though, that it will pass. “It’s a question of when,” Nothern said. “We’re out of money again this year. It shows the need to do this.”

The new USDA report shows that staffing for managing national Forest Service lands has dropped by 35 percent since 1998, while fire staffing has increased 110 percent. Even before fire borrowing is taken into account, funding to support recreation has dropped 13 percent; funding for wildlife and fisheries habitat management is down 17 percent; and research funding is down by more than $36 million. Funding for maintenance and capital improvements has been cut by two-thirds since 2001, showing the impact of the shift of resources to wildfire suppression. The full report is online here.

Crapo to seek another term

LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo says he will seek re-election in 2016. In making the announcement Friday in Lewiston, the 63-year-old Republican says he's committed to resolving a number of critical issues to the country. The Lewiston Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/XqzcMO ) that Crapo was elected to the Senate in 1998 to succeed Sen. Dirk Kempthorne. He is serving the fourth year of his third term and is ranked 39th in seniority in the Senate. A member of the minority party in the Senate, Crapo is the ranking member of the Senate's Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, and serves on the Budget and Environment, Public Works, Indian Affairs and Finance committees. There had been speculation by some political observers that Crapo would retire from the Senate after his current term.

Reaction?

Crapo says he’ll seek another term

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo says he will seek re-election in 2016. In making the announcement Friday in Lewiston, the 63-year-old Republican says he's committed to resolving a number of critical issues to the country. The Lewiston Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/XqzcMO ) that Crapo was elected to the Senate in 1998 to succeed Sen. Dirk Kempthorne. He is serving the fourth year of his third term and is ranked 39th in seniority in the Senate. A member of the minority party in the Senate, Crapo is the ranking member of the Senate's Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, and serves on the Budget and Environment, Public Works, Indian Affairs and Finance committees. There had been speculation by some political observers that Crapo would retire from the Senate after his current term.

U.S. Senate confirms Mendoza as federal judge

The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly confirmed Salvador Mendoza Jr. for the federal district court in Eastern Washington.

Mendoza is currently a Benton and Franklin County Superior Court judge. The son of migrant farm workers, he will be the first Latino federal judge for the Washington's Eastern District. 

The  nomination first survived a filibuster attempt when the Senate voted 55-37 to cut off debate through a cloture vote. He was then approved on a 92-4 vote, with Washington Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell voting yes after both spoke strongly in favor of his appointment. Idaho Republican Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch provided half of the no votes against the appointment.

Idaho senators torn over deal that brought long-sought release of Idaho soldier

Idaho senators who have pushed for years for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from captivity in Afghanistan are now in the odd position of both objecting to the deal that bought Bergdahl’s freedom, and joyfully welcoming his return. “He needed to be released, but not at this price,” Sen. Jim Risch said Thursday, aiming sharp criticism at the Obama Administration over the release of five high-ranking Taliban officials held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in exchange for Bergdahl. “The price that was paid was too high. Those five people are people that have a lot of blood on their hands.”

Sen. Mike Crapo told Eye on Boise, “I have problems with this specific trade. But I’m not about to say that I’m still not very glad that we have been able to recover Bowe.”

As the political rhetoric has escalated in Washington, D.C., congressional Republicans have faulted the administration for failing to inform Congress of the swap 30 days in advance, as required by law; for releasing the Guantanamo prisoners; and for statements supportive of Bergdahl amid questions about how he fell into his captors’ hands and whether he deserted his Army post.

“Unlike Benghazi, I’m not so sure this one’s going to go away on them,” Risch said. “It’s caught the attention of the American people, it’s caught the attention of the media, and they’re not letting go.” Both Risch and Crapo have been relentless for the past five years in pushing the administration to secure Bergdahl’s release; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Crapo, Simpson “fiscal heroes”

Idaho's two most experienced lawmakers — Republican Sen. Mike Crapo and 2nd District GOP Rep. Mike Simpson — have been named to the inaugural class of 32 “Fiscal Heroes” in Congress by the Campaign to Fix the Debt.

