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Iowa Congressional voting catch-up thread: Defense, trade, Medicare, chemicals, and power plants

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 29, 2015 at 23:51:38 PM CDT

While Congress is on recess until after July 4, it's time to catch up on an unusually busy few weeks in June for U.S. House members. Bleeding Heartland previously covered how Iowa's representatives voted on the failed and successful attempts to pass trade promotion authority, repeal of country-of-origin labeling requirements for meat, a bill to eliminate a tax on medical devices, and the Intelligence Authorization Act.

Follow me after the jump to find out how Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) voted on the latest defense budget bill, more trade-related policies, and legislation dealing with chemical safety, Medicare cost controls, and regulations of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Iowa's representatives also voted last week on a matter relating to the growing national controversy over Confederate symbols.

Something you don't see often when looking through Congressional roll calls: three of Iowa's four House members crossed party lines more than once during the floor debate on the defense budget.

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Joni Ernst breaks a promise to military victims of sexual assault

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Jun 21, 2015 at 19:00:00 PM CDT

"Alarming rates" of rape and sexual assault in the U.S. military, most of which go unpunished, are an ongoing scandal. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has been the leading voice in the Senate for reforms to address the "vastly underreported" problem. Last year, Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin both supported a bill Gillibrand introduced, which would have taken sexual assault cases outside the military chain of command.

While former Representative Bruce Braley served in the U.S. House, he repeatedly introduced legislation aimed at reducing rates of sexual assault in the military and removing "decisions over investigating and prosecuting sexual assault allegations [...] from the normal chain of command." Braley's guest at the 2014 State of the Union address was Service Women's Action Network executive director Anu Bhagwati, whose group "has been at the center of the national effort to reform the military's handling of military sexual assault."

As the Republican nominee facing Braley in last year's U.S. Senate campaign, Joni Ernst talked a good game on this issue. After disclosing that she had faced sexual harassment while serving in the Iowa National Guard, Ernst promised to support reforms that would remove sexual assault cases from the military chain of command, even if she got "push-back" from Pentagon leaders or GOP Senate colleagues. She also said ensuring "sexual crimes in the military are both independently investigated and prosecuted [...] should not be a partisan issue, and as a woman in uniform, I know that we must act now."

Last week, Ernst had a chance to walk the walk. Instead, she helped kill Gillibrand's amendment to the 2016 defense authorization bill, going back on her campaign pledge and casting a rare vote in opposition to her fellow Iowa Republican Grassley.

Follow me after the jump for more background and details on Ernst's broken promise.

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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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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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House passes first 2016 spending bills: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Tue May 05, 2015 at 06:53:47 AM CDT

Catching up on Congressional news, last week the U.S. House approved a joint Republican framework setting top-line numbers for the federal budget as well as the first two spending bills for the 2016 fiscal year, which begins on October 1. Along the way, House members considered amendments covering a wide range of issues, from regulations on incandescent light bulbs to "prevailing wage" rules for federal construction projects to medical marijuana advice for Americans who receive their health care through the Veterans Administration.

Follow me after the jump for details on the latest votes by Iowa Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04).

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Iowa voting and reaction to the House Republican budget

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 26, 2015 at 13:32:15 PM CDT

The U.S. House approved a draft budget yesterday with some drama along the way. Details on the important budget provisions and how the Iowans voted are after the jump.
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Grassley, Ernst vote to confirm new Defense Secretary

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Feb 16, 2015 at 16:20:00 PM CST

Catching up on news from last week, the U.S. Senate confirmed Ashton Carter as secretary of defense by 93 votes to 5 (roll call) on February 12. Only five Republicans opposed the nomination, which is rare for President Barack Obama's administration. Iowa's Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both supported Carter, and I've enclosed their statements after the jump. Grassley emphasized that he will "continue to press for clean, accurate audits at the Defense Department," while Ernst praised Carter's "strong support and dedication to our service members and their families." Ernst serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which unanimously forwarded Carter's nomination earlier in the week. Kristina Wong reported for The Hill, "Republicans on the committee were particularly pleased that Carter said he would consider recommending that Obama modify his Afghanistan troop drawdown schedule, if necessary, and that he was inclined to arm Ukraine against Russian aggression."

