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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: Risch worries attack on Syria would make things worse

BOISE – Idaho Sen. Jim Risch says he believes the nation is better off doing nothing than launching a military strike against Syria in the wake of that country’s chemical weapons attack against its own citizens.

“Nothing I say today should be taken as minimizing this attack that was done by the Assad regime on his own country,” Risch said at a Boise news conference Thursday. But, he said, “There are no good answers here. … My judgment is the risk of doing something is worse than the risk of doing nothing.”

Risch, who was in the minority on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voting against a resolution authorizing limited use of force by President Barack Obama, said he wanted Idahoans to know his thinking on the issue.

“There’s tons of nerve gas and other weapons of mass destruction in Syria,” Risch said. “We know where some of those are. Unfortunately, we don’t know where all of those are.” He said, “If this attack unseats the Assad regime, it puts radicals in control of those weapons of mass destruction. Now this is the problem I’ve got with that: I have asked over and over again in Washington, D.C., what are you going to do if that happens? What is the plan to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of some very, very, very bad people? I’m not getting answers to that that are adequate, other than it’ll be right. And I’m not satisfied with that.

“The bottom line here is I cannot support a military attack on Syria at this time. I don’t deny that what he’s done on Aug. 21 is very, very bad. What he did before Aug. 21 was even worse, where he’s killed tens of thousands of people through conventional means.”

Risch said if the Assad regime had used weapons of mass destruction against Americans or American interests, “This would have been an absolute no-brainer for me and I would have come down differently on this.” But he said the Syrian conflict is a civil war, and at this point he doesn’t believe Assad has attacked American interests or allies.

The Senate committee’s split wasn’t along party lines. The bipartisan resolution was backed by seven Democrats and three Republicans, and opposed by five Republicans and two Democrats.

Risch predicted the resolution would pass the Senate over his opposition, but he said he can’t predict what will happen in the House.

Array of plans on exchange

Idaho’s state health insurance exchange announced last week that it will offer 161 health insurance plans at various coverage levels, from eight providers, when it opens for business Jan. 1; enrollment starts Oct 1.

The selection will include 76 individual health plans, 55 small-group health plans for small businesses, 13 individual dental plans and 17 small-group dental plans.

“We are pleased that our Idaho insurance companies have offered plenty of plans to choose from,” said state Department of Insurance Director Bill Deal. “We encourage Idahoans to visit and speak with a producer or in-person assister to learn more about their options.”

The exchange will allow eligible Idahoans – those who don’t already have employer-provided health coverage, and who fit certain income guidelines – to shop, compare and enroll in the various plans, and access government subsidies, if they qualify, to help offset their costs.

Monthly premiums, before any subsidies, will range from a low of $160 for an individual to a high of $1,098 for a family of four.

Fasting, praying for reform

Immigration reform advocates are joining the Episcopal Diocese of Idaho along with Mennonite and Unitarian churches in Boise to launch 11 days of fasting and prayer for immigration reform, culminating in a candlelight prayer vigil Sept. 13 in Nampa, with the 11-day time frame symbolizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants now estimated to be in the United States.

Church leaders said the issue goes straight to their faith, noting the biblical injunction to welcome the stranger.

The Rev. Karen Hunter, of Grace Episcopal Church in Nampa, said her congregation is conservative, but the issue was brought home for them when a church member was imprisoned because he is undocumented. He was brought to the United States as a young child, and he has a wife and three children, including one with autism. The man now faces deportation.

“This has kind of opened our eyes and our hearts to the real injustice of the present situation,” Hunter said.

The religious leaders and the Coalition for Immigrant Rights of Idaho called on Idaho’s congressional delegation to make immigration reform a top priority when Congress reconvenes this week.

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