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Iowa Congressional voting roundup: Defense bill and budget cuts

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 20:23:19 PM CST


Iowa's five representatives all voted no intended to vote no as the U.S. House approved the conference committee report on the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act today. UPDATE: Steve King meant to vote no but mistakenly voted yes. Details below.

The Iowans split on party lines over a bill designed to replace the "sequester" scheduled for early next year with deep spending cuts in non-defense domestic programs.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders retreated from a planned vote on House Speaker John Boehner's "Plan B" to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff" at the end of the calendar year.

Follow me after the jump for details on all of the above.

desmoinesdem :: Iowa Congressional voting roundup: Defense bill and budget cuts
Although the White House has issued a veto threat over the $633 billion National Defense Authorization Act, I am skeptical that President Barack Obama will follow through on that threat.

The House approved the conference report on the defense authorization bill by 315 votes to 107 (roll call). According to the official roll call, Steve King (IA-05, soon to be IA-04) voted for the bill, while the 30 Republicans opposing the bill included Tom Latham (IA-04, soon to be IA-03). However, a press release from King (enclosed below) indicates that he opposed this conference report. I don't know whether the House clerk recorded King's vote incorrectly, or whether King accidentally pushed the wrong button. UPDATE: King's press secretary relayed this statement submitted for the Congressional Record:

"Mr. KING of Iowa. Mr. Speaker, this evening on rollcall No. 645, the Conference Report for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, I intended to vote ``no'' but mistakenly cast a ``yes'' vote. "

The 77 Democrats opposing the bill included all three Iowans: Bruce Braley (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02), and Leonard Boswell (IA-03).

Last year Braley was the only Iowan to vote against the defense authorization bill in the House, and when the House passed its version of the 2013 authorization bill earlier this year, Braley again expressed concern about the large continuing U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Iowa's not-really-anti-war not-really-liberal Democrat Loebsack has also called for bringing troops home from Afghanistan, but the current U.S. policy has never bothered him enough to vote against the defense authorization bill.

The conference report approved today contains many contentious provisions: language about habeas corpus rights for U.S. citizens, spending levels above what Congress authorized in the 2011 Budget Control Act, and a provision "that could allow discrimination against gay and lesbian service members and other minorities in the military." Yet none of those major issues changed the calculus for Latham, King, Loebsack, and Boswell. Their opposition stemmed solely from the House-Senate conference committee's decision to scrap language designed to protect the Iowa National Guard's 132nd Fighter Wing, based in Des Moines.

Loebsack serves on the House Armed Services Committee and was on the conference committee hashing out the final version of this bill. However, he was greatly disappointed by the result, judging from his statement on the House floor today and the press release he sent out later.

Washington, D.C. - Congressman Dave Loebsack released the following statement after the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was voted on by the House of Representatives.  Loebsack authored a bipartisan amendment that blocked retirement of the Iowa National Guard's 132nd Fighter Wing in the House-passed version of the bill and fought against allowing the proposed cuts to move forward in the final bill. For the first time, Loebsack did not sign the conference report and opposed passage of the bill. Click here to view Loebsack's floor speech.

"The men and women of the 132nd have fought for our nation time and again and are one of the most experienced and cost-effective units in the country.  When the Pentagon initially announced their short-sighted plan to retire the F-16s, I spearheaded the bipartisan effort to stop it because they could not demonstrate why it was a good deal for taxpayers or our national security. They still have not provided that justification.  I strongly opposed this decision and therefore could not support the bill.

"I am also strongly opposed to a provision that would affect the Pentagon's civilian workforce, possibly including positions such as those at Rock Island Arsenal.  The men and women at Rock Island Arsenal work every day in support of our troops and make essential and cost-effective contributions to our national security.  While savings and efficiencies can be found in the defense budget, arbitrary reductions without strategy or analysis, like what this proposal calls for, undermines national security efforts like those at Rock Island Arsenal and hurts good jobs and the local economy in the Quad Cities.

"While I cannot support the underlying bill because of these misguided proposals, I am proud to have worked to include many provisions that will support our military families, National Guard and Reserve, and the Rock Island Arsenal."

Specific Loebsack initiatives in the bill include:

Stops BRAC
·         Congressman Loebsack fought against the approval of new BRAC rounds since the proposal was first announced.  The final bill prevents DOD from carrying out new BRAC rounds.

