Note: In an exclusive interview, U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo spoke to IdahoReporter.com about a number of issues including the targeting of conservative and religious groups by the IRS; the quest for more gun control in Washington, D.C.; and the implementation of the federal Obamacare law.
IR: Give us your assessment, please, of where things stand with the IRS targeting scandal. Are you hearing a lot about it from Idahoans? How is the investigation going? What are your thoughts on it?
Crapo: Yes, we are hearing a lot about it. This issue has really hit home with the American people. And you can understand that. There are a lot of problems with a lot of federal agencies overreaching right now, but people really get the fact that the IRS is the judge, the jury, the executioner. They know that when the IRS gets out of line, Americans’ liberties are truly threatened. The investigation is under way in both the House of Representatives and in the Senate. I personally think we need an independent investigation, in addition to the House and Senate investigations on this, and so we don’t rely on the Internal Revenue Service to investigate itself.
IR: One would like to think that both Democrats and Republicans would see the allegations against the IRS as a serious. How are people on the other side of the political aisle from you, the congressional Democrats, responding to this?
Crapo: They have definitely been much more mute about it than the Republicans have, but take Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana), for example. He heads up the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the IRS. He has called for, and is conducting, an investigation. So there are some of them (congressional Democrats) who are willing to do so, but I think it remains to be seen how aggressive they will be. The bottom line here is that from the White House on down, there is basically this ‘I don’t know what happened’ mode. They started out saying there is no evidence of political motivation, but now that evidence is starting to percolate up, they’re shifting their talking points a little bit now to say ‘I don’t know what happened,’ and nobody seems to know where this came from, or at least nobody’s admitting to it.
IR: What would you say to the Idahoan who is afraid of the IRS, afraid to try and start a nonprofit group, to donate to a political campaign or even, say, to donate to their church ministry, for fear of harassment from the IRS?
Crapo: Unfortunately, I’d have to say to them that I think their fear is justified. I would also say however that many of us in Washington are going to push hard to get to the bottom of this, to find those responsible, and to change the structure of the IRS so it doesn’t hold this phenomenal power over the lives of individuals.
IR: You’ve been speaking across Idaho about the debate over gun control in Washington, yet you’re engaging a different discussion, a discussion about gun violence, and the mental health problems that are at the root of gun violence. Can you give us your assessment of both these issues?
Crapo: When you have these terrible acts of violence that are springing up in different parts of the country, the immediate reaction in Washington, D.C., is to push for more gun control, and to take constitutionally protected rights away from law-abiding American citizens. Fortunately, we’ve defeated that (in the U.S. Senate) so far, but the focus still seems to be there. What people don’t realize is that gun deaths and gun crimes have dropped significantly in the U.S. in recent years. Yet the areas where we see these terrible acts of violence are areas primarily involving mental health issues. That is where, I believe, we need to focus our efforts as we deal with these senseless and violent circumstances.
IR: How do you address mental health concerns without expanding and bloating government bureaucracies? For example, there are likely plenty of people who agree with you, that mental health problems are at the root of gun violence problems. But then they would use that reasoning to argue for more health and welfare funding, more government staffing, and in general, to expand the government welfare sector. How do you address this without acquiescing to the call for expanding welfare spending?
Crapo: The first step in the process is to focus on the criminal justice system. I’ve sponsored legislation, for example, to address the fact that about 17 percent of those incarcerated within the U.S. actually have mental illness problems, and identifying those within that 17 percent that can be a danger to the population is a very significant issue. Right now we have a huge amount of recidivism; we are using our criminal justice system as a mental health treatment system, and it isn’t working. This is draining our criminal justice system of the ability to operate properly. What we need to do is to utilize our existing structures, to identify those with mental health issues and violent tendencies and to treat those issues, and if we can do that, then I think we’ll be much better off, and will increase the effectiveness of our justice system.
IR: Recently you weighed in on a matter concerning the implementation of the federal Obamacare law across the states, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Specifically, you noted that the Department of HHS is the government agency that is entrusted to regulate insurance companies and health care providers via the Obamacare law, but that HHS has also run out of money to implement the law. You further noted that it appeared as though HHS has now begun to solicit private donations from insurance companies and health care providers to fund their Obamacare operations. It would appear that you are one of few members of the U.S. Congress, perhaps the only one, who has observed that it is a conflict of interest for an agency of the federal government to solicit donations from the industries that it is entrusted to regulate. Do you have evidence that this solicitation of donations was actually happening?
Crapo: It was actually going on, yes. We believe we may have stemmed it, but we are still looking at it very carefully. You’re absolutely right, though, about Obamacare essentially running out of money. When we debated the Obamacare law in the Senate (back in 2009 and 2010), we pointed out that they were fooling with the numbers and they were not honest with the American people about the costs that it was going to impose. Now, they have totally run out of money, and the costs are far in excess of what they claimed they would be. So now they’re going to the very same people that they regulate and hitting them up for money in the private sector. It is an outrage. But I think this is one where we have backed them off, but we’re still paying very, very close attention to it.
IR: Do you have evidence that this type of solicitation was happening in Idaho?
Crapo: I am not aware of any specific circumstance where it was, no.
IR: Our governor and state Legislature chose to comply with Obamacare and formulate a state insurance exchange. Obviously those choices were outside of your purview, but the decisions have been made, so now we will have Obamacare implemented in Idaho, complete with HHS involvement. What would you say to Idahoans who are concerned about this?
Crapo: First and foremost I would tell them that the effort is not over to try and correct the terrible excesses and problems in this law. I would encourage Idahoans to stay focused on the effort and to stay engaged in our efforts to either repeal Obamacare altogether, or to dramatically change it. I mean, we learned the other day that the IRS agent involved in the targeting operation has now been moved over to be the one in charge of the part of Obamacare that puts the IRS in charge of health care. I think Americans and Idahoans need to be paying very close attention to what is happening under this law. Increasingly, the concerns we raised when we debated this law in the Senate, concerns about the increase of government intrusion in to our privacy, and the increased costs of health care, and the reduction of quality and access to healthcare, all of this is going to start to happen. And as it happens, we may see a stronger political will in this country to make the needed changes.
IR: Today there is an extraordinary story out of Pennsylvania involving a 10-year-old girl who is dying of cystic fibrosis and needs a lung transplant, yet under the Obamacare law, children in essence are placed at the bottom of the list, so to speak, for organ transplants. Both U.S. senators in Pennsylvania have reportedly begged HHS to intervene, but HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has said, in essence, that there is nothing she can do, she didn’t write the law she only enforces it. Is this the type of reduction in health care access that you are suggesting that we will see in the future?
Crapo: Yes that is absolutely correct. This is precisely what I mean. We will significantly lose access to health care in our future. We will see increased costs of health care, and increased costs of insurance. And, as I’ve said, we’re going to have incredibly expanded IRS activity, not just with them looking at people’s income tax liabilities, but also checking on you to make sure that they’ve got the right government control on your health care.
IR: Senator, thank you for taking time with us. Before we let you go, what are some of the things that you miss about Idaho when you’re away in Washington, D.C.?
Crapo: I’ve enjoyed our discussion, thank you. And I will say this; when I’m away in Washington I miss clean water and clean air! But I also miss the people of Idaho, so many of whom have great ideas for our state and country. It’s good to be back home.