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.

January 2009

Bill Richardson withdrew his name from consideration for Commerce secretary.

President Obama named Leon Panetta to head the CIA.

Bruce Braley became a vice chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Bleeding Heartland user American007 offered nine predictions for 2009 and wasn’t far off the mark.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee started the year with significant debts.

The House passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act, and the Iowa delegation split on party lines.

Bleeding Heartland user IowaVoter reported on problems with the audit logs of Diebold voting machines.

A report by Democracy Corps showed how early voting helped Democrats in the 2008 election.

Guest poster Senate Guru wondered whether Chuck Grassley might retire, but Grassley’s office quickly denied that he was considering retirement.

Tom Latham and Steve King voted against expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Tom Vilsack sailed through his confirmation hearing, and lots of important agriculture and food policy issues came up.

President-elect Obama signaled that he might not be fully committed to passing the Employee Free Choice Act.

Steve King refused to join the other six Iowans in Congress who co-hosted an inaugural reception in Washington.

I considered whether Hillary Clinton or John Edwards could have won the Iowa caucuses, assuming Barack Obama ran the same outstanding campaign he ran. This was one of the longest posts I’ve ever written, and it got a mixed reaction on national blogs where I cross-posted it.

Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th American president.

I am so grateful to Justice John Paul Stevens.

The Senate unanimously confirmed six Obama appointees: Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and White House Budget Office director Peter Orszag.

Chuck Grassley was one of four Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee to vote against confirming Timothy Geithner as Treasury secretary.

The House passed a symbolic resolution opposing the release of more money for the Wall Street bailout. Republicans Tom Latham and Steve King voted for the resolution, but Bruce Braley, Dave Loebsack and Leonard Boswell voted no.

Noneed4thneed was excited about President Obama’s plans to cut Pentagon spending. Unfortunately, it turned out that the administration only reduced the increase in defense spending.

The four Democratic governors who got to appoint new senators didn’t handle the task very well. Senator Russ Feingold had a better idea, proposing a constitutional amendment to require elections to fill vacant Senate seats.

Tom Vilsack got to work at the USDA.

The Senate confirmed Timothy Geithner as Treasury secretary, but both Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley voted no. I stand by my prediction that Geithner will turn out to be one of Obama’s worst appointments.

President Obama made too many concessions on the stimulus bill in a (misguided) effort to win Republican votes.

The House approved the stimulus bill without a single Republican vote in favor.

Bruce Braley signed a letter requesting more humanitarian assistance for Gaza.

Despite expressing concerns about Eric Holder during the confirmation hearings, Chuck Grassley voted on the Senate Judiciary Committee to confirm Holder as attorney general.

Tom Harkin expressed valid concerns that the stimulus bill being drafted was too small and too loaded with tax cuts unlikely to boost consumer spending.

Chuck Grassley voted against expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The Republican National Committee elected Michael Steele as new chairman. Iowa’s RNC reps backed South Carolina Republican Party Chair Katon Dawson instead.

February 2009

Tax problems derailed Tom Daschle’s nomination for secretary of Health and Human Services.

Many Republican governors supported the stimulus bill, even as Congressional Republicans criticized it.

Republicans bashed Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri because although she is personally wealthy, she advocated salary caps at Wall Street firms that took bailout money.

The Senate confirmed Eric Holder as attorney general. For reasons I still cannot fathom, President Obama was about to tap Republican Senator Judd Gregg to run the Commerce Department.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ran some radio ads against Tom Latham.

Mark Zandi, chief economist and co-founder of Moody’s, found that various types of government spending all delivered much more stimulus to the economy than tax cuts.

Chuck Grassley said what it would take to get his vote for the stimulus package.

Tom Harkin said Howard Dean would make a great secretary for Health and Human Services.

As new RNC Chairman Michael Steele axed plans for an in-house think tank, I argued that Republicans didn’t need “new ideas” to come back to power. All they need is for Democrats to fail to deliver on their promises.

Noneed4thneed pointed out that so-called Senate “centrists” insisted on changes to the stimulus bill that reduced its potential to create jobs and threatened to bankrupt the states.

Senate Republicans failed to block the stimulus bill.

Guest poster Jill Richardson/OrangeClouds115 let Bleeding Heartland readers know what Tom Vilsack had been up to during his first weeks as secretary of agriculture.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was already looking like one of Obama’s worst high-level appointments.

Bruce Braley got ready to roll out the House Populist Caucus and said it would advocate for “Buy American” language in the stimulus bill.

House and Senate negotiators made final changes to the stimulus bill.

Judd Gregg withdrew his name from consideration as Commerce Secretary (thank goodness).

Steve King bragged about research he did in high school, which allegedly proved that the New Deal prolonged the Great Depression.

