Weekend open thread: Gratitude and accountability edition

Happy new year, Bleeding Heartland readers! Here’s an open thread: all topics welcome.

I am grateful to everyone who contributed guest posts during 2015: Dave Swenson, Jon Muller, fladem, 2laneIA, ahawby, Julie Stauch, Susan Staed, Mike Owen, natewithglasses, sarased, frankly, Jane Kersch, aleand67, Matt Hauge, ModerateIADem, Leland Searles, Eileen Miller, Tracy Leone, Pari Kasotia, Roger Pedactor, Stacey Walker, Mike Draper, cocinero, AbramsMom, mrtyryn, desmoinesiowa15, moderatepachy, Joe Stutler, Zach Wahls, and State Representative Chuck Isenhart.

Guest authors can write about any political topic of state, local, or national importance. Pieces can be short or long, funny or serious. You do not need to contact me ahead of time with your story idea. Just register for a user account, log in, write a post, edit as needed, and hit publish when you are ready. The piece will be "pending" until I approve it for publication, to prevent spammers from using the site to sell their wares.

I also want to thank everyone who participates here by commenting on posts. If you’ve never done so, feel free to register for a user account and share your views. If you used to comment occasionally but have not done so since this blog relaunched on a different software platform in October, you will need to reset your password. E-mail me with any problems registering for an account, logging in, or changing a password; my address is near the lower right-hand corner of this page.

I wish everyone success in sticking to your new year’s resolutions. Keep in mind that new habits typically take a few months to establish. I’m still working on my list of Iowa politics predictions for 2016, but now seems like the right time to hold myself accountable for last year’s effort. Follow me after the jump to see how I did.

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Congress approves spending bill and tax extenders: How the Iowans voted

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The good news is, the federal government won’t shut down before the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, 2016. The bad news is, members of Congress snuck some awful provisions in the "omnibus" budget bill and package of tax cut or tax credit extensions that just cleared the U.S. House and Senate. You know leaders aren’t proud when they bury news about a deal during another event occupying the political world’s attention, in this case Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate. I enclose below background on key provisions in the bills, as well as statements from the Iowans in Congress. I will update this post as needed.

The House held separate votes on the "tax extenders" and the omnibus. Republicans were nearly united in support of the tax bill (confusingly named "On Concurring in Senate Amdt with Amdt Specified in Section 3(b) of H.Res. 566"), which passed yesterday by 318 votes to 109 (roll call). The Democratic caucus was split; Naomi Jagoda and Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill that House Democratic leaders "opposed the tax package" but "did not whip their members against it." Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) all voted for the tax extenders; so did Democratic Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02), one of 77 House Democrats to do so.

Loebsack was the only Iowan to vote for the omnibus bill, which easily passed this morning by 316 votes to 113 (roll call). Most of the Democratic caucus supported the bill that keeps the federal government open for at least nine more months; just 18 Democrats voted against it.

Although House Speaker Paul Ryan and his team persuaded 150 Republicans to vote for the budget measure, 95 Republicans opposed it, including all three Iowans. Blum and Young appear to have concluded that the bill was simply too expensive. King’s main objection was that none of his nine amendments were included in the final deal. Click through to read the texts of those amendments, which would have barred the use of appropriated funds for: enforcing the 2010 Affordable Care Act (health care reform law); implementing President Barack Obama’s executive orders to provide temporary protection against deportation for some immigrants who entered the country without permission; enforcing the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide; supporting any activities of Planned Parenthood Federation of America or any of its clinics, affiliates, or successors; implementing or enforcing any change to the U.S. EPA’s Waters of the United States rule; resettling refugees; implementing the multilateral deal struck earlier this year to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons; implementing any regulation that stemmed from the recent international agreement to combat climate change; or expanding the use of H-2B visas.

The Senate combined the tax extenders and budget bills into one package, which passed this morning by 65 votes to 33 (roll call). Iowa’s Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both voted no; in the statements I’ve enclosed below, Grassley went into greater detail about his reasons for opposing the package. However, earlier this week he released a separate statement bragging about some of the provisions he helped to insert in the tax legislation. Members of Congress from both parties use that sleight of hand.

