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Memorial Day weekend open thread

by: desmoinesdem

Sun May 24, 2015 at 10:00:00 AM CDT

What's on your mind this holiday weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome. For Memorial Day-related links, click here or here.

My social media feeds have been blowing up with comments about the Josh Duggar molestation allegations. The story has evoked strong emotions in many women, whether or not they've ever watched Duggar-themed reality tv. Sad to say, my friends who grew up in conservative Christian patriarchal households were not surprised by what Duggar allegedly did as a teenager. Some have shared appalling accounts of how girls and women are socialized to tolerate abuse or blame themselves later. After the jump I've enclosed a horrific document on "Counseling Sexual Abuse," produced by the Institute in Basic Life Principles and used for many years by the Advanced Training Institute. The Recovering Grace website analyzes the document's "victim-blaming" and "callous dismissal of abuse survivors' pain" point by point. I am heartbroken for any woman who received that message in so-called "counseling."

Former Arkansas Governor and current presidential candidate Mike Huckabee posted on Facebook an unbelievable defense of the Duggar family's conduct. Bleeding Heartland will have more to say on that in a future post. For now, I want to call attention to Huckabee's assertion that "He and his family dealt with it and were honest and open about it with the victims and the authorities." Based on what we know now, the Duggar parents neither reported the alleged abuse promptly nor got professional therapy for their son or daughters. Local authorities destroyed the old police records of the case, so we may never know the whole story.

Final note, since Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start to summer: it's worth re-reading Mario Vittone's reminder that "drowning doesn't look like drowning."

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Iowa Senate confirms all but one Branstad appointee during 2015 session

by: desmoinesdem

Fri May 22, 2015 at 08:45:58 AM CDT

The Iowa legislature's 2015 session drags on amid unresolved conflict over various budget issues, especially K-12 school funding. But one aspect of the lawmakers' work is complete for this year. The Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate has confirmed all but one of Governor Terry Branstad's more than 200 nominees. The overwhelming majority of those votes were unanimous or nearly so.

In recent years, senators have voted against confirming one or two Branstad nominees. This year no nomination failed on the Iowa Senate floor, and only one department head was ever in real danger of not being confirmed to do his job: Department of Human Services Director Chuck Palmer.

Branstad has occasionally withdrawn nominees who didn't have support from the necessary two-thirds majority in the Iowa Senate. This year the governor didn't need to exercise that power, although he sidestepped a near-certain rejection by accepting Teresa Wahlert's resignation in January, rather than reappointing her to run Iowa Workforce Development. In addition, Iowa Law Enforcement Academy Director Arlen Ciechanowski recently announced plans to retire, tacitly acknowledging the votes weren't there to confirm him.

Follow me after the jump for background on the controversies surrounding Palmer and Ciechanowski and details on Palmer's confirmation vote--the closest call by far for any Branstad appointee this year.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Bishop's cap (Two-leaved mitrewort)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 20, 2015 at 22:00:00 PM CDT

Iowans who venture to wooded areas this Memorial Day weekend will likely see many mid-spring wildflowers. Wild geranium and Virginia waterleaf are still going strong in my corner of the world, and you may find False rue anemone, May apples (umbrella plants) or Columbines in bloom. This week I saw the first flowers on black raspberry plants. If you see those, check back in late June or early July to pick the berries (technically, compound drupes). Wear jeans to avoid getting torn to pieces by the thorns.

This week's featured wildflower was new to me on a recent visit to Dolliver Memorial State Park in Webster County. Bishop's cap (Mitella diphylla) is native to much of the U.S. east of the Missouri River. It's not a show-stopper, but some consider its "small delicate flowers [...] very attractive and fairy-like." As a bonus, I've also enclosed below a few pictures of liverwort, a non-flowering plant that thrives in damp and rocky habitats, as does Bishop's cap. Liverworts are "the simplest true plants," so ancient that they predate ferns and mosses as well as plants producing flowers and seeds.

This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

Final note: I saw what looked like a heavily pregnant doe the other day, which reminded me of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources' good advice to "leave wildlife babies in the wild," rather than attempting to rescue animals you may assume to have been abandoned. Deer are among the mammals that sometimes leave young offspring for a while. The mother is usually nearby.

