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Congress passes "fast-track" trade promotion authority: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jun 25, 2015 at 07:14:58 AM CDT

Less than two weeks after an embarrassing defeat for President Barack Obama's trade agenda, a trade promotion authority bill is headed to the president's desk. The trade promotion authority legislation, often called "fast-track" or TPA,

will allow the White House to send trade deals to Congress for up-or-down votes. The Senate will not be able to filibuster them, and lawmakers will not have the power to amend them.

The expedited process, which lasts until 2018 and can be extended until 2021, greatly increases Obama's chances of concluding negotiations on the TPP [12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership], which is a top goal of the president's.

Follow me after the jump for details on how the Iowans in Congress voted on the latest trade-related bills. Bleeding Heartland covered the Iowans' legislative maneuvering in late May and early June here. For background and context, I highly recommend David Dayen's article for The American Prospect magazine, which covers the modern history of trade negotiations and how fast-track emerged some 40 years ago. Dayen also explores "the political transfer of power, away from Congress and into a potent but relatively obscure executive branch office: the United States Trade Representative (USTR)."

I also enclose below some Iowa reaction to the latest Congressional voting on trade. Representative Steve King (IA-04) highlighted one angle I hadn't heard before, claiming victory because new language allegedly will prevent the president from negotiating provisions on climate change or immigration in trade agreements. UPDATE: Those provisions may not stay in the related bill King is counting on. More on that below.

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House rebuffs Obama on trade bill; how the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jun 12, 2015 at 16:15:02 PM CDT

A rare visit to Capitol Hill by President Barack Obama wasn't enough to bring House Democrats on board with a crucial companion bill for "fast-track" trade authority today. The House rejected the trade adjustment assistance bill by a surprisingly wide margin of 126 to 302 (roll call). A few minutes later, House members narrowly approved the other part of the trade legislation by 219 votes to 211 (roll call). However, the fast-track package can't reach Obama's desk without both parts clearing the lower chamber. David Dayen explained the significance of the votes well at Salon. I've enclosed excerpts from his analysis below, but you should click through to read the whole piece. Dayen lays out several possible next steps for Congressional leaders who support giving Obama fast-track authority, with a view to approving a new Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Splitting the trade bill into two House votes was a gambit to let the trade adjustment assistance language pass with primarily Democratic support, while the fast-track language passed with primarily Republican support. As Dayen describes, the concept has worked for decades but didn't pan out today. Only 40 Democrats fell in line with Obama, while 144 voted against the trade adjustment assistance provisions, including Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02). Representative Steve King (IA-04) also voted against the trade adjustment assistance language, even as Rod Blum (IA-01) and David Young (IA-03) were among the 86 Republicans to vote yes. All three Iowa Republicans were in the yes column on the subsequent vote for the fast-track language. Loebsack again voted no, as did all but 28 House Democrats. After the jump I've enclosed Blum's statement; I will update as needed with comments from the other Iowans in Congress.

Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both supported the fast-track trade bill the U.S. Senate approved last month by 62 votes to 37 (roll call). They have consistently supported trade promotion authority for the president. In that Senate vote, Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Lindsey Graham voted for fast-track, while Rand Paul voted no, along with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

In case you missed it, I highly recommend State Representative Chuck Isenhart's warning that the "Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement could threaten our ability to enforce state laws." Conservatives as well as progressives have reason to fear that outcome.

UPDATE: Added below more Iowa political reaction to these votes. House leaders will bring the trade adjustment assistance legislation up for another vote next week.

SECOND UPDATE: Added a statement from Monica Vernon, one of Blum's three Democratic challengers in IA-01. She opposes fast-track legislation.

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Iowans split on party lines as House repeals country-of-origin labeling for meat

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jun 11, 2015 at 10:00:33 AM CDT

The U.S. House voted yesterday to "repeal country-of-origin labeling requirements for beef, pork and chicken products." The U.S. Department of Agriculture has required meat products to list the country of origin since 2009 and most recently revised the rule in 2013.