The award was announced last week by the non-partisan group based in Washington, D.C. “Fiscal Heroes,” according to the group, take fiscally responsible votes, push their leaders to make debt a priority, lead bipartisan efforts and educate constituents by “advocating to keep tough choices on the table.”
  

Fix the Debt supports entitlement reform and tax reform to put the nation's $17 trillion debt “on a downward path in the long-term and allow the economy to thrive.” More here. Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesmen

Well? Are they your fiscal heroes?


 

Ads target Crapo over mortgage reform bill

A negative-ad campaign is targeting Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo and six other members of the Senate Banking Committee because of a bipartisan bill that Crapo co-sponsored to reform the mortgage finance industry, Idaho Statesman reporter Zach Kyle reports. The $1.6 million ad blitz from the “60 Plus Association” is aimed at protecting the interests of shareholders in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government-created mortgage finance companies; the bill would phase them out of existence.

“First, it was Obamacare,” says the narrator of the TV ad. “Millions of Americans had health care plans canceled. Now, Mike Crapo is teaming up with Obama to take over the mortgage industry.” Crapo said the ad misrepresents the bill as big-government and him as liberal. “The people of Idaho know me better than that,” Crapo told the Statesman. Kyle’s full report is online here.

Risch: ‘They look at you like you got three heads’

Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch are addressing the Senate and House today, and the two – both of whom are former Senate presidents pro-tem – entered the Senate chamber together, rather than separately. “It’s really an honor to be here today, although my remarks can be really short if I’m supposed to give you some of the wisdom from Washington, D.C.,” Crapo said.

He told the Senate, “There are those in Washington who say that because we’ve been able to bring down our deficit … that we have solved our problem. We have not solved our problem,” because the federal debt continues to grow, he said. “The bottom line here is we still need a comprehensive plan.” Crapo called for tax code reforms that broaden the base and reduce rates, “and then major entitlement reform that puts these programs that are now screaming toward insolvency on a pathway to solvency.”

Risch told the Senate, “The financial condition of the country is just awful. … The bad news is there’s really nothing on track to turn this around. I’ve been in public service all my life, and very few things shock me any more, but the cavalier attitude that people have about money back there is just absolutely staggering.” He said when anyone proposes less spending, “They look at you like you got three heads – the only way they’re willing to compromise is if you agree to spend more money to increase programs and what have you, but if you want to start rolling things back, you don’t get a seat at that table.” Risch said, “In the long haul, I am incredibly optimistic for this country. In the short haul, things don’t look very good.”

Crapo, Risch sponsor bill to make state concealed-gun permits valid in other states

Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch are co-sponsoring legislation to let those with a state concealed gun permit carry a concealed weapon in other states, too, as long at the state they’re in allows or doesn’t prohibit concealed carrying of firearms. “Idahoans and law-abiding citizens across the country should not be denied the fundamental right to self-defense while they are traveling or temporarily away from home,” said Crapo.  “This bill protects state sovereignty and does not establish national standards for a concealed carry, nor does it veto laws in those states that prohibit concealed carry permits.” Risch said, “Lawful gun owners should not have to face a labyrinth of gun laws the second they cross into another state.  This bill will ensure citizens who are able to carry concealed weapons can exercise that right in any state that has also passed a concealed carry law.”

The measure has three other co-sponsors, Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas; John Thune, R-S.D.; and David Vitter, R-La.; you can see the full Crapo-Risch statement here.

Midterm grades for Inland Northwest lawmakers

We're halfway through the 113th Congress, and legislative watchdog GovTrack.us has handed down its marks for lawmakers based on multiple indicators of legislative success.

Inland Northwest legislators had their fingers in several pieces of sweeping, high-profile federal legislation enacted in 2013, including an update to the Violence Against Women Act cosponsored by Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and a bipartisan budget resolution with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., as its Democratic steward. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers also earned the rare distinction of a unanimous House of Representatives vote in favor of her bill easing licensing restrictions for dams with limited power capacities.