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Fantastic new resource launched on Iowa Administrative Rules

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 20, 2015 at 14:42:13 PM CDT

Iowa policy wonks have every reason to be discouraged lately about the frozen-in-place, do-little state legislative session. Looking on the bright side, a fantastic new resource on state administrative rules appeared this week.

The Office of the Chief Information Officer launched the Iowa Administrative Rules website on Monday. The site is easy to navigate. A FAQ page explains the basics about the rulemaking process and public comments. Rules currently open for comment are right there on the front page. Clicking on any specific rule brings up the full text, contact information for the relevant state agency, details on upcoming public hearings, and the closing date for comments on the proposal. This website should make it easier for politically-engaged Iowans to understand and participate in making state regulations. It's a good companion to the Iowa legislature's official website, which is user-friendly and updated frequently (though it could be more readable).

I had to laugh at a few comments in the press release announcing the new website, enclosed after the jump. Governor Terry Branstad couldn't resist taking a swipe at "burdensome rules" and "overregulation," a bugaboo for him. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds (yes, the relentless branding of Branstad-Reynolds as a single unit continues) pegged the website launch to other "transparency" measures, including visiting all 99 Iowa counties every year.

I strongly disagree with the governor's general view that business groups need more power over state regulations. The new process Branstad created has allowed a small but powerful group of business owners to torpedo a rule protecting the public interest in preserving topsoil and clean water. Branstad also intervened to undermine an electrical inspections rule designed to prevent fires in farm buildings. That said, the Iowa Administrative Rules website was a great idea, well-executed. Whoever developed the site for the Office of the Chief Information Officer deserves credit.

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A Steve King triumph over DREAMers and how the Iowans voted on Defense Authorization bill

by: desmoinesdem

Tue May 19, 2015 at 13:23:44 PM CDT

Catching up on Iowa Congressional news, on May 15 the U.S. House approved a $612 billion Defense Authorization bill for fiscal year 2016 by 269 votes to 151 (roll call). Not surprisingly, all four Iowans supported the bill on final passage. Votes on several amendments were the most interesting part of the process, as was the case during House debate of the first two spending bills to clear the lower chamber this year.

Follow me after the jump for details on last week's defense-related votes by Iowa Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04), and Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02). Notably, King and his allies removed language that would have allowed military service by some undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children. The House approved some other amendments by voice vote; click here for brief descriptions.

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Ed Fallon arrested after sit-in at governor's office over Bakken pipeline (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon May 18, 2015 at 22:05:43 PM CDT

Former state lawmaker Ed Fallon is in police custody tonight after he refused to leave Governor Terry Branstad's office at the close of business today. Fallon went to the governor's office this afternoon demanding a meeting to discuss "eminent domain legislation that would help landowners along the path of the Bakken Oil Pipeline." More details are in a press release I've enclosed after the jump. Branstad's legal counsel Michael Bousselot came out to talk with Fallon, who insisted on a meeting or phone conversation with the governor himself. Brianne Pfannenstiel reported for the Des Moines Register,

When the statehouse closed at 5 p.m., Iowa State Patrol troopers approached Fallon and asked if he would be willing to leave, or be arrested for criminal trespassing. Fallon declined to leave, so he was escorted out of the building and arrested outside.

A supporter posted on Facebook this evening that Fallon has a "jail support team attending to all his needs" and "will probably be released sometime tomorrow." When Fallon served in the Iowa House from 1995 through the 2006 session, land use issues were a focal point of his legislative efforts. During and since that time, Fallon has opposed various proposals to use eminent domain to seize farmland for use in for-profit ventures. Earlier this year, he walked from the southeast corner of Iowa to the northeast corner along the proposed pipeline route to raise awareness and mobilize landowners and others who oppose the project. The No Bakken website and Facebook page represent a coalition of some two dozen non-profit groups that oppose the project.

The eminent domain bill Fallon wants Branstad to support is Senate File 506 (previously Senate Study Bill 1276), which passed the Iowa Senate Government Oversight Committee on May 6 with support from Democratic State Senators Rob Hogg, Brian Schoenjahn, and Kevin Kinney, and Republican Jack Whitver. Branstad warned state lawmakers in January not to "get politics into this" debate over the pipeline. The governor wants to leave the decision to the Iowa Utilities Board, which is considered likely to approve the pipeline. The Sierra Club Iowa chapter plans to fight the project before every state and federal agency that would be involved.

