What You Are Writing About
Each year, I hear from thousands of Idahoans who write, e-mail, fax and call my offices to let me know how they feel about issues facing our country today. On average, I receive approximately 1,000 letters and e-mails a week. In recent years, an increasing number of that correspondence has come via electronic means. Even with such a volume of correspondence, I try to respond to each Idahoan as promptly as possible. In an effort to be even more responsive and to fully utilize the technology available through the Internet, this web page features the top five issues of concern from Idahoans and my response on each from the previous week. You may also wish to review information in the Issues Section or details from my Legislative Record, which lists bills I have sponsored and co-sponsored.
Here are the top issues Idahoans have recently written me about:
The frustration and discouragement that has recently been expressed regarding the political climate in our nation’s capitol is shared by many individuals.�� I, too, am concerned with the unsustainable fiscal mess our nation faces.
As you may know, on October 1, 2013, the first day of fiscal year (FY) 2014, the government experienced a lapse in funding.�� Until appropriations legislation is enacted, some government programs will cease.�� I share your concerns about the effects that this funding gap will have on many Idahoans.�� The government should fund programs through a regular and transparent appropriations process, rather than relying on temporary continuing resolutions (CRs).
The regular passage of CRs has enabled our irresponsible spending.�� Without the annual appropriations process, Congress has been unable to debate and change federal spending and funding levels to reflect changing circumstances.�� It is imperative that we carefully evaluate the programs we choose to fund, to ensure our federal policies are effective and efficient.�� Continuing to fund government programs without discretion will only perpetuate our growing debt crisis.�� With almost $17 trillion in debt, the nation requires a comprehensive and long term solution to our fiscal crisis.
Our irresponsible spending is a threat to not just our way of life, but our national survival.�� History has not been kind to great nations who borrowed and spent beyond their means.�� Doing nothing will, sooner rather than later, guarantee that this nation becomes a second-rate power with less opportunity and less freedom.�� As your U.S. Senator, I am committed to working with my colleagues to address our long-term fiscal problems in a comprehensive and effective manner.
On September 20, 2013, the House of Representatives passed a CR to fund the government through December 15, 2013.�� This bill included language to defund the President’s health care law.�� When the Senate began consideration of the CR, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) indicated he would strike the defund language from the legislation after the 60-vote threshold to invoke cloture and end debate was achieved.�� In an attempt to prevent continued funding for the health care law, I voted against cloture.
As you may know, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) objected to this procedural maneuver by Majority Leader Reid, and spent an incredible 21 hours on the Senate floor to draw attention to the failures of the health care law.�� I applaud Senator Cruz’s effort, and joined him on the floor of the Senate as he completed his speech.�� Unfortunately, a CR was ultimately passed that continues to fund the health care law.�� I voted against Senator Reid’s amendment to remove the defunding provision, as well as final passage of the modified CR.�� This is consistent with my past efforts to advance legislation to repeal, defund, and delay the law.
I remain concerned about the negative effects of the health care law.�� America deserves a better product.�� Instead of giving the government more power over health care, individual patients must have more control, choice and information to make their health care decisions.�� When individual patients have these choices, they will reward innovative insurers and providers who reduce costs and improve quality.