Rock Island Arsenal Workload
·         Congressmen Loebsack worked to include language that directs DOD to identify the critical manufacturing capabilities provided by arsenals and determine the amount of work that is required to maintain them in peacetime which will be incorporated into a national security strategy for our industrial base.  It also requires the creation of a strategic workload plan to maintain arsenals' critical capabilities.

Housing Benefits Fix for National Guard
·         Also included in the NDAA, was Loebsack's legislation that prohibits reductions in the rate of Basic Allowance for Housing for members of the National Guard who transition from full time National Guard duty to active duty or from active duty to full time National Guard duty. Under current policy, some National Guardsmen who make this transition see their benefits reduced at a time when they and their families can least afford it because of a policy that changes how their benefits are calculated.  This issue was raised with Loebsack by the Iowa National Guard Officers and Enlisted Associations and he acted to fix it.

National Guard Counterdrug Schools
·         The legislation reauthorizes the National Guard Counterdrug Schools like the Iowa Guard runs at Camp Dodge (the Midwest Counterdrug Training Center). The Center provides critical training to local law enforcement from across Iowa and the country to help keep drugs off of our streets.

Travel Benefits for National Guard and Reserve Retirees
·         The legislation includes a provision similar to bipartisan legislation Loebsack co-introduced to allow expansion of full Space Available travel benefits on military aircraft to "gray area" retirees (National Guard members or Reservists who are eligible for retirement but under the age of 60) and surviving spouses. This issue was also raised with Loebsack by the Iowa National Guard Officers and Enlisted Associations, and Loebsack has worked on a bipartisan basis to provide these benefits.

Pay Raise for troops
·         As a member of the Military Personnel Subcommittee, Loebsack worked to provide a 1.7 percent pay increase in pay for our troops.

King's statement made clear that he would have voted for the defense authorization bill if not for the impending Air National Guard cuts (emphasis in original):

King Votes Against Removing Fighter Wing From Des Moines

Washington, DC- Congressman Steve King released the following statement after voting against the Conference Report for the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) today because of a provision that removes the strategically important and valuable Iowa Air National Guard 132nd Fighter Wing from Des Moines, Iowa. King is an original co-sponsor of Congressman Tom Latham's bill, the Stop Unjustified Cuts to the Air Guard Act, which will require sufficient justification for making cuts to the Air National Guard in Des Moines.

"This year's NDAA eliminates 21 F-16 Fighters from the Air National Guard's 132nd Fighter Wing in Des Moines.  These cuts are not based on our nation's strategic needs or a thorough cost benefit analysis." said King. "The version of the NDAA that the House and Senate passed in March would have prevented this, but this new version of the NDAA disregards the expressed will of majorities of both houses of Congress. It is ultimately more cost effective and strategically sound to keep the 132nd Fighter Wing's F-16s in Des Moines, so I will be unable to support passage of the 2013 NDAA Conference Report.

I have not yet seen statements about the defense authorization vote from Braley, Latham, or Boswell, but will update this post as necessary. Earlier this week, Latham had this to say.

Washington, Dec 17 - Iowa Congressman Tom Latham today blasted U.S. House and Senate Defense reauthorization negotiators for dropping a provision that would have temporarily blocked the White House's planned retirement of the Iowa Air National Guard's 132nd Fighter Wing F-16s. The provision, which was passed earlier in the year by both the House and Senate chambers, was reportedly dropped by negotiators who have been crafting a final version of the legislation which authorizes all defense spending for the new fiscal year.

"The negotiators have defied the will of House and Senate members who voted for the need to review the full national security implications and proper cost-benefit analysis of this agreement. I oppose this plan that in essence complies with the White House's proposal to retire the F-16s of the 132nd Fighter Wing, and I will vote against this legislation when it is considered by the House."

Congressman Latham originally worked with his colleagues in the House to include language in appropriations and reauthorization bills to freeze the proposed retirement of all Air Force aircraft until the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office could review a cost-benefit analysis. The U.S. Senate approved the same language in their versions of the bills. The language was supported by Latham to block an Air Force plan to retire the Des Moines-based F-16s.

"The 132nd Fighter Wing has been an exemplary unit of the U.S. Air Force," Congressman Latham said. "I do not believe that the Air Force's recommendation to close this fighter wing was based on thorough cost-benefit analysis, and I will continue working to ensure that defense spending decisions are based on solid data and strengthening our national security."