Multiple polls have found that some 90 percent of American adults support country-of-origin labeling for meat. U.S. courts have repeatedly upheld the rule. However, last October the World Trade Organization ruled in favor of a challenge brought by Canada and Mexico, saying the U.S. labeling rule unfairly discriminates against imported meat products. Last month the WTO rejected the U.S. appeal of that decision, though advocates of the rule say reduced consumer demand for imported meat stemmed from the "Great Recession" beginning in 2008, rather than from labeling requirements. A broad coalition of farm, labor, environmental, and consumer groups have long opposed any change to country-of-origin labeling. This week, 282 organizations urged the U.S. House not to repeal the rule, while more than 100 business and industry groups advocated repeal to avoid retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods.

Yesterday House members easily passed the Country of Origin Labeling Amendments Act of 2015 by 300 votes to 131 (roll call). Iowa Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) were among the 234 GOP representatives to support the bill. The Democratic caucus was more divided, with 66 House members in favor of repealing the labeling rule and 121 opposed. Iowa's Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted against the bill.

Senator Chuck Grassley told reporters this week, "I'm still a supporter of COOL (country-of-origin labeling) but I also recognize the rule of law and international trade has to be respected and I want to respect it." Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill, "The White House has not issued a Statement of Administration Policy regarding the [country-of-origin labeling] legislation."

UPDATE: King spoke on the House floor in favor of this bill; you can view his remarks here. Among other things, he said the current labeling rule penalizes Iowa farmers raising pigs that were born in Canadian farrowing operations.

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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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The Phony Estate Tax Farm Confiscation Ploy

by: daveswen

Thu Apr 16, 2015 at 18:24:11 PM CDT

(Thanks for this post on an important and timely issue. Iowa's three Republicans in the U.S. House all voted for the estate tax repeal that passed today; Democratic Representative Dave Loebsack voted against it. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Dave Swenson

Senator John Thune, from my home state of South Dakota, has a degree in business and an MBA.  He knows little of tax math, incidence, or outcomes from what I can tell. Like many mouthpieces on many topics, he doesn't let facts get in the way of a heartfelt story, though.  And the best story the GOP has spun over the last decade or so is the tale of woe and intrigue associated with the dreaded federal estate tax, which they've disingenuously rebranded as the "death tax."

Thune co-sponsored the just-passed House bill to eliminate the federal estate tax and at that time said:

For too long the federal government has forced grieving families to pay a tax on their loved one's life savings that has been built from income already taxed when originally earned. Currently more than 70 percent of family businesses do not survive to the second generation, and 90 percent of family businesses do not survive to the third generation.

Without citing one example, Thune intimated that the federal estate tax was destroying or would destroy businesses and was terrorizing grieving survivors.

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Weekend open thread: Iowa Agriculture Summit edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Mar 08, 2015 at 17:21:55 PM CDT

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

Confession: I didn't watch any speeches at the Iowa Agriculture Summit. I followed some through many people's tweets and caught up on the rest through Pat Rynard's liveblog at Iowa Starting Line. As expected, given the background of moderator and organizer Bruce Rastetter, the event was no non-partisan issue forum. The audience for this "informercial for agribusiness" was overwhelmingly Republican, and some Democrats who wanted to attend were turned away at the door.

I enjoyed one person's comment on the "twilight zone trifecta": watching a parade of Republicans profess their love for government mandates (the Renewable Fuels Standard), subsidies, and science. The same person observed that the summit was "a textbook course on cognitive dissonance as hatred for @EPA clashes w/ begging them for #RFS mandates." Speaking of cognitive dissonance, how about former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckbee (an ordained Christian minister) criticizing immigrants who come to this country for free "goodies" and "a bowl of food."

Former Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge was the only Democrat to accept Rastetter's invitation to speak at the event. Rynard saw that as a "missed opportunity" for other Democrats, but I believe there is little upside to validating Rastetter as some kind of neutral authority or referee. He isn't, and he never will be. Judge was reportedly well-received, probably because she's not running for any political office again.