GovTrack, an independent bill-tracking service launched in 2004, ranked lawmakers across several categories, including number of roll call votes missed, number of bills sponsored and how many of the 20 bills the service identified as enhancing government transparency the lawmaker voted for. The rankings are comprehensive, but here are some highlights for those representing the Inland Northwest:

  • McMorris Rodgers and Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, are the only two Inland Northwest lawmakers who introduced bills that became law. In addition to McMorris Rodgers' dam bill, Hastings introduced legislation establishing a national helium fund for proceeds of the gas' production on federal lands. The bill passed both chambers by wide margins.
  • McMorris Rodgers, who gave birth to a baby girl in November, has missed the greatest percentage of votes in the 113th Congress among Inland Northwest delegates, failing to record a preference in 7.5% of votes tallied so far. In the Senate, which votes far less frequently, Cantwell has missed 0.3% of roll calls, the lowest share among area lawmakers.
  • Among those lawmakers tracked by GovTrack, Cantwell has the highest share of bills she's cosponsored joined by members of the competing party. More than half - or 53.3% - of Cantwell's bills have been joined by a GOP cosponsor. Cantwell's colleague in the Senate, Patty Murray, was joined by a GOP lawmaker as a cosponsor on 29% of her bills, slightly lower than the percentage of bills proposed by McMorris Rodgers (29.4%) and Hastings (35%) joined by Democrats. Unlisted in the figures provided by GovTrack were Crapo, Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Eagle).
      

Congress is mulling a number of major legislative initiatives in the coming months as lawmakers prep for another election cycle. On tap are major bills addressing unemployment benefits, immigration reform and an extension of agriculture legislation.

Idaho senators both oppose budget deal, which clears Senate, 64-36

Idaho's two senators both were in the minority today, as the Senate voted 64-36 in favor of a bipartisan budget deal that President Barack Obama is expected to sign into law. The deal, brokered by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., sets federal spending on domestic and defense programs and averts the threat of a government shutdown for the next two years; it makes modest changes in spending levels, replaces about $63 billion in automatic sequester budget cuts, and adds new fees on airline passengers and increases federal workers’ pension contributions.

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo called the deal “the wrong direction for our fiscal policy and our economy,” and Idaho Sen. Jim Risch called it “a step backward.” The deal leaves in place the bulk of the $1 trillion in sequester cuts through 2021, but eases an especially harsh set of cuts scheduled to hit in 2014 and 2015 on the Pentagon, domestic agencies and Medicare providers. All 53 Democrats in the Senate voted yes, along with two independents and nine Republicans; all 36 “no” votes came from Republicans. The pact earlier cleared the House overwhelmingly, with majorities from both parties supporting it. Here are Crapo and Risch’s full statements on their votes:

Crapo:

“This deal unfortunately falls into the same promises of future budget cuts that never materialize, and then raising new revenue to offset increasing spending.  The bottom line is that Americans end up paying more to justify bigger spending by Congress.  It is the wrong direction for fiscal policy and our economy; that is why I could not support the agreement.”

 

Risch:

“This deal raises federal spending at a time when we should be cutting spending. Under present law, with the sequester, the federal government is actually cutting its spending for the first time in decades. This deal reverses that with a promise it will cut spending later. The deal also provides for having to borrow about one-third of every dollar spent. This is all simply irresponsible. In addition, along with many other problems, this deal cuts retirement benefits previously promised to veterans. This is just wrong. The bill that passed the Senate today is a step backward and I could not support it.”

Click below for a look at the deal's likely impact on the U.S. economy, from AP economics writer Josh Boak in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Crapo ‘healing OK’ after furniture-moving mishap causes facial injury

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo is drawing some second looks this week, but not necessarily because of his comments in the Senate. Instead, it’s the rather dramatic facial injury he’s sporting. “He took a fall while moving furniture at his Idaho Falls home the day after Thanksgiving,” reports Crapo’s press secretary, Lindsay Nothern. “Took some stitches to close – left a bruise, but he’s healing OK.”

This shot on C-SPAN was posted by the Daily Caller, which ran an item headlined, “What is the cut on Sen. Crapo’s face?” The online outlet reported that C-SPAN junkies noticed the facial injury when Crapo was speaking yesterday against confirming Rep. Mel Watt to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Their post drew an array of responses, including one commenting, “Looks like someone knocked the Crapo out of him.”

