Iowans land good U.S. House committee assignments

As a group, Iowa's U.S. House members have less seniority than at any time in more than a century. But their lack of experience in Congress didn't translate into undesirable committee assignments.

On the contrary: Iowa's two-term Democrat and three Republican newcomers will all serve on influential panels.

Congressional leaders often give good committee assignments to members representing competitive districts or viewed as rising stars, and those dynamics worked in favor of Representative Ashley Hinson (IA-01). The last two Iowans to serve on House Appropriations (Republican Tom Latham and Democrat Neal Smith) weren't assigned to that committee until their second terms. Hinson already has a seat there.

Congress-watchers have noted that Appropriations is a less powerful panel than it used to be when members could easily secure "earmarks" that benefited their districts. But House Democratic leaders have signaled that they may allow earmarks to return. The new House Appropriations Committee chair Rosa DeLauro is working on it, saying earmarks are "an opportunity for 'non-profits, state and local government' to make a case for spending priorities 'that are community-based.'"

Hinson said in a statement earlier this month that she is "honored" to serve on Appropriations, adding,

There’s no question that the way we fund the government is broken, and I see this is as an opportunity to begin to fix the damage that has been done and start the hard work of getting our fiscal house back in order. In this post, I will fight for priorities that matter to Iowans and rural America, ensure taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly, push back on Democrats’ liberal agenda, and bring some desperately needed transparency to government spending.

Typically, Appropriations is an "exclusive" committee, but Hinson received a waiver to serve on the Budget Committee as well. In a statement, she promised,

I will use this position to help rein in Washington’s out-of-control spending habits and check Democrats’ efforts to fund a liberal wish list on the taxpayers’ dime. The taxpayers are my bosses and this will allow me to better serve them.

Iowans are tired of the way Washington overspends their money with no accountability or transparency. I will be their unwavering voice as I work to reform our broken spending system and serve as the advocate taxpayers have been missing in DC.

So Hinson may not be rushing to secure earmarks for projects in counties she represents. But her committee assignments will help her raise money and give her a lot of good talking points for her 2022 campaign. Members of Congress are often most vulnerable in their first re-election bids, and the first district may look somewhat different on the next political map.

Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02) will serve on three committees: Homeland Security, Veterans’ Affairs, and Education and Labor (on which her predecessor Dave Loebsack served early in his career). She commented in a news release,

“These assignments directly highlight my strengths and experience as well as the priorities I expressed as I sought office: resolving this pandemic and preparing for future pandemics; ensuring the health of our citizens craving more normal human interactions and engagement at home, school, work, church and entertainment venues; safely returning people to work and students to the classroom; making sure that we have a workforce that is well trained and ready for the jobs of the future; and seeing that we have affordable, accessible healthcare,” said Miller-Meeks. “I’m ready to get to work on behalf of Iowans.”

Miller-Meeks, a physician and 24-year U.S. Army veteran, noted that the Homeland Security Committee also has legislative jurisdiction over the National Strategic Stockpile. She frequently highlighted the stockpile’s value in preparing the country for future pandemics and suggested a number of potential improvements to that vital asset and the way it is administered.

The seat on Education and Labor should help Miller-Meeks if Johnson County remains part of IA-02, because the University of Iowa and its medical facilities are the dominant employer in the area.

Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03) will continue to serve on both the Financial Services and Agriculture committees. She was named to Financial Services at the beginning of her first term, having requested the assignment due to the importance of financial and insurance companies in the Des Moines metro area. She then received a waiver to serve on Agriculture after GOP Representative Steve King lost his committee assignments in January 2019. The Des Moines Register noted at that time, "The last time Iowa wasn't represented on the House Agriculture Committee was in the 55th Congress in 1897, according to the congressional directories. Iowa has had consistent membership, starting in the 56th Congress in 1899."

A statement from Axne this week highlighted her "work for Iowa’s families, small businesses, and local industries" as a member of Financial Services.

“Whether it was tackling COVID-19 fraud, ensuring stimulus checks were distributed fairly, protecting Iowa jobs from outsourcing, keeping roofs over the heads of our families, or supporting rural entrepreneurs – my work through the Financial Services Committee has always sought to help my constituents through all manners of challenges,” said Rep. Axne. “Over the past two years, I’ve used my role on the House Financial Services Committee to raise the concerns of Iowa’s workers, businesses, renters and homeowners, and consumers – and I look forward to continuing that work alongside my colleagues and the Biden Administration.”

One of the first measures passed out of the House written by Rep. Axne came from her work on the Financial Services Committee. The bipartisan Expanding Access to Capital for Rural Job Creators Act would ensure rural entrepreneurs and small business owners have a seat at the table as federal policymakers consider new rules that govern investment and capital.

Rep. Axne also used her role on the Committee to advocate for COVID-19 relief and improved delivery of aid approved by Congress – including assistance for renters, improved delivery of direct payments, and protecting consumers from COVID-19 scams.

Republican Randy Feenstra (IA-04) will give Iowa a second voice on the Agriculture Committee. It was his top choice.

“I promised 4th District Iowans that I would deliver a seat on the House Agriculture Committee, and today, I am thrilled to announce I have been selected to serve on this important committee,” said Rep. Feenstra. “Corn and soybean growers -- along with our livestock, egg, dairy, poultry, ethanol, and biodiesel producers -- form the backbone of the 4th District’s economy. As the second largest ag producing district in the country, it is vital that our hardworking farmers have a seat at the table on the House Agriculture Committee. [...]

According to the USDA, Iowa’s 4th District is the largest crop growing district in the country, number one in hog and pig production, second in overall ag production, and third largest in livestock, poultry and products.

On the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Feenstra will work to provide pricing transparency in our agriculture markets; protect the Renewable Fuel Standard and the biofuels industry; expand broadband access; bolster Iowa’s relationship with our top trading partners, Canada and Mexico; support family farms by keeping taxes low and fighting against burdensome regulations; and encourage innovation in agriculture to help spur economic growth.

Rep. Feenstra grew up working on farms, frequently walking beans and doing chores. His in-laws run a livestock and crop farm in Sioux County, where he helps out along with his wife and four kids – spending many weekends bailing hay, loading hogs, vaccinating cattle, and maintaining seven finishing sites.

Feenstra will also join Hinson on the House Budget Committee; he promised in a statement, "With Sen. Bernie Sanders leading the Senate’s budget committee, I will not hesitate to stand up against socialist government programs that spend money we don’t have and dramatically expand the size of government."

Finally, Feenstra will serve on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, which, he said, has "jurisdiction over energy sources, including renewable energy and alternative fuels." The highly sought-after Energy and Commerce Committee handles the most important energy-related bills in the House.

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