Robert Ehlert: Labrador-Simpson tiff needs a timeout

In a state such as California, which has 53 members of the House of Representatives channeling both major parties and every imaginable faction, mud flies and it is a given that people prepare for peripheral splattering.

What you wouldn’t expect, unless you’ve been watching things fester, is a growing animosity between Reps. Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson — both Republicans and the only two members of the House from Idaho.

Labrador went ugly Tuesday during a radio interview with Boise Public Radio: “Mike Simpson has been part of the establishment in Washington, D.C., for 12 years. He loves to go out drinking and smoking with the speaker (Rep. John Boehner). He loves to have these relationships where it’s all about making false promises to his constituents and then going back there to Washington, D.C., to compromise.”

The junior representative from District 1 said this after a comment made by Simpson in an Idaho Statesman online story about the vote on a Medicare funding bill packaged with the reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act, which benefits rural citizens in Northwest states such as Idaho. The measure passed 392 to 37. Simpson voted for it; Labrador against it, with Labrador saying it would cost too much and worsen the deficit.

Labrador faced a tough decision that members of Congress routinely confront: bills that include things you want poisoned with things you don’t. Labrador said he would have voted for SRS had it not been linked to the Medicare bill.

Here are Simpson’s words, to which Labrador took offense: “Though HR 2 is not perfect, you would have to look long and hard to find a reason to vote no. This kind of bill represents exactly what the American people want to see out of their elected officials.”

The two have sparred often, frequently on the subject of GOP House leadership under Boehner, whom Simpson supports and Labrador only tolerates. When Labrador was involved in an effort to dump Boehner as speaker in 2013, it was reported that Simpson called Labrador “irresponsible,” and Labrador countered that Simpson was “a bully and old-school legislator.”

On March 15 the Statesman published a Guest Opinion by Labrador highly critical of those who voted in favor of the Fiscal 2015 Department of Homeland Security spending bill. “On Tuesday, March 3, 75 Republicans, pressured by our leadership and a weak-kneed Senate, joined 182 Democrats in abandoning a provision blocking President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration. ... Without a doubt, Congress ceded its constitutional authority when it gave up the fight to ensure the president faithfully executes the laws of the United States.”

That blast of criticism included buckshot for Simpson, who voted for the measure because he didn’t want to see Homeland Security shut down at such a critical time.

There is a raw rift within the GOP House. Rep. Deven Nunes, R-Calif., referenced it in a National Journal article: “I prefer to be in the arena voting than trying to placate a small group of phony conservative members who have no credible policy proposals and no political strategy to stop Obama’s lawlessness. While conservative leaders are trying to move the ball up the field, these other members sit in exotic places like basements of Mexican restaurants and upper levels of House office buildings, seemingly unaware that they can’t advance conservatism by playing fantasy football with their voting cards.”

If this were only over principle, Idahoans might better accept it. But Labrador got personal with Simpson with his charges of carousing and implying that Simpson lies to constituents. That is bad form and unbecoming of state, caucus and congressional colleagues. Labrador doesn’t have to agree with Simpson or his votes all the time, but if he ever wants a better relationship he could start by apologizing for the personal attacks in those radio remarks.

Labrador and Simpson have work to do for Idaho, and that includes efforts to reduce our $18 trillion deficit. That is not going to get done if personal agendas obscure those of the constituents. Labrador could use Simpson’s support for his bill about a pilot project to empower rural communities to generate revenue by harvesting timber in federal forests. Simpson is pushing his revised CIEDRA (Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act) as an Idaho solution for the Boulder-White Clouds. Recently Labrador told the Statesman that he didn’t know whether he could support CIEDRA.

Idahoans don’t want drama. They want a congressional delegation to put personal differences aside to work for the state.