Some important problems facing Iowa farmers didn't come up much, if at all, in Rastetter's Q&A format. Soil erosion is not only a major factor in water pollution but also a costly trend for the agricultural sector. Rick Cruse of Iowa State University has researched the economic costs of soil loss and the associated impact on crop yields. Iowans who wanted to learn about those issues were better off attending a different event in Des Moines on March 7: the Raccoon River Watershed Association's ninth annual Iowa Water Quality conference. Excerpts from Ben Rodgers' report for the Des Moines Register are after the jump.

Final related note: on Friday, Sena Christian profiled four women farmers who are "stepping up to sustain the land." One of them is LaVon Griffieon of Ankeny, a superstar whom I'm proud to call a friend. Click through to read Christian's post at Civil Eats.

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Des Moines Register spins for Jeb Bush ahead of Iowa Ag Summit (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Mar 07, 2015 at 09:35:36 AM CST

Ten potential Republican presidential candidates will speak at Bruce Rastetter's Iowa Agriculture Summit today, and a few more may send videotaped remarks. But only one GOP contender was the focus of a long and flattering feature by the Des Moines Register's chief political correspondent the day before the event.

When Jeb Bush hired longtime Iowa GOP consultant David Kochel, I figured friendly coverage in the Register would be coming to the former Florida governor. During last year's U.S. Senate campaign, just about every line Joni Ernst's backers wanted out there ended up in some Des Moines Register piece by Jennifer Jacobs. Still, Jacobs' spread on Bush in Friday's Des Moines Register shocked me. The message could hardly have been more perfectly tailored for Iowa Republicans if Bush's spin doctors had written it themselves.

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Democrats should skip Bruce Rastetter's Iowa Agriculture Forum

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Feb 05, 2015 at 17:58:09 PM CST

Seven potential Republican presidential candidates have accepted Bruce Rastetter's invitation to attend an "Iowa Agricultural Forum" in Des Moines next month, Erin Murphy reported yesterday. The seven are Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and national laughingstock sorry, entrepreneur Donald Trump. No doubt more Republicans will show up to be heard as well.

Rastetter also invited U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack as well as a half-dozen Democrats who may run for president this cycle or in the future: Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, and former U.S. Senator Jim Webb. So far no Democrats have accepted the invitation.

I hope they all steer clear of this event.

It's a bit late for Rastetter to reinvent himself as some kind of non-partisan elder statesman. He provided the seed money for the 501(c)4 group American Future Fund, which quickly grew into one of the biggest-spending and most deceptive dark money groups on the right. After leading an effort to bring Terry Branstad out of political retirement, Rastetter became the top individual donor to Branstad's 2010 campaign, landing a prestigious appointment to the influential Board of Regents. As a Regent, he has thrown his weight around more than most of his predecessors. In what many viewed as a conflict of interest, Rastetter continued to pursue a business project involving his biofuels company and Iowa State University in an extensive land acquisition in Tanzania. Later, he tried to get the University of Iowa's president to arrange a meeting where biofuels industry representatives could educate a prominent professor whom Rastetter considered "uninformed" about ethanol. Rastetter was also involved in the fiasco that eventually led to Senator Tom Harkin pulling his papers from Iowa State University.

Early in the 2012 election cycle, Rastetter led a group of Iowa businessmen who tried to recruit New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to run for president. Although he is now cultivating an image as a corporate leader who is above the political fray, he will always be seen as a Republican power-broker in Iowa. I don't see much upside to any Democrat showing up to kiss Rastetter's ring. At best, the national and local reporters covering the Agriculture Forum will write about the "frosty reception" Democratic speakers got from a conservative audience. Or more likely, disruption by hecklers will overshadow any Democratic message on agricultural policy.

Democrats who may run for president will have lots of opportunities this year to address Iowans who might actually listen to them.  

