Late last month, Sen. Mike Crapo visited the area. His tour included stops in seven Idaho County communities; he met with the Idaho County Free Press editorial board on May 29.
Crapo, one of the highest-ranking Republicans on the Senate’s banking and finance committees, centered his presentation on the national debt, which has ballooned to $18.5 trillion.
“It is essentially approaching the size of our entire gross national product,” he said. “No major economy has been able to sustain that level of debt without some kind of economic collapse. … In six years, interest will be greater than all of our non-defense discretionary spending. In eight years, interest will be greater than our entire national defense budget.”
Faced with that pressure, President Barack Obama is proposing $2 trillion in new taxes, Crapo said. In 2011, Crapo was a member of the so-called “Gang of Six” which supported a bipartisan mix of taxes and federal spending cuts designed to slow the debt’s growth in the future.
Asked about the tradeoffs involved with closing the gap between what taxpayers are willing to pay and what the government continues to spend, Crapo said every part of the budget – from defense to Payment In Lieu of Taxes and Secure Rural Schools – is under pressure. “I prioritize defense spending, and frankly, I prioritize PILT and Secure Rural Schools,” he said.
He called defense “the top responsibility of Congress under our Constitution” and presented this case for continuing payouts to counties: “Some parts of the budget are in different categories because they’re really legal responsibilities. The federal government puts the counties, like Idaho County, in these circumstances because it exempts itself from property tax. By exempting itself from paying property taxes on its own property, in my opinion it creates an obligation on the part of the federal government to compensate for that in some way. … So I put that very high.”
Asked about the potential for federal land reforms to help the nation’s finances, Crapo was careful to say he wants to see the land remain public.
“When we talk about the debt, we’re talking about the need for tax reform and incentivizing capital investment, that sort of thing,” he said. “You don’t want to sell off lands to pay the debt. You want to reform the tax code and take the steps you can [to cut spending].”
But as a wholly separate issue from the debt, Crapo sees there is a case being made for putting federal lands in state ownership.
“The state is a great manager,” he said. “Ultimately I think state management of the lands is probably something that the people of Idaho will ask us to look at a lot more closely.”
“Right now the public lands are a cost to the federal government, because of the management rules that the federal government has,” he explained. “And by the way if there ever was a change in that management that same set of rules – all of the mandates for the Clean Air, Clean Water and land management regimes that the federal government has established would remain in place so those costs would still be in place. And there’s a huge debate about whether those costs would make it difficult for the state, if the state were to be involved in managing the lands. But the savings to the federal government, there’s a debate as to what those savings would be, and whether there would be any savings. The savings that would come from that would not even come close to dealing with the scope of the national debt.”
Asked about a third issue of local importance – the Environmental Protection Agency’s water regulations – Crapo said the Congress has several options for pushing back against overreaches big and small. On an issue of purely local importance, Crapo’s office is working with Sandra Mitchell of the Idaho Recreation Council to restore state management of suction dredging in local rivers, and also has its sights set on a water regulation Crapo ranked “near the top in terms of the most outrageous overreaches by any government agency.”
“EPA is asserting jurisdiction over all waters of the United States,” Crapo said. “Congress has granted the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers jurisdiction in the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act, and historically the states have been the place where jurisdiction over management allocation and use of water was managed. The federal goverment when it passed those two acts limited jurisdiction of the EPA to navigable waters. The EPA has tried to blow that out to be everything. They lost that case in the Supreme Court. So now they’re trying by rule to get around the Supreme Court case and define everything as navigable…which would literally put the EPA in charge of everything from puddles in the desert to irrigation ditches to whatever you may have. It’s an absolute abusive overreach by the EPA, to assert jurisdiction the Congress has never granted to it. It’s one big – but nevertheless just one – example of the incredible explosion of regulatory overreach we’re seeing from the government. … They’ve got another one they’re pushing about carbon emissions from coal plants that’s going to be very damaging to the coal industry… look at the IRS or CFPB [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] or some of the other agencies and we’ve got some incredible overreach going on right now.”
In the absence of a veto-proof majority, Crapo said there are several options to pursue: advancing legislation to address regulations directly, advancing legislation to defund regulations in the appropriations process, holding oversight hearings, and filing “friend of the court” briefs when lawsuits are filed.
Asked about the upcoming Republican presidential primary election, Crapo said he has not yet endorsed anyone, noting that more candidates may enter the field and that the process itself can help refine the candidates.