Mike Crapo – Idaho's senior U.S. senator who chairs the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee and is second ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee – recently appeared before the City Club of Idaho Falls against the backdrop of a trade war worsening between the United States and China, global stock markets plunging and the annual U.S. federal budget deficit burgeoning beyond $1 trillion.
Crapo's City Club appearance coincided with a frenetic series of town hall meetings he conducted throughout Idaho during the August congressional recess in addition to other events, including a meeting in Boise with U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.
Crapo told Idaho Falls City Club members at a well-attended luncheon that despite spirited debates and political battles under way in Washington, there have been bipartisan achievements and successes in Congress that have not been well-publicized.
Asked about his assessment of Donald Trump, whom he called “interesting,” Crapo said he agrees on concerns about Trump's frequent tweets, but he said he has enjoyed working with Trump at the policy level and called him one of the most open presidents with whom he has worked during his nearly 30 years in Congress. Crapo ranks 15th in overall Senate seniority in the 116th Congress.
Crapo recently split with Jim Risch, Idaho's junior U.S. senator running for re-election, by voting for a two-year federal budget deal endorsed by Trump and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that raises the national debt limit, removes automatic budget cuts, adds $320 billion in federal spending, allows a 4 percent increase in discretionary spending and prevents a government shutdown. The U.S. Senate voted 67-28 to enact the legislation pending Trump's signature.
Crapo said Trump returns calls and even answers the phone when the White House is contacted. The Trump administration has been very good for the U.S. West in terms of agenda and a willingness to work on issues, he said, mentioning the Senate is in the “personnel business” and must confirm an administration's 1,200 nominations.
Crapo criticized Democratic delays and blocking Trump administration nominations. While most nominations in the past have averaged taking only 2½ weeks to confirm, some of Trump's nominees have taken 2½ years, which he said is “a huge concern.” He added: “I don't think the president is trying to bypass Congress.”
Crapo, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, praised Trump's confirmed U.S. Supreme Court nominees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh whom he called outstanding justices and supporters of constitutional rule of law. He said he supports splitting the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and adding a third federal district judgeship in Idaho.
He called regulatory reform “a huge success” and noted 99,000 pages of regulations have been reduced to 66,000 pages, which enhances economic growth. Crapo also praised increased national defense spending, which he said was badly allowed to degenerate, encouraged increased aggression by other countries and caused major consequences with NATO allies, whom he said need to boost their defense spending.
Tax reform has triggered intense political battles, but has achieved a significant fixing of the federal tax code, Crapo said. While it has been attacked as a tax cut for the wealthy and causing an income deficit, he said it actually has reduced taxes across the spectrum and boosted revenues.
While growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) only averaged 1.9 percent the previous 10 years and 2 percent was considered “the new norm,” tax reform has enabled GDP growth to surge to 3.1 percent, Crapo said, adding that every tenth of a percent growth in GDP adds hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue, creating more jobs and capital.
“The tax cut has more than paid for itself,” he said.
The national debt will go up under any president, Crapo said. “The deficit is skyrocketing out of control. It is screaming toward pushing the U.S. into insolvency.” He noted entitlements are approaching 70 percent of all spending.
Crapo also cited bipartisan legislative successes in Congress, which he said have included compensation for 911 first responders, natural resource management, IRS and banking reforms, opioid legislation, energy policy and sex trafficking crackdown. Idaho will benefit from increased funding for nuclear research and development, including advancements in reactor technology, he said.
“More sanctions have been imposed on Russia than ever before,” Crapo said, noting the U.S. Senate banking committee has thrown its support behind them. Crypto currencies, personal data collection abuse and artificial intelligence also are huge issues confronted by the committee, he said, adding he firmly believes China has been engaged in currency manipulating.
Crapo said Russia has tried to interfere with U.S. elections by trying to infiltrate ballot boxes and change votes, but failed, but it is not the only nation to attempt it. Russia and other countries have been successful in influencing social media messages, he said. “It's harder to secure the First Amendment.”
Asked about his A+ rating by the National Rifle Association in light of the recent mass killings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Crapo said he has been a longtime supporter of the Second Amendment and the individual right to keep and bear arms, but he is open to looking at all proposals. Legislation and restrictions on gun ownership are now in place, he said, adding he supports hardening schools against violence and strengthening instant background checks.
Crapo said he does not support restricting family members from transfering guns between themselves or creating a national gun ownership data base that would infringe on Second Amendment rights.
“If government can create a list, it's one more step to confiscate. I see a problem with government identifying guns,” he said. It must be ensured that a person's constitutional rights are not taken away by bypassing the judiciary and giving that oversight to administrators.
“Character assassination should not be the political weapon of the day,” Crapo said, addressing the nation's sharp divisions and illegal immigration crisis. He said he does not not believe anyone entering the United States illegally should be given advantages over American citizens.
(photo: Crapo shares a City Club of Idaho Falls lunch with Mayor Rebecca Casper and Mark S. Young/Mark Mendiola)