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A Look at the Geography of Iowa's Recovery

by: daveswen

Mon Feb 02, 2015 at 11:57:10 AM CST

(Check the charts after the jump to see how strong job growth in Iowa's larger metros has been obscuring persistent economic problems in smaller cities and rural areas. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Dave Swenson 
 
2 February 2015
 
Just-released numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics help us understand how well the state’s economy performed last year.  In all, though growing by 1.3 percent, Iowa added jobs at a slower pace than the rest of the nation. That makes sense as Iowa’s population growth lags the nation’s, and it also did not contract as much as the nation during the Great Recession and therefore had less ground to make up as the rest of the U.S.  The state’s economy has mostly recovered when measured at the state level, but there are still issues about our recovery that need to be acknowledged.  The first is the continued and systematic decline in manufacturing jobs, and the second is the comparatively poorer performance of nonmetropolitan Iowa during our long and slow recovery.

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Links and news from Joni Ernst's first day as a U.S. senator

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jan 07, 2015 at 12:15:00 PM CST

Joni Ernst was sworn in yesterday (twice) as Iowa's first new U.S. senator in 30 years. You can view the ceremonial repeat swearing in on KCCI's website. Vice President Joe Biden complimented Ernst on her "great victory". He also made an inappropriate comment to one of her daughters. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham gave Ernst a livestock castration device mounted on a plaque engraved with the words, "MAKE 'EM SQUEAL, JONI!"

Ernst is the first woman ever to represent Iowa in Congress, and while I think many women who came before her were more worthy of the honor, it's good that the young generation will not grow up wondering whether Iowans would ever elect a woman to high office.

I'd been looking forward to see how Ernst would set the tone on her first day in the Senate. For the last two months, she has been dodging interviews--sorry, "keeping a low profile." She hired staff and made time for her first foreign junket (a trip to Israel bankrolled by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), but she has said little of substance about any current events. Watching Ernst's first official remarks after being sworn in, I felt disappointed to hear a rehash of her stump speech. In two months she could have come up with something more than "it is certainly a long way from Red Oak to Washington, D.C" and "As a mother, soldier and independent voice [....]" I would like to know whether she has specific goals and legislation she wants to help pass. Instead, we got more vague talk about the "Iowa Way," "working with our neighbors to find solutions to the many problems we face." Ernst plans to visit all 99 counties every year. I hope at those town-hall events, Iowans will press for real comments about real issues.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. After the jump I've enclosed the full transcript of Ernst's video remarks yesterday, a list of her key staff hires, and excerpts from her recent interview with Kathie Obradovich. Ernst is "anxious to get to work." I would advise her not to miss a single hearing of any of the four committees to which she has been assigned (Agriculture, Armed Services, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs). Her campaign's attacks Bruce Braley set the standard: missing a committee meeting = not doing your job and not caring about people.

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High Nitrate in the Water Supply: Why Now?

by: Dendroica

Mon Dec 22, 2014 at 23:01:24 PM CST

(Thanks for this guest diary. Previous surges in nitrate levels happened in the spring or summer. The Des Moines Water Works is considering legal action to force the state of Iowa to adopt a more than voluntary nutrient reduction strategy. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

It may come as a surprise to some that the measurements of nitrogen levels in the Raccoon River are extremely high. The result is that the drinking water for the Greater Des Moines area (about 500,000 customers) costs more because Des Moines Water Works must reduce the levels before you and I can drink the water.

The US EPA has established a maximum of 10 milligrams per liter for nitrogen in the form of nitrate, the more stable and more threatening form of nitrogen in water. (10 mg/l is the same as 10 parts per million, or ppm). Above that level, infants under six months of age are at risk for "blue baby syndrome" and shortness of breath. See this EPA web page for more: http://water.epa.gov/…/contami…/basicinformation/nitrate.cfm

The surprise isn't that nitrate levels are high - it's happened before - but that the levels are over the EPA standard in the wintertime. Usually late fall and winter see very low nitrogen levels.


