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OPINION: Government stays open … for now

by CHUCK MALLOY/Guest Opinion
| March 29, 2024 1:00 AM

At long last, Congress has quit kicking the can down the road in regard to keeping the government open. And that’s good news for the federal employees drawing government paychecks.

But don’t get too excited about this reprieve. Congress will be back to kicking cans down the road sometime in late September, and as usual, the members won’t do anything before then.

The bad news is political in nature. House Speaker Mike Johnson is back in the hotseat for relying on Democrats to keep government running. And Republicans, including the three voting members of Idaho’s congressional delegation, see the spending package as a bad deal. So bad that a government shutdown would be preferable. The exception is Congressman Mike Simpson, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, who did not vote on the spending bill for medical reasons.

As his office explains: “Congressman Simpson missed votes this week due to a previously scheduled medical procedure. Mr. Simpson is in good health and will return to the nation’s capital shortly. He is pleased to see the second round of Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations bills pass the House — legislation he would have supported on the House floor.”

Idaho’s lone House vote — First District Congressman Russ Fulcher — outlined his objections, starting with the timing. His first view of the 1,012-page spending package came just 32 hours before he voted. And what he read wasn’t pretty in his eyes.

“The total is $1.2 trillion, but the American border remains open,” Fulcher said. “In this bill, taxpayers dollars are appropriated to expand FBI facilities, support transgender treatments with the (Department of Defense), and fund facilities that provide late-term abortions. There’s even some money for the World Health Organization … but there’s nothing in the bill to curb inflation. We are $34 trillion in debt. We need to cut spending and encourage economic growth. This bill does the opposite.”

Fulcher was not alone with his opposition. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch also voted against the spending bill, joining most of their Senate Republican colleagues and most House Republicans.

Says Risch: “From excessive spending to political handouts, procedural failures to irresponsible oversight, this spending bill fell grossly short of what Idahoans need. It ignores America’s fiscal mess; prolongs the Biden administration’s border catastrophe, overreaching Environmental Social Governance (ESG) and Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives; and fails to provide any relief to Idahoans who pay more every day for President Biden’s inflationary agenda.”

Crapo has made no secrets about his objections to the spending package. “Over five months into this fiscal year, Congress has once again chosen to move 12 annual spending measures in two lump sum all-or-nothing packages.  Lumping multiple appropriations bills together without consideration of the merits of each individually and rushing through the process without the opportunity for a robust amendment process is irresponsible.”

As for the future of Johnson, who has held the job for only five months, stay tuned. Working with Democrats in any fashion is a sin to some Republicans, especially in an election year. There’s speculation that Democrats could save Johnson’s job if he brings up a floor vote on aid to Ukraine — something else that puts GOP hair on fire.

Fulcher told me that he will not be part of the effort to oust Johnson. As Fulcher sees it, few on the GOP side seem to have the stomach to go through another painful selection process for another speaker. Secondly, Johnson generally is better liked than the speaker who was booted out, Kevin McCarthy.

“We disagreed (on the spending bill), and we talked about it. We just saw it differently,” Fulcher said. “Just because we come to different conclusions doesn’t mean he should be booted out. Mike is a good man — a genuinely nice human being.”

And for Democrats, they are not going to get a better deal with someone else as speaker. “The spending bill had more support from Democrats than Republicans, so they should be relatively happy with Mike Johnson. They certainly don’t want to see Jim Jordan as speaker,” Fulcher said.

Fulcher probably has the correct perspective, but the rumblings and political drama will continue.

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Silver Valley native Chuck Malloy is a longtime Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com.