IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - Congressman Mike Simpson spoke at a business lunch hosted by the Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce at the West Bank Convention Center on Wednesday. He addressed many issues facing Idahoans and all Americans.
Congressman Simpson spoke about some of the bills he has planned for Idaho. He says one bipartisan bill he worked on for a year, the Wokers Modernization Act, passed in the House. The Senate showed great interest in the bill but COVID shut it down.
He hopes to start moving the bill again next year. It will give agricultural workers a permanent green card to create a legal workforce in our country.
“It creates a year round H2A program for agriculture,” Simpson said. “That’s very important to the dairy program because right now they can’t participate in that because it’s a seasonal program. We want to make it a year round program.”
Simpson says immigration brings in a lot of temporary workers for Idaho. He says the Workers Modernization Act addresses agricultural workers and we need a broader immigration bill. He says the Workers Modernization Act can be the first step.
He estimates there are 11-14 million people here illegally.
"If they break the law and commit crimes, they should be deported. But 99% of them are just people trying to make a living for their families," Simspon said.
He says people immigrate illegally to the United States because of the poor wages in Mexico and the immigration system to come here legally is in bad shape and needs to be addressed.
"Agriculture would collapse without the undocumented workers. You have to try to hire an American first and there is a wage rate set by region so you don’t undermine Americans. I think it's $13 per hour here," Simpson said. "When trying to fill those jobs with Americans first, there are roughly 4000 H2A visa holders and we can only find 2 Americans to fill those jobs. Undocumented workers don’t take our jobs. They do the jobs we don’t want to. We need to create a legal workforce. Over 300 organizations support the Workers Modernization Act, the Chamber of Commerce supports it, it's not just agriculture. I want this bill done."
In regard to the latest debate over a new coronavirus stimulus package, he said many seem to be focused on the amount. He says the amount is not the issue he sees, but rather some of the programs House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to finance with the new relief package and whether they will be beneficial during this crisis.
“If you talk about extending the PPP program that helps small businesses keep their employees on board, whether it is allowing the extension of the workers comp program, those types of things I can support,” Simpson said. “Money for schools to reopen and do it safely, if that’s what they choose to do as a local school board, then those types of things I could support.”
In regard to the Cares Act, Simpson says he is proud of Congress and their ability to come together across the aisle to pass 3 aid bills. He says our leadership is supposed to come together during a crisis as Americans trying to address the crisis and we did so.
He says the Cares Act for $2 trillion passed almost unanimously. After that, the congressman says "everything turned partisan." He mentioned Pelosi wanted another bill totaling $3.4 trillion. Congressman Simpson says he saw the bill the day before they voted on it. He says the federal government spends that amount in an entire year. According to Congressman Mike Simpson, Republicans were not consulted on purpose.
He says Pelosi threw "everything but the kitchen sink" in that bill, even items having nothing to do with coronavirus. He says one of the listed items included making ballot harvesting legal across the country, though such an act is only legal in California right now.
Congressman Simpson said Republicans voted against Pelosi's new bill and he knew it wouldn’t go anywhere past the Senate. Simpson says ever since then it’s been bickering over what to include in the fourth or fifth Coronavirus Relief Bill. He says Republicans came down to $2.4 trillion and that "still included crazy stuff Republicans don't want".
He says the "skinny version" of the relief bill can’t get into Senate because it can’t reach the 60 necessary votes to make it there. Congressman Simpson says he wants the "skinny version" to go to Congress so they can debate it.
Congressman Simpson says there is still $140 billion worth of unspent money in PPP program. That program helps small businesses "stay alive" and keeps their employees off unemployment. He says those funds haven’t been spent because the October 1st deadline came and the program expired. Congressman Mike Simpson says he wants to pass a bill to extend the deadline. However, he says "Pelosi won’t let us get to that bill".
Simpson mentioned using a discharge petition to bring the extended PPP bill to the Senate floor. He says some members of the majority party have to sign it because it needs 180 votes. During this time, Pelosi brought up another bill to distract from the extended PPP bill.
"We need to get away from partisanship and focus on the American people," Simpson said.
Simpson says he hasn’t seen what’s in the new relief bill but says he has fears. He thinks a bill should pass allowing the use of leftover funds from the Cares Act and should include funding for PPE.
