Crapo can clean up Craig’s mess (10/7/2007)

Idaho needs Sen. Larry Craig’s seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee and he can help angle Sen. Mike Crapo to that panel, writes David Adler.

Sen. Larry Craig’s declared intention to remain in the U.S. Senate until his term expires creates a dilemma for Idaho and the Republican Party.

For Idaho, the issue is effectiveness. Will Craig wield influence in a Senate where leaders of his own party have all but shown him the door? The answer, in part, depends on his committee assignments, particularly the powerful Appropriations Committee on which Craig has held a seat and has well-served his constituents for years. If Craig retains or regains this post, so critical to Idaho’s interests, he’ll at least have a vote to cast.

But influence and effectiveness require more than a vote. Key to success in bringing money and benefits to Idaho is building coalitions. Given the cold shoulder shown Craig by his GOP colleagues, there are reasons to doubt his ability to navigate the stream of appropriations politics.

It’s not at all clear that Craig’s long-time colleagues will be willing to aid his pursuit of money for Idaho. Competition for dollars on the Appropriations Committee — and Craig’s loss of stature and leverage — render his effectiveness unlikely. If he’s ineffective, Idaho’s interests will suffer.

Suppose Craig is denied a seat on Appropriations. Then his importance to Idaho is greatly diminished. The loss to the state and to key constituents — including Idaho National Laboratory — will be measured by significant losses of earmarks and dollars.

The GOP doesn’t have the votes to expel Craig from the Senate, and probably doesn’t have the votes to censure him either. Moreover, either effort would bring renewed and unwelcome attention to Louisiana Sen. David Vitter’s links to a Washington call-girl operation.

But Craig’s GOP colleagues want him to leave the Senate and that creates an opportunity for some old-fashioned quid pro quo, the engine that drives Washington. Idaho’s junior senator, Mike Crapo, should approach leadership and angle for Craig’s seat on Appropriations. While others will want the seat, Crapo should have an ally in Craig — who should offer to resign if Crapo inherits his Appropriations seat. GOP leaders might well embrace Craig’s proposal as a means of securing his departure. Meanwhile, Idaho would retain a critically important voice on Appropriations.

Craig and Crapo should accept the challenge to make this happen. It is unmistakably in Idaho’s interests to have a seat on Appropriations. Serving those interests is a primary reason why Craig and Crapo were elected to the Senate in the first place.

Craig’s request would represent a high act of personal sacrifice, but he would be remembered for placing the state’s interests ahead of his own. Crapo, moreover, would be viewed as soldier volunteering for duty on the front lines.

Readers should give them a call.