On Tuesday, 1st Congressional District Rep. Raul Labrador voted for a budget cut that could have crippled nuclear research in Idaho.
Labrador was among 106 House members who voted to slash the Department of Energys nuclear research budget by two-thirds even though much of that money would go to the Idaho National Laboratory.
The amendment failed. But the vote is a window into where Labrador aligns within the House GOP caucus, and perhaps how he contemplates his political future.
Lets first put the amendment into perspective.
The federal Energy Department spends $765 million a year on nuclear energy research. Idaho doesnt get all of that money but as the Energy Departments lead nuclear energy site, it is the programs prime benefactor. For 2011-12, for example, Idaho received $429.9 million in nuclear energy funding.
Nuclear energy research is the INLs largest budget single line item, eclipsing all other programs, including cleanup. More to the point, research is probably the INLs next best shot at a lasting mission; the whole point of cleanup is to finish the job and stop spending the money.
Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., moved Tuesday to cut $514 million from the $765 million nuclear energy research budget. The amendment failed on a 106-281 vote that split House Republicans. Labrador was among 91 House Republicans who voted yes; 134 House Republicans voted no, including Rep. Mike Simpson, whose 2nd Congressional District includes the INL site.
Why did Labrador support this cut? I have voted consistently to limit federal energy subsidies, he said in a statement Thursday evening. In the most recent Energy and Water Appropriations bill, I voted to reduce funding for renewable energy programs, traditional fossil fuel programs and nuclear energy programs. I believe that the federal government shouldnt be using subsidies to pick winners and losers in a free market. We must work together to reduce the $15 trillion dollar national debt.
Consistent? Not quite. Last year, Labrador co-sponsored a bill that would eliminate $90 billion in energy subsidies over a decade but doesnt touch federal loan guarantees for nuclear development, or fossil fuels industry subsidies totaling some $70 billion a year.
And on Wednesday, after the amendment failed and the full energy appropriations bill came up for a vote, Labrador joined Simpson and 253 other House colleagues in voting yes. This spending bill included, of course, the $765 million for nuclear energy research.
In other words, Labrador was against research spending before he was for it.
According to Pete Kasperowicz of the Beltway insider publication The Hill, the amendment votes reveal an ongoing split within the House GOP. The votes pit newcomers, lawmakers seeking deeper spending cuts, against the veterans. Or, in the case of Idaho, the freshman Labrador against Simpson, a seven-term lawmaker who has climbed the ranks in the Appropriations Committee.
The long-term political implications are also worth considering.
Voting against INL funding isnt likely to hurt Labrador in the 1st District, where communities have no direct stake in this research. But if theres anything to the persistent rumors that Labrador is looking to run for governor in 2014, the vote probably wont help him in eastern Idaho.
Its not unprecedented for a 1st District congressman to cast a vote that could hurt the INL then-Rep. Larry Craig opposed the Superconducting Super Collider in the 1980s, when Idaho was in the running for this expensive research project. But there is a difference this time: Labrador supported a spending cut that would have undoubtedly forced job reductions at INL, possibly deep reductions. This vote could resonate in INL-dependent communities such as Idaho Falls.
I think Labradors politics on energy subsidies are all over the map. But give Labrador this much: No one can accuse him of using his job in Congress to jockey for a possible statewide campaign.
PLANNING FOR THE MILLION MARK
Lets face it. A long-range transportation plan doesnt sound all that thrilling.
But heres why the Treasure Valleys long-range planners want you to care. By 2040, they project that the combined population in Ada and Canyon counties will exceed the 1 million mark. And theyd like your help in planning for this eventuality.
The Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho is rewriting Communities in Motion, its guide for community growth and transportation improvements in the Valley.
By September, the COMPASS board of local elected officials is scheduled to sign off on a growth scenario to take the Valley to 2040. Through June 17, residents have a chance to weigh in and tell the politicos on the COMPASS board what they want to see in their future.
Go to compassidaho.org to look at the growth scenarios, print comment forms or submit your thoughts online. Best to speak now, before yours is just one voice among a million of your neighbors.
Kevin Richert: 377-6437, Twitter: @KevinRichert