Writings and observations

mendiola MARK


During two stops in Idaho Falls on Friday, Aug. 23, Idaho U.S. Sen. Jim Risch criticized what he perceives as the U.S. federal government’s mismanagement of nuclear waste, spiking health care costs, intrusive surveillance of Americans and increasingly onerous business regulations.

On a return visit to Idaho during the August congressional break, Risch addressed a large auditorium crowd at a City Club of Idaho Falls function and discussed financial concerns with small business owners and operators during a more intimate roundtable session.

Asked if he would support Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden’s Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013 that would create a new federal agency for overseeing the nation’s nuclear waste in place of the U.S. Department of Energy and initiate a pilot spent fuel storage site, Risch said it is more likely the large bill’s details would be voted on in committee rather than on the U.S. Senate floor.

The Idaho Republican who serves on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee stressed that Yucca Mountain’s use as a repository for high level nuclear waste has been authorized by Congress. “It is not an idea. … It is the law of the land,” Risch said, stressing that $96 billion has been invested to develop it in Nevada.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., however, “convinced the president of the United States they should ignore the law of the land. It has not been repealed,” Risch said, noting the executive and legislative branches of government are blocking that law. Congress officially selected Yucca Mountain as a repository in 2002, but the Obama administration halted its development in 2009.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, however, this month ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to resume legally mandated licensing for Yucca Mountain. In its 2-1 ruling, the court – which Risch said is one of the nation’s most liberal – said the NRC acted improperly when it shelved licensing hearings for the repository.

Risch said it remains to be seen whether President Obama will obey the appellate court‘s ruling. The Supreme Court does not need to take the case, he mentioned.

Risch noted the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare” also is the law of the land, but President Obama has decided to delay provisions with the stroke of a pen. In fact, Obamacare’s Medicare cuts and the law’s employer mandate have been delayed until after the 2014 congressional elections.

It was mentioned in the Federal Register that the administration would delay enforcement of a number of key eligibility requirements for the law’s health insurance subsidies. Another costly provision of the health law — its caps on out-of-pocket insurance costs — also will be delayed for one more year.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the Obama administration had missed as many as one-third of the deadlines specified by law under the Affordable Care Act as of November 2011.

Risch and Idaho U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo have asked for a full delay of all Obamacare components to avoid the economic harm they say it would inflict on American families. They criticized Obama’s decision to waive provisions without the consent of Congress. Risch said he is a co-sponsor of legislation to repeal Obamacare.

He called Obamacare “an absolute abhorrence to the free market system” and said he would not vote for a continuing resolution to fund it.

While supporting repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which he said nationalizes one-sixth of the entire U.S. economy, Risch denied that he supports shutting down government to do so as some Republicans have advocated.

“It’s a dumb idea to talk about shutting down the federal government,” Risch said. “You don’t govern by shutting down the entity you’re running.”

Risch predicted that Reid would not allow any budget bill to be introduced to the Senate floor without inclusion of funding for the Affordable Care Act, a 3,000-page bill enacted without a single Republican vote. He also said he expected a continuing resolution would be enacted before the government would shut down even though he and 30 others would vote against such a resolution.

Republicans are focused on controlling skyrocketing health care costs, said Risch, who defended the use of filibusters, which he said give both sides the opportunity to debate and vote on a bill’s amendments.

“If it wasn’t for the filibuster, we would get zero amendments,” he said, referring to his Republican colleagues, adding the nation’s founders designed the federal government with checks and balances to prevent passage of poor legislation.

The former Idaho governor and legislator said he views his greatest challenges as dealing with the federal government’s regulatory structure and reversing the nation’s worsening financial condition.

The federal bureaucracy churns out 70,000 pages of rules and regulations for every 2,000 pages of legislation enacted by Congress, Risch said, noting when he took office in 2009, the national debt was $10 trillion. It now stands at $17 trillion. The federal government also is twice the size of what it was in 2000, he said.

Asked about National Security Agency surveillance of Americans’ telephone calls, e-mail messages and Internet activity, Risch said it’s crystal clear that the nation’s intelligence agencies can conduct surveillance on non-Americans without securing warrants from judges, but that’s not the case for U.S. citizens. Risch sits on the Select Committee on Intelligence and the Committee on Foreign Relations.

Questioned about his stance on the Senate’s role in opposing or condoning a declaration of war against Syria after it was disclosed that hundreds of Syrians were victims of a chemical attack, Risch said he is absolutely opposed to American boots on the ground there.