UPDATE: Fallon was released from jail the same evening he was arrested. In a press release I've posted below, he says he's due in court on May 27 and hasn't decided "what legal route to take yet."

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Iowans must vote to protect net neutrality, and to keep it working for everyone

by: desmoinesiowa15

Mon May 18, 2015 at 09:29:52 AM CDT

(Bleeding Heartland welcomes guest posts on federal or state policies. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

The FCC's landmark decision in February to protect net neutrality was widely heralded as a victory for most Internet users. The Federal Communications Commission even committed to making America's broadband networks fast, fair, and open. However, as more information became available, it became clear that the FCC's decision to reclassify the Internet as a depression-era utility would make it anything but fair.

Title II was developed for old communication devices, like telephone networks in the 1930s. This regulatory classification is more than 80 years old, and was never intended for the fast-moving, innovative world of Internet and app infrastructure. Title II will re-classify the Internet as a utility, and increase state and local fees for Internet access. Infrastructure issues, when left to Congress to update, become a part of a slower-moving, bureaucratic structure. Upgrades to the Internet happen much faster than upgrades to roads and bridges; it does not make sense to regulate them the same way.

Instead of making sure that the Internet remained open for all, the FCC's decision ensured that low-income and underserved Americans will pay higher rates, making the Internet less accessible. Dozens of groups have spoken out about how Title II regulation will be harmful for small businesses, particularly those owned by minority groups. When chambers of commerce and unions agree that something is harmful, it is generally a good sign that it is time to re-think.

Representatives Blum, Loebsack, Young, and King should follow the lead of the diverse coalition that has spoken out against Title II regulation - including the Communications Workers of America, the NAACP, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, the United State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Urban League, the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and dozens more - to draft bipartisan legislation that protects all Internet users from high fees and keeps the Internet truly open.  

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All Iowans vote for bill allowing Congress to review Iran deal

by: desmoinesdem

Sun May 17, 2015 at 20:21:26 PM CDT

All four Iowans voted for a bill that overwhelmingly passed the U.S. House on May 14, which would allow Congress to weigh in on any deal the Obama administration may strike with Iran. Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill,

The carefully negotiated bill, which President Obama is expected to sign, gives Congress the power to approve or disapprove of a nuclear agreement with Iran during a 30-day period when economic sanctions could not be lifted.

Should the House and Senate vote to disapprove of the deal, and then override a likely Obama veto, the administration would be barred from waiving some economic sanctions on Iran as part of international accord.

I haven't seen any comments on this bill from Iowa Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02) or from Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03, or Steve King (IA-03). Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both voted for the bill on the Senate floor earlier this month. Critics including Senator Ted Cruz have said the compromise would allow an Iran deal to go forward even if only a minority in Congress agree.

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Weekend open thread: Des Moines pride and GOP clown car edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun May 17, 2015 at 10:57:51 AM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

According to Gallup's latest well-being survey of people in the 100 largest U.S. metro areas, residents of the Des Moines metro area "are the most likely to say they are proud of their community," with some 76.5 percent of central Iowa respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing with a statement about community pride. Gallup's write-up noted a correlation between that sentiment and feeling "safe and secure." A remarkable 85.7 percent of Des Moines area respondents said they "always feel safe and secure," a higher level than in any other metro area Gallup surveyed.

Washington Post reporter Philip Bump speculated, "The two proudest cities are in Iowa and S.C., because people love being fawned over by politicians." I really don't think so.

In the past few years, at least three dozen lists measuring quality of life or economic factors have put the Des Moines area in the top five or ten communities nationwide. Former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne has raved about some of the amenities our metro has to offer. Having lived in a couple of great American cities and a couple of great European cities, I moved back to the Des Moines area for the long haul. Although I am way more politically engaged than the average person, I wouldn't factor presidential candidate visits into a decision on where to raise my children.

