UPDATED, 12:22 p.m., with statement from Simpson.
Congress approved a last-minute compromise to fund more than $100 billion in highway, transportation and mass transit projects — and keep interest rates on subsidized federal student loans at 3.4 percent for one more year.
But while the catchall bill enjoyed broad bipartisan backing last week — passing the House 373-52 and the Senate 74-19 — it received scant support from Idaho's Republican delegation. Only Rep. Mike Simpson voted yes; Rep. Raul Labrador and Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch voted no.
I have a request for comment from Labrador, but here's what I have from the rest of the delegation.
Here is a statement from Crapo explaining his no vote.
I am grateful to my colleagues for working with me to include provisions in this legislation which are very important to the state of Idaho, including an extension of the Secure Rural Schools program, which I've long championed as a necessary supplement to those rural counties which are not able to generate sufficient property tax revenue to fund schools and other vital services because so much of the land in the county is owned by the federal government.
Nevertheless, I voted against H.R. 4348 because, as a whole, it violated the budget levels agreed to by Congress last year during the debt limit negotiations. Our country is facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis that requires serious reforms that carry enforcement and weight beyond this Congress and into the future. Throughout my tenure in Congress, I have continually sought to support legislation that would bring federal spending in line. Americans are fed up with out-of-control and unsustainable spending coming from the federal government, a frustration I share. But no matter what the issue, Congress inevitably finds loopholes to avoid spending controls set by Congress to restore the federal budget to balance.
While this bill raises additional revenue from outside the traditional highway funding system, it does not contain the necessary reforms to that system to ensure its sustainability over the long term. Using short-term patches only punts the greater issue at hand. In this time of massive deficits, funding for critical transportation programs must be based on a sustainable fiscal plan and can no longer rely on borrowing funds to prop up shortfalls.
Here is a statement from Risch:
Once again, Congress is not even taking small steps to bring spending under control. Congress continues to borrow over 40 cents out of every dollar it spends. I cannot, in good conscience, vote to pass current expenditures on to our children and grandchildren. This bill even reaches outside of traditional transportation funding sources to grab more revenue. Even claimed reforms are mostly smoke and mirrors and will do little, if anything, when major reforms are needed. Most everyone acknowledges the coming fiscal cliff, but nothing is being done about it.
Here's a statement from Simpson, explaining his support for the bill:
The Transportation Reauthorization bill is vitally important to many sectors of Idaho's economy and had the strong support of the overwhelming majority of Congress, including many conservatives. In addition to including provisions to streamline major road and bridge projects, the bill contained renewed funding for the Secure Rural Schools and PILT programs which are so important to most Idaho counties and rural citizens. The bill is by no means perfect, but the reforms it contains and its vital importance to Idaho were crucial in my decision to support its passage.
Meanwhile, Labrador's Democratic challenger, Jimmy Farris, blasted his opponent's vote. Here's his news release:
On Friday, Idaho 1st Congressional District candidate Jimmy Farris blasted Congressman Raul Labrador for voting against a bill which will preserve 2.8 million American jobs and keep interest rates on student loans from doubling.
The bill, which the House passed by a vote of 373-52, funds transportation infrastructure and freezes student loan interest at its current rate of 3.4 percent.
“If Congressman Labrador had gotten his way, millions of Americans would have lost their jobs,” said Farris. “College students would be drowning in even deeper debt, and higher education would be further out of reach for those aspiring to go to school. Labrador voted against millions of people trying to support their families and better their lives.”
“Labrador obviously does not have the interests of the middle class in mind,” Farris continued. “I am committed to helping working class families, not pulling the rug out from under them.”