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Simpson’s moment

idaho RANDY

Here soon: The likelihood of a career-defining moment of truth for Representative Mike Simpson. What he does, or doesn’t do, in coming days on the federal shutdown and prospective default will be the key to reading his many years of service in public office.

This goes singularly to Simpson because of the shutdown dynamics. If the periodic and regular votes, for the “continuing resolution” (on the budget) and the debt ceiling increase had been done in the usual fashion of obscure housekeeping, they would have been “clean” – with no special conditions for passage attached – and supported by both parties. The president and the Senate (with a supermajority including significant members of both parties) support that. The Republican majority in the House has determined to add conditions before approving either measure. The shutdown results of no agreement on the “CR” are significant and growing; failure to raise the debt ceiling, in which the United States would welsh on debts it already has incurred, would be damaging and could be catastrophic.

Idaho’s senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, have opposed the measures, but in the Senate they are part of too small a group to impose their will; bluntly, their opposition hasn’t mattered. And you could say that Representative Raul Labrador’s opposition has been baked in, as an early-on Tea Party-backed House member.

Simpson is a more subtle story. Last week the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call quoted Simpson: “I’d vote for a clean CR, because I don’t think this is a strategy that works. I think the strategy that works is on the debt ceiling.” That led to Simpson’s placement on a list of House Republicans who would vote for such a “clean” CR if it got to the House floor – and maybe to those who would vote for forcibly pulling it to the floor, which could be done if 17 Republicans plus all House Democrats voted in favor.

Simpson quickly replied that he had no such plans: “I am going to continue to support the position of our Republican Caucus in the ongoing shutdown dispute. Having said that, similar to Senator Rand Paul, I could support a very short-term clean CR, perhaps one or two weeks, while we continue to negotiate on a longer-term bill that addresses priorities we believe are important.”

What those priorities are, is unclear to say the least. They seemed to start with repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), then with its defunding, then with a delay, but as of Wednesday, according to one House Republican spokesman, it’s off the table completely. Sundry other items, including the Keystone XL pipeline, energy regulation, Wall Street regulation and other topics, seem to have been placed on and taken off the table too. At this writing, what seems to remain is a desire for “negotiation” – or is it just saving face? Or is it worry about possible Tea Party revenge for waffling?

While that goes on, unemployment increases, services go unmet, people are going hungry and the financial markets are getting extremely nervous about a possible federal default.

Simpson is pivotal here. He and a handful of other House Republicans could play a central, even demanding, role in ending the crisis. Or he, and they, could follow instead of lead. But if the shutdown continues, and particularly if a default happens, and the country falls into deep trouble, Idahoans as well as people from far away may ask where he was, and what he did, when the moment of truth came.

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