Speaking of being fawned over by politicians, eleven declared or potential contenders for the presidency spoke at the Iowa GOP's Lincoln Dinner last night. Three declared candidates missed the event (former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz), as did at least a couple of others who are considering the presidential race (Ohio Governor John Kasich and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie). A dozen or more candidates will likely crowd the stage at GOP primary debates. My thoughts about the Lincoln Dinner speakers are coming in a future post. Philip Rucker and Jenna Johnson wrote a good piece for the Washington Post on Republican insiders' growing anxiety about their large presidential field. Their sources included a heavyweight hated by many Iowa conservatives:

We're in a danger zone," said Doug Gross, a top Republican establishment figure in Iowa. "When the party poobahs put this process together, they thought they could telescope this to get us a nominee who could appeal to a broad cross-section of people. What we've got instead is a confederation of a lot of candidates who aren't standing out - and in order to stand out, you need to scream the loudest."

Speaking of people who stand out by screaming loudly, Representative Steve King posted a picture of himself yesterday with Dick and Betty Odgaard, who (in his words) were "targeted by LGBT activists/litigated out of 1man/1woman wedding business." False. Here's what really happened after the Odgaards refused to let a gay couple rent the Görtz Haus in Grimes for a wedding.  

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The disconnect in the Des Moines Register's coverage of Congress

by: desmoinesdem

Fri May 15, 2015 at 11:54:36 AM CDT

An important Congressional vote went unreported in the Des Moines Register this week, despite two lead editorials in the paper within the past month urging Congress to act on that very issue.

The disconnect provides a good example of a problem I flagged in this post about the Des Moines Register's political coverage. Ever since the Register closed its Washington bureau, Iowans are less likely to know what our representatives in Congress are doing on our behalf.  

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More competition coming to Iowa's health insurance exchange for 2016

by: desmoinesdem

Fri May 15, 2015 at 09:50:00 AM CDT

The Iowa Insurance Division announced today that "seven companies have applied to offer Iowans health insurance through the federal health insurance marketplace" for 2016. This year, Coventry was the sole provider selling through the exchange, following the collapse of CoOportunity Health. Although Iowa's dominant insurance provider, Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield, is staying off the exchange for another year, Coventry and Minnesota-based Medica want to sell individual plans statewide, and United Healthcare wants to sell in 76 of Iowa's 99 counties. The Iowa Insurance Division's full news release is after the jump. Click here (pdf) for a list of counties where each company has applied to offer coverage through the exchange.

Increased competition will not only give roughly 45,000 Iowans more options for health insurance coverage, possibly at lower cost, but will also remove the threat that Iowans could lose access to federal subsidies for lack of a provider willing to sell through our state's partnership exchange.

Iowans could still lose access to the subsidies many need to make health insurance affordable, depending on how the U.S. Supreme Court rules in the King v Burwell case. An act of Congress could easily address a ruling that invalidated subsidies for Americans who purchase insurance through the federal website, and lawmakers have floated several ideas. But key Republicans don't want to pass any "fix" to the hated 2010 health care reform law.

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Steve King, Rod Blum vote against Patriot Act revision for opposite reasons

by: desmoinesdem

Thu May 14, 2015 at 16:03:03 PM CDT

Yesterday the U.S. House approved the USA Freedom Act, which revises some provisions of the 2001 Patriot Act and extends them until December 2019. The Patriot Act is set to expire on June 1 without Congressional action. The main changes in the bill concern bulk data collection and domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency. Groups advocating for civil liberties are seeking more changes to the USA Freedom Act following a recent federal appeals court ruling, which "determined that the NSA's telephone records program went far beyond what Congress authorized when it passed Section 215 of the Patriot Act in 2001."

Proponents argue that the USA Freedom Act strikes a reasonable compromise between security and privacy. The overwhelming majority of House members agreed, as the bill passed by 338 votes to 88 (roll call). Representative David Young (IA-03) was among the 196 Republicans who voted yes, while Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) was among the 142 Democratic supporters.

Forty-one Democrats and 47 Republicans, including Iowa's Steve King (IA-04) and Rod Blum (IA-01), opposed the USA Freedom Act. In a statement I've enclosed in full below, King warned that the bill amounted to "data disarmament," with too little weight given to "the investigative value" of information gathered through bulk collection techniques, or how to protect "the vital data we need for national security."