The Congressman said a provision will be in any new relief bill for unemployment insurance. He says there is a problem with giving an additional $600 for those applying for unemployment because different states need different amounts. He says this relief must be tailored to each state, though the planning hasn’t gotten very far.
Simpson says he "doesn't like" that $1200 checks from the stimulus deal were awarded to undocumented workers.
Congressman Simpson said Idaho will probably be included in the bill and he hopes to see more funding to help schools reopen.
"I don’t want the federal government to handle it, it’s a state and local issue. It’s different everywhere. They need resources to reopen in person, same with colleges. Any bill will have that. I hate to see what’s happening to our kids," Simpson said. "You need human interaction, you get cabin fever staying at home, and kids particularly need that interaction."
The congressman says it is "disappointing how partisan it has gotten". According to Congressman Simpson, "Trump can do no right through the COVID crisis." He says even though the president banned travel from China and was the first country to do so, he was initially labeled as a "xenophobe" and is now being told he didn't ban travel fast enough. Congressman Simpson predicts even the vaccine won’t be good enough because Trump's opponents will accuse him of having one throughout the pandemic and not making it available to the American people.
Congressman Simpson says every program that’s been successful in the past, like Medicare, has been bipartisan. He says Congress is getting to be a difficult place to work. He says the partisanship "has been growing for 10 years on both sides of the aisle but now we've hit an all time low and we still haven’t seen the bottom."
Congressman Simpson said this is the craziest political season he’s ever seen in his life.
The congressman acknowledged the coronavirus's economic impact, saying the economy is doing well in spite of pandemic. He said the stock market is doing well and the unemployment rate is going down. He says the economy is coming back and will come back even stronger after a vaccine becomes available.
Among the many issues we are facing with the elections this year, the congressman said counting mail-in ballots may present a problem in the American people trusting the results of the election. He says the length of time allowed to count ballots may present a challenge to our democracy.
The congressman says mail-in ballots being sent to everyone by default will also be difficult for many states to count correctly.
“It means you have to purge your voters list, that you get people that have died off the voter list, you get people that have moved off the voter list. That hasn’t happened in a lot of states,” Simpson said. “I’m not worried about the outcome in Idaho. Idaho election officials are very good at what they do.”
Congressman Simpson says even if the election results are very close, "Americans will accept the outcome". He says he voted early by mail through an absentee ballot, but he is concerned that some states want mail-in only ballots.
He says the challenge between the two is that absentee ballots must be requested. He says mail-in ballots are sent to everyone and then they come back uncounted for various reasons, which puts a strain on ballot counters. He says there’s an ongoing debate about if the Post Office needs more money to handle mail-in ballots. He says the Post Office claims to have $10 billion from the Cares Act and says they will be financially stable until August. He says the ballot counters will be the issue.
Simpson says mail-in ballots only work if you purge your voter list. He says every state needs to remove people who have passed away and moved elsewhere because if not, the ballots go out to everyone.
"This adds up and makes you wonder if it will work or will it be an election nobody can trust the outcome. We won’t know unless it’s an overwhelming sweep, for 4 or more weeks," Simpson said.
The congressman says mail-in ballots will be accepted in Wisconsin until 6 days after election.
"This will make the Hanging Chads during Bush and Gore look like child’s play," Simpson said.
Congressman Simpson says thousands of attorneys have already been hired to challenge every signature. He says they will be looking at postmarks and he worries if they determine a smeared postmark raises questions, the vote will go uncounted. He says this strategy will challenge our democracy and how willing people are to accept the outcome.
"Once it’s decided, I’ll accept it because that’s what we do. That's what both parties do, and if we lose, we fight harder the next time," Simpson said.
Congressman Simpson also said partisanship in the public is "crazy," citing nationwide riots as a main example.
"Protests, I support. They have every right. It's as American as apple pie," Simpson said. "Burning down cities and shooting police is wrong and people need to be held accountable for it. I condemn the white supremacists and also the extremists and others who burn down cities. You need to condemn both sides."
Congressman Simpson says the western wildfires have been devastating. He says he passed a bill he worked on 5 years that allows wildfires to now be treated the same as every other disaster. He says this means the Forest Service doesn’t need to borrow money to fight wildfires.
"The bill won’t help this year or next, but overtime the Forest Service can use resources to better manage our forests through controlled burns and other activities that will reduce wildfires," Simpson says. He says that bill was bipartisan.