Latham pledged to continue the fight to protect the 132nd's current mission and block the White House plan to retire the F-16 mission through every tool available to him. This includes introducing standalone legislation in the coming days that mirrors the language previously approved by the House and Senate.

BACKGROUND

The White House has proposed an Air Force-recommended reduction of hundreds of Iowa Air Guard positions due to recent recommendations to retire 21 F-16s in the Des Moines-based 132nd Fighter Wing as part of cost-saving measures. Congressman Latham has spoken out repeatedly against the proposed Iowa Air Guard cuts, and has met with National Guard officials and Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley in an effort to find a better way forward. Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee in April, Congressman Latham criticized the proposal because of the absence of a cost-benefit analysis and the irreversible elimination of the considerable experience amassed by the decorated fighter wing.

All five Iowans are co-sponsoring a separate bill to save the Air National Guard unit in Des Moines. Braley called this bill a "last-ditch effort," while the Des Moines Register's William Petroski described it as a Hail Mary pass. To me it looks like a face-saving attempt to show that you tried to do something. Latham's office released this statement today:

LATHAM'S BILL PROTECTS IOWA AIR NATIONAL GUARD FROM CUTS CONTAINED IN DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION AGREEMENT
Legislation Would Preserve Iowa Air Guard F-16s Targeted for Retirement by White House, Create New Reporting Requirements for Future Air Force Decisions

Washington, Dec 20 - A decision from House and Senate negotiators on the FY 2013 defense authorization bill to eliminate the F-16s of the Iowa Air National Guard's 132nd Fighter Wing simply won't fly, according to Iowa Congressman Tom Latham. Latham today introduced legislation that would subject White House-backed, arbitrary cuts to Air Force aircraft contained in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conference report to an independent cost-benefit analysis, and prevent the cuts from taking effect before such an analysis were complete.

Latham worked with colleagues over the past several months to ensure that similar legislative language was contained in both the House-passed and Senate-passed versions of the NDAA, but the bicameral conference committee tasked with smoothing over differences between the two bills dropped the provision despite robust bipartisan support not to do so.

"House and Senate negotiators erred in adopting the White House's wrongheaded plan to cut key Air Force assets without proper justification, and my bill would make amends for their mistake," Congressman Latham said. "Choosing to eliminate a historically successful and reliable fighter wing like the 132nd is a serious decision, and to not weigh the consequences with a cost-benefit analysis and an evaluation of the national security implications is just foolish."

"Because the final version of the NDAA contains these cutbacks without proper reasoning, I am calling on President Obama to veto the bill," Latham added, citing his belief that it is now up to the President to halt the cuts and start over on a clean sheet of paper or make the cuts reality with his signature of the NDAA. "Iowa helped launch the President's national ambitions four years ago and played a key role this November in extending his tenure. His extensive knowledge of our state and our economy from his many visits should make the case very clear that he must halt his administration's flawed plan and support Iowa jobs and national security."

Latham's bill has the backing of each member of the Iowa delegation, including Congressman Leonard Boswell, who is the lead Democratic cosponsor of the bill.

Braley's office sent out this press release (emphasis in original):

Braley Joins Latham and Iowa Delegation in Last-Ditch Effort to Block Des Moines Air National Guard Cuts

Washington, D.C. - Rep. Bruce Braley (IA-01) joined Rep. Tom Latham and the rest of the Iowa House delegation today to sponsor a last-ditch legislative effort aimed at blocking cuts to the Iowa Air National Guard Unit located in Des Moines.

A House-Senate compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act pending before Congress would eliminate F-16 fighter jets based at the Air National Guard's 132nd Fighter Wing in Des Moines.

If passed, the Iowa delegation's bill would effectively block elimination of these fighters.

"Eliminating the F-16 presence in Des Moines is the wrong idea, both from a national security standpoint and a cost-effectiveness standpoint," Braley said.  "The Iowa delegation is going to keep fighting this poor decision by the Air Force as long as we possibly can, and I'm proud to join in this effort."

The text of the bill can be downloaded at the following link:  http://1.usa.gov/VchyCX

Both of Iowa's U.S. Senators have supported language to save the Air National Guard unit in Des Moines, but this week Chuck Grassley acknowledged that the battle is lost. Speaking to Iowa reporters by conference call today, Senator Tom Harkin was inclined to see the glass as half-full.

