Vol. 3, Issue 1: July 17, 2013
As we celebrated our nation's independence on July 4th, I had two contrasting thoughts. The first is about the many difficulties facing our nation. Unemployment is stubbornly high, our annual deficit will "only" be $900 billion this year and our debt is fast approaching $17 trillion. On top of that, Social Security and Medicare need to be overhauled if they are to remain viable for future generations.
Yet, as I reflect on our country and all it has been through, I have no doubt we have the ability to get through these problems. When you think about the Civil War or the World Wars and the Great Depression, America made its way back and was stronger than ever.
So, as we celebrate our country's 237th birthday, I have no doubt we can find or way back and we will watch a new generation of Americans begin their lives in freedom and prosperity.
Happy Birthday, America!
Immigration Reform was a major topic of debate on the floor of the United States Senate during the month of June. I heard from thousands of Idahoans on the topic through calls, letters and emails. You may be interested to know that the contacts to my offices on this issue ran more than 90 percent in opposition to the proposal that passed the Senate on July 27 on a 68-32 vote.
The country desperately needs immigration reform, and there are many items of reform where most Americans and those in Congress agree. Indeed, there were some provisions of the bill if taken individually, like border control and jobs, I could support. But overall, the 1,000-plus-page bill that just passed was something I could not support.
First and foremost, we must secure our borders. The U.S. is not doing a good job of that now and without secure borders we are creating more problems for the future. Much was made in the media about an amendment passed that we secure the borders. Supposedly, it will add border guards, fencing and new surveillance technology. In reality, the bill as is gives the secretary of Homeland Security the sole discretion to determine whether the additional measures are necessary. That method was tried in 1986 and was a total failure.
Issues such as health care and earned income tax credits, just to name two, were major hurdles for me. I cannot in good conscience vote for something that will take the hard-earned money from a U.S. citizen and taxpayer and transfer that money to someone who is not only a non-citizen, but entered the country illegally. The vast majority of Idahoans I have talked with agree with me.
Our country has always provided a clear and longstanding path to citizenship where anyone in the world can achieve the dream of becoming an American citizen. That privilege and procedure cannot be changed just to benefit those who refuse to follow our rule of law and allow them to jump ahead of those in line legally pursuing the process.
We can fix many aspects of immigration that truly need fixing, but the Senate bill was an overreach that I could not support.
The recent revelation that the Internal Revenue Service has been singling out conservative and Tea Party affiliated groups is both despicable and inexcusable. We now know the IRS targeting of these groups extended beyond the agency's Cincinnati office. High-level IRS personnel in Washington, D.C., were aware of these shameful activities. Americans of all political persuasions should be upset at this gross misuse of the public trust. It is an outrage!
Hearings are being held in the House of Representatives on the abusive practices of the IRS. Since the IRS is bound by existing laws to ensure their reviews are not politically motivated, those federal government employees who are found responsible should face prosecution to the fullest extent of the law. I hope the full truth will be revealed on the extent of who ordered this activity and of those who were aware of it, and criminal prosecutions will follow.
I have co-sponsored several pieces of legislation further condemning these IRS abuses and instituting stricter penalties on the unethical IRS targeting of certain American taxpayers. When any federal worker sits at his or her desk each day I want that person to know that they will go to jail for violating the civil liberties of any American.
National Security Agency Leaks
There have been many stories in the media about a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor alleging the federal government is spying on Americans and collecting their phone conversations. This has raised much concern, and Americans are right to question if the programs in place to protect Americans from terrorists are being used appropriately. The Idaho delegation is committed to pursuing all of these matters and to determining the facts. We have urged the Justice Department to pursue all individuals who have broken U.S. law.
Congress needs to review procedures by asking tough questions of those who implement these programs. We must always be willing to debate the risk of safety from terrorism versus our civil liberties, and new technology means we should always know where the line is for both. Everyone wants to prevent a terrorist attack, but it needs to be done in a legal manner with proper oversight.
