Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson makes the sensible choice on federal debt default

Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, and Congressman Russ Fulcher chose the train wreck, writes guest columnist Chuck Malloy.

June 6, 2023 4:10 am
The U.S. Capitol Building on June 1, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Capitol Building on June 1, 2023, in Washington, D.C. The Senate reached an agreement to vote on 11 amendments to The Fiscal Responsibility Act before voting on passage of the legislation. The legislation was negotiated between the White House and House Republicans to raise the debt ceiling until 2025 and avoid a federal default. The House passed the bill last night with a bipartisan vote of 314-117. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Three members of Idaho’s congressional delegation had a choice: Vote for a measure they did not entirely hate, or face the possibility of an economic train wreck.

Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, and Congressman Russ Fulcher chose the train wreck. So be it if a federal default would mean delays in Social Security payments, or if Wall Street were reduced to a pile of dust. In their minds, the plan worked out by President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy — a rare display of bipartisanship in Washington politics — wasn’t good enough.

Mike Simpson
Mike Simpson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1999. (Courtesy of Congressman Mike Simpson’s office)

Thank goodness, the three Idaho Republicans were in the minority. Both houses of Congress passed the Fiscal Responsibility Act, giving us almost a two-year break from talking about debt ceilings.

Not everyone in the delegation has his head in the clouds. Congressman Mike Simpson voted for the bill, along with an overwhelming number of his congressional colleagues. He outlined some compelling reasons for his positive action, including an increase in defense spending, a cap on non-defense spending and the scaling back of the controversial $80 billion increase to the IRS. Simpson says it will reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

The cuts were not as deep as Republicans wanted, but there was at least some progress in changing Washington’s big-spending culture. And it all came about because Republicans hold a slim majority in the House. The GOP should be basking in glory, opposed to trying to hold the nation’s economy hostage.

Simpson is taking that victory lap, and good for him. He offers a nice civics lesson in the process.

“Raising the debt limit does not create new spending – rather, it allows the federal government to pay back loans that were taken out in the past and ensures that the government meets its obligations to bondholders, taxpayers, Social Security recipients and the veterans and service men and women who have served our country faithfully,” he said. “Democrats’ unchecked spending got us to the circumstances we’re in today, and this bill sets a strategic and responsible path forward to grow the economy and save trillions in taxpayer dollars.”

OK … you can’t blame it all on the Democrats. We have a $31 trillion debt, and Republicans have helped make that possible. But Simpson’s points overall are well taken.

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo
U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo has served in the U.S. Senate since 1999. (Courtesy of Sen. Mike Crapo’s office)

Crapo acknowledges that the Fiscal Responsibility Act had some good features, as Simpson outlined, but says it doesn’t go far enough.

“Because the White House waited months to engage in serious bipartisan conversations with Republicans, Congress was left with little time to adequately address our overall ballooning national debt, keeping spending at swollen post-COVID levels,” he said. “The Fiscal Responsibility Act is a missed opportunity for true budget reforms to prevent the type of excessive spending we have seen over the last two years.”

Budget reform is a tricky proposition. Crapo, the ranking member of the Finance Committee, has come up with two proposals – zero-based budgeting (a failed idea from the Carter years) and a balanced-budget amendment (promoted heavily during the Reagan presidency). Lord help us if Crapo is holding out for those two modles.

But the senior senator represents the majority of thinking in the delegation, which a generous following beyond.

photo of Sen. Jim Risch with U.S. Capitol building in the background
Idaho Republican Jim Risch joined the U.S. Senate in 2009. (Courtesy of U.S. Sen. Jim Risch’s office)

“This debt ceiling increase puts a band-aid on a hemorrhage, and we will be in this same situation again and again until we address the federal government’s underlying spending problem,” said Risch.

Fulcher, a member of the House Freedom Caucus – which overwhelmingly opposed the bill – said he could not justify “the debt implications that the legislation poses to Idahoans and fellow Americans.”

State GOP Chair Dorothy Moon and the Legislature’s Freedom Caucus also weighed in with their opposition to the debt-ceiling package.

The decision to raise the debt ceiling, says Moon, “while it may help us avoid immediate disaster, does little to change the trajectory of government growth. … As we move past this recent debt ceiling issue, it is essential to focus on the actual problem at hand: our government routine and significant overspending.”

Rep. Russ Fulcher
Rep. Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho, has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2019. (Courtesy of Congressman Russ Fulcher’s office)

Granted, our fiscal policies are a mess and have been for a long time. But we can only speculate about the economic “mess” that would be in store if the country defaulted on its financial obligations.

To get a clue, try skipping payments for a few months on housing, the car and the power bill … and see what happens.


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