Back to back editorial board meetings Thursday with Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, produced viewpoints on issues ranging from a recess-heavy Congressional calendars going into June, the possibility of passing a “Grand Bargain” (Simpson’s term) budget by October, and opinions on the wisdom of Idaho taking over management of some federal lands within the Gem State’s borders.
Today we’ll take a look at some of what Simpson had to say on working toward a budget resolution between now and an October window when he thinks Debt Ceiling debate will force the issue.
Later we’ll harvest the notebook for things Sen. Jim Risch had to say on immigration and Syria.
Simpson expressed willingness to work within his own Republican party and to cross party lines in efforts to get entitlement reforms (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) as well as raise additional revenue.
“We’re trying to pass a budget that reflects the Sequester numbers. Last year our discretionary budget was $1.042 trillion, that’s actually down from three years ago at $1.4 trillion,” Simpson said.
This year the target is $966 billion. “Which means we’re going to be facing some really, really tough choices.”
He points out that two thirds of the budget is mandatory spending – so-called entitlement programs. Congress has been whittling away at the other one third, discretionary spending, but the two thirds entitlement costs keep growing as more and more people sign up for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
“We keep concentrating on that one third (discretionary) of the budget when the big dollars are going out the door in entitlements. Unless we reform entitlements we’re never going to get this budget under control.”
But he is quick to add that entitlement reform — which could include a two tier system where people 55 and older keep the traditional program and those now 54 and younger are enrolled in a new program — will not balance the budget without factoring in additional revenue.
“Anybody who says you can get this budget balanced without reforming the entitlement programs either doesn’t know what they are talking about, or is lying to you,” he said. “Anybody who tells you they can get this budget balanced without taking in additional revenue is lying to you.”
Simpson said he is prepared to do what is necessary to get budget talks going and keep them going, to “take the hard votes” and even risk losing an election to get it done. He said he is working with his own party and reaching out to Rep. Steny Hoyer D-Maryland to get it done.
What will cause Congress to seriously consider getting a “Grand Bargain” budget done?
Simpson believes there is plenty of reasons to get it done as soon as possible, but he thinks budget talks will be forced to the front burner when the debt ceiling debate starts anew in October. But Congress will have to act fast before it switches gears into election mode again later this year and in early 2014.
On the idea that Idaho could, or should take over some federal lands in order to manage them, Simpson injected some concern — along the lines of “be careful what you wish for.”
First, Simpson doesn’t think such a transaction will take place. Second, Simpson is concerned that proponents of Idaho taking charge of federal land will be under the false impression that the state would be able to skip past environmental and federal regulatory oversight.
“Nothing is going to be transferred that doesn’t require compliance with those laws,” Simpson said. “What is possible is better cooperation and working with the states to better manage federal lands. ”
What Simpson would like to see happen is some consolidation of scattered state and federal lands, which may require some land swaps between the state and agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management.
Looking forward to you sharing your thoughts.