“Syria is an absolute mess,” he said, pointing out that 14 of the 19 anti-Assad government forces are linked to al-Qaeda or terrorism. “When Assad goes, there will be civil war to decide who will run the government,” he said, predicting a horrible bloodbath.

No-fly zones would be difficult to enforce because Syria has one of the most sophisticated anti-aircraft systems in the world, and Iran is closely watching the U.S. response in regards to Syria, Risch warned.

Following his City Club question and answer session, small business representatives complained to Risch about the negative impact Obamacare, taxation and other government regulations are having on their operations, including trucking, ranching and aircraft. Risch is the ranking minority member of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

Idaho Falls City Councilwoman Sharon Parry, a mayoral candidate, and Linda Martin, Grow Idaho Falls Inc. chief executive officer, both lamented red tape hindering airline service in the region.

Agreeing with one roundtable participant about government agencies “changing goal posts,” Risch said the Environmental Protection Agency is notorious for altering its requirements after businesses spend large sums of money to comply.

“One of the big differences between the private sector and government is a sense of urgency,” Risch told the business proprietors. “I think this administration is regulators on steroids.”

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Idaho Mendiola

carlson CHRIS


Idaho’s first Congressional District is the only Idaho congressional district to have twice selected women to represent its interests in the Congress of the United States. The first was Democrat Gracie Pfost (pronounced Post) from Nampa who served five terms from 1950 to 1960. The second was Republican Helen Chenoweth from Orofino who served three terms from 1994 to 2000.

As Republican and conservative as the district is, there is a long shot possibility they may just send another woman, and a Democrat at that, to represent their interests in the Halls of Congress.

Last week long-time educator and veteran state legislator Rep. Shirley Ringo from Moscow announced her intention to seek the Democratic nomination for the right to challenge Congressman Raul Labrador in November of 2014.

No one gives her much of a chance to win the most Republican district in the nation.

Even though a little over five years ago the district was represented by conservative Democrat Walt Minnick, and even though the district has sent women to Congress before. Additionally, a little known historical footnote:

Idaho’s First Congressional District has the distinction of being the first in the nation ever where both major political parties had women candidates as their standard bearers.

Ringo, a former school teacher, makes it clear she is in the race to win, and does not consider herself to just be a sacrificial lamb. She has an excellent knowledge of the education issue and can patiently explain the most arcane elements of Common Core or other education testing.

Although education is primarily a local and state issue, much funding comes from the federal level as well as direction regarding Common Core testing standards. Rep. Ringo knows this issue cold and will appeal to many voters and parents concerned about their children’s future.

Unlike many former teachers, she neither lectures, nor pontificates. She has a preference that teachers lead by example. No one will ever accuse her, either, of being feisty and combative, like her two predecessors. She speaks softly but her knowledge and passion, as well as politeness speak loudly.

Undaunted by the task of challenging an incumbent who is smooth, articulate, and charming, she believes that if district voters are educated about Labrador’s affiliation with the Tea Party element of the GOP and some of their downright wacko beliefs they will begin to view Labrador differently.

She can point out that Labrador has neither denounced nor distanced himself from such nonsense as repeal of the 17th amendment that provides for direct election of U.S. senators, a return to the gold standard, shutting down government unless ObamaCare is defunded and a host other wing-nut beliefs.

At 72 years of age, some may believe she is too old to accumulate much seniority in Congress, but she can point out that Labrador, by alienating House Speaker John Boehner, will have little to show for his seniority. She can also question his judgment for participating in the ill-conceived, poorly executed coup against Boehner.

She also may be the beneficial recipient of some financial support from supporters of Labrador’s second district colleague, Congressman Mike Simpson. Labrador’s playing footsie with the Tea Party and Club for Growth folks supporting Simpson’s primary challenger, Idaho Falls attorney

Bryan Smith, has angered many Simpson supporters.

Labrador denied speculation in a previous column that he had anything to do with recruiting Smith or connecting him to the Club for Growth, but five days after rebuking your esteemed correspondent, he told the D.C. based publication Politico that he would neither affirm nor deny any speculation on the subject.

And he admitted to Lewiston Tribune editorial writer Marty Trillhause that since Smith announced he had talked to him by phone a few times. This messing in a colleague’s backyard has angered moderate and progressive Republicans, many of whom may find it more attractive to contribute to Ringo’s campaign than to the hopeless primary challenge to Labrador being mounted by a college student.

Idaho’s First Congressional district just may have a quieter but still effective version of Gracie Pfost in Shirley Ringo. She may surprise. Time will tell.

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