The House approved the stimulus bill, and Iowa’s representatives split on party lines. Tom Harkin said he wasn’t a “happy camper” and that Democratic leaders had reduced valuable spending in order to spend more money on fixing the alternative minimum tax, which “has nothing to do with stimulus.”

Guest poster JulianaW wrote about high-speed rail funding and the stimulus bill.

George W. Bush ranked 36th out of the 42 American presidents, in the collective opinion of 65 professional historians or observers of the presidency. I felt it was unfair for Bush to be ranked ahead of William Henry Harrison.

Guest poster Jill Richardson/OrangeClouds115 posted another update on Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s activities.

Tom Harkin vowed to hold a Senate hearing on the mentally disabled workers exploited by a Texas-based company operating in Iowa.

Rush Limbaugh said he wanted everything President Obama did to fail.

New details emerged about the Justice Department investigation into the torture memos prepared during the Bush administration.

President Obama signed the stimulus bill, and I linked to various pages with more details about what the package allocated to Iowa.

House Republicans began taking credit for stimulus spending they voted against.

The Wall Street bailout still looked ill-conceived.

Representative Bruce Braley rolled out the House Populist Caucus.

Two years after Steve Gilliard stopped blogging, I still missed him.

Bleeding Heartland user Elise attended one of Chuck Grassley’s town-hall meetings in eastern Iowa.

Progressive Punch added a new layer of analysis to its rankings of members of Congress by voting record in order to indicate how progressive representatives and senators are compared to the districts and states they represent.

A McDonald’s employee who got shot helping a stranger while on the job was stuck with $300,000 in medical bills after the insurance agency representing McDonald’s said he didn’t qualify for Workers Compensation.

I reflected on my biggest health scare and how much worse it might have been if I didn’t have health insurance.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee decided to keep Leonard Boswell in its Frontline program for vulnerable incumbents.

The Senate finally confirmed Hilda Solis as labor secretary.

A majority of Americans said sticking to the policies he campaigned on should be a higher priority for the president than working in a bipartisan way.

President Obama gave his first State of the Union address (technically a budget speech) to Congress.

Increasing food stamp participation rates would have been a good way to stimulate the economy.

President Obama sent his first budget request to Congress.

Progressive bloggers formed the Accountability Now PAC to “recruit, coordinate, and support primary challenges against vulnerable Congressional incumbents who have become more responsive to corporate America than to their constituents.”

The Coen brothers directed a great ad ridiculing the idea of “clean coal.”

We learned that Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire made money off one of his own earmarks.

President Obama announced his plans for Iraq and promised “combat operations” would end by August 2010.

March 2009

I weighed the pros and cons of Kathleen Sebelius as Health and Human Services secretary. (With hindsight, I wish she had remained governor of Kansas to keep blocking new coal plants there.)

A national poll by Hart Research Associates found that “An overwhelming majority of Americans believe restoring existing roads and bridges and expanding transportation options should take precedence over building new roads […].”

President Obama issued a memo to department heads on restricting no-bid contracts and canceling wasteful contracts.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack axed about $500,000 in USDA consulting contracts.

Republicans were full of phony outrage over earmarks in the omnibus spending bill.

Chuck Grassley and President Obama exchanged words over a public health insurance option at a White House event.

Leonard Boswell, who sits on the House Transportation Committee, advocated a feasibility study on extending Amtrak through central Iowa to Omaha.

Leading Republicans in Washington proposed a federal spending freeze, which is a great idea if you want to turn a severe recession into a depression.

Comments by Elizabeth Dole’s former campaign manager reminded me that it helps for incumbents to have some record to run on.

Grim unemployment numbers prompted this post, with some ideas on finding a job.

I wondered whether it would be politically smart for Representative Tom Latham to cooperate with Obama.

President Obama proposed reforms to the Congressional earmarking process, and I gave background on the failure of Democratic leadership that led to Tom Harkin’s $1.8 million earmark for studying odors from large hog confinements (CAFOs) in Iowa. That earmark that became a poster child for Republican outrage over wasteful spending.

Tom Latham took credit for getting earmarks to fund Iowa projects in the omnibus spending bill he voted against.

Chuck Grassley posted my all-time favorite tweet by him, indicating that Iowa Republican lawmakers felt ignored by business lobbyists.

Steve King took credit for stimulus funds that will help widen U.S. Highway 20 in rural northwest Iowa, even though he voted against the stimulus bill.

The Wall Street bailout didn’t look any better to me several months after it was implemented.

On my 40th birthday I posted a list of 40 good bloggers over 40, though it turned out a few of them were younger than I realized.

Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana rolled out the “Moderate Dems Working Group.”

Some important news flew under the radar: Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced “a new partnership to help American families gain better access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs.”