I've also enclosed below Carter's official bio, summarizing his extensive Pentagon experience.

On February 9, Grassley and Ernst joined their colleagues in unanimously confirming Michael Botticelli as director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Grassley's statement on the country's new "drug czar" is after the jump too. He praised Botticelli for recognizing "the dangers of smoking marijuana." In recent testimony before a U.S. House committee, Botticelli said "The [Obama] Administration continues to oppose attempts to legalize marijuana and other drugs."

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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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This is why presidents bury big news during holiday weeks

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Nov 24, 2014 at 22:15:00 PM CST

After a busy day, I sat down this evening to write my "Iowa reaction to Chuck Hagel's resignation" blog post.

Only problem was, more than twelve hours after the news broke, I couldn't find any Iowa reaction. No press releases, no statements on Facebook or twitter from anyone in Iowa's current Congressional delegation or newly-elected delegation.

Does that strike anyone else as odd? I would have thought the defense secretary resigning after less than two years on the job, probably under pressure from the president, possibly over disagreement with the administration's approach to Iraq and Syria, would be big news. Remember, Representative Dave Loebsack sits on the House Armed Services Committee. Senator-elect Joni Ernst has claimed to have a strong interest in our country's Middle East policy, since her "boots were on that ground" now controlled by ISIS. Senator Chuck Grassley served with Hagel for years and will have a vote on confirming his successor at the Pentagon. Newly-elected Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01) and David Young (IA-03) both criticized the Obama administration's policy in Iraq during this year's campaign.

I will update this post as needed if I see some Iowa political reaction to Hagel stepping down. But at this writing, I got nothing.

This is why presidents bury big news during holiday weeks, when elected representatives and their staffers are out of the office.

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Grassley, Harkin support failed bill on military sexual assault cases (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Mar 07, 2014 at 12:24:55 PM CST

Yet another good idea has fallen victim to the U.S. Senate's rules requiring a super-majority to advance legislation. Although 44 Democratic senators and eleven Republicans supported a bill that would have taken sexual assault cases outside the military chain of command, backers fell five votes short of the 60 needed to pass a cloture motion yesterday. Iowa Senators Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley both voted for cloture (roll call) on the bill sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Pentagon leaders and Democratic Senators Dick Durbin and Claire McCaskill lobbied against the measure. A weaker sexual assault prevention bill proposed by McCaskill advanced after senators rejected cloture on Gillibrand's bill.

After the jump I've posted the key arguments for both sides in the debate, as well as comments from Grassley and Representative Bruce Braley (D, IA-01). In the floor statement I've enclosed below, Grassley urged colleagues, "We need a clean break from the system where sexual assault isn't reported because of a perception that justice won't be done." Braley has long supported reforms along the lines of Gillibrand's bill, and yesterday he promised to keep pushing on the issue, saying opponents are "on the wrong side of history." Braley is the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat Harkin will vacate at the end of this year.

P.S. - Of the Republican senators considered most likely to run for president in 2016, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul voted for cloture on Gillibrand's bill. Marco Rubio voted against it.  

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Grassley, Harkin back pension fix, split on debt ceiling hike (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 12, 2014 at 18:26:00 PM CST

This afternoon the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation to reverse a planned change in cost of living adjustments for some military pensions. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to bring up the bill that passed the U.S. House yesterday, rather than a Democratic alternative that fixed the military pension policy without any spending cuts to offset the $6 billion cost over ten years. Senators approved the House bill by 95 votes to 3, with Iowa's Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley both supporting the measure.

Also today, senators approved a bill "to temporarily extend the public debt limit" with no strings attached. That bill also cleared the House yesterday. A dozen Republicans including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell crossed party lines to approve the cloture motion on the debt ceiling hike, but the procedural vote was a nail-biter that took more than an hour. Grassley was one of the 31 Republicans who opposed cloture. The debt ceiling increase then passed on a a straight party-line vote of 55 to 43, with Harkin voting yes and Grassley voting no.

