Writings and observations

peterson MARTIN
PETERSON
 

Ronald Reagan was a staunch conservative and Tip O’Neill was an equally staunch liberal. But both were old school and also believed in the art of political compromise. As a result, Reagan and O’Neill worked together on a series of successful compromises that included revisions in Social Security, working with Margaret Thatcher on establishing the Anglo-Irish Accord for peace in North Ireland, and beginning the thaw in the Cold War after O’Neill delivered a message to Mikhail Gorbachev from Reagan.

Unfortunately, in recent years there have been few major national issues that have been successfully addressed through political compromise. The end game today is playing for media sound bites and maneuvering for imagined political advantage in the next election cycle.

Now the U.S. Senate has taken a page from the playbook used earlier times when bipartisan coalitions were the norm for dealing with major issues. The issue is immigration reform and it now appears that as many as 70 Senators from both sides of the aisle may be prepared to support the bill developed by the bipartisan Gang of Eight, although the coalition probably won’t include either of Idaho’s senators.

Earlier this week I was moderator for a Boise City Club forum featuring Grover Norquist, arguably the most influential conservative voice in Washington, D.C. His subject was “Why Conservatives Should Support Immigration Reform.” He is supportive of the Senate bill for a number of reasons, but primarily because he believes that it will benefit the nation’s economy.

He is also a political pragmatist who sees the handwriting on the wall for the Republican party if they continue to offend the growing number of Hispanic voters by opposing immigration reform.

The national issue that eclipses immigration is federal deficit reduction. It is another issue that will only be successfully dealt with by forming bipartisan coalitions willing to make some compromises on issues such as entitlements, taxes and defense spending.

One of the biggest obstacles to bi-partisan compromise solutions on deficit reduction is none other than Grover Norquist, the champion of bi-partisan compromises on immigration reform. Norquist, through his organization Americans for Tax Reform, has gotten nearly every Republican in Congress to sign his pledge to not raise taxes of any sort. If a member has signed and continues to honor the pledge, he or she will only support deficit reduction efforts that focus on spending cuts.

But a growing number of Republicans who have signed that pledge have determined that it has grown irrelevant as they seek ways to reduce the deficit. Two of those individuals are Idaho’s Senator Mike Crapo and Congressman Mike Simpson. Both have indicated that everything, including revenue increases, has to be on the table as the President and Congress deal with the deficit.

Peter King, a Republican Congressman from New York, said it best several months ago on “Meet the Press.” “A pledge you signed 20 years ago, 18 years ago, is for that Congress,” King said. “For instance, if I were in Congress in 1941, I would have signed a declaration of war against Japan. I’m not going to attack Japan today. The world has changed. And the economic situation is different.”

If Congress succeeds in dealing with the immigration issue on a bi-partisan compromise basis, perhaps the gates will have opened to similar efforts to deal with other major issues such as deficit reduction.

It would be good to have the shrill voices of no-compromise special interests on both side of the aisle grow increasingly irrelevant and have the real interests of the American people once again take center stage in Washington. Making Congress a respected and productive part of American society, as it once was, is in everyone’s best interest.

Marty Peterson is retired and lives in Boise.

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carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Sent a letter off to Governor C/L. “Butch” Otter this week asking him to take the lead among northwest governors and abolish the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. The request is a formal follow up to the case I made about the irrelevancy of the Council in today’s energy environment in my recent book, Medimont Reflections.

Copies were sent to Governor Otter’s other northwest colleagues – Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, and Montana Governor Steve Bullock. Additional copies were sent to Washington’s senior U.S. Senator, Patty Murray, to Steve Crow – the Council’s executive director, and to Idaho’s two members on the Council, Bill Booth, from Hayden Lake, and Jim Yost, from Boise.

Fact is, the Council has been a colossal failure, especially in its stated mission to enhance and protect dwindling wild salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia and Snake River basins. Fact is the Council has overseen the wastage of billions of ratepayer dollars in a futile effort to come up, along with other Federal agencies, a biologically protective dam operations plan (called “Bi-ops”) that will meet the test of Federal District Court approval.

Fact is the Council has spent in excess of $221 million to operate during its 32 years of existence but has virtually nothing to show for the ratepayer’s investment. In late March Bonneville produced a summary sheet of the amount of dollars spent, and the amount of revenue lost, trying to enhance wild fish runs during the first 11 years of this new century.

The total sum was a stunning, staggering $7.35 billion. Incredible. And what do they have to show the ratepayers for this outlay? Virtually nothing. By any standard, they have failed in their mission and should be abolished.

The 1980 Act that established the Council also provided a formula for funding the Council – a percentage of the anticipated annual firm power sales. It roughly was the equivalent of about $2 million a year.

Full disclosure on my part: as the first Idaho appointee to the Council I played a significant role in making sure the first budget had enough to set up offices in Montana and Idaho for those states Council members so as to be able to match the downriver states Council offices which were supported by much larger state energy offices.

Thus, the first budget came in at three times the limit, a number slightly in excess of $6 million. This was enough to cover set up costs and required a waiver from the Bonneville Power Administration’s new chief executive and administrator, Peter Johnson, himself an Idahoan and the former chairman of Idaho-based Trus-Joist Corporation. I never dreamed that subsequent annual budgets would remain in the range of annually expending between $6 and $8 million dollars.

No organization likes to sunset itself or admits it has failed its mission.

The 1980 law, however, presciently saw that the Council could fail and provides a simple mechanism for disbanding it. Three of the region’s four governors merely have to write the Interior Secretary and request it be disbanded and it will be.

Do I expect this happen? No. Even though Governor Otter likes to talk the need to shrink government, when asked earlier this month on KLIX radio in Twin Falls whether he would support disbanding the Council quickly rose to its defense and claimed it played a useful role though he could not cite any specifics.

The fact is the Council positions have become well-paid plum appointments, patronage appointments, if you will that a governor can reward a friend or strong supporter with and not worry about the perception of wasting dollars on an entity more known now for junkets and endless hearings around the region than any substantive achievement. Money after all for the Council primarily comes from downstream ratepayers, not Idaho taxpayers.

Governor Otter should reconsider his position and walk his talk about shrinking needless entities, but he won’t. Just as he won’t respond to my letter. Politicians now days don’t respond to critics, especially in a one-party state where they constantly get away with ignoring those who disagree with them. Another word for such behavior is hypocrisy.

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