The House passed a bill that would levy a special tax on large bonuses awarded by financial institutions receiving bailout funds. Republican Tom Latham joined Iowa Democrats Bruce Braley, Dave Loebsack and Leonard Boswell in voting yes; Steve King voted no.

The Obamas announced plans for an organic garden on the White House lawn.

Chuck Grassley commented on AIG bonuses and medical marijuana, as Iowa Democratic Veterans Caucus chair Bob Krause announced plans to run against Grassley in 2010.

The White House held a regional forum on health care reform in Des Moines.

Bleeding Heartland user Iowan made the case for Congress to support the large increase in clean water funding in President Obama’s budget proposal.

The cover story for the Atlantic Monthly promped me to make my case against Hanna Rosin’s case against breastfeeding.

Representative Steve King promised to pay back property taxes he owed in the District of Columbia.

A group promoting the use of chemicals in agriculture got bent out of shape by First Lady Michelle Obama’s plans for an organic White House garden.

Tom Harkin worked on compromise language to get the Employee Free Choice Act through the Senate.

April 2009

Chuck Grassley voted for the Wall Street bailout but didn’t like the idea of the federal government bailing out U.S. automakers.

A new report from the U.S. Geological Survey indicated that Iowa contains 42 of the 150 watersheds that create the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

The House approved President Obama’s budget, and the Iowa delegation split on party lines.

Leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus said they wouldn’t settle for health care reform with no public health insurance option.

Food Democracy Now advocated changes to current rules, which allow “large corporate farms to take advantage of [federal] subsidy loopholes that place independent family farmers at a serious competitive disadvantage.”

Guest poster RDemocrat wrote about child poverty in rural America.

Guest poster RDemocrat discussed prospects for punishing American companies that committed fraud in Iraq.

Guest poster The Electrical Worker wrote about efforts to help workers in the renewable energy manufacturing sector to join labor unions.

Soft-drink makers pitted public health advocates against “moderation moms” and “hard-working families.”

On April 15 I posted some links related to the federal and Iowa tax systems as Mike Huckabee and Representative Steve King appeared at a “Fair Tax” rally in South Carolina.

News emerged that “The National Security Agency intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year […].”

President Barack Obama and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood released a blueprint for a new national network of high-speed passenger rail lines.

Leonard Boswell advocated normalizing trade relations with Cuba.

Scientists isolated one cause of the “colony collapse disorder” affecting honeybees.

Norm Coleman’s refusal to accept the result of the Minnesota election did lasting harm to Al Franken’s seniority.

Chuck Grassley’s comments on how to address the Iowa Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage didn’t please red-meat conservatives.

El Tinklenberg, former Democratic candidate in Minnesota’s sixth Congressional district, donated $250,000 in unspent campaign funds to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, prompting this post on the need for progressive activists to donate strategically, not emotionally.

President Obama came to Newton, Iowa, for Earth Day.

Bleeding Heartland user Elise wrote about Chuck Grassley’s “then and now” position on using the filibuster to block presidential appointees.

I was on the receiving end of an unethical push-poll/fundraising call from Newt Gingrich’s American Solutions organization and wrote up their pitch to small donors.

Senator Arlen Specter left the Republican caucus to become a Democrat and claimed that he would outrank Tom Harkin in the Democratic caucus.

Chuck Grassley voted no as the Senate finally confirmed Kathleen Sebelius as Health and Human Services secretary.

Arlen Specter’s party switch created a chance for Chuck Grassley to become ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but taking that chance would mean giving up the ranking member slot on the Finance Committee.

President Obama held a press conference to mark his 100th day in office. I liked how he said that bipartisanship isn’t “simply being willing to accept certain theories of theirs that we tried for eight years and didn’t work and the American people voted to change.”

May 2009

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke reversed a Bush administration rule that undermined Endangered Species Act protections.

After Supreme Court Justice David Souter announced his retirement, I posted thoughts on criteria the president should use in choosing his replacement.

Tom Harkin and Representative Dave Loebsack spoke out in favor of a public health insurance option.

Bleeding Heartland user Elise wrote about Chuck Grassley’s hypocrisy on the use of filibusters.

Mark Penn was wrong about why Hillary Clinton lost the Iowa caucuses.

The advance of marriage equality in Iowa and Vermont made it even more important to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Chuck Grassley decided to remain the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, but struck a deal allowing him to take that position on the Judiciary Committee in 2011.

Tom Harkin defended his decision to recommend Stephanie Rose for U.S. attorney in Iowa’s northern district, even though the U.S. Supreme Court found that “federal prosecutors have inappropriately used aggravated identity theft laws to prosecute undocumented workers.”

Survey USA found significant dips in the approval ratings of Chuck Grassley and Chet Culver during the month of April.

Tom Harkin introduced an important child nutrition bill and discussed possible grounds for compromise on the Employee Free Choice Act.

