June 01, 2012

National Journal Daily: Mike Crapo, Up and Coming GOP Fiscal Leader

By Stacy Kaper

He's not flashy or self-promoting but Sen.  Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, looks to be an up-and-coming leader on fiscal issues in Republican ranks.

The third-term senator and deputy whip was tapped by Senate Minority Leader  Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., last year to serve on President Obama's deficit-reduction commission, which he took some heat for supporting, and he is now trying to salvage the bipartisan "Gang of Six" process to work out a deficit reduction plan.

Although those talks hit some snags recently, when Sen.  Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said he needed a break, Crapo says he is committed to its goals and wants "to build a pathway forward."

"I consider the biggest threat to our nation to be the debt crisis, so that currently is my very strongest focus and as you can tell from my committee assignments, it's focused on our economy, our fiscal policy and our financial policy," said Crapo, who is on the Finance, Banking, and Budget committees. He is also on Environment and Public Works, and Indian Affairs.

The area where Crapo would most like to make an impact is tax reform. Reducing rates he believes is the best way to boost economic growth and jobs, which in turn would reduce the deficit, he argues.

"The position I take is our tax code is so complex and unfair and expensive to comply with and anti-competitive that we could generate tremendous economic growth with well thought-out tax reform that would actually involve rate reductions."

Crapo is the No. 2 Republican on the Banking Committee. After this Congress, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., will have maxed out his six-year limit as ranking member.

Should the Senate flip in the next Congress, Shelby would still have two years to chair the Banking Committee, but he might have his sights on leading Appropriations. He said he expects Crapo will eventually hold the Banking Committee gavel.

"He's moving on up. Someday, I believe, he'll be chairman of the committee and he'll be ready," Shelby said. "He's smart, well-educated, diligent, tough."

Crapo said he would enjoy that opportunity.

"I don't assume anything," he said. "Let me put it this way: I have really enjoyed my service on the Banking Committee and if it turned out that way I would really look forward to it."

Although Crapo is further down the list in seniority on the Finance Committee, currently ranked No. 5, given his interest in tax policy, leadership there could be another path for Crapo.

Crapo cruised to reelection with 71 percent of the vote in 2010, but friends and former aides say he never takes an election for granted and after watching his colleague, former Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, go down in a primary, Crapo is aware his efforts to reach a bipartisan deficit plan make him a target for attacks from the right.

Will Hollier, a former chief of staff for Crapo, said Crapo's decision to support the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission plan was the "most difficult, but most significant vote" that Crapo's taken.

"Sure, he's caught a lot of backlash, but he knows it's the right issue, and how we get there is the hard part," he said.

Several Democrats give Crapo praise for being a principled straight-shooter, who is more focused on achieving results than getting attention.

Sen.  Jack Reed, D-R.I., who also serves on the Banking Committee, described Crapo as a "gentleman" and one of the most "outstanding and decent people" in the Senate.

"He has strong policy positions based on very careful analysis, but he is also someone who is trying to find a principled solution to the issues," he said.

Sen.  Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he counts on Crapo for the perspective of a conservative who is not afraid to work with Democrats.               

"We've worked very, very closely together on a whole host of issues-health care, natural resources, forestry, taxes, a whole host of issues. Mike Crapo is one of the first people you talk to when you want to get the judgment of someone who is a serious conservative-makes no bones about being very conservative in his philosophical outlook-who comes here and wants to get things done, wants to solve problems and to me that is just the coin of the realm."

Crapo said his guiding approach is to stick to your beliefs without being abrasive, but added that the increasingly partisan climate is a drag. He lamented that personal partisan attacks have proven to be influential and such messaging can be transmitted nearly instantaneously.

"The kinds of political messaging that has turned out to be most effective is personal attacks and highly partisan messaging and because it has been so effective, it has become the weapon of the day, if you will, in politics that has resulted in an intensely bitter personal partisan environment," he said.

Hollier, who worked for Crapo during his six years in the House and during his first Senate term, said that a book by a Missoula, Mont., Mayor Daniel Kemmis,  Community and the Politics of Place, had a big impact on Crapo. The book traces civic discourse and focuses on the need for a sense of community in politics and was required reading for all of his staff, he said.

McConnell said in an e-mail that he chose Crapo to serve on the deficit commission because of his strong conservative values and common-sense approach.

"As a serious defender of the taxpayer, I chose Sen. Crapo as a member of the debt commission because I knew he would bring common-sense ideas and recommendations to the table," he said. "Sen. Crapo holds strong conservative credentials and his leadership skills have made him a valued member of our whip team. He has a reputation for listening and is well liked by his colleagues on both sides of the aisle."