Mike Simpson

U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, talks to the Times-News editorial board on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015.

NATHAN BROWN, Times-News

TWIN FALLS • Congressman Mike Simpson expects a fight over the next bill to fund the government in December, but he’s hopeful some riders of importance to the West, such as those dealing with sage grouse and water regulation, could be added to the bill without provoking a presidential veto.

Simpson, a friend and ally of former House Speaker John Boehner, has been a frequent critic of the House Freedom Caucus that forced Boehner out. The congressman told the Times-News editorial board that he expects some additions to the omnibus spending bill in December, such as a provision to defund Planned Parenthood, that would lead President Barack Obama to veto the bill.

Wednesday, Simpson answered questions from the board on a variety of topics Idaho, Congress and the nation are facing.

Simpson said he expects confrontation between new House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Freedom Caucus.

“I think those people are going to give Paul a honeymoon period for a while,” he said. “But I think that it will quickly come to a conclusion around Dec. 10.”

Simpson said he hopes to see measures added to the spending bill such as ones blocking the controversial “Waters of the United States” rule or addressing sage grouse management that. Obama might not like them, Simpson said, but the president wouldn’t veto the whole spending bill over them.

Idaho is suing the federal government over its land-use rules to protect sage grouse. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter said Tuesday he would rather see the birds listed as endangered than have to follow the federal rules, a position that Simpson, who backs allowing the states to implement their conservation plans, says he understands but doesn’t agree with. Listing sage grouse as endangered would be a burden on ranchers, Simpson said.

“You don’t want to have to consult on every decision that you make on your allotments,” he said.

Refugees and ISIS

Forty-six Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, have signed on to a bill introduced by Texas Republican Bruce Babin to end refugee resettlement until the cost of the program can be scrutinized. The country needs to vet refugees, Simpson said, but America has a responsibility to help people who are being persecuted and can’t leave Europe to deal with the influx of refugees alone.

“I think we need to do our share also,” he said.

The way to solve the refugee crisis, he said, is to solve the problem of the Islamic State. Simpson said he doesn’t have the answer, but it should involve a broad coalition, including the Arab countries in the region. He was cautious about Obama’s recent decision to send 50 special forces to help fight ISIS, unsure how much it will help and worried about escalating American involvement on the ground.

“I’m reluctant to say that this is a good step, but I just don’t know,” Simpson said. “It might be a necessary step. But certainly, I think you’ve got to defeat these guys somehow, and you’ve got to defeat them over there before they come over here.”

Presidential Politics

Simpson hasn’t endorsed anyone for president, although former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio are among his favorites. He said he would need to see who can win, and that he expects the candidate field to narrow down after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

“I could actually be very supportive of any of those three,” Simpson said.

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Simpson said in August that he expected Donald Trump to “burn out,” and expressed some surprise Wednesday that Trump is still one of the front-runners despite some of his comments.

“If I’d have said some of those things, I’d be in the waste basket,” Simpson said.

Simpson said Ben Carson is “a truly nice guy,” but he seemed weak on policy during Tuesday night’s debate. And Simpson met Carly Fiorina a few weeks ago, when she was in Idaho Falls and held a town hall with Melaleuca employees at the invitation of major GOP donor Frank VanderSloot.

Simpson said he liked talking to Fiorina, but when he heard her speak to the crowd he felt like “the enemy.” Many of the candidates are running against Congress, without understanding what Congress does now as far as budgeting, he said.

“It’s like the old saying,” he said. “For every really complex problem there is a simple answer that doesn’t work.”

Primary Challenger

Janice McGeachin, a former state House representative from Idaho Falls is considering challenging Simpson in a primary. Simpson, who beat tea party challenger Bryan Smith in 2014, said he expects a similar race in 2016, with his opponents painting him as too liberal.

Simpson didn’t seem worried about the race, noting that he beat Smith by almost 24 percent. Simpson calls the majority of Republican voters in his district a “governing majority.”

“They’re conservative, yes,” he said. “But they believe in governing.”

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