All members of the Iowa delegation are supporting the move [Latham's last-ditch bill], but Senator Tom Harkin says the alternative also needs to be given a good look. "While I may have some concerns about this, I think we have to recognized what the future is," Harkin says.

"And the future, Des Moines now could become sort of the first of the air wings anywhere in the United States to actually be fully drone capable. And that's going to be a growing part of our defense structure in the future." Harkin says the use of manned fighter jets is not going to be as big a part of the future of the military.

He says the plan to replace the F-16s with drones may be a better option. "Even though I have been a very strong supporter of keeping the F-16s there - I guess maybe that's because I am a pilot - the more I look at it and the more I analyze it, the more there is a possibility that what is in the Defense Authorization Bill could actually move Des Moines to the forefront," Harkin says.

Harkin says having the most up-to-date technology may have more benefits. "That could be a growing prospect for our airwing, especially in the National Guard in Iowa. So I think that is something that has to be looked at too," Harkin says.

The other high-profile House vote today was on the Spending Reduction Act of 2012, designed to replace automatic spending cuts that are due to go into effect early next year. That "sequester" stems from the Budget Control Act, which resolved the crisis over raising the debt ceiling in August 2011.

Pete Kasperowicz summarized the key points in the Spending Reduction Act for The Hill:

The House just barely passed a bill Thursday that would replace the pending defense sequester with new and deeper cuts to entitlements and other social programs, a controversial vote that Republicans see as a backstop in case President Obama and the White House can't negotiate a way around the "fiscal cliff." [...]

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), returned from his campaign as GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's running mate, defended the bill as a way to trim waste and abuse from the federal government in order to limit the need for tax hikes on small companies.

"What we are trying to do here is limit the damage to the taxpayer," he said.

Democrats blasted the proposal as one that would spare defense programs but apply deeper cuts to needed social programs, and avoided ending tax breaks for oil companies. Democrats proposed a motion to take up their proposals, but the GOP House rejected them.

Among other things, the Spending Reduction Act would trim spending in the federal food stamp program, end child tax credit for non-U.S. citizens, cancel the Home Affordable Modification Program that the GOP has said is ineffective, and terminate a health prevention fund that the GOP has criticized as a slush fund.

The Democratic alternative to this bill failed on a mostly party-line vote, with Braley, Loebsack, and Boswell in favor and Latham and King against.

The Republican bill barely passed by 215 votes to 209 (roll call). Not a single House Democrat voted for this bill, and 21 Republicans defied their leadership. I thought King might be among the dissidents, but he and Latham were in the yes column. Perhaps King didn't want to anger House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor right after landing his first subcommittee chairmanship.

Boehner suffered a big defeat later this evening, when House leaders were forced to abandon a vote on his "Plan B" alternative on tax rates. Boehner's bill would have extended the Bush tax cuts for all income up to $1 million. President Obama campaigned on ending the lower tax rates for income above $250,000, but earlier this week he provisionally agreed to raise that level to $400,000.

Boehner talked up his prospects for passing Plan B this week, but just before today's scheduled vote, House Republicans called a recess and argued in conference.

One Republican in the conference meeting, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said after Boehner addressed the conference, freshman Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) took the microphone and emotionally laid into his colleagues.
"What are you guys doing?" Kelly said. "How the hell can you do this to the Speaker?"

Shouting ensued among members, and then Boehner returned to the microphone to calm lawmakers down, telling them there were people "of good will" on both sides of the issue, the House Republican said. [...]

House Republicans emerged from the brief conference meeting in stone-faced shock and disarray.

"We have different approaches to this problem and we just couldn't get enough consensus," Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) said. "I opposed it. There weren't enough votes to make it pass...without us being on the same page with the same strategy, we decided as a group not to move forward."

"This is a victory for conservative principles," said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) a conservative stalwart punished by leaders for frequently opposing them. He had held a press conference on Wednesday to denounce Boehner's bill.

All of the House Democrats were sure to vote against "Plan B." I haven't seen any public statements on this proposal from King or Latham, but The Hill reported that King promised to vote yes, a "Big get for GOP leaders." In the past, King has promised many times not to support tax increases for any income level. On the other hand, that new subcommittee chairmanship may have put him in a more favorable state of mind.

Latham declined to tell reporters for The Hill whether he would vote for "Plan B," but given how close he is to Boehner, I'm confident he would have ended up in the yes column.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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