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The Idaho Mountain Express - Congress Too Partisan, Spends Too Much: Congressman Discusses Issues During Valley Visit

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"There is money being spent on things that are just plain silly," Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said last Thursday when asked why he didn't vote for extending unemployment benefits.

While Simpson said he wasn't unequivocally opposed to unemployment benefits, he said he didn't vote for the most recent extension because the program isn't properly funded.

"We have to stop spending phantom money that isn't there," he said. "Had [the extension] been paid for, almost all Republicans would have voted for it."

Simpson expounded on issues from Iraq and Afghanistan to the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act in a campaign-stop interview with the Idaho Mountain Express.
Simpson is running for re-election as the representative for Idaho's 2nd Congressional District, a seat he's held since 1998. If he's elected, this would be Simpson's seventh term.

The interview coincided with the withdrawal of the last combat troops out of Iraq, which Simpson said did not come as much of a surprise to him.

"We knew it was coming. At some point, you have to bring our troops home," he said.
However, Simpson said the possibility of re-entering Iraq was not ruled out in his mind if circumstances demand it. He advocated bringing home troops from Afghanistan as soon as the Afghan government can protect its people.

But he said Iraq and even Afghanistan are not his main concerns from a foreign-policy standpoint.
"I'm not as worried about Afghanistan as I am about Pakistan," he said, saying the destabilization of the nuclear power is a "big concern."

In general, Simpson expressed fiscally conservative views during his interview, and said he is fully against letting former President George W. Bush's tax cuts expire. The tax cuts were initiated as part of the Economic Growth and Tax Reconciliation Act of 2001, which reduced individual income tax and estate taxes. The cuts were set to expire at the end of 2010.

"It's a bad time to be raising taxes on anybody," Simpson said, even on individuals who make more than $250,000 a year.

When asked if letting the tax cuts expire could help balance the budget and pay for items such as unemployment benefits, Simpson balked.

"I'm not sure that's how you pay for things," he said, while adding that he remains optimistic that the budget can be balanced within 10 years.

"We have to turn it around," he said, "[but] we can't balance it tomorrow."

Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize-winning economist, has warned against extending the tax cuts in his New York Times op-ed column, and has also warned against too much fiscal conservatism in a time when government spending could help keep the U.S. economy from slowing further.

But when asked to comment on Krugman's opinion, Simpson compared economists to astrologers, saying you can always find one who takes the opposite view of another. Simpson also said he takes issue with the economics informing federal health-care reform.

"I don't think a national health-care system is in the best interest of health care or the people," he said.

While the theory is that with more people in a nationally based health insurance pool prices will go down, Simpson said that prices may actually go up as a result of insurance companies' being forced to cover people with pre-existing conditions who did not have coverage before.

Instead of a federal health plan, Simpson said, he'd support making individual health insurance tax-deductible, or allow the free market to determine prices by making it legal to buy and sell insurance across state lines.

Most recently, Simpson's name has been associated with CIEDRA, a bill he has crafted over 10 years that would create three new wilderness areas in central Idaho, totaling 332,775 acres. The bill is opposed by Gov. Butch Otter, who wrote a letter to Simpson last month listing the problems he had with the bill.

Still, Simpson said he didn't see a "real issue" with the language Otter had objections to, including a potential memo of understanding that would allow the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to use helicopters for wolf management in the new wilderness zones.

Idaho Conservation League Executive Director Rick Johnson deemed CIEDRA a "tough sell" when it came before the Senate Subcommittee for Public Lands and Forests in June, but Simpson said he remains optimistic.

"Most of those things we can address," he said. "On some of this, you're just going to have to trust we'll get it done."

Simpson also said he generally supports the Endangered Species Act, though District Judge Donald Molloy's recent ruling to relist the Northern Rockies population of gray wolves highlights the act's need for reform.

"It's obviously working--it brought wolves back," Simpson said.

Molloy's ruling was based on the act's provision that only a distinct population can be delisted, and populations must be determined by biological factors rather than state lines.
Because Wyoming did not have an acceptable wolf management plan, Molloy ruled that the entire Northern Rockies wolf population must be relisted under the act, despite Idaho's and Montana's approved wolf management plans.

"They're penalizing Idaho and Montana for doing the right thing," Simpson said. "Most people have accepted the fact that we're going to have wolves. So, OK, let's manage them."

Simpson expressed concern with what he said he viewed as "all-or-nothing" language, both within the Endangered Species Act and within his own party. He said he does not fully support the Idaho Republican Party's platform; in fact, he wasn't even there when it was being drafted earlier this summer. The new platform calls for, among other things, a repeal of the 17th Amendment, which gave state voters the right to elect senators, as opposed to having state legislatures appoint them.

"Some of the resolutions are a little out there," Simpson said.

Simpson said that an extremist mindset in both parties is causing increased divisiveness and partisanship within Congress.

His hope, he said, is that the 112th Congress will be governed by rules of order that allow full debate and legislative amendments, which he said have been suspended for this Congressional session.

"Each party is being run by the extremes," he said. "The process is breaking down. We've got to get back to the regular order."

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