In a Twitter post yesterday, Blum said he voted against the bill "because it continues the violation of the 4th Amendment rights of American citizens." In a Facebook post, Blum added, " Protecting your constitutional right to privacy is one of my top priorities, and I will continue to stand strong for the Fourth Amendment in Congress. I think America can be secure WITHOUT sacrificing our civil liberties." I am seeking a more extensive comment and will update this post if I receive one. Blum has long aligned himself with the Iowa GOP's "Liberty" wing.

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Iowans split on party lines over 20-week abortion ban

by: desmoinesdem

Thu May 14, 2015 at 13:50:00 PM CDT

Yesterday the U.S. House passed by 242 votes to 184 (roll call) a bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. House GOP leaders originally planned to pass this legislation around the anniversary of the Roe v Wade ruling in January, but pulled the bill from the floor "following a revolt from female members who objected to language regarding exceptions for rape." Sarah Ferris and Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill yesterday that the bill "requires a 48-hour waiting period, informed consent forms and mandatory counseling for victims of rape and sexual assault before abortions." The latest version "eliminates a requirement for rape victims to go to the police, though it did not change a controversial provision that allows victims of incest to receive an abortion only if they are under 18 years old."

Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) all voted for the 20-week abortion ban, while Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted against it. Iowa's House members split along the same party lines regarding another anti-abortion bill that passed earlier this year, as well as a resolution that would "overturn the District of Columbia's law prohibiting workplace discrimination based on reproductive health choices."

I haven't seen any comments from Blum, Loebsack, Young, or King on yesterday's votes, but I'll update this post as needed. UPDATE: Added a statement from Blum.After the jump I've enclosed comments from Iowa Democratic Party Chair Andy McGuire, an e-mail blast Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign sent regarding the vote, and a statement from the pro-choice PAC EMILY's List, which has endorsed Monica Vernon in the Democratic primary to challenge Blum.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: False rue anemone

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 13, 2015 at 23:57:56 PM CDT

Early spring wildflowers have given way to mid-spring bloomers across Iowa. In prairie habitats, Eileen Miller has found some hoary puccoon and fringed puccoon blooming. In central Iowa wooded areas, May apples (umbrella plants), Virginia waterleaf, sweet cicely, and wild geranium are near their peak. Sweet William are still prevalent too, helping to compensate for the end of this year's spectacular Virginia bluebells show. Buds are visible on many native plants that will flower in the late spring or early summer, including wild grapes and one of my favorites, Solomon's seal.

A few rue anemone flowers are still blooming in Windsor Heights, which brings me to today's featured plant. False rue anemone (Enemion biternatum) is easily confused with rue anemone. Both plants are among the earliest spring wildflowers to bloom and continue to flower for many weeks after other early flower have gone. Both plants initially have reddish-brown foliage, which turns green before long. Neither rue anemone nor false rue anemone flowers have petals. What look like petals are white or pinkish-white sepals. The Illinois Wildflowers, U.S. Wildflowers, and Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden websites all contain more detailed botanical descriptions as well as tips on distinguishing false rue anemone from rue anemone. Short version: the leaves are shaped differently, and rue anemone flowers usually have more sepals than the five sepals on false rue anemone flowers.

I've enclosed several photos of false rue anemone after the jump. This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.  

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Iowa DOT insists that cities shut off some of their traffic cameras

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 13, 2015 at 22:06:33 PM CDT

The Iowa Department of Transportation is standing behind its ruling that limited the use of traffic cameras in several large Iowa cities. The DOT adopted new rules in late 2013 to limit local governments' ability to install traffic cameras on or near highways. Those rules required cities to demonstrate that cameras were needed to address "critical safety issues," which could not be resolved by other means. Studies have produced conflicting data on whether cameras reduce red light or speeding infractions or vehicle accidents.

In March of this year, DOT officials ordered officials in six cities to shut off ten out of 34 traffic cameras cities had defended on safety grounds. The city of Davenport opted to comply with the DOT ruling, but five other cities asked department officials to reconsider the decision. (Although a reversal was unlikely, exhausting administrative appeals typically precedes legal action challenging a state agency's decision.)

