This was originally published in the Nov. 30, 2018, Idaho Falls Post Register.
It sure would be nice to have someone from Idaho on the Senate Appropriations Committee right about now. Maybe someone like Sen. Mike Crapo.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, recently selected Crapo to head the Committee on Committees, which negotiates committee assignments, for the eighth time in a row. With such a key role in assignments, he could get himself into an appropriations position — if that’s what he wanted.
The Appropriations Committee and its subcommittees control budgets. And federal budgets can be vital for a state like Idaho, where more than half the land is owned by the feds and federal programs like Payment in Lieu of Taxes and Secure Rural Schools provide vital funding streams to Idaho schools and local governments.
Crapo just called for SRS to be renewed, which is well and good. But it would be much better if he could usher renewal through committee.
The committee sets budgets that govern wildfire management, Idaho National Laboratory, agricultural services and countless other programs affect the day-to-day lives of Idahoans.
If he wanted such a post, Crapo could have had it years ago.
Of course, doing so could mean giving up on the millions in campaign contributions he has received from financial institutions like Capital One, Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo. As chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Crapo can always count on those contributions from an industry that tends to spread its large contributions broadly, ensuring members of both parties become habitual beneficiaries of its largess.
And Crapo’s future contributions certainly won’t be hurt by his recent successful push for a bank deregulation package.
But will his constituents draw much benefit from his position on the Banking Committee? That’s far from clear. Idaho is not New York or Connecticut, or even Utah. Banking is a very small portion of our economy — about 4 percent, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Crapo’s constituents would clearly benefit, on the other hand, if he was to take an important post on the Senate Appropriations Committee, where he can have direct sway over the budgets of the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Energy and other agencies that play a vital role in the day-to-day life of Idahoans.
Rep. Mike Simpson has maneuvered himself into such a chairmanship, and Idaho has drawn clear benefit from that decision. Since President Donald Trump took office, executive budgets each year have called for steep cuts in the nuclear energy budget, for example. But by the end of the appropriations process, the funding is restored. That doesn’t happen by magic.
With Democrats taking control of the House this year, Simpson will be in the minority. Chairmanships don’t go to members of the minority party. While in the majority, Simpson built a reputation as a fair broker, so you can expect him to be as effective as a minority member can be.
But with Idaho’s diminished power to steer budgets on the House side, Crapo should take this opportunity to take up the task in the Senate.
If Crapo opts to continue to eschew an appropriations post in favor of his spot atop the Banking Committee, it will confirm the words of former Sen. Mark Hanna more than a century ago: “There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.”