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Op-Ed: Crapo, Fulcher say ‘no’ to Ukraine aid

by CHUCK MALLOY/Special to The Press
| June 10, 2022 1:00 AM

During their 13 years serving together in Washington, you probably can count on one hand the number of times that Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch canceled out one another with votes — and not use all five fingers.

The exceptions, says Crapo — Idaho’s senior senator — is when there is justification for voting both ways. Such was the case with the recent vote on the $40 billion aid package to Ukraine. Risch, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, voted for it (not surprisingly). Crapo, the ranking member of the Finance Committee, voted against.

On the House side, Rep. Mike Simpson voted for, and Rep. Russ Fulcher voted against. It’s not as unusual for them to cast opposing votes. Simpson is obligated to vote for some spending bills as a senior member of Appropriations. Fulcher, as a staunch conservative, has no such obligation.

All four say they stand solidly behind Ukraine’s effort to curtain Russian President Vladimir Putin’s vicious assaults to the country, although their approaches are different.

Crapo thinks the $40 million aid should be offset with reductions somewhere else in the budget.

“We need to send a message to the administration that it can’t expect Congress will pass legislation without being fiscally responsible,” Crapo told me. “We are going to be seeing other bills calling on us to spend hundreds of billions of dollars. The administration is using certain threats to justify big-spending bills and (Democrats) don’t seem to care about the fiscal policy of the administration.”

A $40 billion reduction would be simple, Crapo said. It could be taken from the $1.9 trillion COVID-relief package that Congress approved. It could be a matter of “repurposing” the money approved for the infrastructure bill that both Crapo and Risch voted for.

“That said, I fully understand Sen. Risch’s vote,” Crapo said. “Additional debt can be allowed in the interest of national security, and in this case, there is a national-security justification for voting for additional debt. I felt we needed to put the line down and say we needed to offset the spending.”

Simpson, in a statement from his office, gave reasons for going in a different direction. He supported the aid package “in order to help Ukraine defend itself against the unconscionable Russian aggression to show China, Iran and North Korea that the U.S.’ security partnerships remain strong. Republicans fought to keep unrelated matters (such as COVID-19, or immigration provisions) out of this bill and focus on the real issue at hand — such as supporting democracy in Europe while keeping our troops out of the conflict.”

Fulcher had multiple reasons for voting against the aid, starting with the way it was presented to the House. As he told me, it was another one of those bills — hundreds of pages long — that came to the floor with just a few hours of notice. Members had little time to study the contents.

“If you are going to present something like this, and not give me a chance to review it, you can pretty much understand that my default is to vote no,” he said.

Also, Fulcher said, the U.S. has provided $100 billion in aid, and not all of that money has been spent.

“We’re trying to get the Ukrainian military trained on what we sent to them — equipment that they don’t know how to use,” he said. “We can’t willy-nilly ship resources without watching where it goes, because they will misuse it. There are too many red flags. It was the right decision for me.”

As with other Republicans, Fulcher also had reservations about the administration’s policies on Ukraine. “I have walked out of briefings wondering where in the world we are trying to take this. Do we even know? Do we have an objective, or series of objectives? My confidence in our leadership is very low, and that lack of confidence extends to Taiwan. We’ll be talking about that more in the future.”

The argument from the other side, of course, is that $40 billion is a bargain if it keeps Russian forces at bay and U.S. troops out of the conflict.

There’s no definitive “right” or “wrong” with our delegation’s split votes — but shades of gray attached to the issue. Over time, there may be more clarity over who was on the correct side.

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Chuck Malloy is a longtime Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com.

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