When John Boehner needed a member to step up and take a leadership role in bringing the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill to the House floor this week, his friend Mike Simpson volunteered.
Simpson, a former Speaker of the House in the Idaho State Legislature, knows about leadership. He knows how hard it is to manage a sometimes rambunctious legislative branch and he knows how doing the right thing is not always the same thing as doing the popular thing.
Simpson also knows how to communicate to his constituents about the importance of effective governance. He has effectively used his perch on the Appropriations Committee to battle off the regulatory overreach of the Obama administration and its Departments of Interior and the EPA.
Simpson is not immune to tempestuous nature of the Republican base. He faced a stiff primary challenge, funded mostly by folks from outside Idaho who have interests that diverge sharply from the conservative constituency. The Club for Growth, funded by a libertarian activist named Peter Thiel, poured a million dollars into the race against Simpson. The Madison Project, another shadowy outside group, hired a pro-pot legalization activist to work to defeat the long-time appropriator.
They were working to elect a trial lawyer who had lobbied against tort reform and who owned a debt-collection business to replace Simpson, who had tried to lead the Congress last year in finding a way to deal with our burgeoning debt.
Simpson understood that to get deal on a truly necessary budget package, both sides would have to give. Democrats would have to give on entitlement spending. Republicans would have to give on tax increases. That was only way to get a deal, and Simpson was pushing leaders on both sides to get something done.
That’s why the Club for Growth decided to attack him. His former colleague, Chris Chocola, whose voting record in the House was much more moderate than Mike Simpson’s voting record, attacked the Idaho Congressman for being too squishy.
But to a guy who used to search for cavities for a living, (he is a dentist), Mike Simpson is not going to leave the dirty work to somebody else. And to carry the metaphor a bit further, he understand instinctively that short-term pain (like getting your teeth cleaned or pulling out a bad tooth) yields long-time gain
So, I guess it is not surprising to see Mike Simpson stand up and be the guy to end this manufactured crisis on funding for the Homeland Security Department.
This never was the smartest of strategies – to detach DHS from the rest of the Appropriations process, in order to get the president to somehow sign a repeal of his executive order. But I suppose it is far better to threaten to close down a small part of the government rather than the whole government.
Simpson’s colleagues need a refresher course on how Congress works and how it interacts with the White House. Partisanship makes the legislative branch much more ineffective as an institution, and when members of the so-called “Freedom Caucus” make bold, vivid, and somewhat ridiculous speeches about how the president has broken the Constitution irreparably by just waking up in the morning, they should understand that the more impassioned they become, the less effective they are.
The only way to rein in the president is to come up with a bipartisan plan or, at least, a plan to force Democrats to vote with you and not against you. Beating your fists against your chest, threatening to hold your breath until your face turns blue, or worse, threatening to shut the government down, simply doesn’t work.
Mike Simpson knows how Congress works, he knows how to rein in an out-of-control White House, and he knows how to craft bipartisan compromises that move the ball forward for the American people.
Mike has once again taken a leadership position for the good of the country, and my guess is that he will once again become a target for the haters. If you can, and you are not one of the haters, you should do all that you can to support him.
John Feehery publishes his Feehery Theory blog at http://www.thefeeherytheory.com/.