Congressman Simpson says he is most proud of this bill and the Great American Outdoors Act. He says he was the lead sponsor in House and calls the Outdoors Bill "the most important conservation bill since Wilderness Act."
Congressman Simpson is on the committee of the appropriation process. He says the House passed bills at the end of June, but the Senate hasn’t passed any yet. He says 12 bills to fund the federal government can be passed every year. This year, Simpson says they passed 10, and the other 2 didn't pass because "the Senate did nothing."
He says the last time all 12 funding bills were passed on time was in 1994. He says these bills should pass by October 1st because that’s when the fiscal year starts. He says the bills haven’t been done by the deadline and "continuing resolution is a terrible way to run the railroad".
"If they don’t have funding, how can they know how to operate without a budget? Appropriation can give them only 6 months to spend the whole budget. It’s a joke. Congress needs to get busy," Simpson said.
This year, Simpson says he was prepared to vote on an energy and water bill, though it has "Democratic priorities." He says he wanted to work to improve the bill through Congress.
Simpson says Congress started marking up bills with caps in mind and Pelosi told democratic staff she wanted more money added above the limit. He claims she told Democratic members not to tell Republicans about the amendments and Republicans didn’t find out until the day before the vote.
"We need to get away from that," Simpson said. "We need to get away from who’s in charge and get back to what’s best for Americans. We also need to talk civilly with one another. We can’t pass a law that makes everyone be civil with everyone else. I understand it’s hard and I slip sometimes. I can’t control what someone else says about me but I can control how I react, that’s the best you can do because civility is an individual thing, it’s how you act. Americans can do better."
Questions asked during the luncheon included how Americans will pay back the Cares Act.
"Without the Cares Act, we could’ve hit a recession or depression," Simpson said. He says he voted for TARP and all of that money has been repaid.
"Without that, it would’ve been worse than the Great Depression. People are concerned paying it back will raise taxes. I think there’s a better way, we grow the economy," Simpson said.
In response to the question, Simpson said: "In the late 90s, Bill Clinton bounced the budget. It wasn't a slash and burn on spending, it was a boom dot com bubble. You couldn't buy back debt back then. Now the tax cut 3 years ago, the reason was to increase federal revenue to increase the economy. We had a slow recovery from that recession. The idea was the tax cut pays for itself if the economy grows. And it was growing before COVID hit. The federal budget is $4 trillion overall roughly. 70% of that is mandatory spending, like Medicare, Medicaid, and social security, those are the big 3. If you qualify, you get it even if the federal government has to borrow. 30% of that is discretionary and funds the various departments. Take that 30% and half is for defense. Increased spending for defense is needed because they’re not ready to fight. They don’t have equipment or training. Half the Air Force couldn’t fly because they didn’t have parts. We have the smallest Navy since World War 2. Veterans and homeland security, that's 70% of that 70%, everything else is that 30%. So where do you want us to stop spending money? These are necessary. The best way to balance the budget and pay back the debt is to grow the economy. Debt keeps growing, the bills aren’t good for it but most Congress people think they are necessary. We need to take on mandatory programs that are outstripping the rest of our budget. Social Security reform is one. There were 16.5 workers for every retiree when it started, now it’s 2.5 workers for every retiree. The system doesn’t pencil out anymore, we need to face it and change it, not for current social security or those who are already retired. Young people, if it stays the way it is now, you get 73 cents for every dollar you put in, that’s the problem. The same is true with Medicare. The population ages and this presents challenges. I've been advocating for reform for 15 years and used the Go Big Coalition to address the deficit. This included changes to taxes, transportation, and social security. As the cost keeps going up, revenue goes down. Now we don’t pay as much as we used to to fix roads. That budget resolution got 37 votes out of 435. Social Security won’t be there for future generations and we can’t scare old people with this reform. Bush said we need to take on Social Security. His plan would allow personal investment from 1/3 of what you put into it. Retirement is 2/3 payment. Young people liked that idea. Seniors opposed it. It wouldn’t have affected anyone over 55, you’d be stuck in the current system. We need to convince seniors to save it for young people when we won’t touch their Social Security. I’m worried about how we can pay it back now too. Congress tends to address it when it’s already a crisis. We need to problem solve now."