Elections

If GOP keeps Senate control, Idaho influence will grow

Idaho Republican Sens. Mike Crapo, left, and Jim Risch are in line to lead full U.S. Senate committees in 2017 if their party maintains control of the Senate. They’re shown talking near the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
Idaho Republican Sens. Mike Crapo, left, and Jim Risch are in line to lead full U.S. Senate committees in 2017 if their party maintains control of the Senate. They’re shown talking near the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. AP

Long a low-ranking state in congressional clout, Idaho could get a boost in 2017 if Republicans maintain control of the U.S. Senate: GOP Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch are in line to head full committees for the first time.

Crapo, who’s running for a fourth term, would take over as the chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, while Risch, now in his second term, would lead the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.

Gary Moncrief, professor emeritus of political science at Boise State University, said Idaho might emerge with “a pretty impressive lineup,” particularly with veteran Republican Rep. Mike Simpson already leading a House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee.

It’s hardly guaranteed. While most expect Crapo to cruise to re-election, Democrats are fighting hard in other states to win the additional five seats they need to take control of the Senate. They’re counting on more GOP incumbents to be vulnerable with Donald Trump leading the party’s ticket.

If Risch and Crapo get their promotions, they’d be in stronger positions to aid their state, they said.

“Crapo and I are very, very close – we’re like brothers,” said Risch. “I mean, nobody votes the same more than we do: 99.9 percent of the time. And he and I are both very focused on Idaho.”

Crapo and I are very, very close – we’re like brothers. I mean, nobody votes the same more than we do: 99.9 percent of the time. And he and I are both very focused on Idaho.

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho

Risch would get the gavel from Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, who’s retiring. Crapo would replace Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, who’s in his sixth and final year as chairman under a GOP term-limits rule.

“A lot has to happen,” Crapo said. “But with the caveat that I don’t presume anything, let me just say the chairman of the committee has the ability literally to set the agenda and also to determine and shape the legislation that moves. . . . It’s an opportunity to really have a significant influence over the direction that the Congress will go.”

Crapo has big plans if he gets the chairmanship. Among other things, he wants to get rid of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, tackle the “regulatory stranglehold” on the economy and strip the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau of its power to collect spending data on millions of credit cards.

“If the federal government can identify what doctors you go see, what prescriptions you buy, what car you drive, what books you read and what washing machine you are shopping for, the potential for abuse there is extreme,” Crapo said.

If the federal government can identify what doctors you go see, what prescriptions you buy, what car you drive, what books you read and what washing machine you are shopping for, the potential for abuse there is extreme.

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho

Risch said he would use his post to promote small businesses and try to reduce the regulatory burden they face.

He said that while larger companies such as General Electric or AT&T could more easily deal with Washington’s regulatory demands, small businesses suffered.

“It’s killing all businesses, but it is really difficult on small businesses,” Risch said. “The guy that’s fixing lawn mowers in his garage all by himself has a very difficult time.”

Crapo said the banking committee had one of the broadest jurisdictions of any congressional committee, overseeing issues of banking, housing, securities, insurance, real estate and economic policy, among others.

He said he would use the chairmanship to help small banks that were struggling and to put a spotlight on his signature issue: getting Congress to lower the nation’s $19 trillion debt.

Crapo called it the single biggest threat to U.S. national security, noting that the federal government spends more than $250 billion a year to pay interest on the debt.

$19 trillionThe U.S. national debt

“That will grow to $600 billion or $800 billion in the next six to 10 years, and it will devastate our ability to adequately defend ourselves,” Crapo said. To close the gap, he said, Congress needs to strengthen the economy and produce more revenue: “That’s where the Banking Committee’s role becomes very paramount.”

Moncrief said committee chairs in Congress no longer commanded “the magisterial independent power they once did,” given the gridlock in Washington, but that there was little question that Idaho would benefit from added clout on Capitol Hill.

For a small state, especially a Western state like Idaho, it’s always helpful to have some people in influential positions.

Gary Moncrief, emeritus professor of political science at Boise State University

“For a small state, especially a Western state like Idaho, it’s always helpful to have some people in influential positions,” he said.

But Dean Ferguson, the spokesman for the Idaho Democratic Party, said Crapo and Risch “use the clout they have to benefit themselves and their friends” and that little would change if they became committee chairs.

“There’s no reason to think that any additional clout would benefit Idaho or the nation,” he said.

There’s no reason to think that any additional clout would benefit Idaho or the nation.

Dean Ferguson, spokesman for the Idaho Democratic Party

Ferguson called Crapo a “lackluster leader” who’s increasingly been tacking to the far right. And he said Democrats hoped to capitalize “on a very powerful anti-incumbent mood in Idaho.” Democrats already are making hay of Crapo’s endorsement of Trump, predicting it will hurt him with Mormon voters and will help Crapo’s Democratic challenger, Jerry Sturgill, a Boise businessman.

If Crapo wins, and he and Risch can stick around long enough on Capitol Hill, both have even bigger plans.

Risch said his first choice would be to lead the Senate Foreign Relations Committee one day. He’s now its second-ranked Republican, behind the chairman, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee.

Crapo has long eyed heading the Senate Finance Committee. He currently ranks third in seniority among the panel’s Republicans, behind the chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, and Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley.

Rob Hotakainen: 202-383-0009, @HotakainenRob

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