House editorial: A government affair

Are we in a long-distance relationship with our Congressional delegation? The kind of long-distance relationship that ends in distraction, angst, heartache and, dare we ponder the notion? Possibly political “affairs”?

Are our senators and representatives putting other interests before ours, letting their political alliances and obsessions become all-consuming to the detriment of their focus on their relationship with us, their “significant others”?

The Post Register’s Bryan Clark reported on Friday that Idaho Senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo failed to sign a joint letter to President Trump arguing against a proposed 31 percent cut to the Department of Energy’s nuclear research funding because, as they put it, “This particular letter details efforts at the Sandia Lab and natural gas research, neither of which are relevant to the INL.”

But the letter wasn’t just about Sandia Lab and natural gas research. It was about continuing to support “critical” Department of Energy research programs. Hmm … What kind of stake does Idaho have in energy research?

Indeed the content of the letter, signed by six Republican senators who represent states with national laboratories, details the very pillars supporting Idaho National Lab in the political sphere. “The United States cannot overcome scientific obstacles without the combined support of both the private and public sectors,” read the letter. “Federally funded research is imperative to ensuring we meet our energy, science and national security needs for generations to come.”

Why didn’t Risch and Crapo sign it when it expresses “continued support for the Department of Energy’s research programs”? Did they misunderstand the context? Or were they playing a political game — perhaps showing a unified front in support of the president who, last week, was embroiled in bombshell report after report?

We don’t have a satisfactory answer and are, therefore, forced to speculate.

Frankly, what else are we to think? Last week, while most of Congress kept their heads tucked into their wings when it came to news about Trump, Risch took a different tack. On Tuesday afternoon, Risch went on three separate television networks to defend the president’s right — nay, his “obligation” — to de-classify intelligence. Yes, even to Russians who might be able to reverse engineer the source of the information. Yes, even though this code-word level intelligence had intelligence leadership doing damage control immediately after the meeting.

As argued in a Lewiston Tribune editorial this week, no one can cast shade on Risch’s personal morals. He is probably one of the most lawful, logical and straight-laced politicians in Washington.

Remember, it was Risch’s logic (and memory for obscure rules) that got Sen. Elizabeth Warren rebuked for reading a letter in a Senate hearing about then-senator (now attorney general) Jeff Sessions, written by the late Coretta Scott King.

That skill will come in handy during the upcoming budget scrap that could have very real and negative consequences for Idaho, especially here in eastern Idaho. We’ve seen Risch’s considerable philosophical powers at work. Now put them to work for us.

It’s not just Risch who seems to have become distracted from the issues important to Idahoans.

Last week, U.S. Representative and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Raul Labrador, introduced H.R. 2284, a bill that would strip a president’s power to designate national monuments, replacing it with a congressional review and state approval.

Similarly, Crapo earlier this month penned a guest column praising Trump’s executive order providing review for national monument designations and expansions and touting his companion legislation, S. 132.

Their positions on the issue don’t mention a word about the recent effort to transform Craters of the Moon National Monument to Idaho’s first national park.

And, with their full-throated support of national monument review, it’s more than a little worrying that Craters was added to the review list now on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s desk. What’s Zinke to do about Craters when he sees two of Idaho’s congressional delegation pushing for fewer national monuments?

Without uniform congressional support in Washington, the hard work of Arco residents to build their small city’s status with a national park designation could be for nothing.

And why? Because two of our congressional delegates are following Washington’s GOP leaders and putting partisan federal land policies before their own constituents’ wishes? It was just a few months ago that thousands of Idahoans rallied in Boise in support of maintaining the status quo on federal land ownership. It was even more recent that the state Senate voted unanimously on a resolution asking our Congressional delegation to request Craters of the Moon become Idaho’s first National Park.

And don’t forget the comment that got Labrador international news coverage — that no one dies from lack of health care. No, this response wasn’t “elegant,” and it should shake up every single Idahoan. We all know better. Jenny Steinke, who died of an asthma attack in Idaho Falls in the summer of 2015, will forever be embedded in our memories of an example of why this is not only untrue, it’s a cruel disservice to her memory.

Finally, it was disappointing and a little surprising to hear U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson admit he wouldn’t have voted for the AHCA bill — the first step to repealing the Affordable Care Act — if he thought it would become law as currently written. Seems a dangerous game to play.

Still, don’t forget Simpson was the only of the state’s congressional delegation to vote for the omnibus spending bill that has kept government operating — and INL employees paid — at least through September. As Simpson noted to the Twin
Falls Times-News, those three congressional votes — Risch, Crapo and Labrador — against the bill didn’t go unnoticed in budget negotiations.

Listen, we get it. Politics involves patience and strategy. Accomplishments are often the result of short, measured plays that build up to big moves. And, admittedly, we don’t always see the plays before they happen.

But it’s also important to protect your assets and look around you every once in awhile to make sure your goals haven’t changed. Blinders are good for horse races, not chess matches.

Over here in Idaho, we’re feeling more than a little neglected. A cut to the DOE’s research budget by a third will hurt us — big time. Trump’s proposal is likely a jumping off point, sure, but are our senators letting Trump know we can’t jump very high if we’re underwater? The lack of their signatures on that letter makes us suspicious.

This is where the real work happens.

It’s not about Trump. It’s not about scandal. It’s not about who controls the House or the Senate. It’s not about having a Republican president.

In fact, it’s not about any one issue or a hundred issues in Washington politics.

This is about Idaho. It’s about Idahoans’ wishes.

To our partners in democracy: We’re concerned your affections have strayed. Soon we’ll connect the dots to where. If they don’t come back to us, it’ll be time for a Dear John letter that reads, “It’s not us, it’s you.”

Katie Stokes is the Commentary page editor. Email her at [email protected].

Katie Stokes is the Commentary page editor. Email her at [email protected].