Chuck Grassley’s so-called bipartisan message on health care reform raised a lot of red flags for me.

I wondered why Bruce Braley’s Populist Caucus wasn’t speaking up more on health care reform.

I laid out optimistic and pessimistic views of a reported White House deal on cost-saving measures with “the presidents of Pharma, Advamed (device manufacturers), the American Medical Association (doctors), the American Hospital Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, and SEIU’s Health Care project.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee kept Leonard Boswell in its “Frontline” program for vulnerable incumbents, but I argued that Boswell would not be vulnerable in 2010. (2012 is a different story.)

Chuck Grassley said he was open to compromise on health care reform.

On the anniversary of the immigration raid in Postville, Iowa, guest poster Frank Sharry profiled Steve King’s extremist statements about the incident and immigration generally.

Chuck Grassley started making the case against “government-run” health care.

Hospitals and insurance companies said President Obama had “substantially overstated their promise […] to reduce the growth of health spending.”

House Republican leader John Boehner asked why anyone would want a government-run health care plan to jeopardize “the greatest health-care delivery system in the world”? I provided ten answers to his question.

Opinion poll data on the young generation painted a grim picture for Republicans.

Members of Representative Bruce Braley’s Populist Caucus were among 55 House members who took a stand against the Panama Free Trade Agreement.

I received an unethical fundraising call disguised as an opinion survey for David Bossie’s group Citizens United.

Appalling new details emerged about how mentally disabled workers were underpaid and exploited by a company with ties in Iowa and Texas.

President Obama made more history by nominating Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court. Chuck Grassley promised not to be a “rubber stamp.”

When California’s Supreme Court let Proposition 8 stand, I reminded Bleeding Heartland readers that Iowa recognizes all California marriages.

Some Wall Street firms whined about labor unions questioning investment fund managers about their stance on the Employee Free Choice Act.

Howard Dean spoke in Des Moines about marriage equality and reflected on his experience after he signed a civil unions bill in Vermont.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack took a step toward undoing bad Bush administration policy on national forests.

Republican fantasies about Sonia Sotomayor didn’t square with her judicial record.

Steve King recorded robocalls to identify and solicit donations from opponents of same-sex marriage rights. The National Organization for Marriage paid for the calls.

Dr. George Tiller was assassinated at a church in Wichita because he performed late-term abortions at his clinic.

June 2009

Senator John Ensign paid a high-profile visit to Iowa before anyone knew about the multiple scandals that will prevent him from running for president in 2012.

President Obama nominated longtime Representative Jim Leach, one of his high-profile Republican endorsers, to head the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Chuck Grassley said he couldn’t recall or find any record explaining why he voted against confirming Sonia Sotomayor to the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals in 1998. My hunch is that like other Republicans, he didn’t want Sotomayor to be in line for the Supreme Court.

Chuck Grassley wasn’t happy with President Obama’s comments on health care reform and told the world about it on Twitter.

Leonard Boswell confirmed that he supported a public health insurance option without a “trigger.”

All of Iowa’s representatives in the House voted for the Cash for Clunkers bill.

A Supreme Court ruling related to a West Virginia Supreme Court judge prompted this post on the merits of scrapping judicial elections.

The Project on Government Oversight reviewed state websites, looking for resources for those who want to report fraud, waste and abuse in how federal stimulus funds are being used. Iowa’s website on the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act scored well in the report but wasn’t in the top tier of especially “whistleblower-friendly websites.”

After a one-on-one meeting with Judge Sonia Sotomayor, Chuck Grassley said she wasn’t as “aggressive” and “obnoxious” as he expected.

I wasn’t pleased by the changes Leonard Boswell advocated in the climate change bill.

I warned about the dangers of a fake public health insurance option, such as regional co-ops. I also suggested ways activists could support the public option.

Health Care for America Now ran tv ads supporting the public option in 10 states, including Iowa.

National polling continued to show massive support for a real public health insurance option.

This post contained constructive criticism of the Cash for Clunkers program, for which Representative Bruce Braley was a lead sponsor.

I wasn’t convinced by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s “creative analogy” comparing climate-change skeptics with opponents of genetically-modified foods.

The House approved the American Clean Energy and Security Act (Waxman-Markey). I reviewed the strongest arguments for and against the climate change bill and concluded that it wasn’t strong enough to be worth passing. Iowa’s delegation split on party lines, with all three Democrats voting for it. Representative Dave Loebsack got an amendment into the bill “to the bill will amend the Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance (REEP) program so that building owners receiving disaster assistance can use the disaster assistance funds to leverage additional or matching funds to make energy efficient improvements to their homes and businesses.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued reports detailing the problems with the “health care status quo” across the country.

Smart Growth America released a review on how wisely states were spending transportation money from the stimulus bill. Iowa got good marks.

Norm Coleman finally conceded to Al Franken.

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