U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, visited the City of Trees on Tuesday and outlined issues in Congress to Idaho stakeholders, explaining to constituents that the atmosphere in Washington, D.C., isn’t ideal. The congressman addressed controversial topics that are causing an even wider gap between Republicans and Democrats including comprehensive immigration reform and the president's 2020 fiscal budget.
Simpson raised eyebrows by offering a suggestion of permanent Green Card status for U.S. non-citizens to combat immigration problems with the agricultural sector in mind. It may seem like "rewarding people who came here illegally," he said, but deportation of millions of workers would "devastate the economy." Simpson said he is pulling together a group of both Republicans and Democrats to address the immigration and agriculture — two things that have a huge impact on Idaho state.
He acknowledged that the statement will cause come of his colleagues on the right to view him as a traitor. But his suggestion, he said, doesn't match the extremity of giving undocumented immigrants citizenship that some on the left are vying for.
"Believe it or not I actually think whats happening at the border is helping the chances of immigration reform passing," he said, "because finally, people are recognizing that this was not a manufactured crisis, this is a real crisis, if you don't believe it go to the border."
At the Boise Metro Chamber’s congressional forum, Simpson talked his priorities as a member of House Committee on Appropriations including pushing for a 2020 budget deal that can be worked with in Congress and the dangerous fate of reaching sequestration that would kick-off automatic spending cuts on specific parts of the federal government.
The partisan split
Simpson took to the podium for nearly an hour, expressing disappointment in the “partisan atmosphere” in Congress, preventing legislation from getting passed.
“I don’t blame Democrats, I don’t blame Republicans, it’s all of us,” Simpson said. “The American public is very divided, and Congress reflects that.”
Because neither party can work together, bipartisan legislation is sparse, and successful bills are few and far apart, he said.
Simpson said he faced criticism when he was Speaker of the House in Idaho for being “too nice” to the minority party, but that is the job of the speaker, he said, to make sure the minority party is being heard. Majority and minority leaders can argue for their party.
Immigration and the border crisis
For years, Simpson has called for comprehensive immigration reform, making it a priority to reach out to Idaho’s Latino community and calling for action for DREAMers — children of immigrants who may have not known their illegal status. On Tuesday, he again suggested permanent Green Card status for U.S. non-citizens residing within its borders.
“We have a whole lot of people in this country that are here that are undocumented,” Simpson said. “What do you do with 11, 12, 13, 14 — whatever the number is — million undocumented people? We haven’t found an answer yet...Deporting 14 million people, that would be devastating for our economy and most of these people, overwhelmingly, these people are here just to improve their lives.”
While he disagrees with President Trump’s immigration solutions, Simpson said the crisis at the border is real as the president suggests, but the 35-day government shutdown was never about building a wall, it was about who was going to "win."
“It’s never good policy to shut the government down,” he said. "It affects every business when the federal government is shut down, I always try to avoid it, but unfortunately we've had too many of them recently."
The president’s budget
A member on the House Committee on Appropriations, Simpson has reviewed extensively the president’s proposed 2020 budget. He hopes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and the president can “find common numbers” so the committee can move forward in the appropriation process.
The president has cut money from a lot of important programs, he said, including $2 billion from the Army Corps of Engineers and $35 million from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
“Every administration underfunds things that they know Congress is going to support, so they put money in programs that they like,” Simpson said. “Every governor does it, every president does it.”
Those cuts don’t necessarily reflect the president’s decisions.
“When I say the president’s budget … the president presented this budget, the president doesn’t really know what’s in it. This is Mick Mulvaney’s, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, budget. He was one of those guys that like to cut and burn and slash and everything when he was in Congress.”
Simpson hopes a budget deal is reached; without one, there could be limits placed on the size of the budget, he said. If there is no budget deal in the next couple of months, the country could be facing another shutdown in October.
Simpson praised the passing of the lands package that included reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation fund — a fund that reroutes offshore drilling royalties to recreation programs and spaces.
The $11 billion backlog maintenance in national parks is another issue Simpson spearheads, releasing legislation that would set up a new fund specifically for backlog maintenance.
“If you looked at the backlog maintenance in a variety of programs across the country,” he said, “it would scare you to death.”
Trump on Twitter
The American people are living in an era where the president of the nation can conduct policy over Twitter — and he does.
Simpson addressed the clash between President Trump and the media over social media.
“Some of you may not like Trump’s behavior, I understand that. Some of his behavior I am not too fond of," Simpson said. “But sometimes he says things that makes you go ‘Wow, this is the first president that’s conducted policy in the United States through Twitter.’ It’s a whole new world out there.”
The media never expected Donald Trump to win the 2016 presidential election, he said, so ever since it has been “two years of nothing but an attempt to get Trump.” The release of White House special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on possible Russian meddling in the 2016 election will reveal if there was collusion or there was not.
“Thursday you’re going to know what Mueller found out. Are there going to be redactions? Sure, there are. There are things you need to protect,” Simpson said.
Violence Against Women Act
The Idaho Press previously reported the voting split between Simpson and U.S. Rep. Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho, on the Violence Against Women Act — a decades-old fund to support women facing domestic violence and sexual assault. Fulcher cited “seemingly unrelated” insertions — including gun provisions — as his reason he couldn’t get behind it.
Simpson voted in favor of the bill. His reasoning: When the legislation makes it to the Senate floor, the controversial new provisions won’t be in it.
“You're either angering the National Rifle Association with the gun provisions or you're angering the women who think it's important,” he said.
Social Security and Medicare
One attendee asked Simpson if he should be concerned about the state of the country’s Social Security and Medicare systems.
“Yes, you should be,” the congressman said. “Social Security and Medicare are on the horizon of going bankrupt. We need to change Social Security. We need to have an honest discussion with the American people. I’m not sure Bill Gates needs a Social Security.”
If Congress is able to fix Social Security and Medicare, he said, the next round of elections doesn’t matter, because they accomplished something huge.