Among the presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul voted against the omnibus, Lindsey Graham voted for it, and unbelievably, Marco Rubio missed the vote. What is wrong with this guy? He "has missed more than half of the Senate’s votes since October," Jordain Carney reported for The Hill. I think not showing up for Senate work will hurt Rubio in Iowa, though not having a strong field operation will hurt him more.

The Senate is now adjourned until January 11 and the House until January 5. During the winter recess, Bleeding Heartland will catch up on some of the Iowa Congressional voting not covered here during the late summer and fall.

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Mike Sherzan becomes third Democratic candidate in IA-03

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Mike Sherzan announced today that he will seek the Democratic nomination in Iowa’s third Congressional district. He recently stepped down as leader of the financial services company he founded in order to focus his full attention on the Congressional race. I enclose below Sherzan’s press release and statements from his campaign website, which outline the candidate’s four priority issues: protecting retirement security by not privatizing Medicare or Social Security; promoting clean energy, with a focus on renewables and ag-based technologies; increasing the number of college graduates by reducing the cost of tuition and student loans; and rebuilding the middle-class by supporting equal pay for women and a minimum wage hike.

Sherzan has had a successful career in finance and may be able to largely self-fund his campaign, but he is distancing himself from stereotypes about corporate leaders who run for office. His "about" page and policy statements repeatedly refer to growing up in a family of modest means and working his way through college, with the help of Social Security benefits after his father’s sudden passing. Speaking to Bleeding Heartland last month, Sherzan emphasized that he "comes from a Democratic background" and urged people not to "judge my positions based on my business experience," adding that "government was never meant to be a business." His campaign is on Twitter and Facebook, though strangely, at this writing the campaign launch hasn’t been announced on either of those pages.

Sherzan briefly ran for Congress during the last election cycle but withdrew from that race in April 2013, citing unspecified health issues. He now joins Desmund Adams and Jim Mowrer in a Democratic field that may expand to include former Governor Chet Culver, who is in no hurry to make a decision. A few hours after Sherzan announced, Mowrer’s campaign rolled out a new batch of endorsements, which I’ve added at the end of this post. The 2014 challenger to Representative Steve King in IA-04 has lined up the most support from Iowa Democratic insiders, including Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02), former Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson, and eight current state legislators.

The winner of next June’s Democratic primary will face first-term Representative David Young in what may become Iowa’s most competitive Congressional district. The sixteen counties in IA-03 contain 150,733 active registered Democrats, 163,699 Republicans, and 166,740 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. Polk County will be central to every candidate’s strategy for winning the nomination, because two-thirds of the registered Democrats in IA-03 live in the district’s most populous county.

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IA-03: More signs Chet Culver may run

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Former Governor Chet Culver "is getting closer" to joining the Democratic field in Iowa’s third district, Civic Skinny reports in the latest edition of the weekly Cityview.

He is looking at the numbers — the money numbers and the registration numbers — and lining up a staff. He is studying the issues and talking to longtime supporters. He is looking at the problems of running — and, he hopes, serving — while still being a good father to two teenagers and a supportive husband to a wife who works part-time as a lawyer in Des Moines. […]

Culver says he is getting in shape physically for a run and just got a good report from his doctor.

Last week, Culver made clear that he would enjoy returning to public service, views IA-03 as a "good fit," and is confident he could raise the resources to run a successful campaign.

Civic Skinny speculated that beating the other likely candidates in the Democratic field (Desmund Adams, Jim Mowrer, and Mike Sherzan) "probably wouldn’t be hard [for Culver], with his name recognition and zest for campaigning." But I would expect a battle royal in an IA-03 primary involving the former governor. Not only has Mowrer lined up support from many prominent local Democrats, he is rumored to have strong backing in labor circles. Culver’s uneasy relationship with organized labor dates to the 2006 gubernatorial primary, when some large unions including AFSCME endorsed his main rival Mike Blouin. The bad blood really set in when the governor vetoed a collective bargaining bill in 2008.

