Senator Jim Risch

U.S. Sen. Jim Risch speaks during a 2011 press meeting at the Times-News office in Twin Falls.

DREW NASH • TIMES-NEWS

Jim Risch, Idaho’s junior U.S. senator, warned Thursday that the U.S. debt problem is “much worse than you think it is” but threw his support behind deficit reduction measures championed by the no-compromise tea party caucus.

Risch, a Republican former state Senate majority leader and governor, also talked about subsidies for dairy and ethanol, likened the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the Gestapo, and talked about the presidential qualities of GOP hopeful Mitt Romney.

But the national debt dominated the discussion.

The senator told a story of touring the Bureau of Public Debt, an agency of the U.S. Treasury Department, and watching its workers hold one of the daily auctions for debt. To keep up with deficit spending to the tune of 40 cents for every dollar, Risch said the nation borrows upward of $50 billion a day.

“I left there and I was angry, I was scared, but most of all I was sad because here we are the greatest country in the world and you realize that we are no longer in charge of our own destiny,” Risch said. “Our destiny is totally dependent upon (the Bureau of Public Debt) being able, every single day, to be able to borrow $50 (billion) to $70 billion, because if one day they don’t borrow it, we’re out of business. We’re bankrupt because we cannot pay the bills that night. No enemy did this to us. We did this to ourselves.

“Being a good Republican, I’ll argue that the Democrats started after World War II and they took us every year, more spending, more programs, but you know what, we let them do it. By compromise, we let them do it.”

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Risch said the new tea party mentality in Washington changed the way things are done there — including the debt ceiling deal that promises $917 billion in cuts over the next 10 years, with a so-called “super committee” to cut an additional $1.2 trillion or trigger automatic cuts that Risch called a “miserable no-good deal.”

But the debt limit fight set a new precedent of getting cuts in exchange for raising that ceiling, he said. He added that “if we stay on the path we’re on, we’ll balance the budget in 10 years.” That said, he was also reluctant to vouch for the super committee accomplishing its goal.

“If you look at it from a historical standpoint, you would cynically say better people have tried and failed; having said that, they’ve never tried in an environment like we’re in,” Risch said. “This country is on the edge. As bad as you guys think it is, and you watch this stuff, I can tell you it is much worse than what you think it is.”

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