Providing quality health care for all citizens is my priority and must remain a priority for this Congress.�� Please know that I will continue to work with my Senate colleagues to establish a plan that works and truly represents the will of the American people.����
I voted against this bill and my opposition continues.�� This law’s ramifications do not stop with health care.�� Advertised as a measure that will control health care costs, this law will do the opposite by increasing the federal deficit.���� Additionally, many of the new taxes will disproportionately affect small businesses, resulting in further financial hardships for hard-working Americans ��� especially in a time of double-digit unemployment rates.�� Businesses that cannot afford to provide coverage to full and part-time employees will face $2,000 in penalties per worker.�� Already strained in the current economy, employers that cannot afford health insurance cannot afford these fines.�� Such penalties will discourage businesses to hire more people.��
Health care spending currently exceeds 16 percent of the Gross Domestic Product and continues to increase at an alarming speed.�� Our nation needs health care reform that does not come at the expense of hardworking Americans.�� I envision reform that realigns payment incentives toward outcomes, not the number of procedures; promotes wellness and prevention programs; encourages small businesses to pool together to purchase insurance; allows insurance companies to sell across state lines to increase competition; and eliminates waste, fraud and abuse that contribute to health care’s rising costs.�� I also support consumer-driven initiatives that allow individuals to find benefit options that best meet their needs.�� For example, expanding effective and popular Health Savings Accounts would do so without increasing taxes or expanding the government.��
Instead of giving the government more power over health care, individual patients must have more control, choice and information to make their health care decisions.�� When individual patients have these choices, they will reward innovative insurers and providers who reduce costs and improve quality.
America deserves a better process and a better product.�� Any successful reform package must properly address all logistical and personal components of our nation’s health care system.�� We need to start over with step-by-step reforms that would actually address real, specific issues that would make a positive difference for all Americans.
The gravity of the problems facing our nation requires serious tax reform as a part of a fundamental fiscal reform plan.�� Tax reform needs to be comprehensive to get us past the tired and failed arguments about raising and lowering rates.�� We need to move away from our simplistic attachment to the current tax code with all of its shortcomings, inefficiencies, and waste.�� The most efficient and simplified tax system would be to transition to a low unified flat tax.�� If this is not achievable, we should completely redesign the tax code with an emphasis on lower rates, broadening the base, reducing complexity, and eliminating anti-competitive provisions.�� In either approach, tax reform must be revenue-neutral.
In recent years, particularly through my work on the Bowles-Simpson Commission and the recent efforts of the Senate Finance Committee leaders Max Baucus (D-Montana) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), considerable public focus has centered on the proper structure of the individual and corporate tax codes. While some favor raising or lowering specific rates, these proposals fail to recognize the inherent failures of the tax code. Our tax code is far too long, complex and anti-competitive to serve as the long-term foundation for the economic growth our country needs. Without structural reform, our potential growth and revenues will be lost.
As part of the Bowles-Simpson Commission, I have previously outlined proposals that create fairness in the tax code, are pro-growth, and unleash the dynamic potential of our economy. Such comprehensive tax reform would eliminate much of the complexity in the current tax code and lower the tax rates for all individuals, families and businesses. Embracing this new paradigm can help generate additional revenues and economic growth and put America’s tax code in a more competitive posture for our future.
Following a series of roundtable meetings to explore all aspects of our current tax code, in June, Chairman Baucus and Ranking Member Hatch initiated a process to solicit feedback from all Senators regarding their priorities and principles for tax reform. With this opportunity, I have been able to re-state my key principles for tax reform, which build on the “clean slate” approach I first endorsed as a member of the Bowles-Simpson Commission.
These principles include:
- Simplify the tax code by eliminating deductions, credits, and exemptions that cannot be justified by sound tax policy
- Flatten the tax code by reducing the current six-tiered system to no more than three brackets with rates of 8-12%, 14-18% and 22-26%, determined on a revenue-neutral basis
- Comprehensive tax reform will stimulate significant economic growth, resulting in increased revenue.�� Revenue from dynamic growth in the economy must be scored and accounted for in the calculation of appropriate tax rates.
- Permanently repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax
- Reduce the tax rates on capital gains and dividends for all taxpayers in order to stimulate investment, capital formation, and additional revenue
- Establish a single corporate tax rate between 23 percent and 25 percent
- Move to a competitive territorial corporate tax system
- Include transition rules and make no retroactive changes to the tax code costs.
