Can Labrador be as courageous at home?
By Marty Trillhaase
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Last week, Congressman Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, cut a gutsy profile as he toured Idaho Falls and Idaho National Laboratory.
That's hostile territory for him.
Twice - first in 2012 and again this year - Labrador went on the record, voting for measures that would have cut about $514 million from the $750 million national nuclear energy research and development budget. Two thirds of these dollars flow to the INL near Idaho Falls. Losing those funds would have threatened more than 3,000 jobs and virtually crippled the lab, allowing competing federal installations in other states to pick at the remaining bones.
For eastern Idaho, the economic consequences would have been devastating.
When Labrador showed up last week, he maintained his resolve. He didn't back off. He didn't mend fences.
"They know they're going to get a frank discussion with me, that I don't mince my words and I don't beat around the bush," Labrador told the Spokesman-Review's Betsy Russell on the eve of his journey. "I understand the importance of INL to Idaho, but they also need to understand we have a $17 trillion debt, so we're going to have a very interesting conversation."
By most accounts, he delivered on that promise. As he departed, the Idaho Falls Post Register editorialized the congressman "spent two days talking down to" the community.
Of course, Labrador can say anything he likes to the people of eastern Idaho. Since he has opted to remain in the House and not run statewide for governor, the people of Idaho's 2nd Congressional District matter as much to him as the people of Washington's 5th Congressional District.
These are his neighbors, not his constituents.
If you are looking for a true test of Labrador's commitment to putting the nation's fiscal house in order - one that potentially could alienate some of his own voters - look no farther than the Port of Lewiston.
As the Tribune's Eric Barker reported last week, there is an open dispute about whether the Army Corps of Engineers' proposed dredging of the river channel is an investment or a boondoggle.
Critics of the 20-year plan - who probably care more about saving fish than tax dollars - contend dredging will cost as much as $3 million a year to yield as little as $500,000 in annual benefits. In other words, they say the American taxpayer is being fleeced to subsidize a dwindling number of barges at a cost of $11,000 to $18,000 each.
Port promoters have a different set of numbers. Dredging, argues the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, will require only $800,000 a year while returning an economic benefit of as much as $10 million annually. Reports that depict a shrinking river transportation market, it says, are in error.
Don't expect the Army Corps to tell you. It cares about finding the most economical route toward accomplishing the project, not determining whether dredging itself is cost-effective.
But Labrador can get to the bottom of this dispute. He sits on the House Resources Committee. He presumably has the ear of committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash.
So why not ask Hastings to authorize the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, to look into the matter?
Is dredging a good deal for the American taxpayer? Or will it simply add another layer on top of the current national debt? Have the GAO find out.
That's going to anger some people - especially if a GAO study stops the dredging project cold.
Of course, Labrador could tell his Lewiston constituents what he told the people of eastern Idaho: With the country $17 trillion in the hole, he can't play favorites. - M.T.