Republicans running scared in Iowa House district 6 (updated)

The Republican Party of Iowa is spending heavily to defend Iowa House district 6, where voters will choose a successor to State Representative Jim Carlin on January 16. The Iowa GOP did not intervene to support Carlin before last month’s special election for Senate district 3, considered safe Republican territory. Carlin won that race by a little less than 10 percent. Amazingly, the Democratic candidate gained more votes in the half of the district that Carlin has represented in the Iowa House.

Campaign finance reports (here and here) show the state GOP has spent more than $118,000, mostly on television and radio commercials in the Sioux City market and direct mail to residents of House district 6. I enclose below the positive television commercial about Republican candidate Jacob Bossman and several direct mail pieces attacking Democratic nominee Rita DeJong.

The tv spot relies heavily on an image of U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley with his longtime staffer. Grassley headlined a rally to support Bossman on January 13, but the party didn’t have to pay his travel expenses. The senator is passing through western Iowa on the federal government’s dime as part of his annual 99-county tour. UPDATE: A reader notes the “rally” was moved from a room that would hold 250 people to the lobby, so the few dozen attendees would appear to fill up the venue.

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Weekend open thread: Accountability

Senator Chuck Grassley hit a new low last week in running interference for the White House on the Trump/Russia investigation. After leaders of the private research firm Fusion GPS called on Congressional Republicans “to release full transcripts of our firm’s testimony” about the so-called Steele dossier, Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham wrote to the Department of Justice and the FBI “urging an investigation into Christopher Steele.” Ranking Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein was not consulted about the referral, which she accurately characterized as “another effort to deflect attention from what should be the committee’s top priority: determining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election and whether there was subsequent obstruction of justice.”

Here in Iowa, the Department of Human Services recently acknowledged that privatizing Medicaid “will save the state 80 percent less money this fiscal year than originally predicted,” Tony Leys reported for the Des Moines Register. The Branstad/Reynolds administration has claimed since 2015 that shifting care for one-sixth of Iowans to private companies would result in big savings for the state. Officials were never able to show the math underlying those estimates. Staff for Governor Kim Reynolds and the DHS now portray the miscalculation as an honest mistake, which a more “comprehensive methodology” will correct. The governor would have been wiser to pull the plug on this disaster last year.

Forthcoming Bleeding Heartland posts will address those failures in more depth. But now it’s time to hold myself accountable for the 17 Iowa politics predictions I made at the beginning of 2017. Did I improve on my showing of seven right, two half-right, and seven wrong out of my 16 predictions for 2016?

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The 17 most-viewed Bleeding Heartland posts of 2017

I had mixed feelings about compiling last year’s review of highest-traffic posts. Being hyper-aware of clicks and views can be demoralizing, because the most labor-intensive stories rarely attract the most attention.

On the other hand, it’s fascinating to see what strikes a chord with readers. A preview of stores coming to an outlet mall in Altoona was the fourth most-read Des Moines Register article of 2017. The second most popular New York Times story contained highlights from a boxing match. And this year’s highest-traffic piece at USA Today was about the “kiss cam” at the NFL Pro Bowl.

During an unusually eventful year in Iowa politics, some hot topics at Bleeding Heartland were predictable. But surprises were lurking in the traffic numbers on posts published during 2017 (418 written by me, 164 by other authors).

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Recognizing Bleeding Heartland's talented 2017 guest authors

Bleeding Heartland published 140 guest posts by 81 authors in 2016, a record since the blog’s creation in 2007.

I’m happy to report that the bar has been raised: 83 authors contributed 164 guest posts to this website during 2017. Their work covered an incredible range of local, statewide, and national topics.

Some contributors drew on their professional expertise and research, writing in a detached and analytical style. Others produced passionate and intensely personal commentaries, sometimes drawing on painful memories or family history.

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Republicans going to conference on tax bill--without Chuck Grassley

Despite being the most senior member of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, Iowa’s Senator Chuck Grassley is not among the Congressional Republicans who will hash out a final tax bill. The Senate voted on December 6 to go to conference with House members, but Grassley revealed on Twitter this morning that he “was dropped” as a conferee.

Presumably GOP leaders want to distance themselves from Grassley’s recent comment that repealing the estate tax would reward “the people that are investing […] as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.” Those remarks have received massive nationwide media coverage, mockery, and condemnation.

Some Republicans had hoped the House would quickly send the Senate’s tax bill to President Donald Trump. However, in their unprecedented haste to rewrite massive legislation after an unfavorable report from the Joint Committee on Taxation, key GOP senators introduced errors in the bill approved over the weekend.

Notably, revised language on the corporate alternative minimum tax would increase taxes on many companies, sending business interests into “revolt.” Lily Batchelder, a law professor and former chief tax counsel for the Senate Finance Committee explained that issue in a series of tweets I’ve posted after the jump, along with a chart highlighting the key differences between the tax bills House and Senate Republicans have already passed. Other sloppily-drafted provisions “could be easily gamed” or “could open broad avenues for tax avoidance,” according to tax experts quoted by Politico’s Brian Faler.

Both bills would provide generous tax breaks to wealthy individuals while raising taxes on tens of millions of lower and middle-income households.

House Republican leaders have signaled they will agree to repeal the individual mandate to purchase health insurance, which was part of the Senate bill. By 2025, that provision would reduce the number of people with health insurance coverage by an estimated 13 million nationwide and by 125,600 in Iowa.

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