Democratic Representatives Abby Finkenauer (IA-01) and Cindy Axne (IA-03) joined a long list of “firsts” when they were sworn in on January 3. Iowa had never elected a woman to the U.S. House before 2018, but now women make up half of our state’s delegation. The “most diverse Congress in history” includes record numbers of women and members of religious, racial, ethnic, or LGBTQ groups that have not previously represented their states in Washington. Finkenauer also became the second-youngest woman to serve in Congress, after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
The first votes in the 116th Congress involved some drama within the Democratic caucus, but Iowans did not rock the boat.
Choosing a speaker is always the first order of business, and Nancy Pelosi was elected with 220 votes, only a few to spare (roll call). Finkenauer, Axne, and seven-term Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) all made clear in November they would support Pelosi; click here to read their public statements at that time. The fifteen House Democrats who voted for other candidates were mostly freshmen. Cameron Joseph broke down their votes for Talking Points Memo.
Six House Republicans voted for speaker candidates other than Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, but Representative Steve King (IA-04) voted for his party’s establishment this time. Four years ago, King and newly-elected Republican Rod Blum declined to support Speaker John Boehner.
Next on the January 3 agenda came several procedural votes, notably the first part of a new rules package, which passed mostly along party lines by 234 votes to 197. The Iowans all voted as expected. Three progressive Democrats voted against the rules, while three Republicans voted for them. The sticking point for the Democratic dissenters related to legislation that could increase the federal deficit. Lindsey McPherson explained the controversy well in an article for Roll Call.
[Ro] Khanna and Ocasio-Cortez had announced on Twitter Wednesday that they would oppose the package over a pay-as-you-go, or PAYGO, provision that requires legislation that would increase the deficit to be offset by spending cuts or revenue increases.
Many progressives oppose PAYGO because they feel that some policies that will have a larger economic benefit do not need to be paid for and don’t want the provision to interfere with their goals of passing costly legislation like “Medicare for All.”
PAYGO, however, is also a law that would allow the administration to make cuts to mandatory spending (although many programs like Social Security and Medicare are exempt) to offset any net annual deficit increase due to legislation passed by Congress.
Give the existence of the law, which like the House rule can be waived by a vote of Congress — and often is — many progressives did not feel the need to vote against the rules package despite opposing PAYGO as a principle.
At the Wonkette blog, Doktor Zoom provided a more colorful–and not safe for work–commentary on why the rules package would be a stupid hill for progressives to die on: “We’re stuck with paygo for now, and rejecting the rule at the moment is an utterly empty gesture that would actually hand power to Team Trump.”
The last votes on January 3 concerned two “clean” spending bills to reopen the government without allocating funds to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. From yet another good synopsis by McPherson:
The House first passed a bill 239-192 to reopen the Department of Homeland Security with a continuing resolution lasting through Feb. 8. Five Republicans voted with the Democrats.
The Homeland bill is where debate over border funds occur, and Democrats argue a stopgap extending fiscal 2018 funding would bide them time to continue negotiations while keeping the government open.
The second measure the House passed provided funding through fiscal 2019 for the six annual appropriations bills that have yet to be signed into law that have nothing to do with the border security debate. The vote was 241-190. Seven Republicans voted with the Democrats.
Democrats feel the roughly a dozen agencies funded under these measures shouldn’t be held hostage over the border wall debate.
But Trump and congressional Republicans have rejected both Democratic bills — which contain no money for a border wall, just a continuation of the $1.3 billion authorized for fencing in fiscal 2018 — as show votes, not a serious attempt to reach a solution.
Finkenauer, Loebsack, and Axne voted for both spending bills, while King opposed them. But five Republicans in vulnerable House districts joined Democrats on the Homeland Security spending bill, and seven GOP members did the same on the other appropriations measure. As time passes, more Republicans may feel pressure to vote to reopen the government, even without funding for President Donald Trump’s obsession.
Any comments about Congress or the shutdown are welcome in this thread. I enclose below statements Iowa’s path-breaking women released on their first days at work in the House.
Final note: like most of the women who served before them, Finkenauer and Axne have chosen the title of “Congresswoman” for their official communications. When writing about the Iowans in the U.S. House, Bleeding Heartland has long preferred the gender-neutral “Representative” to “Congressman.” I will continue to identify all four members the same way.
Statements released by Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03) on January 3:
CONGRESSWOMAN CINDY AXNE SWORN INTO OFFICE
~ Congresswoman Axne today took the oath of office to serve as the U.S. Representative from Iowa’s Third Congressional District ~
Washington, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Cindy Axne (IA-03) was sworn-in to serve as the U.S. Representative from Iowa’s Third Congressional District in the 116th Congress. Congresswoman Axne’s husband John, her two sons Gunnar and Rafe, and her father Terry Wadle joined as guests in the House gallery to watch the oath of office.
“I am incredibly honored to serve as the U.S. Representative from Iowa’s Third Congressional District. I will work tirelessly to deliver the highest level of constituent services and ensure the voices of all Iowans are heard in Washington.
“With the start of the 116th Congress, we have an opportunity, and a duty to our constituents, to put party aside and work together to move our country forward. I remain committed to serving as a champion of bipartisan, commonsense solutions to improve the lives of all Iowans.
“Over the next two years, I will fight to strengthen our rural communities, support our farmers, and provide all Iowans with the skills they need to get a good paying job. I will work relentlessly to ensure we maintain protections for people with pre-existing conditions, protect crucial programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and lower the cost of health care for all Iowans.
“While I look forward to passing crucial legislation to help hardworking Iowa families, my first order of business will be to re-open the government and ensure that every single federal employee receives the paycheck they’ve earned.”
CONGRESSWOMAN AXNE VOTES TO OPEN THE GOVERNMENT
Washington, D.C – On her first day in office, Congresswoman Cindy Axne (IA-03) voted to open the government as the partial government shutdown enters into its 14th day. Congresswoman Axne voted for two bills to open the government. The first was a package of six appropriations bills that were previously approved with bipartisan approval in the U.S. Senate in December, 2018. The second bill would fund the Department of Homeland Security through February 8th, allowing time for Congress and the President to reach an agreement to strengthen border security while keeping this critical department open.
“I voted to end the government shutdown that has threatened our national security, hurt our economy, and put hardworking Iowans on the hook. We have a responsibility to our constituents to find solutions to strengthen our border security without holding the paychecks of hundreds of thousands of federal employees hostage. This legislative package allows us to do just that,” said Congresswoman Axne.
“Today marks the first day of the 116th Congress. It’s time Washington takes responsibility for our actions. I am ready and willing to work with Republicans and the President in order to reach a deal to effectively strengthen our border security, while also keeping our government functioning. I strongly urge the Senate to pass and the President to sign these bills.”
Statements released by Representative Abby Finkenauer (IA-01) on January 3:
Washington, DC – Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer today released the following statement on the occasion of being sworn in to the United States House of Representatives to represent Iowa’s First Congressional District:
“I was honored to share this day with my parents and the people of Iowa’s first district, who taught me the Iowa values that I will fight for here in Congress. Quality schools, affordable health care, and serious investments in infrastructure are on the line. I am ready to get to work for everyone in the First District and to make sure the voices of those Congress has forgotten are heard loud and clear.”
Washington, DC – Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer today released the following statement on her vote to re-open the federal government:
“I’m proud to have voted to re-open our government, putting it back to work for the American people. We can and must make sure that both parties negotiate and work together. But, that should never mean that TSA officials are protecting us without pay or that our farmers can’t turn to the Farm Services Agency for help. Iowans know that compromise and common sense go hand-in-hand. And it’s what they expect from their elected officials.”