Crapo teams up with Colorado senator on wildfire-prevention funding amendment

Idaho GOP Sen. Mike Crapo and Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet today filed legislation to launch a five-year, up to $30 million wildfire mitigation pilot project, to be carried out by FEMA in consultation with the Forest Service, as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which is currently under consideration in the Senate. The two senators introduced the bill in August; it’s considered deficit-neutral, as it taps FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Fund for competitive grants to state and local officials for wildfire preparedness and mitigation projects. Those state and local agencies would have to provide matching funds; the projects could occur on federal, state or private land.

 “Instead of waiting until more towns are evacuated, homes threatened and our firefighters lives put at risk, the U.S. Senate has an opportunity to pass the PREPARE Act amendment to help states like Idaho reduce and prevent catastrophic fires,” Crapo said in a statement. Bennet said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  By directing more resources toward fire mitigation on the front end, we can not only help prevent and reduce the severity of future disasters, we can also save millions of dollars in recovery costs in the long-run.” You can read the two senators’ full announcement here.

Crapo, Risch say anti-discrimination laws best left to states

When the U.S. Senate voted 64-32 last week in favor of legislation to ban workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians, 10 Republicans joined 52 Democrats and two independents to support the bill, but Idaho’s two senators both voted against it. “Number one, this is a state’s rights issue,” Idaho Sen. Jim Risch said. “Number two, this bill made insufficient provisions for employers who have First Amendment constitutional protections to exercise their religious beliefs.”

The bill, which would ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, included an exemption for religious organizations. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., proposed an amendment to sharply expand that exemption to include a wide array of entities with some religious affiliation, but it was voted down, 55-43. Toomey still voted in favor of the bill, however.

Sen. Mike Crapo’s spokesman, Lindsay Nothern, said, “Sen. Crapo voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, on the basis that he has long been opposed to the expansion of the federal government’s power to handle such matters when states have a better handle on how to rightfully handle these issues, just as several local municipalities in Idaho have begun to do.”

Earlier in the week, Crapo said he supports allowing local ordinances to ban such discrimination, which conflicts with a resolution passed by the Idaho Republican Party Central Committee over the summer urging the state Legislature to overturn local anti-discrimination ordinances in seven Idaho cities.

“Moreover, a sweeping federal statute would not offer proper protections for religious liberties,” Nothern said. “Sen. Crapo believes all Americans should be treated with respect and dignity. … Workers should be hired and their employment maintained on the basis of their skills, abilities and how they accomplish their appointed tasks.”

The bill may not get a vote in the House, where Speaker John Boehner opposes it; you can read my full column here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

Crapo to be in on budget conference talks

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo reports that he has been appointed to the budget conference committee that will work to reconcile the differences between House and Senate budget proposals; he’s one of 21 senators on the 29-member panel, which is headed by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “While I could not support the budget that was passed by the Senate earlier this year, I believe there are ideas and policies in both versions that we can mutually agree on and start the process of putting us on a sustainable fiscal path,” Crapo said in a news release.

The budget conference was agreed to as part of the deal to end the government shutdown and stave off default on the nation’s debt; Crapo voted against the deal, but called the budget conference “an enormous opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to find common ground on a more sustainable budget path for our country.” The panel includes the entire Senate Budget Committee, on which Crapo serves, along with four House Republicans and three House Democrats. You can read Crapo's full news release here.

Catching up: From Denney eyeing higher office to extension of county payments…

Catching up on some of the news from while I was gone over the past week:

DENNEY EYES HIGHER OFFICE:  Former Idaho House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, filed initial paperwork to run for Idaho Secretary of State, an office long held by incumbent Ben Ysursa, a Republican; you can read an AP report here on Denney’s move. Ysursa hasn’t said yet whether he’ll be seeking re-election; in an email to Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey, he said, “I intend to make my future plans known within the next few weeks. Until then I really have no comment.”

