The session of the 112th Congress is underway and there is a different look to it compared to the last two years. Republicans are now the majority party in the House of Representatives, and in the Senate Republicans hold 47 of the 100 seats.
We face some critical issues in the coming months such as our massive federal deficit, slow job growth and record-setting debt. Last November, the American people signaled they wanted an end to business as usual in Washington. America really needed that.
Next week, I will host a telephone town hall to discuss what is happening in Congress. I will also take your questions on the major issues we need to address. I hope you will sign up to join me for the call.
During President Obama’s State of the Union address, he talked about the severe debt our nation has and I applaud him for that. But I wish he had underscored more forcefully the danger of the situation. He called for a budget freeze for the next five years, but simply freezing spending at current levels is like setting the cruise control on a car that is speeding toward a cliff.
In the last two years, federal spending has ballooned by nearly 25 percent. This year the government will spend $3.8 trillion, but will only take in $2.2 trillion in taxes. To make up that gap, we will borrow $1.6 trillion. This kind of borrowed spending simply cannot go on.
The president and Congress have several opportunities in the coming weeks to show we are serious about dealing with our debt. Next week, the White House will unveil its 2012 budget. A few weeks later, Congress will vote on how to fund the government and shortly after that, Congress will vote to raise the ceiling on our national debt above its $14.3 trillion cap.I support several proposals to address our spending including the adoption of a balanced budget amendment and a substantial roll back of our budget levels. This should be achievable since President Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress increased spending and the size of the federal government by 25 percent over the past two years. I opposed those budget increases.
In Idaho, we operate under a balanced budget requirement and, right now, Governor Otter and the legislature are working through that difficult process. Balancing Idaho’s budget each year is not easy, but by making very difficult decisions each year, Idaho does not kick today’s financial problems down the road for future generations to resolve like the federal government does.
Budget troubles are not something new or unique to government. Families and businesses deal with these issues every day. When money gets tight, they don’t maintain spending at current levels. They sit down, reassess their priorities and move forward accordingly. It is time the president and Congress do the same.
On February 2, I supported the effort in the U.S. Senate to repeal the health care law. I am strongly in favor of repealing and replacing it with measures that provide an opportunity for those who do not have insurance to acquire it, while working to bring down the cost of health care. While the House of Representatives was successful in their repeal vote, our attempt in the Senate failed on a straight party-line vote.
The new health care law is doomed to fail at the outset. To pay for the new programs it requires 10 years worth of new taxes to cover six years of benefits. When I think of what Washington is doing to health care, I think of Ronald Reagan’s famous debate line delivered to Jimmy Carter…”There you go again.” A new bureaucracy has been created that is not sustainable. Plus, it takes billions from Medicare, which is a major concern to seniors, and it is driving up the cost of insurance premiums, not lowering them as promised.
So where do we go from here?
Already, two federal courts have found the individual mandate provision, which requires people to purchase medical insurance whether they want to or not, to be unconstitutional.
I have joined a group of senators in introducing S. 281, the Save our States Act. This legislation will place a moratorium on any further implementation of the health care law until there is a final judicial resolution to this matter.
There were 26 states that were a party to this lawsuit, including Idaho, which sought to stop the federal government from enforcing this law on the states. No more taxpayer dollars should be spent to implement a law that two federal courts have found to be unconstitutional.
This bill would delay the new regulations currently being developed by the administration that were not in effect on the date of enactment. The bill does not suspend features of the law already in effect on the enactment date.
I believe it is irresponsible to waste billions of dollars that we certainly do not have, on a plan that could ultimately be ruled unconstitutional.
While efforts to repeal the entire health care bill were unsuccessful, a significant change was agreed to that will save small businesses, churches and other organizations from a mountain of paperwork.
The so-called 1099 provision was inserted into the health care law in an attempt to claim additional revenue would be raised. It requires that businesses file a form with the IRS for every vendor with whom they do more than $600 in annual business. Small and large businesses have said it would cost them great amounts of time, effort and money to implement.
After repeatedly opposing efforts to get rid of this burdensome regulation, some of which I pointed out in a Small Business Committee hearing, Senate Democrats finally sided with Republicans. This fix is part of the FAA reauthorization that the Senate will vote on in coming weeks.
The 1099 requirement is just one example of how the law of unintended consequences factors into the 1,000-page health care law. While in this case, Congress found the problem before it went into effect, I worry we will not be so fortunate on other “discoveries” in the law.
Recently the Idaho District Court upheld Idaho’s Roadless Rule. The rule had been challenged by national environmental interests.
In 2006, when I served as governor, I created five management themes for Idaho’s 9.3 million roadless acres based on local and statewide input.
At 9.3 million acres, Idaho has the largest and most diverse amount of land in the lower 48 that was impacted by a 2001 roadless rule adopted by the Clinton administration.
After 16 public meetings and thousands of comments by Idahoans, and involvement by local conservation groups, I developed a management plan for roadless areas under four different management themes plus one special area category. The themes included Wild Land Recreation, Primitive, Backcountry, and General Forest.
This ruling is a victory for the collaborative process and all Idahoans. Rather than a one-size-fits-all plan that changes with each new administration, we have a plan that will manage these areas not only for forest health, but for people to hunt, fish, hike and for motorized users on appropriate parcels. This is a common-sense approach that benefits the land and all Idahoans. And most importantly, it was created by Idahoans.
The U.S. Secretary of Interior on December 22 issued an Order to establish a new tier of public land protection called Wild Lands for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This secretarial order, without notice or public input, marks a major change in determining land designation by the BLM.
Idaho’s congressional delegation sent a letter to Secretary Salazar opposing this bureaucratic lock-up of land in Idaho. Only Congress has the authority to designate wilderness and that is done through a public process that this declaration seeks to avoid.
This new inventory of public lands under BLM jurisdiction will further strain agency budgets and personnel and divert them from current projects and obligations.
It also threatens the collaborative process that should be used to resolve public land disputes. In our letter, we expressed our concern that this new process shows “the federal government is still going to find a way to do what it wants if its political objectives are contrary to the locally-driven, collaborative solutions that have been forged.”
Fortunately, this quiet attempt by the Department of Interior to circumvent public scrutiny of land designation has been exposed. Idaho’s congressional delegation, Governor Otter and many county commissioners and recreational users are opposing this bureaucratic takeover.
I will continue to fight this directive and work to allow Idahoans to have a say in how federal lands are managed in Idaho.
In January, I joined with Mike Crapo and other senators from the West to introduce a bill that would remove the gray wolf from the Endangered Species Act. The legislation is identical to a proposal that was offered during the lame duck session last year in that it would finally remove the federal government from the wolf management equation.
Wolves are a recovered species in Idaho. They have far exceeded every recovery goal set when they were reintroduced nearly two decades ago. Idaho had developed a responsible plan for managing wolves that it was operating under until the courts returned management to the federal level last year. The judge who made the decision even acknowledged as much.
I have heard from many of you concerned about this issue and share your frustrations over the broken promises of the federal government. I continue to work with a growing number of my colleagues to fix this problem and am hopeful that will happen sooner than later.
My next telephone town hall meeting is set for Wednesday, February 16th at 7pm Mountain time. These calls are a great way for me to hear from you and answer your questions. Sign up for the call by filling out the Tele-Townhall sign-up form. Requests must be made at least 24 hour prior to the meeting.