Idahoans to Remember
June 30th was the fourth anniversary of captivity for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl of Hailey. He is being held by Taliban-affiliated groups on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. All Idahoans need to continue keeping Bowe and the Bergdahl family in their thoughts and prayers during this difficult ordeal.
The community of Hailey has offered tremendous support to the family during this time.
Another Idahoan, Pastor Saeed Abedini, of Boise, was seized by the Iranian government and sentenced to eight years in Evin prison for allegedly spreading Christianity. He was in Iran visiting family and working to build orphanages.
I had the opportunity to record a video message through Voice of America to the people of Iran during their presidential elections. I spoke to them about freedom and Pastor Saeed. You can view the video here.
During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, I quizzed State Department officials on efforts to secure Pastor Abedini's release. That video link is here.
Sage Grouse Fight
Governor Otter has established a Sage Grouse Task Force to recommend policies and activities to address threats to sage grouse in Idaho. The goal is to keep them off of the endangered species list and allow local working groups around the state that have been established to coordinate their recovery.
When Sally Jewell was nominated by President Obama to serve as the secretary of the Interior, I placed a hold on her nomination. I did so until she and the agency agreed to work out issues regarding the Bureau of Land Management's participation in the state-led process with the goal of using science as the basis for decisions by the agency.
Collaboration between state agencies, private landowners, Indian tribes and federal agencies can work if everyone is at the table. What is not helpful is when a federal agency wants to impose a top-down solution and not listen to those who know the land. Fortunately, then-nominee Jewell understood the concern and pledged the cooperation of her department and that the BLM would be at the table. With that, I lifted my hold and she was confirmed by the full Senate.
A few weeks later, I had the opportunity to ask Secretary Jewell during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing if she still supported the effort. Here is the video of her response.
Bipartisan Effort on Public Shooting Ranges
Senator Mark Udall,D-Colo., and I have teamed up to introduce a deficit-neutral bill to help states create and maintain public shooting ranges for hunters and sportsmen to practice their sport. S. 1212, the Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act, would allow states to use the excise taxes already collected on sporting equipment and ammunition to create and maintain public shooting ranges. For more details, click on this link.
Idaho Senators Object to Reduction in Timber Sales, PILT Payment Cuts
Senator Mike Crapo and I have let the administration know we are very unhappy with two recent decisions. First, the Forest Service has determined they would cut timber sales on their land by 15 percent in 2014.
At a time when good paying jobs are needed and rural communities are struggling, reducing timber sales makes it even worse. This cut is a threat to jobs and small businesses in our state.
A group of western senators sent a bipartisan letter to the president noting our objections. Read the letter here.
That timber sale reduction also puts more pressure on the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, also known as county payments. County payments are federal payments to local governments to help offset losses in property taxes due to nontaxable federal lands within their boundaries. Money from timber sales helps to fund county services.
Second, the administration decided to cut Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) payments to local governments this year due to the budget sequester, even though the payment is from funds from the previous year. This was another example of the administration trying to make the sequester as difficult as possible on the American people.
We strenuously objected to the decision since nearly 80 percent of Idaho's counties depend on these funds for schools, road maintenance, law enforcement and emergency response. Read the news release here.
Legislation Recently Sponsored
S. 306, the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act, will allow rural water and irrigation districts to develop hydropower projects on Bureau of Reclamation water canals and pipelines. More info here.
S. 971, the bipartisan Silviculture Regulatory Consistency Act, reaffirms the EPA's 37-year-old policy toward regulation of runoff from forest roads. Press release here.
I joined with Senator Crapo to file the SCRAP Act as an amendement to the Farm Bill. This amendment is identical to the House bill of the same name and defunds the FDA's proposed fresh produce rule that requires weekly testing of water, costing $5,000 to $30,000 per farm each year depending on its size. Learn more here.
Senators from Idaho, Colorado and Maine have joined forces to reinstate fresh white potatoes as eligible for purchase under the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutritional program. Information here.
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