As was recognized in our bipartisan work in the Gang of Six, these basic framework principles must first be resolved before we can effectively evaluate each credit, deduction, and exemption in the current tax code to determine which provisions have a policy justification for being added back to the blank slate tax code, at the expense of proportionately higher rates for all taxpayers. I appreciate the input I have received from many Idaho families and businesses regarding which of these expenditures are the top priorities for Idahoans. This input will be helpful to me when the Finance Committee reaches the point in the tax reform process where a full evaluation of all tax provisions, and their effect on tax rates, can take place.
Please rest assured I will continue to make comprehensive tax reform, along with structural entitlement reform, my top fiscal priorities as we continue in the 113th Congress.
A fundamental cornerstone of our Constitution is the inherent checks and balances between the branches of government. Each acts as a check on the others to ensure no single individual or institution can accumulate undue powers. Actions that seek to challenge this balance undermine the founding principles of our federal system.
The congressional oversight process serves to hold executive officials accountable for the implementation of delegated authority. Given the evolving role and scope of the federal government in recent decades, the importance of Congress’ review function looms large in checking and monitoring the delegated authority granted to federal agencies.
The Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 strengthens legislative oversight by enhancing committees’ ability to hold agencies accountable for the implementation of their performance goals and outcomes; to carefully evaluate the budget requests of various agencies, and to reduce or eliminate unnecessary duplication among federal agencies that implement policy areas.
The Congressional Review Act (CRA) of 1996 enables Congress to review and disapprove agency rules and regulations. Under the CRA, agencies must submit major rules to Congress and Government Accountability Office before they can take effect. The law provides for expedited procedures for any joint resolution of disapproval. The President can veto the joint resolution of disapproval; however, as with all legislation, Congress can override the President’s veto with a two-thirds vote from each chamber. Congress also has the ability to constrain the executive branch by passing statutes that repeal rules, including appropriations measures that limit funding for the development, implementation, or enforcement of certain rules or types of rules.
The role of the executive branch, whose activities have wide impact, underscores the critical importance of holding administrative entities accountable for their actions and decisions. Congress has a responsibility to continue strong oversight to ensure that our branches of government exercise their powers in a manner consistent with the Constitution. Government transparency and accountability are important aspects of a healthy and vibrant democracy, and I support initiatives to reassert public and congressional oversight of government programs and initiatives that have an effect on the American people.
The delicate relationship that exists between the Legislative and the Executive Branches, as directed in the Constitution, is vital to the effectiveness of the federal government and must be protected. The ultimate check on the conduct of elected officials is the public. Our Founding Fathers envisioned a system of government in which the people would be given the power to regularly review and pass judgment on elected representatives through the ballot box.
I understand your concerns with many of the policies and conduct of the Obama Administration, particularly its handling of the Fast-and-Furious scandal and the terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. As a result of such actions, many Idahoans have contacted to me to express their support for the impeachment of the President.
As you may know, impeachment is the process by which charges can be brought by the legislative branch against certain officials serving in the executive and judicial branches of the federal government for misdeeds in office. Article 2, Section 4 of the Constitution of the United States specifies that "The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." The U.S. House of Representatives has the responsibility for bringing the charges against the official, otherwise known as impeachment. Once the House has determined enough evidence exists for impeachment, the Senate has the role of trying the impeached official.
The mechanism for impeachment and conviction is a critical and powerful part of the process of checks and balances envisioned by the Founding Fathers and should not be taken lightly or used for purely political purposes. The seriousness of the impeachment process is reflected in the fact that only two presidents in the history of the United States have been impeached, President Andrew Johnson in 1868 and President Bill Clinton in 1998.
Although government officials should be held accountable for any malfeasance, any effort for impeachment of President Obama would require a high threshold to be met. Should any such proceeding be proposed by the House of Representatives, it is my sincere hope that it is based on a thorough and legal investigation and not for partisan purposes. Please be assured that, in reviewing the issue, I will maintain my commitment to upholding the Constitution. The delicate relationship that exists between the Legislative and the Executive branches, as directed in the Constitution, is vital to the effectiveness of the federal government and must be protected.