This week, DOT Director Paul Trombino notified city officials in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, and Muscatine that the department was rejecting their appeals, because data did not demonstrate that the disputed cameras had improved safety or reduced crashes. Click through to read copies of the letters. The fifth city to appeal, Sioux City, filed a lawsuit last year challenging the DOT rules. A Woodbury County District Court is scheduled to hear that case soon. Des Moines officials plan to challenge the DOT in court as well. Cedar Rapids officials have not yet decided whether to file a lawsuit. After the jump I've enclosed excerpts from Kathy Bolten's report for the Des Moines Register and Rick Smith's for the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Local governments are generally responsible for enforcing traffic laws. I'll be interested to see whether Iowa courts back up the DOT's efforts to restrict those powers on or near major highways. According to Trombino, the Iowa Code allows the DOT to enforce limits on cameras for traffic enforcement. Whatever the courts decide, the state's multi-pronged assault on local control remains an under-reported story of Governor Terry Branstad's fifth and sixth terms.

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House seeks to block EPA water rule: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Tue May 12, 2015 at 22:59:22 PM CDT

The U.S. House voted today by 261 votes to 155 to prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from implementing the "waters of the United States" rule. The EPA released the final version of that rule last month. The American Farm Bureau Federation and other agribusiness groups have long bashed the proposed regulation as a threat to farmers. Last summer, Kyle Rabin wrote a clear and concise "debunking" of the Farm Bureau's deceptive hyperbole.

Today's votes to pass the "Regulatory Integrity Protection Act" came from 24 Democrats and all the Republicans present, including Representatives Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04). Meanwhile, Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted with most of the House Democrats against the bill--a pleasant surprise, since he voted for last year's version of the same legislation.

I've been accused of being hostile to Loebsack, in part because Bleeding Heartland has called attention to a few bad votes for Republican bills seeking to rein in the EPA. Some of those bills were merely silly, while others posed a real threat to public health if enacted. I appreciate that since last November's election, Loebsack has voted against several House GOP efforts to target the EPA. More like that, please.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. I haven't seen any official statement from the Iowans in Congress about today's vote, but I'll update this post as needed.

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Grassley, Ernst back Trade Promotion Authority as Senate vote fails

by: desmoinesdem

Tue May 12, 2015 at 20:03:40 PM CDT

Today Democrats in the U.S. Senate blocked a motion to proceed to debating a "fast-track" bill that would allow President Barack Obama "to negotiate new trade deals without amendments from Congress." Obama wants the authority so that he can negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which most Congressional Democrats oppose. The motion to proceed to debating the Trade Promotion Authority bill gained just 52 votes in favor (roll call), well short of the 60 needed for cloture. All of the Senate Republicans support the fast-track bill, including Iowa's Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst.

I enclose below statements from Grassley and Ernst on the trade issue and today's failed vote. Grassley called on Obama to "put the bully pulpit of the presidency" behind expanding trade. Perhaps he is not aware that within the last week, the president has used White House meetings, phone calls from Vice President Joe Biden, a high-profile speech, and at least one media interview to bring his fellow Democrats on board with his trade agenda. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and Senator Elizabeth Warren have been leading the opposition to fast-track trade authority. After today's vote, Obama met with ten Senate Democrats generally considered to be for expanded trade. Most of them would need to join Republicans to get to the 60 votes needed to proceed to debate or end debate on Senate bills.

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Coventry to keep selling policies on Iowa's health insurance exchange (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon May 11, 2015 at 13:00:00 PM CDT

Best news I've heard in a while: Coventry has told the Des Moines Register's Tony Leys that it will continue to sell health insurance through Iowa's exchange during 2016. Since the collapse of Co-Oportunity Health, Coventry has been the only provider selling individual and family policies on Iowa's exchange. If the company had opted out for 2016, roughly 40,000 Iowans who qualify for federal subsidies would have had no way to obtain that assistance, likely pricing them out of health insurance for next year.

The 800-pound gorilla of Iowa's insurance market, Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield, will yet again opt out of our state's exchange in 2016, Leys reported. Iowa's Insurance Commissioner Nick Gerhart lacks the power to force Wellmark to sell through the exchange, because Governor Terry Branstad insisted on forming a "partnership" exchange with the federal government, rather than a fully state-based exchange.

More competition in Iowa's health insurance market would be preferable; currently West Virginia is the only other state with just one company selling policies on the exchange. Still, Coventry's decision to stay for next year removes a huge threat to the well-being of thousands of Iowa families. I was worried that Coventry would cut their losses here after taking on most of the relatively expensive former Co-Oportunity customers.