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Iowa seen benefiting from normalized relations with Cuba

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Dec 18, 2014 at 13:09:24 PM CST

President Barack Obama announced yesterday that the U.S. would normalize relations with Cuba after about a year of secret negotiations involving Canada and Pope Francis. On hearing the news, my first thought was that when the Soviet Union collapsed, I would never have believed it would be another 23 years before this happened. My second thought was that expanded trade with Cuba would help Iowa's economy. Matt Milner reported for the Ottumwa Courier that agricultural groups are bullish on the news. I've posted excerpts from his story after the jump. Key point:

A paper written in 2003 for Iowa State University's Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, shortly after some restrictions were lifted, said Iowa could benefit more from increased Cuban trade than any other state aside from Arkansas and California.

I was surprised not to see more reaction to yesterday's news from members of Iowa's Congressional delegation. I know everyone's gone home for the Christmas recess, but still--big news. I will update this post as needed.

Several possible presidential candidates commented on the new U.S. approach to Cuba. Senator Rand Paul was supportive, saying Obama's decision was a "good idea" since the American embargo against Cuba "just hasn't worked." Republicans who bashed the president on this issue included former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has advocated normal relations with Cuba for some time.

UPDATE: Bleeding Heartland user cocinero posted Senator Chuck Grassley's reaction in the comments.

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Iowa Farm Bureau: Voice of Hypocrisy and Big Business

by: Mark Langgin

Mon Dec 01, 2014 at 10:36:57 AM CST

(The facts about the Farm Bureau should be more widely known. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

(*Cross-Posted from Op-Ed by Mike Delaney, President of Citizens for a Healthy Iowa)

As the new year approaches, many of us resolve to better align our actions with our best selves, by supporting organizations that help to build healthier families and stronger communities, and seeking to make our world a better place. This week, against this backdrop, the Iowa Farm Bureau (IFB) hosts its annual convention in Des Moines.

(for the full report and background go to www.FarmBureauExposed.com

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New Big 10 Rivalry? Iowa can compete with Maryland on clean water

by: openureyes

Mon Nov 24, 2014 at 22:09:02 PM CST

(Thanks to State Representative Chuck Isenhart for the guest commentary. He is ranking member on the Iowa House Environmental Protection Committee and liaison to the state Watershed Planning Advisory Council. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Iowans want clean water, but that has not motivated Iowa policymakers to tackle water pollution.

Rather, the driving fear is stronger regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because of the "dead zone." That 5,000-square-mile area in the Gulf of Mexico has become toxic to life because of nitrogen and phosphorus, mostly from farm runoff. Iowa and Illinois are the top culprits.

The state's "nutrient reduction strategy" is a narrow approach designed not to clean up Iowa's water in our lifetimes, but to forestall specific federal limits on polluted water. The plan is focused on how to manage fertilizer. That piece is good as far as it goes, but does not go far enough. Iowa needs a broader strategy.

The Gulf of Mexico is not the only water body with a "dead zone." For example, Maryland depends on  the Chesapeake Bay as a $1 trillion economic driver, including tourism, recreation, seafood and other industries. Maryland has been fouling its own nest for decades.

Imagine the Gulf of Mexico in Iowa. No doubt dealing with our 489 impaired lakes and streams suffering death by a thousand drips would become more urgent, undeserving of the 80 percent budget cut inflicted by Governor Branstad this year.

As both perpetrators and victims, Maryland citizens made clean water a top public priority. In leaner economic times, a 2012 poll showed that 91 percent of Maryland residents said cleaner water was important and nearly two-thirds supported increasing a statewide household tax to do it. Eighty percent wanted the state to be active in managing growth.

I spent a day on a recent trip to Maryland learning about the Chesapeake Bay. Governor Martin O'Malley put his staff at my disposal after I met him on his summer visit to Iowa. What lessons can be learned from the Chesapeake initiative that might be helpful to us?

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Weekend open thread: More limbo for ethanol industry edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Nov 23, 2014 at 07:50:43 AM CST

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

About a year ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to change the Renewable Fuel Standard, which regulates how much ethanol must be blended into gasoline. Iowa elected officials from both parties expressed unanimous outrage, with Governor Terry Branstad and Representative Bruce Braley seeking out especially prominent roles in the battle against reducing the Renewable Fuel Standard. The very first week of the Iowa legislature's 2014 session, state lawmakers unanimously approved a non-binding resolution urging the EPA to abandon its proposed rule.

