The conservative Republican split

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If it’s a major-office Idaho elected official, it’s a “conservative Republican,” for whatever that may mean. (Republican, as a party member, is at least specific enough.) But is it possible to make more precise distinctions?

The New Years Day vote on the Biden-McConnell proposal is a good indicator of this – there are others, and there will almost surely be more to come. And the best way to think about it as not ideological. (Once again: What does “conservative” mean?) One national article suggests drawing the line between “establishment” Republicans and “insurgent” Republicans, at least within the House Republican caucus, and that may be as useful a dividing line as any. John Boehner, the House speaker, is an establishment Republican. Eric Cantor is an insurgent.

In Idaho, then, there’s this: The senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, are establishment Republicans, as is Representative Mike Simpson. 1st District Representative Raul Labrador is an insurgent.

These descriptions draw from the votes on the bill, as establishment Republicans – a big majority in the Senate but a nearly 2-1 minority in the House – favored the measure, while the insurgents opposed.

The difference is in perspective.

Here’s some of what Labrador had to say: “This was a difficult vote, but as far as I am concerned the Biden-McConnell deal is worse than no deal at all. It temporarily ends the debate but does nothing to solve the problems that our country faces—in fact, it is a perfect example of why our country is $16 trillion in debt. … Today, I’m not sure either party is serious about reducing our debt and deficits.”

And from Simpson: “While I remain a strong proponent of a more comprehensive approach to solving our nation’s long-term fiscal crisis, this bill is a critical piece of legislation that lowers taxes for nearly every taxpayer. The unfortunate reality is that under current law every taxpayer was hit today with a tax increase. The bill we passed blocks those tax increases for nearly all Americans — effectively lowering the taxes they were to begin paying today. It is also important to note that H.R. 8 will provide permanent tax certainty for individuals, families, businesses, and farmers who are ready to invest their money but have been reluctant to do so without knowing how much they’ll be taxed. Resolution of the tax rate uncertainty is critical to economic recovery and job creation.”

The difference in perspective jumps out at you. Simpson’s approach, like that of most people who think like legislators (and it is a way of thinking, in a sense that lawyers or teachers or even journalists would recognize), is to recognize that you may not get everything you want, but you make the best deal you can with the hand you’re dealt – you negotiate. Labrador’s is to dismiss any proposal deemed not to be good enough – which means, if you’re in a place like Congress, rejection of a lot of what’s put before you. The same would be true of a state legislator or city council member.

We may be seeing this play out over and over, exacerbating the differences between “conservative” Republicans as this congressional session goes on.

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