After campaigning on lies, Iowa Senate Republicans still won't lay out agenda

All but one of the 29 Republicans who will serve in the Iowa Senate for the next two years elected their leaders on Friday, changing little from the group that led the minority caucus during the last legislative session.

Bill Dix moves from Senate minority leader to majority leader.

Jack Whitver moves from minority whip to Senate president.

Jerry Behn, who preceded Dix as minority leader but hasn’t been in leadership since 2012, will become Senate president pro tem. He’s the longest-serving current Republican senator.

My own state senator, Charles Schneider, moves from an assistant minority leader position to majority whip.

Dan Zumbach and Randy Feenstra will be assistant majority leaders, having been assistant minority leaders during the last legislative session. The other two assistant majority leaders are new to leadership: Michael Breitbach and Amy Sinclair, the only woman in the 29-member incoming GOP caucus.

After the caucus meeting, Dix spoke only in general terms about the new majority’s plans.

From Rod Boshart’s story for the Cedar Rapids Gazette:

“Make no mistake, our promise to voters was that we are going to make Iowa attractive to career development and more opportunities for Iowa families, and making sure our tax policy reflects that is something we will not take our eye off of,” Dix said. […]

“We know that revenues are tight, and we’ve got to keep our nose to the grindstone in making sure that we are keeping spending in check,” Dix said.

O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa,

Dix said growing the economy is a priority as well and that means tax changes are in store, but the details of the Senate Republicans’ tax plan will be decided at a later date.

“Clearly, we want to make sure that our tax code is reflective of one that will offer better opportunities for people to keep more of their hard-earned money and also to invest it in our state,” Dix said, “which creates more career opportunities.”

William Petroski reported for the Des Moines Register,

“We are going to make sure that the state budget is treated like the family budget,” Dix said after the meeting. “We need to do a better job of defining our priorities and make sure that we spend less and make government smaller and more efficient. At the same time, we want to move forward policies to grow our state and make our state more attractive for investment and new career opportunities.”

Dix said it’s too soon to discuss specifics of legislation that will be introduced during the upcoming session. […] He said more details about individual bills will be worked out in Republican caucus meetings in the weeks ahead.

Dix and Whitver raised and spent more than a million and a half dollars on this year’s state Senate races. Yet their candidates offered no concrete plans, just vague promises about tax cuts and new jobs. Jeff Edler told viewers, “It’s time for Iowa’s legislators to tighten their belts so hard-working Iowans don’t have to.” Former Iowa House member Mark Lofgren assured voters, “we won’t balance the budget by underfunding vital programs.”

Most Republican spending during the last two months went toward television commercials and direct mail featuring negative talking points against Democratic senators. Many of those attacks were false: opposed a tuition freeze, supported a “ritzy golf tournament,” “trolley for lobbyists,” and “heated sidewalks.

Which programs will Dix and his comrades-in-arms axe to “make government smaller and more efficient”? What criteria will determine whose belts will be tightened and which “vital programs” will be protected? Whose taxes will Republicans cut, and what services will they eliminate to make up for lost revenue? We have no idea. Maybe most of the senators themselves don’t know and are just waiting for marching orders.

Dix has had years to contemplate what policies he would push as leader of the chamber. Refusing to disclose his agenda suggests he knows his tax cuts would not help the majority of Iowans, and/or his cuts to education and other programs would be unpopular. His plans might not be as extreme as U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s blueprint, which would direct 99.6 percent of the tax cuts to the wealthiest 1 percent when fully implemented. Maybe Iowa Senate Republicans will emulate Donald Trump, whose tax plan would give 51 percent of the money to the top 1 percent while raising taxes for many single parents.

Take this to the bank: hard-working Iowans at the lower end of the income scale will see little to no benefit from the tax reform Dix and his colleagues unveil next year.

Some likely Republican policies will cost more than the status quo. Take defunding Planned Parenthood, a dream GOP lawmakers will finally be able to realize, without a Democratic-controlled Senate standing in the way. Iowa can’t simply prohibit the organization from receiving Medicaid funds for birth control or pregnancy and STD tests, because that’s against federal law. Our state Department of Human Services will have to create its own family planning program, giving up federal Medicaid dollars. I suppose GOP lawmakers could discontinue all state-funded contraception services, but going down that road would only increase the number of unplanned pregnancies, and in turn, abortions.

Statehouse reporters should keep pressing Republican leaders for details on how they will use their newfound power.

P.S.- Tim Kapucian and Rick Bertrand were among last year’s assistant minority leaders but will not be assistant majority leaders during the coming legislative session. I don’t know whether they were snubbed or asked for certain committee assignments rather than a leadership role. Bertrand indicated this summer that he is “unlikely” to seek a third term in 2018. I expect him to change his mind, now that Republicans are in the majority. On the other hand, he may not have fond feelings toward his Senate colleagues who endorsed Representative Steve King against Bertrand in this year’s primary to represent the fourth Congressional district.

P.P.S.– During this year’s campaign, Bleeding Heartland had a cameo role in one of the lies told by lying liars (to paraphrase Al Franken). Todd Dorman’s October 21 column for the Cedar Rapids Gazette cited a Republican hit piece on State Senator Liz Mathis:

Of course, just when I’m preparing to ding Democrats and Mathis for fudging a mailer, Republicans and [Rene] Gadelha hit my mailbox with a new one blaming Mathis for Obamacare premium increases. The smoking gun? Mathis attended an Obamacare panel in 2012 led by then-U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley. Gotcha!

Never mind that the state senate didn’t pass, and has no power to fix, Obamacare. That’s Congress. But you knew that, because you’re smarter than a GOP strategist.

I didn’t remember referring to that panel in a roundup of news about the second anniversary of Congress passing the Affordable Care Act. Anyway, thanks for reading, GOP staffers. Next time, use my work in a less misleading way.

Hit piece on Liz Mathis photo IowaGOPMathisBleedingHeartland_zpsyryvhook.jpeg

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