The EPA proposal was supposed to become final in the spring of 2014, but political pressure forced a series of delays. Finally, this past Friday the agency announced "that it will not be finalizing 2014 applicable percentage standards under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program before the end of 2014." After the jump I've posted reaction from Senators Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley, Governor Branstad, and Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02).

The immediate impact will be more uncertainty for Iowans whose livelihood depends either directly or indirectly on the ethanol industry. But I would guess that every delay makes it less likely that the EPA will move forward with its original proposal, which could be construed as a victory for Iowa biofuels.

The reality is more complicated than such unusual political consensus implies. At an "all-day pepfest for ethanol" organized by the governor in January, Francis Thicke was the only person to offer the "other side" of the story. Thicke has a doctorate in agronomy and soil science from Iowa State University. His testimony asserted that it is "disingenuous to frame the debate on the Renewable Fuels Standards (RFS) as a struggle between farmers and Big Oil" and that "EPA's proposed changes to the RFS are not that radical." Thicke also pointed out, "Corn ethanol was always meant to be a stepping stone to advanced biofuels." In this guest post, Bleeding Heartland user black desert nomad likewise questioned whether corn ethanol was really "under attack" and argued that "Vested interests want to double-down on endless growth in corn ethanol, but they have lost sight of the long game amidst a tangled web of conflict-of-interest."  

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Iowa Income: Who Gets What?

by: daveswen

Fri Oct 17, 2014 at 17:15:29 PM CDT

(Thanks to daveswen for this post. Facts don't support widespread beliefs about Iowans allegedly being too dependent on federal programs. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Depending on where you live in Iowa and who you interact with, you may have some quirky conclusions about how income gets made.  It’s common and correct to conclude that many folks get along with the help of public assistance: many in fact wouldn’t get along at all without public aid.  But most of us don’t have a clue how money gets made in this state, let alone who the recipients of public assistance are.  We go to annual estimates by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis to get the numbers.

Here's how $138.34 billion in 2013 total personal income was divided up: Two-thirds ($91.3 billion) came from total earnings, which are wages and salaries, payments to proprietors, and the value of all employer-supplied benefits like medical insurance and retirement contributions.  Investment incomes (dividends, interests, and rents) made up 18 percent ($24.7 billion).  And transfers – payments by the federal government or, to a lesser extent, state government to individuals either in cash, vouchers, or direct assistance – were 16 percent of state income. 

Stated differently, 84 percent of our incomes came from market activity, and 16 percent came from governmental tranfers.  Market incomes trumped government payments to individuals by a ratio of better than 5 to 1.  

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2,4-D crops rubberstamped

by: pesticideaction

Thu Oct 16, 2014 at 16:32:21 PM CDT

(Bad news for Iowa farmers who grow vegetables and fruits (including vineyards), or who raise livestock on chemical-free pastures. Bleeding Heartland user black desert nomad covered some of the potential risks here. Even for conventional corn and beans farmers, the approach rubber-stamped by the EPA and USDA is likely to exacerbate the "superweed" problem over time. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

It's official. EPA and USDA have both evaluated Dow Chemical's new  line of 2,4-D-resistant seeds, Enlist — and have approved both the seeds  and the accompanying pesticide formulation for market.

This is a turning point, not just for grain production but for food  production in the U.S. and internationally. The introduction of Enlist  corn and soybeans, and the widespread adoption of this new seed line,  will have pervasive impacts on farmer livelihoods, public health and  control of our food system.

 

This is a decision that our regulators should not have taken lightly.  And yet, it seems they did. Both USDA and EPA set up an intentionally  narrow scope for evaluating the potential harms posed by 2,4-D resistant  crops — one that ignored the biggest problems and held up irrelevant  factors as evidence of safety.