It’s also important to remember that for a Congressional race, Culver will not be able to collect very large donations from his strongest supporters. Individual contributions for federal candidates max out at $2,700 for the primary election and $2,700 for the general election (but that money can’t be used until after the June 2016 primary). During the first four months of 2006, Culver’s campaign for governor collected $25,000 gifts from three donors, $10,000 from five more donors, and $5,000 from more than a dozen others. Two more $10,000 gifts and some $5,000 checks came in during the final weeks before the 2006 primary. Culver’s 2005 campaign disclosure report included several $10,000 gifts and one for $15,000 as well.

Running a Congressional primary campaign will be less expensive than running for governor statewide, especially since about two-thirds of the registered Democrats in the district live in Polk County. Nevertheless, Culver will have a short time span to raise a lot of money in increments of no more than $2,700 from any one person.

Any comments about the IA-03 campaign are welcome in this thread.

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Loebsack, King cross party lines on bill halting refugees from Syria, Iraq

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Today the U.S. House approved a bill that "would prevent any refugees from Syria or Iraq from entering the United States until the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Director of National Intelligence certify that none of them are dangerous," Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill. Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) was among 47 Democrats who joined 242 Republicans to pass the bill (roll call). Representatives Rod Blum (IA-01) and David Young (IA-03) also voted yes, but Representative Steve King (IA-04) was one of only two House Republicans to vote no. His office has not yet responded to my request for comment or issued a statement explaining that vote.

President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, which according to White House would "’provide no meaningful additional security for the American people’ and impose new certification requirements that effectively end the refugee program" to assist those fleeing Syria or Iraq. Marcos reported, "GOP aides noted that because of absences, the vote would have met the two-thirds requirement to override a presidential veto if that vote had been held Thursday. Still, there’s no guarantee that Democrats would vote to override the president if the bill comes back to the floor." Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid sounds confident the bill will not clear the upper chamber.

I will update this post as needed with comments from Iowa’s Congressional delegation or other reaction to today’s vote. The epic fail of the day goes to the Republican Party of Iowa for sending out the press release enclosed below. In that statement, Iowa GOP chair Jeff Kaufmann "applauds King, Blum, Young on Refugee Vote." Check the roll call first, guys.

Note: most of the perpetrators of last week’s horrific terrorist attacks in Paris were French citizens.

UPDATE: King’s office provided the following statement: "I voted against the American SAFE Act because it fails to restore Congress’ Article 1 authority over admissions of migrants to the United States. How can we trust this Obama Administration who will not utter the words ‘radical Islamic jihad’ to accurately screen Syrian and Iraqi refugees as required in this bill? For that reason, I submitted an amendment to rules, which was ultimately not adopted, that would create international safe zones for refugees in their homeland. The safety and security of the American people is paramount. I respect the House trying to find a solution but I do not believe this was the right or strong enough one."

The Iowa GOP issued a corrected press release, blaming "incorrect press reports of a unanimous Republican vote" for their error. Always wait for the official roll call. I’ve added the new statement below, along with a screen shot of a tweet (since deleted) from state party co-chair Cody Hoefert thanking all three Iowa Republicans "for voting to strengthen our national security."

SECOND UPDATE: Blum’s statement is below as well.

THIRD UPDATE: Added Loebsack’s official comment on the vote. When I asked whether Loebsack would vote to override a presidential veto of this bill, his communications director Joe Hand responded, "Will have to see what happens in the Senate before we talk overriding any possible veto."

FOURTH UPDATE: I’ve seen lots of progressives criticize Loebsack’s vote on social media, and some of that feedback must be getting through. On Friday afternoon, Loebsack for Congress sent out an e-mail blast with the subject line "my vote." Scroll to the end of this post to read the full text. Most of the commenters on Loebsack’s Facebook status update about this vote criticized his stance. As of November 21, neither Loebsack nor his staff had responded publicly to the comments.

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