STATE SURPLUS BIGGER THAN REPORTED? Former state chief economist Mike Ferguson has analyzed state revenues and concluded that in an apples-to-apples comparison, Idaho’s surplus is actually bigger than has been reported. At the close of fiscal year 2013 on June 30, the state’s general fund had an ending balance of $165.3 million, $105.3 million higher than expected at the end of the 2013 legislative session. After transfers to reserve accounts and taking into account law changes, Ferguson concludes, “The current DFM General Fund revenue forecast for FY 2014, at 2.1% growth over FY 2013 revenue, appears to be unduly pessimistic. At 3.1% revenue growth the ongoing General Fund surplus estimate would be $74.1 million, and at 4.1% revenue growth the ongoing surplus estimate would be $111.6 million.” You can read his full analysis here.

ONE INSURER WITHDRAWS: The only for-profit insurer scheduled to offer plans on Idaho’s exchange withdrew on Sept. 26; with Altius' exit, Idaho's remaining insurers will offer 61 plans for individuals, 55 small group health plans for small business, 13 individual dental plans and 17 small group dental plans. You can read about that move here.

COUNTY PAYMENTS EXTENDED: A one-year extension of the county payments under the Secure Rural Schools Act, the remainder of the Craig-Wyden law that has been offsetting millions lost to rural counties and school districts since federal timber harvests fell, cleared Congress and headed to the president’s desk – tucked into a bill about helium. “Passage of the Helium Stewardship Act is a victory for the entire state of Idaho,” said Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo; rural schools and counties would get $270 million under the bill. “This fix does not change the need for a long-term solution that provides a consistent mechanism for the federal government to meet its obligation to rural communities accommodating federal lands, and I will continue to work with Senator Risch and all my colleagues to achieve this objective,” Crapo said; you can read his full statement here

Risch, Crapo both set ‘tele-town hall’ meetings next week

Both of Idaho’s senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, have scheduled “tele-town hall” meetings in the coming week; Risch’s will be on Monday, and Crapo’s on Wednesday, both starting at 7 p.m. MT, 6 p.m. Pacific time. Any Idahoan who wants to can participate, but you need to sign up online in advance. Crapo says he’ll take questions and offer insights on issues Congress must deal with this fall, including potential military intervention in Syria; Risch says he’ll give a brief update on issues being discussed in Congress and take questions for the bulk of the hour-long session. Risch also will ask participants to respond to poll questions on various issues.

To sign up for Crapo’s tele-town hall, go to his website here, and click on the tele-townhall icon on the right side under “Action Center.” That’ll take you to a townhall page, where the signup box is located in the middle of the page; there’s more info here.

To sign up for Risch’s tele-town hall, click this link.

More congressional reax on Syria speech

After President Obama gave his speech on Syria last night, there was a scramble to get reaction from the region's congressional delegation, and fit  it into the tight space in this morning's Spokesman-Review. We wound up with a shortened version of the reaction. For a fuller version of their comments, go inside the blog. 

 

Idaho congressional delegation wary of strike against Syria

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho lawmakers in Washington, D.C., were deeply skeptical of President Obama's plan for a strike against Syria's chemical weapons infrastructure. In responses this week, Republican U.S. Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo and Reps. Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador all expressed wariness such a strike would enhance U.S. power or bring a swifter end to Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime. Risch committed to opposing a strike. Obama says Assad's government was responsible for numerous gas attacks, including one Aug. 21 said to have killed 1,429 people. In Tuesday's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, however, Risch worried a post-strike Assad would emerge stronger. Republicans including House Speaker John Boehner support a strike. Though Simpson is usually a Boehner ally, the Idaho Republican's spokeswoman said he's “strongly leaning against supporting military action.”

Read a report here from S-R reporter Kip Hill, including comments from Idaho and Washington senators; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Senators say nation’s wildfire prevention system needs ‘bold reforms’

Idaho's two GOP senators joined with Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden today to launch a new bipartisan push to use the fall budget negotiations in Congress to reform the way the nation funds wildfire prevention. “In my view, the fires that are ripping their way through Oregon, Idaho, California and much of the West are proof that the federal government’s policy for fire prevention is broken,” Wyden declared in a visit to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. That’s because it taps fire prevention funds to fight raging fires, landing the nation in a vicious circle as it does less prevention, he said.

