IDAHO POLITICS WEEKLY
By LaVarr Webb
July 4, 2016
Sen. Mike Crapo has been in Washington for a couple of decades. But he seems not to be a guy who has bought into the entrenched Washington politics of gridlock, dysfunction, kicking the can down the road, and ideological warfare.
He actually likes to solve problems and get things done. Even if it means working with the other side.
That was my impression after listening to Crapo answer questions from supporters at a recent event. He noted that while he’s anxious to address the country’s biggest problems, the reality is that the Washington environment currently prevents much progress. The combination of the presidential race, the competition for control of the U.S. Senate, and a lot of individual races means most politicians are focused on partisan electoral politics, not on dealing with big problems like out-of-control spending; the debt crisis; saving Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; and reducing regulations that threaten to stifle the economy.
Crapo hasn’t been afraid to tread where few dare to go, taking on such sacred cows as Social Security and broadening the tax base (which some would call tax increases). He was a member of the Simpson-Bowles Commission, appointed by Pres. Obama to find solutions to federal entitlement programs and ballooning debt.
He said the recommendations that came out of Simpson-Bowles would have worked. Government spending would have come under control. Entitlement programs would have been reined in and preserved for future generations. But to win bi-partisan support for such far-reaching measures, the solution had to be a combination of a lot of things, resulting in plenty of targets for special interest groups and highly-partisan politicians who value Ideological purity over finding solutions.
So Simpson-Bowles was nitpicked to death. Obama, who appointed the commission, backed off, as did other key leaders. Many realistic leaders still view Simpson-Bowles recommendations as the recipe to control federal spending and preserve entitlement programs.
Crapo was also part of the Gang of 6, a group of six senators who put forth a courageous bi-partisan plan offering specific proposals for reducing the federal deficit. The proposal would have reformed Social Security and health care programs, while reducing tax rates and broadening the tax base. It, too, was the victim of partisan politics and interest group opposition.
In today’s ultra-partisan political environment, no one is even talking about real solutions, Crapo said. The presidential candidates certainly are not.
Real solutions will have to await a president and a Congress willing to take on the big issues, Crapo said. He isn’t terribly optimistic that this election season will produce an environment for real progress.
As a senior member of the Senate Banking Committee (and in line to become chair if Republicans maintain Senate control), Crapo is focused on reducing the enormous regulatory burden on financial institutions, particularly community and regional banks. A crazy-quilt of federal agencies have imposed regulations so severe that banks are struggling to cope and consumers are hurt in fulfilling their legitimate credit needs. Regional and community banks that had nothing to do with the financial collapse of 2008 have been swept up in complex regulations meant to rein in massive Wall Street financial institutions.
The United States has nine different agencies as primary bank regulators. Other nations have far fewer. Japan, for example, has only three. With overlapping agency oversight, regulations are sometimes inconsistent and even contradictory.
Crapo said even Democrats recognize that the massive, complex, Dodd-Frank bank regulatory law needs reform. He called it a regulatory disaster. But needed reform has met election season reality, when Democrats see the need to appear to be tough on financial institutions. Crapo said Obama has no interest in improving the regulatory climate. Bernie Sanders has pushed Hillary Clinton to promise more regulations, not less.
Crapo isn’t giving up. If he’s re-elected and if Republicans maintain control of the Senate, Dodd-Frank will be squarely in his sights.
Idaho is well-served to have a practical, problem-solving senior senator.