COEUR d'ALENE — U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo has long said debt is our nation's biggest threat, but he sees overregulation as a challenger that's coming on strong.
"Overregulation is quickly catching up to the national debt as one of our top threats," the Idaho Republican told 90 Coeur d'Alene Chamber of Commerce members Tuesday at the Best Western Plus Coeur d'Alene Inn.
Crapo said about 20,000 new regulations have been added to the Code of Federal Regulations this year and more than 3,000 more are slated to be added soon.
"It's gone beyond safety and soundness to
government control. I'm not saying all regulations are bad; I'm saying they don't need to be at this level.
"There's a cost to compliance."
For example, Crapo said, there has been a trend of community banks in Idaho selling out to larger banks.
"The reason is that they can't survive the mountain of regulations to stay afloat," he said. "We're getting to the point where small businesses can't survive the regulatory environment."
Crapo said he's among the lawmakers who have introduced a bill to once again give Congress the authority to reject regulations. He said the system should be similar to that in Idaho, where the Legislature has the right to review regulations proposed by agencies.
David Bobbitt, chairman and CEO of Community 1st Bank, said he was glad to hear regulatory burdens have the senator’s attention.
"It's getting harder for small community banks to afford all the legal representation for regulatory compliance," he said.
Bobbitt said Community 1st has been able to weather the storm because its employees are asked to go the extra mile to keep up.
"We can't afford a full-time compliance officer, so it's up to everybody in the bank to keep up with the regulations," he said. "We've been able to do it so far, but it's really a struggle. There's larger banks that have more people just in compliance than we have in our whole bank. (Regulation) is a huge burden on smaller banks."
Crapo, who sits on the Finance Committee, said he's often asked why the nation's debt of more than $19 trillion hasn't caused a collapse, as was predicted by some financial experts six years ago to occur by now.
He said that's because other economies have gotten worse faster.
"We're a place of refuge for capital for around the world right now," he said.
Crapo said analysts also didn't predict the country would print trillions of dollars to prop up the economy under a monetary policy called "quantitative easing," used by central banks to stimulate the economy when standard monetary policy has become ineffective.
"But that can't be done forever," Crapo said. "We have government shutdown battles every 12 months now. We still have a notion in this political system that we can spend ourselves through this. It has got to end. There is still a crisis; but it's just been pushed back."
Crapo compared the nation's financial situation to the debt crisis in Greece.
"We're on the same path, but Greece is just a little farther down its path," he said.
Not surprisingly, Crapo said much of the national political attention lately has been on three fronts — the race for the presidency, control of the Senate and President Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia's death.
There will be Senate races in 34 states, and 24 of those seats are held by Republicans. Republicans have a 54-46 advantage in the Senate.
"There is an intense battle for control over the U.S. Senate," Crapo said.
On the Supreme Court, Crapo said the Senate has not confirmed Garland's nomination because that would shift the majority of the votes to the side of what he calls the "activist" judges rather than the previous evenly-split scenario with a swing vote.
"I believe the strong argument could be made that it would be a 5-3-1 vote that would shift our entire jurisprudence system in a direction that would be very harmful for our country," he said. "We're in the middle of intense political battles."
Crapo pledged a year and a half ago to hold a town hall meeting in all of Idaho's 200 incorporated cities. He attended his 180th last week and is in Lewiston today.