“And I say that given the heroic efforts that have been made by our firefighters,” Wyden said. “The reality is simple: For western members of Congress in the House and the Senate, there is no higher priority this fall than fixing this broken system.”

Wyden is the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, on which Risch also serves; Crapo and Wyden both serve on the budget committee. Wyden quipped that 3 percent of the U.S. Senate is already on board with the new push – the three of them – and said they’ve also gotten enthusiastic  support from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has been working to make sure the Forest Service is first in line for seven tanker plans that should become available from the military this month to boost firefighting efforts.

Wyden said there’s “no better time to bring about these changes than this fall,” as Congress grapples with the budget sequester, the need to raise the debt ceiling and the end of the fiscal year. “This brings front and center the debate about what our priorities are and what our choices are,” he said; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. 

Crapo gets Unicorn Award

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo speaks at news conference Monday in Boise at the Idaho state capitol

Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo got caught up in an Obama campaign stunt to help push his initiative to address climate change.

Volunteers for Organizing for America, the political arm of President Barack Obama headed by Boise’s Jim Messina, gave Crapo the Unicorn Award, along with 134 other Senators and Congressmen who deny climate change is caused by greenhouse gases.

“Senator Crapo has shown leadership in land use issues and worked closely with the environmental and scientific community. Why won’t he sit down at the table with them – and a majority of the American people – on climate change?” said Jill Kuraitis, a Boise Obama volunteer. “Senator Crapo is highly intelligent and Harvard-educated. It doesn’t make sense that he isn’t acting with the urgency this issue presents.” Read More. Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman

Thoughts?


Read more here: http://blogs.idahostatesman.com/obama-group-calls-crapo-out-on-climate-science/#storylink=cpy

Crapo raises alarm over data collection by Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo held a Boise press conference today to press his concern about collection of consumer financial data by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an issue on which he’s requested a GAO investigation that’s now under way.  Crapo acknowledged that the CFPB has been at the center of partisan battling in Congress and that he opposed its formation, preferring to keep regulation of consumer finances with that of the safety and soundness of banks and other financial institutions; Crapo, the ranking minority member of the Senate banking committee, lost that fight.

But he said revelations of the amount of consumer financial data the new agency is tracking should be of concern to all, particularly in light of concerns over NSA tracking of phone calls and other federal agencies’ use of data about Americans. The CFPB has “very, very little political oversight,” Crapo said. “It has the ability to run its own agenda. … This agency is run by a single individual.”  

Crapo was joined at his Idaho Capitol news conference by fellow Idaho Sen. Jim Risch; Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden; Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group from Washington, D.C.; and John Zarian, a Boise attorney who handled major California litigation over misuse of personal credit report data by Trans Union Corp.

Zarian warned of the dangers of identity theft and fraud from misuse and security breaches of individuals’ data; Fitton told of how Judicial Watch pressed Freedom of Information Act requests to find out the extent of the data the bureau was collecting on 5 million Americans. Crapo said although the CFPB says it is not collecting data that identifies individuals – “personally identifiable” financial information on consumers, which the law creating the agency forbids gathering – the scope of its data collection could lead to that. “This agency was created to watch out for Americans, not to watch Americans,” Crapo declared.

Wasden said, “Privacy in this day and age is a valid concern.” He praised Crapo for raising the alarm, and said the GAO investigation should show “whether CFPB’s data collection and use of that data is lawful.”

The agency has said it is collecting data so it can track fraud to protect consumers; it’s also developed a database of consumer complaints about a variety of financial services, from credit cards to mortgages to credit reporting, and posted that online for public use. Risch said, “If you like government, you will love this agency.” Fitton said, “For all the noise in Washington about the NSA, our real damages in Washington as far as privacy abuse resides in the Consumer Financial Protection Board.”

Crapo, Bennet insert clause in FEMA budget designed to prompt more focus on wildfires

Idaho GOP Sen. Mike Crapo and Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet have gotten a provision added to the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill designed to prompt FEMA to prioritize wildfire prevention. The bill directs FEMA to develop a report identifying any funding obstacles and detailing its wildfire mitigation efforts over the past five years; the two termed the move a “first step” toward getting FEMA to put more priority on wildfire and its prevention. You can read the two senators’ full announcement here.