As small farmers brace for the impact of pesticide drift that will  hit with the introduction of Enlist crops, it is time for us to look  forward. It's time to demand a regulatory system that takes a rigorous  approach to pesticides and genetically engineered crops, one that values  small farmers as much as industrial agriculture — and public health as  much as corporate profit.

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Lawsuit fails to block California egg production law, with Iowa reaction (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Oct 06, 2014 at 08:03:51 AM CDT

Catching up on news from last week, on October 2 U.S. District Court Judge Kimberly Mueller threw out a lawsuit brought by six states, including Iowa, seeking to block California's law on egg production standards. Governor Terry Branstad joined that lawsuit in March, after Representative Steve King failed to use the federal Farm Bill as a vehicle for overturning the California law.

Bleeding Heartland covered the plaintiff's case against the egg production standards here. I predicted the lawsuit would fail because "1) the law does not 'discriminate'; 2) the law does not force any conduct on egg producers outside the state of California; and 3) overturning this law would prompt a wave of lawsuits seeking to invalidate any state regulation designed to set higher standards for safety, public health, or consumer protection."

In fact, the case never got to the point of the judge considering those legal arguments. If I were an attorney, I might have foreseen the reason Judge Mueller dismissed the lawsuit: lack of standing. You can download the 25-page ruling here (document number 102) and read pages 15 to 23 to understand her full reasoning. Daniel Enoch summarized it well for AgriPulse:

"Plaintiffs' arguments focus on the potential harm each state's egg farmers face," Mueller wrote in her 25-page decision. "The alleged imminent injury, however, does not involve an injury the citizens of each state face but rather a potential injury each state's egg farmers face when deciding whether or not to comply with AB 1437." In other words, they failed to show that the law does real harm to citizens, instead of possible future harm to some egg producers.

"It is patently clear plaintiffs are bringing this action on behalf of a subset of each state's egg farmers," Mueller wrote, "not on behalf of each state's population generally."

Mueller dismissed the case "with prejudice," meaning plaintiffs cannot amend their claim and re-file. Plaintiffs including Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller are considering their legal options. While they could appeal the dismissal, I doubt they would prevail in a U.S. Appeals Court.

The Des Moines Register's write-up by Matthew Patane and Donelle Eller highlighted the alleged harm California's law will do to Iowa agriculture when it goes into effect on January 1. I've posted excerpts after the jump. I was disappointed that the Register's reporters led with the spin from "Iowa agricultural leaders" and buried in the middle of the piece a short passage explaining why the lawsuit failed (states can't serve as a legal proxy for a small interest group). Patane and Eller did not mention that if courts accept the reasoning of egg law opponents, a possible outcome would be invalidating any state law or regulation designed to set higher standards for safety, public health, or consumer protection.

Comments provided to the Register by Governor Branstad, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, and others reinforce Judge Mueller's determination that the lawsuit was designed to protect a group of agricultural producers rather than citizens as a whole. A lot of Iowa Democrats bought into the poultry producers' industry constitutional arguments as well.

UPDATE: Added below Branstad's latest comments. He is either confused about the ruling or determined not to acknowledge the real legal issue.

SECOND UPDATE: Added comments from Representative Steve King and Sherrie Taha, the Democratic nominee for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture.

There's More... :: (2 Comments, 1079 words in story)

IA-Sen: First Braley/Ernst debate liveblog and discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Sep 28, 2014 at 16:59:26 PM CDT

In a few minutes Representative Bruce Braley and State Senator Joni Ernst will start their first debate at Simpson College in Indianola. You can watch the debate on KCCI-TV in the Des Moines viewing area and on C-SPAN across the country (in central Iowa that's channel 95).

I previewed what I see as the biggest potential pitfalls for each candidate here. I'll be liveblogging after the jump and will also update later with some reaction to the debate.

UPDATE: KCCI has posted the debate video online. I cleaned up some typos and filled in gaps in the liveblog below.

There's More... :: (8 Comments, 4945 words in story)
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