On December 19, the U.S. Senate passed on a voice vote - with no opposition in evidence - a bill aimed at averting the impending federal government shutdown. It had support of all or nearly all Republicans and Democrats in the chamber, and was thought likely to pass in the House of Representatives. Senators started singing Christmas carols on the floor.
Then came a declaration from President Donald Trump, who initially seemed to back the bill, but after taking heat, said he would not sign it because it did not include funds for construction of a border wall with Mexico. That killed the bill in the then-Republican-led House. It was nonetheless an actual compromise, something un-thrilled Democrats and Republicans could (and in the Senate, did) vote for.
After party control shifted, the House wound up passing a measure much like the old Senate bill - which, once again, had been supported by nearly all Senate Republicans as well as Democrats - with the statement that funding for the wall could be considered separately. In fact, it has voted for 10 related bills along those lines, with mostly Democrats in favor but picking up some Republican backing. One Republican voting aye on the bill passed on Wednesday was Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho. He will take heat for that.
On Thursday, the Senate voted on and killed two budget bills. One was backed by Trump and touted as a compromise, though it contained no concessions and included what the corporate world would call “poison pills”. Only one Democrat supported it. The other was called the Democratic bill - though, once again, this was largely the same thing Senate Republicans had solidly backed a month earlier - and though it got a half-dozen Republican votes, it too failed. Idaho’s senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, were not among the six.
Idaho’s congressional delegation has had a busy week.
Simpson said, “The House voted on a package of bills that were negotiated last year between the House and the Senate, Republicans and Democrats. Although it does not represent my preferred starting place for negotiations, I support it because it includes provisions that are important for Idaho that I personally worked to secure, including increased funding for sage grouse conservation, PILT, wildfire prevention and suppression, and a prohibition on listing sage grouse as an endangered species, among many others.” But he also blasted Democrats for not looking more favorably on the Trump proposal.
His new fellow Idaho representative, Russ Fulcher, was quoted as saying, “It’s not a debate about what the right thing to do is, it is a power play between the speaker and the president. That's basically all this falls down to."
Actually, it must be more than that, or else the votes behind the speaker and the president, which allow them to take these positions, wouldn’t be there. And it does after all have immense national impact.
Fulcher: “My urging is to forget about the politics, forget about the party moniker right now.” But unlike Simpson, he voted against the proposal which, once again, had been developed and approved by both Republicans and Democrats.
A week ago, Risch participated with a group of Senate Republicans offering a bill to avert federal government shutdowns in the future, by setting up an automatic continuing resolution - sort of putting the federal government on temporary budget autopilot - in case of a budget stalemate. He also said, “Shutting down the government is the complete opposite of what we were elected to do - govern. I have co-sponsored this legislation year after year and hope we can finally move it forward. Real people with real problems get caught in the balance of government shutdowns and we need to act for them and for the sake of government efficiency. I would prefer a smaller and less intrusive government than what we have, but regardless it needs to operate.”
Good sentiments, and at the least a reasonable legislative concept. But with all these good intentions and good will, why are the votes - all of the delegation’s votes - still not there for an actual compromise, like the one Congress had but a month ago, to end a shutdown now with no end yet in sight?