Idaho one of 4 states selected for Greek yogurt pilot program in school lunches

Idaho will join three other states in a pilot program to serve Greek yogurt as part of school lunch programs. Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo hailed the decision, saying in a statement, “Greek yogurt is one of the country’s fastest growing industries, and I hope USDA will continue the important process of making this healthy food option increasingly available to young Americans. Idaho, already a leading producer of milk and other yogurt-related ingredients, recently became home to the world’s largest Greek yogurt manufacturing plant in Twin Falls. … Our state is ideal to serve as a part of this pilot project.”

The other three states are New York, Tennessee and Arizona; the USDA opened a solicitation to vendors this week for the four states, with bids due July 22. If the pilot program is successful in the four states, it could expand nationwide. You can read Crapo’s full statement here; the Twin Falls Times-News has a full report here. Lindsay Nothern, spokesman for Crapo, said schools already were serving other types of yogurt, but Greek yogurt, which is higher-protein, wasn’t on the USDA’s list until it was approved in January as a protein. “I don’t think the schools are planning to take meat off the menu and replace it with yogurt,” Nothern said. “None of this makes the schools do anything. It just offers up yogurt as part of the protein offerings they can make in schools.”

Dairy Industry Rips Risch, Crapo

Idaho's dairy industry is applauding the Senate passage of bipartisan immigration reform legislation - and scolding Idaho's two senators for voting against it. “This legislation, should it become law, will greatly assist the largest industry in Idaho with the ability to grow and increase productivity,” said Brent Olmstead, director of Milk Producers of Idaho. “We are disappointed that Idaho’s two senators chose to not join in the bipartisan effort to fix the current immigration system. We have been and will continue to work with the Idaho delegation in the House to keep the current momentum on immigration reform going”/Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise. More here.

Question: P'haps Crapo & Risch should pay more attention to an Idaho industry affected by immigration reform than the ideologues within the Republican Party?


Read more here: http://blogs.idahostatesman.com/crapo-risch-explain-opposition-to-immigration-reform-bill/#storylink=cpy

Idaho’s dairy industry lauds Senate immigration bill passage

Idaho's dairy industry is applauding the Senate passage of bipartisan immigration reform legislation - and scolding Idaho's two senators for voting against it. “This legislation, should it become law, will greatly assist the largest industry in Idaho with the ability to grow and increase productivity,” said Brent Olmstead, director of Milk Producers of Idaho. “We are disappointed that Idaho’s two senators chose to not join in the bipartisan effort to fix the current immigration system. We have been and will continue to work with the Idaho delegation in the House to keep the current momentum on immigration reform going.”

Tena Petter, the group's chair, said, “There is no issue more important to the Idaho dairy industry than this legislation.” Click below for the Milk Producers' full statement. 

Senate passes immigration reform, 68-32, Risch, Crapo both oppose

The U.S. Senate has voted 68-32 in favor of the bipartisan immigration reform bill, sending the measure to the House. Both Idaho Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo were among the 32 Republicans who voted no; Risch tweeted, “Our country needs immigration reform. But, this bill overreaches and I did not support it.”

Fourteen Senate Republicans voted in favor of the bill, along with every Senate Democrat. The Hill reported, “Senators took the rare step of voting from their desks to mark the occasion while Vice President Biden (D-Del.) presided from the dais. The Senate used the same formal procedure to pass ObamaCare three years ago. The bill’s authors fell just short of their goal to win 70 votes for the legislation but said the robust bipartisan vote creates a strong mandate for the House to act next month on the issue.” Read The Hill’s full report here.

Crapo issued a statement, saying in part, “It is clear that reforms are past due.  However, S. 744, the Border Security, Stabilization and Modernization Act, would not provide the types of reform to stop illegal immigration at the border while ensuring fairness for both current Americans and immigrants alike.  Unfortunately, the current Senate bill bears striking resemblance to laws passed in 1965, 1968 and 1986.  Americans need and deserve better, and we cannot afford to repeat the same mistakes of the past.” You can read his full statement here.
  

