Catching up on news from Congress, the U.S. House on June 16 approved an Agriculture appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012. House Republican leaders worked hard to whip up support for the bill, which squeaked through on a 217 to 203 vote (roll call). Of Iowa's five House members, only Republican Tom Latham (IA-04) voted for final passage. He is close to House Speaker John Boehner. Steve King (IA-05) was among 19 Republicans to vote no; that group included "tea party" favorites like Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Ron Paul of Texas and Jeff Flake of Arizona. Every Democrat present voted against the agriculture appropriations measure, including Iowans Bruce Braley (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02), and Leonard Boswell (IA-03).
Latham did not send out a news release on passage of this bill, which is odd, since he serves on the House Appropriations Committee. Then again, Latham also didn't officially comment on House passage of the Defense Authorization Act last month.
Many Democrats opposed the agriculture appropriations bill because of big spending cuts like $600 million less for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program and a $30 million less for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. That commission is supposed to protect the public from fraud and manipulation of commodities markets. Loebsack and Boswell didn't release statements explaining their vote against the agriculture appropriations legislation, despite the fact that Boswell serves on the House Agriculture Committee. Braley charged that the bill would hurt the Iowa economy in this statement to the media on June 16:
"Since the start of this Congress, we've seen a sustained attack on Iowa farmers and our state's economy. This bill is just the latest to threaten the thousands of jobs that depend on agriculture and the ethanol industry. I voted against previous bills that threatened Iowa jobs and I voted against this bill today because I will always stand up for Iowa farmers, jobs and our middle class families."
King didn't draw attention to his vote against final passage of the appropriations measure, but he hailed the House votes on both of his amendments (only one of which passed). King's statements and background on his amendments are after the jump. I also discuss how the Iowa delegation voted on other important amendments brought to the floor during two hours of debate. Sometimes all five Iowans voted the same way, sometimes they split on party lines, and sometimes King stood alone.
King's first amendment would have blocked $1.15 billion in appropriations to settle claims from the Pigford v Vilsack lawsuit, also known as Pigford II. In the Pigford case, African-American farmers sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture over discrimination claims. Many Republicans, including Senator Chuck Grassley, supported the Pigford II settlement. In contrast, King has long asserted that most of the claimants were never discriminated against. After Republicans took back the U.S. House in last November's elections, King vowed to try to defund Pigford II. But 78 Republicans voted with every Democrat in the chamber to reject King's amendment. Latham and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor were among the 155 Republicans who supported King's amendment. His press release put an upbeat spin on the amendment that failed:
King: "Stage set for investigation of Pigford II fraud."
Congressman King reacts to strong showing of Congressional disapproval for settlement program funding unresolved Pigford v. Vilsack claims
Washington D.C.- Congressman Steve King (R-IA) released the following statement after 155 Members of Congress voted in favor of an amendment he offered to the Agriculture Appropriations bill in an attempt to block an additional $1.15 billion in spending allocated for the fraud-plagued Pigford II settlement program.
"The vote on my amendment revealed that 155 Members of Congress are prepared to join me in pulling the plug on funding for unresolved Pigford v. Vilsack claims because of the concerns that have been raised about widespread fraud," said King. "These concerns are well placed."
"How is it possible that Secretary Vilsack can identify 94,000 'victims' of USDA discrimination against black farmers from a total universe of only 18,000 black farmers? The original USDA estimate predicted that 3,000 of 18,000 black farmers would file a discrimination claim. Now, Tom Vilsack and Eric Holder have taken it upon themselves to negotiate a $1.15 billion agreement in Pigford II with the anonymous representatives of a universe of anonymous claimants that has swelled to 94,000. When added to the tab of the Pigford I settlement, this new $1.15 billion agreement brings the total taxpayer funded Pigford payout to $2.3 billion."
"We do not have the list of all the attorneys who are collecting commissions as part of these settlements, but we do have video footage of one of them admitting that 10% of his clients are frauds. Despite this, Secretary Vilsack asserts there are only three cases of fraud in the 94,000 -- yet the USDA has not identified, let alone disciplined, a single employee who discriminated against even one of these 94,000."
"We've all heard the expression 'victimless crime', but now we have 'crimeless victims' -- individuals who, without basis for a grievance, claim to be victims even though no one can be identified as having discriminated against them. In light of the strong showing of support for my effort to block funding for Pigford II, the House should now be prepared to initiate a Congressional investigation. The 155 votes my amendment received indicate that the stage has been set for this Congress to investigate Pigford II fraud fully."
