Unusual split in Iowa delegation as House scraps wasteful jet engine funding

In a surprising victory for common sense over lobbying by major defense contractor General Electric, the House of Representatives on February 16 scrapped funding for an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter backup engine the Pentagon doesn’t want.  The amendment to the continuing resolution on defense funding for the current fiscal year passed on an unusual bipartisan vote; 123 Democrats and 110 Republicans voted to kill the $450 million appropriation, while 130 Republicans and 68 Democrats voted to keep money for the jet engine in the bill (roll call). Democrat Bruce Braley (IA-01) was the only member of the Iowa House delegation to vote for ending the funding. He should cite this vote as evidence that he is serious about tackling government waste. Democrats Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Leonard Boswell (IA-03) and Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) all voted against the amendment. They should explain why they want to spend $450 million this fiscal year to continue a program that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called “a waste of nearly $3 billion.”

Loebsack serves on the House Armed Services Committee. Boswell used to serve on that committee but no longer does in the new Congress.

In other Congressional news, the U.S. Senate approved a three-month extension for controversial PATRIOT Act provisions on February 15 by a vote of 86 to 12. Senator Chuck Grassley voted yes, as did all but two of his Republican colleagues. Senator Tom Harkin was among ten members of the Democratic caucus to vote no (roll call). Harkin’s office did not issue a statement on this vote and did not respond to my request for comment, so I don’t know whether he is against all efforts to extend those controversial PATRIOT Act provisions, or whether he would support Senator Pat Leahy’s bill to extend the provisions through 2013 with “additional safeguards to the act which would provide for increased oversight of U.S. Intelligence gathering tools.” Grassley has introduced a rival Senate bill that would permanently extend the government surveillance powers.  

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Memorial Day weekend open thread: Guns, not butter edition

Since Memorial Day was established a few years after the Civil War, Americans have marked the holiday every year by remembering our war dead (ok, almost all our war dead). In his weekly address, President Barack Obama asked Americans to honor “not just those who’ve worn this country’s uniform, but the men and women who’ve died in its service; who’ve laid down their lives in defense of their fellow citizens; who’ve given their last full measure of devotion to protect the United States of America.”

Every so often I read the I Got The News Today profiles of Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to an old Jewish teaching, saving one life is equivalent to saving the whole world. The IGTNT diaries, like “Six More Lost to All Who Loved Them,” are a crushing reminder that the death of one person is like the death of the whole world to the people left behind.

The IGTNT series will likely continue for many more years. The number of Americans killed in Afghanistan recently passed 1,000, and we are preparing to send an additional 30,000 troops there. Although we have fewer troops in Iraq now than we did for most of the past seven years, we have more troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined now than we did when Obama became president.  

The price of these wars is also enormous in monetary terms. On May 30 the estimated cost of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq exceeded $1 trillion. We could have done lots of things with that kind of money. On May 27 the U.S. Senate passed yet another war supplemental funding bill, this time for $58.8 billion. On May 28 the House passed the $726 billion Defense Authorization Bill for 2011 (roll call here). Iowa’s House members split on party lines, with Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Leonard Boswell (IA-03) supporting them and Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) voting no.

Meanwhile, Congress adjourned for the Memorial Day weekend without extending unemployment benefits or passing another jobs bill. This economic relief bill had already been watered down because of “concerns” about deficit spending. You’ll notice few members of Congress are concerned about deficit spending to fund our endless war machine.

For many, Memorial Day is a time to remember lost loved ones, regardless of whether they served in the military. Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Todd Dorman’s mother recently died, and he wrote this tribute to her.

For some people, Memorial Day is first and foremost the unofficial beginning of summer. Feel free to share any fun plans or picnic recipes in the comments. We’ve been invited to a potluck tomorrow, and I haven’t decided whether to make my favorite chick pea dish (from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking), a North African potato salad with olive oil and spices, or a pasta salad with a Chinese-style peanut butter sauce. I like to bring vegan dishes to potlucks so I don’t worry if they sit outside for a few hours. Also, the party I’m attending tomorrow may include some vegetarians and people who keep kosher (they don’t mix meat with dairy in the same meal).

This thread is for anything on your mind this weekend.

UPDATE: Graphs showing number of days in Iraq and number of U.S. deaths in Iraq before and after President George W. Bush announced “Mission Accomplished.”

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Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama’s administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn’t have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can’t say I wasn’t warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year’s political events are welcome in this thread.

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Obama for Sensible Priorities

If you attended any political events leading up to the Iowa Caucuses you know about Iowans for Sensible Priorities. They are the ones that handed out the pens with the pull out charts, had the pie chart car, and passed out cookies with pie charts on them. There goals were to…

Increase funding to meet the needs of our children and children around the world (at no additional taxpayer expense) by reducing money spent on the Pentagon for Cold War weapons systems no longer needed to protect America.

Rahm Emanuel, Obama's Chief of Staff, has recently said that the Obama administration plans to cut Pentagon spending

Withdrawing from Iraq, and cutting $300 billion in other defense spending, would wipe out the increases in military spending under the Bush administration. It would even reduce military spending to a smaller percentage of the federal budget than it was during the Clinton administration.

It is great to have a President with sensible priorities.

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