Possible 2016 presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio all voted against cloture on the debt ceiling increase as well as against the bill on final passage.

UPDATE: Erik Wasson, Ramsey Cox and Peter Schroeder wrote a fascinating piece on the battle to advance the debt ceiling bill: "McConnell and top lieutenant Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) reluctantly backed ending debate after it became clear that no one in their conference wanted to cast the deciding 60th vote."

This post covers reaction to the debt ceiling vote from Republican candidates for Iowa's open U.S. Senate seat.

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Iowans support House bill to reverse military pension cuts (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Feb 11, 2014 at 16:44:00 PM CST

One of the most shameful provisions in last year's federal budget deal between Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray and House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan was a change in the cost of living adjustment for military pensions. The pension cut could never have passed in a stand-alone vote but got through as one small piece of what was perceived as a must-pass deal. At the time, an old friend and 20-year Navy veteran commented on Facebook, "This is a great bookend for why we are tired of being thanked for serving. Actions speak louder than mere words for the sacrifices made by people in uniform and their families."

House and Senate members are eager to reverse this pension cut, but so far can't agree on how or whether to offset the $6 billion that would have been saved during a ten-year period of screwing over veterans on full pensions.

Today House leaders attached military pension language to an unrelated bill and quickly passed it under a suspension of normal House rules. The roll call shows that Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Republican Steve King (IA-04) were all part of the 326 to 90 majority who voted yes. Tom Latham (IA-03) was not present for the vote. The 19 Republicans and 71 Democrats who voted no had different reasons, Pete Kasperowicz reported.

Some Democrats said they opposed not only the speed with which the bill was rushed to the floor, but the way Republicans are offsetting the $6 billion cost of the bill. The legislation pays for the restoration of benefits by extending sequester cuts to mandatory spending under Medicare for one year, through 2024 instead of 2023. [...]

Republicans had their own reasons for opposing the measure - many GOP members have said they disapprove of the idea of paying for current spending by promising cuts 10 years out.

When Congress approved the Murray-Ryan budget deal in December, three of Iowa's four House members voted yes, with King the odd man out. Senator Tom Harkin supported the deal, while Senator Chuck Grassley voted against it.

UPDATE: Added a statement from Braley below.

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Harkin, Grassley split as Senate approves budget deal

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Dec 19, 2013 at 15:04:00 PM CST

In a departure from the usual brinksmanship over funding the federal government, the U.S. Senate approved yesterday the recent bipartisan budget deal. Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray and House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan worked out a compromise on overall budget targets for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, replacing some of the "sequester" cuts that went into effect earlier this year. The deal passed the House last week with strong bipartisan support, including three of Iowa's four representatives.

Senate Republicans were less supportive of the budget agreement than House GOP members, but nine Republicans crossed over to vote with the entire Democratic caucus, approving the deal by 64 votes to 36 (roll call). Iowa's Senator Chuck Grassley was one of the 36 Republicans who voted no, along with possible future presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul. I have not seen any statement from Grassley's office explaining that vote but will update this post as needed. UPDATE: Added a few comments from Grassley.

President Barack Obama will sign off on this agreement, but Congress still needs to pass an omnibus budget bill before January 15 to avoid another government shutdown. After the jump I've posted a statement from Senator Tom Harkin supporting the deal, as well as details on why some conservatives oppose this deal.

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More Senate confirmation news: how Grassley and Harkin voted

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Aug 02, 2013 at 06:40:00 AM CDT

Bipartisan consensus allowed a group of President Barack Obama's nominees to be confirmed easily this week, but a Republican filibuster nearly blocked the confirmation of one federal agency head. In addition, Senator Chuck Grassley again pushed back against claims that Republicans have dragged their feet on confirming federal judges during Obama's presidency.

Details are after the jump.