King's other amendment dealt with federal funding for abortion, specifically the medication sometimes used to induce abortions during the first two months of pregnancy. Iowa's delegation split on predictable party lines (Republicans yes, Democrats no) as this amendment passed by 240 to 176. Blocking funds for abortion providers has always been an important issue for King, and his press release hailed the vote:
King's Pro-Life Amendment Added to Agriculture Appropriations Bill
Congressman King's amendment prevents Ag Bill funds from being spent on abortion drug RU-486 "for any purpose"
Washington D.C.- Congressman Steve King (R-IA) released the following statement after the House of Representatives voted 240-176 to pass an amendment he introduced which prevents any funds within HR 2112, the Agriculture Appropriations bill, from being spent on the abortion drug RU-486 "for any purpose," including use in "telemed abortions." Telemed abortions involve using videoconferencing technology to dispense mifepristone, the abortion drug commonly known as RU-486, to patients without having a doctor present. Abortion providers like Planned Parenthood are the frequent recipient of federal telemedicine grants, and King's amendment makes it clear that telemedicine grants contained within the agriculture bill cannot be used to facilitate the use of RU-486 in "telemed abortions." This issue is of particular importance in Iowa, as the "telemed abortion" technique was developed by the Des Moines-based abortion provider "Planned Parenthood of the Heartland", and reports indicate that 1,900 chemical abortions using this technology have been performed in Iowa alone.
"I applaud the House of Representatives for passing my important pro-life amendment today," said King. "American taxpayers should not be asked to subsidize abortions, and federal telemedicine grants should not be used to enable abortion providers like Planned Parenthood to dispense the RU-486 abortion drug. My amendment ensures that no telemedicine grant money in the Agriculture Appropriations bill will be spent for any purpose that enables abortionists to perform 'telemed abortions.' Cutting off this source of funding for this procedure will save the lives of women and unborn babies."
Funny, his press release doesn't mention that King opposed final passage of the bill containing this "important pro-life" amendment.
These other House votes from June 16 caught my eye:
Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana offered an amendment to "prohibit use of funds to implement the Departmental Regulation of the Department of Agriculture entitled 'Policy Statement on Climate Change Adaptation'." That amendment passed 238 to 179, and Boswell was one of only 10 Democrats to cross party lines to vote for it. King and Latham also voted for the Scalise amendment, while Braley and Loebsack voted no. Boswell has never championed federal action to combat global warming, citing concerns about the effect on agriculture. His vote for the 2009 House climate change bill is sure to be an issue in his 2012 race against Latham in the new IA-03. Looks like Boswell doesn't want to give Latham any more ammunition on that front.
Iowa's five House members all voted against Republican Jeff Flake's amendment to "prohibit the use of funds to be used for the construction of an ethanol blender pump or an ethanol storage facility," but that amendment passed easily by 283 to 128. It's another sign of bipartisan backing for withdrawing federal government support of the ethanol industry.
A different amendment offered by Flake would have blocked certain agriculture subsidies for persons or entities with average adjusted gross income exceeding $250,000. Those limits drew significant support from both parties, but the amendment failed 186 to 228. Boswell, Loebsack and Braley all supported the amendment, while Latham and King voted to preserve the status quo.
Democrat Earl Blumenauer offered an amendment to cap certain kinds of subsidies at $125,000 per person or legal entity. All five Iowans voted no as that amendment failed 154 to 262.
By voice vote, the House approved Don Young of Alaska's amendment to "prohibit the use of funds made available by this Act to the Food and Drug Administration to approve any application for approval of genetically engineered salmon."
Democratic attempts to increase spending in some areas mostly failed. For example, all three Iowa Democrats supported an amendment to spend $1 million more on the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Latham and King voted no as that amendment went down 193 to 226.
On the other hand, the House voted down many Republican amendments calling for deeper spending cuts. All of Iowa's representatives voted against most of the amendments slashing funds for agriculture programs (Rural Housing Assistance Grants, McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program Grants, Agricultural Marketing Services, etc).
Republican Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee offered an amendment to cut all the appropriations in the bill by 5 percent. That amendment drew more than 100 Republican yes votes, but King and Latham voted no along with Iowa's three Democrats. The amendment failed 109 to 310.
King backed some of the rejected spending-cut amendments. He was the only Iowan to vote for even larger cuts to the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program. Two amendments with that goal lost by 64 to 360 and 119 to 306.
Both King and Boswell voted for Republican Paul Gosar of Arizona's amendment "to increase funding in the Multi-Family Housing Revitalization Program Account and the Rural Business Program account by $100,000,000 and reducing the the Food for Peace Title II Grants account by $100,000,000." Latham, Braley and Loebsack voted no as that amendment failed 139 to 285. When Gosar offered a different amendment cutting Food for Peace by $100 million with the savings going toward deficit reduction, King was the only yes vote from Iowa. That amendment failed by 124 to 300.
In a vote of 223-197, the House approved Democratic Rep. Ron Kind's (Wis.) amendment to prohibit World Trade Organization-directed funds to the Brazil Cotton Institute.
GOP leaders had to assure members of the conference, including a key member of the GOP deputy whip team, that the issue would be revisited as the bill moves to conference.
Deputy Whip Mike Conaway (R-Texas) "reluctantly" supported the final bill, as a result of those assurances.
"I have grave concerns with a provision adopted on the House floor that could incite a retaliatory trade war between Brazil and the United States. That is and has been one of my main arguments against attempts to craft farm policy through amendments on inappropriate legislative vehicles on the House floor. This is how serious mistakes are made, and one was committed today," Conaway said in a statement late Thursday.
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