Our economy continues to struggle and the head of the Federal Reserve says our country is headed toward a "fiscal cliff." Major decisions are being pushed off to the lame-duck session, which is the period of time Congress is in session following the November elections. During that time, there will be retiring or defeated members of Congress who will be making critical decisions that have long been put off. Many of the issues that will need to be addressed between November 6 and the end of the year are:
Tax Rate Renewal - The payroll tax cut and the current tax rates, which have been in existence for the last decade (referred to as the Bush tax cuts), are set to expire at the end of the year. If these rates are not reauthorized, there will be a $6 trillion tax hike over the next 10 years.
The Doc Fix -- Due to a 1997 law, doctors face a nearly 30 percent cut in Medicare reimbursement rates in 2013. This threat has prompted some physicians to stop taking Medicare patients altogether and more doctors could follow suit if Congress does not act.
Reauthorization of a new Farm Bill - The House and Senate have yet to agree on a reauthorization and differing versions may have to be resolved during the lame duck session.
Defense Cuts - Cuts in the amount of $55 billion are set to take place on January 2. These cuts are a consequence of the Deficit Super Committee's failure to reach an agreement last fall and will automatically take effect unless Congress acts.
Dealing with the Debt Ceiling - Once again, with rampant spending and slowed revenues, we are rapidly approaching the debt ceiling. When I started in the Senate, the debt ceiling was $10 trillion; it is now approaching $16 trillion. That means each American's portion of the debt has climbed from $34,731 to $50,151. This is serious and threatens our national security. Spending must be cut back.
Passage of 12 annual spending bills for FY 2013 -- These are the bills that Congress is required by law to pass each year in order to fund the federal government. Since the Senate has not passed a budget in more than 3 years, these bills take on higher significance.
Unfortunately, it is more likely Washington will kick the can down the road on many of these issues, deferring a decision until the new year. I remain committed to reducing our spending, reducing our debt load and rolling back regulations that hamper the private sector and job growth.
The following information on other issues may be of interest to you.
Day in the Life of a U.S. Senator
Often, I am asked what a typical day is like in the United States Senate. That is a very difficult question to answer because so much can happen in a day.
Recently, one of Idaho's TV news stations followed me for a day. Click here to see the story they filed.
Telephone Town Hall Meeting Scheduled
My next telephone town hall meeting is set for 7:00 PM Mountain time on Monday, June 18th. These calls are a great way for me to hear from you and answer your questions. Sign up for the call by filling out the Tele-Townhall sign-up form. Requests must be made at least 24 hours prior to the meeting.
Fighting Red Tape
In the past few issues of the Risch Report, I have highlighted some of the negative impacts federal regulations are having on businesses in Idaho and Idahoans in general. One example I cited was a proposed rule by the Department of Labor that would have prevented young people from helping on the family farm.
In response to this rule, I joined with Senator Crapo and a bipartisan group of 28 other Senators in sending a letter to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis stating our opposition to the proposal. I am pleased to report that the Department of Labor has withdrawn the proposal after hearing from us and thousands of others. There is no question this was an out-of-touch rule and I am pleased we kept if from taking effect. (We hope the administration's decision is permanent and not just a delay tactic until after the election.)
Another example I highlighted was the case of a North Idaho couple, Mike and Chantelle Sackett, who were stopped from building their home after the EPA deemed it a wetland. Earlier this spring, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the Sacketts and said the couple was entitled to take their case to court before the EPA could enforce its regulation and levy tens of thousands of dollars in fines.
One might think the EPA would clean up its act after such a resounding decision, but sadly they have not. The agency's water enforcement director said in a recent speech the court's decision will have little effect on the agency and that, "Internally, it's same old, same old."
That kind of attitude is deeply concerning. In response to these comments, I joined my colleagues in writing a letter to the EPA's administrator, asking for a clarification of these comments and how the Supreme Court's ruling in Sackett v EPA would impact the agency's enforcement. I look forward to EPA's response and will update you when I hear from them.
Funding for Rural Counties
Senator Mike Crapo and I were successful in getting a 1-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act and the Payment in Lieu of Taxes programs (also known as county payments and PILT) included in the Senate version of the transportation bill. We have since followed up with a letter to the Senate conferees of the transportation conference committee, urging them to keep these vital programs in the final version of the legislation.
With nearly two-thirds of Idaho owned by the federal government, rural counties struggle to pay for services for their residents based on the diminished property tax revenues because of federal land ownership. For nearly 100 years, the federal government would return a portion of the revenue it derived from timber, grazing or mining on public lands to those counties as payment in lieu of taxes. But as the federal government unwisely scaled back the multiple use of these lands, the revenue rural counties used for road maintenance, education and law enforcement also declined. Due to these changes, Congress was forced to step in and provide steady funding for the county payments and PILT programs to help counties avoid a crippling blow to their budgets. Congress must act by the end of the year or this life-line will disappear.
Law of the Sea Treaty Raises Concerns
Recently, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST). The treaty was signed by President Reagan in 1982, but has yet to be ratified by the U.S. Senate due to a litany of concerns.
In the hearing, I raised one of my greatest concerns with the treaty to Secretary of State Clinton. I expressed my reservations that it would create another international organization that would dictate to and govern sovereign nations on how they can explore their own natural resources and then tax those countries as a way to fund the United Nations.
In addition, I voiced my concern about its provision of a mandatory dispute resolution process through a United Nations court or tribunal. Such a process would also compromise U.S. sovereignty, especially in matters regarding our domestic policy on America's coastlines and offshore exploration.
While there are certainly good elements to the treaty, you can rest assured that I will never vote for any provision that gives up one scintilla of sovereignty that our country has fought and bled for.
At Work in Washington and Idaho
The snapshots below highlight some of my work in Idaho and Washington, D.C., over the past few months. Visit the "Photo Galleries" page on my website to see more.