Durst: Crapo, Risch Demagoguing

On his Facebook wall, state Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, posts (re: Crapo, Risch oppose closing debate on immigration reform):  “US Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch have demagogued the immigration issue to death. All this despite the clear evidence that in a state like Idaho, immigration reform isn't just a nice to have, its a need. Tell them that they need to stop posturing and finally demonstrate some leadership by supporting immigration reform today.”

Question: Do Sens. Risch and Crapo represent your stand on immigration reform?

Crapo, Risch on why they’re opposing bipartisan immigration reform bill

Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch both voted against ending debate and moving to a final vote on the immigration reform legislation in the Senate today. “The triggers in this bill with regard to border security are not strong enough,” Crapo said. Risch said immigration reform is needed, but called the bipartisan reform bill “just a political Band-Aid” that he said “commits U.S. taxpayers to turn over their hard-earned money to someone who is not a citizen.” You can read the two senators’ full statement here.

The vote to invoke cloture, ending debate, passed 68-32, and a vote on final passage is expected later today.

Rural Idaho officials talk of the challenges of living amid large swaths of public land

Local officials from rural communities throughout Idaho said today that federal public lands have major and direct impacts on their everyday operations and challenges.  

During a panel at the McClure Center’s symposium at the Capitol Auditorium this morning, Owyhee County Treasurer Brenda Richards said, “There isn’t a decision that we make that doesn’t bring federal lands into the aspect, in some of the issues that we’re facing.” When moderator Marty Peterson asked her about the impact of the numerous recreationists who visit the county, Richards noted that it has few gas stations or convenience stores. “Most of the time, if you’re coming to visit Owyhee County you’re going to fuel up, you’re going to bring your provisions in from another county.” The county, though, bears costs for search and rescue, she said. “That’s hit us very hard.”

She said, “We do enjoy having people come out to Owyhee County and share in that … but there is an impact. Counties are required to provide services, and it doesn’t matter who’s visiting your county, you have to provide for that.”

Soda Springs Mayor Kirk Hansen drew a laugh when he said, “I always thought Soda Springs was quite cosmopolitan.” Explaining, he noted that mining operations on public lands in the region surrounding the eastern Idaho town draw hundreds of residents there. “We’re not the so-called always have mud on our boots type miners,” he said. “We have electrical engineers, geologists, environmental engineers, civil engineers, mechanical engineers - we have highly educated people who move into these areas to live and to work. … They enhance the betterment of the community in which we live.”

Hansen said the mining operations are “providing the standard of living that exists, and using the resources that in my mind are God-given. … We need to be very wise in the stewardship of what’s there.” Describing a situation in which a mine leached selenium into the environment and killed several horses, he said the mines now follow strict federal regulations to avoid polluting the water and land. “We need to collaborate very well with the federal agencies, and the land of many uses is very critical,” Hansen said. “We have thousands of people who are dependent upon the uses of public lands – the proper usage, that we take care of the resources that have been given to us, that they’re available and for the betterment of everyone.”

Woody Woodford, superintendent of the Kellogg School District, said, “Eighty percent of Shoshone County is state and federal lands. … They are the largest landowner in Shoshone County. As a direct result, we have 20 percent of our property owners pay 100 percent of our taxes, that burden is huge. … We believe in responsible management of federal lands, but there has to be some kind of a balance.” Shoshone County, which long was a prosperous mining area, now has a big car dealership as its major business. “Our county needs the kind of industry where we can afford to buy those cars at Dave Smith’s, and it simply doesn’t exist,” Woodford said. He said the small tax base is increasingly pinched trying to cover the costs for required services.

Valley County Commissioner Gordon Cruickshank discussed the community forest trust, in which a collaborative trust is seeking to manage 200,000 acres of federal forest land to both improve its health and make money for public services. The community has to provide for schools and roads, he said, and needs a way to generate money now that historic logging on public lands has dropped. The project is “a model, a way to show it can be done,” he said.