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House approves Paul Ryan's budget: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Mar 22, 2013 at 11:56:00 AM CDT

Yesterday the U.S. House approved a fiscal year 2014 budget prepared by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. The bill also sets budget levels for fiscal years 2015 through 2023. Bleeding Heartland covered Iowa reaction to the latest Ryan budget here. After the jump I have details on yesterday's vote and statements released by members of the Iowa delegation.

Despite the spin from some Congressional Republicans and Governor Terry Branstad, it's important to remember that Ryan's budget is not balanced and will not be balanced even 10 years from now. Both the non-partisan Tax Policy Center and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have noted that Ryan does not say how he would offset trillions in lost revenue from income tax cuts he proposes. In addition, the Ryan budget "understates defense spending by $100 billion over the next ten years" and assumes that the 2010 health care reform law will be repealed, which obviously won't happen. The Ryan plan isn't about eliminating the federal deficit, it's a plan to end Medicare as a single-payer program and change the role of the federal government in the lives of low-income Americans.

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Senate, House avert government shutdown: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Mar 22, 2013 at 09:45:00 AM CDT

This week Congress approved a continuing spending resolution to fund the federal government through the end of the current fiscal year on September 30. Iowa's delegation split on this compromise, but not strictly along party lines. Details on the budget compromise and how the Iowans voted are after the jump.
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Iraq War 10th anniversary links and discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 19, 2013 at 16:32:00 PM CDT

Ten years ago, President George W. Bush made the disastrous mistake of taking this country to war against Iraq. I've posted some links about the costs and casualties of war after the jump.

Any relevant thoughts are welcome in this thread. I appreciate the work and commitment of those who tried to derail the speeding train toward invasion, and of those who protested the war after it began. I did nothing to stop the war in Iraq--just sat in a rocking chair cradling a new baby, feeling horrified while watching the news on television.

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Iowa reaction to Paul Ryan's new budget

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 12, 2013 at 17:45:00 PM CDT

U.S. House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan presented his new federal budget blueprint today. As before, he would end Medicare as a single-payer system for all Americans under age 55, slash spending on programs for the poor such as food stamps and Medicaid, and cut taxes for some, though the details there are fuzzy. He would not cut the defense budget or Social Security. Ryan says his budget would be balanced in 10 years, but he relies on some assumptions that won't happen, such as repeal of the 2010 health care reform law.

I've enclosed Iowa political reaction to the Ryan budget below and will update this post as needed.

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Loebsack votes with House Republicans on government funding resolution

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 07, 2013 at 08:20:00 AM CST

Yesterday the U.S. House approved a bill to fund the federal government through the remainder of the current fiscal year. Dave Loebsack (IA-02) was one of 53 House Democrats to vote for the spending bill, along with most of the Republican caucus. Follow me after the jump for details and the latest sleight of hand by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
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Rand Paul filibuster discussion thread

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 07, 2013 at 07:13:00 AM CST

Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky delayed Senate business yesterday by launching a filibuster that lasted nearly 13 hours. The ninth-longest filibuster in Senate history and the longest since 1992 focused on the president's power to order an American citizen killed on U.S. soil. Paul managed to delay a planned confirmation vote on President Barack Obama's nominee for CIA director, John Brennan. Senators are likely to confirm Brennan today, but Paul's tactic served two longtime historical purposes of the filibuster: slow down Senate business and call attention to an issue of national importance. To my knowledge, the last lengthy filibuster of this kind happened when Bernie Sanders talked for more than eight hours against the December 2010 deal to extend most Bush tax cuts.

Eight other senators joined Paul's filibuster yesterday: seven Republicans and Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon. Iowa's GOP Senator Chuck Grassley did not take part.

In related news, some Senate Democrats are warning that the majority may revisit filibuster reform because Republicans continue to demand a 60-vote majority for almost any kind of Senate business. That was entirely foreseeable. But Democrats missed their best chance to change the rules at the beginning of this year's Congress. They should have listened to Senator Tom Harkin, who has been trying for years to curtail the abuse of the filibuster.

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