The U.S. Supreme Court's pending ruling in King v Burwell remains another potential threat to the 40,000 Iowans who rely on federal subsidies to make health insurance affordable. It's not clear whether the Republican-controlled Congress could pass a fix if the high court rules that those subsidies are not allowed for Americans who purchase health insurance through the federal website. Some Republicans would be willing to address the problem to preserve access to health care for millions, but others would insist on a full repeal of "Obamacare," the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

UPDATE: At least one other company will also offer health insurance for 2016 through Iowa's exchange. Excerpts from Leys' updated report for the Des Moines Register are after the jump.

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Joni Ernst plans to retire from National Guard next year

by: desmoinesdem

Mon May 11, 2015 at 07:18:59 AM CDT

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst plans to retire as a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard "within the next year," she announced on Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press" program. Click here to watch the whole video or read the full transcript from the May 8 edition; I've enclosed the relevant portion after the jump. Ernst explained that it is "very hard" to balance her obligations as a senator with her National Guard and desire to spend time with her family. She said she would probably retire in about a year, to give plenty of time to train her replacement.

Stepping back from military service to focus more fully on the U.S. Senate is the right decision for lots of reasons. I didn't expect Ernst to make that choice, given how central her identity as a soldier has been to her political image, from the beginning to the end of her Senate campaign.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S.- In what struck me as the most interesting part of Ernst's "Iowa Press" appearance, Iowa's junior senator sounded like a veteran pol as she thwarted three experienced panelists' best efforts to get her to commit to specific federal spending cuts. The portion comes just before the discussion of Ernst's National Guard work. Referring to recent budget votes in the Senate, Radio Iowa's O. Kay Henderson asked Ernst, "as you funnel more money to the Pentagon, what are you going to cut elsewhere to make up for that?" After Ernst gave a meandering non-response, Iowa Public Television's Dean Borg tried to follow up with another question about what domestic programs might need to be cut, but no dice. The Des Moines Register's Kathie Obradovich then asked, "You campaigned on cutting pork [...]. Who are you going to be making squeal?" Ernst responded with more vague talk ("we really do have to look at government and what we're doing"), plus a few examples of cuts that wouldn't add up to any meaningful amount in the context of the whole federal budget.  

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Weekend open thread: Flawed election polling edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun May 10, 2015 at 10:57:11 AM CDT

What's on your mind this weekend? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Happy Mother's Day to those who enjoy the holiday, and healing thoughts to those for whom today is a difficult reminder of bereavements or a less than ideal mother/child relationship. In past years, Bleeding Heartland has compiled Mother's Day-related links here, here, here, and here.

My most substantive post about mothering was not related to the holiday: My case against Hanna Rosin's case against breastfeeding.

Since Thursday I've been caught up in news about the May 7 general election in the United Kingdom. While polls predicted a few of the results, such as Scottish National Party gains in Scotland and devastation for the Liberal Democrats nearly everywhere, no one anticipated such a large popular vote lead for the Conservative Party, which gave the Tories enough seats to form a government without any coalition partners. As election day approached, it appears that polling firms were "herding" to avoid releasing a survey that could be an embarrassing outlier. Nate Silver discussed the phenomenon of pollsters "putting a thumb on the scale" after last year's midterm election.

Damian Lyons Lowe, founder of the British polling firm Survation, admitted here that his company "chickened out" of publishing data from a telephone poll taken the day before the UK election, because "the results seemed so 'out of line' with all the polling conducted by ourselves and our peers." That final Survation poll turned out to be close to predicting the popular vote share for the Tories and Labour.

Facing a similar situation last fall, the Des Moines Register's pollster Ann Selzer stood by her final numbers for Iowa's U.S. Senate race. That poll looked like an outlier to me and many others, but Selzer was wise not to chicken out or tweak the numbers to follow the herd.

So far this year, various Iowa polls on the presidential candidates in both parties have largely agreed with one another. Most recently, Quinnipiac found a statistically significant lead for Scott Walker and a "scramble for second place" on the Republican side and a huge gap between Hillary Clinton and the rest of the Democratic field. I'm curious to see whether survey findings from different firms will start to diverge as we get closer to the Iowa caucuses early next year.

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