Every member of Congress from Iowa voted on September 30 for a last-ditch effort to keep the federal government open until November 17. The continuing resolution will maintain fiscal year 2023 spending levels for the first 47 days of the 2024 federal fiscal year, plus $16 billion in disaster relief funds for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is the amount the Biden administration requested. In addition, the bill includes “an extension of a federal flood insurance program and reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration.”
U.S. Representatives Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-01), Ashley Hinson (IA-02), Zach Nunn (IA-03), and Randy Feenstra (IA-04) were among the 126 House Republicans who joined 209 Democrats to approve the measure. (Ninety Republicans and one Democrat voted no.) House leaders brought the funding measure to the floor under a suspension of the rules, which meant it needed a two-thirds majority rather than the usual 50 percent plus one to pass.
Iowa’s Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst were part of the 88-9 majority in the upper chamber that voted to send the bill to President Joe Biden just in time to avert a shutdown as the new fiscal year begins on October 1.
House members considered several other federal budget bills this week and dozens of related amendments—far too many to summarize in one article. As I watched how the Iowa delegation approached the most important votes, a few things stood out to me.
IOWA REPUBLICANS DON’T WANT TO BE BLAMED FOR A SHUTDOWN
Former President Donald Trump had encouraged Congressional Republicans to vote down any stopgap spending bill, on the grounds that the public would blame Biden for fallout from a shutdown. Within GOP circles, some saw political benefits to holding out for deep spending cuts or other Republican policy goals.
But most Washington Republicans viewed the situation differently. Grassley characterized a shutdown strategy as “idiotic” in a conference call with some Iowa reporters this week (the senator’s staff do not allow Bleeding Heartland to participate). Caleb McCullough reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette,
“People say they want to accomplish ABC, or XYZ, and so you shut the government down,” he said. “And then a few days later … you get so much heat you open government up again and you didn’t accomplish ABC or XYZ.”
Grassley said a shutdown would be costly and prevent Congress from carrying out important duties that are funded by taxpayers.
“Just keeping the government open is so, so very important,” he said. “ … It costs money to shut down government, it costs money to open up government.”
Shutting down the government should be a last resort. My priority has always been to protect and represent my constituents to the best of my ability and I cannot justify shutting down our entire government over obscure policy decisions. Watch my full remarks here: pic.twitter.com/o0sv0Ju4k0— Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, M.D. (@RepMMM) September 30, 2023
She recalled how her parents had to work extra jobs to make ends meet, and how her father (an enlisted master sergeant in the Air Force) routinely had to time payment of bills so the mail would arrive after he had received his sole monthly paycheck. Miller-Meeks continued,
A lapse in pay for these individuals means going without food. These are real people, that would be affected by the political games both sides in Washington are playing.
To our nearly 10,000 hard-working Iowans in our district, who work for the federal government and are out of work, from heads of department to law enforcement officers to cafeteria workers, to the Iowa National Guard men and women who are protecting our southern border, I want to assure you that I will remain steadfastly committed to keeping the government open, because at the end of the day, I know your bills are still due.
In a news release issued after the House vote, Hinson also expressed empathy for ordinary people: “DC is so beyond broken, and it’s the American people who feel the pain from the brinksmanship – not politicians. I will continue working around the clock to keep our government open, bring conservative, fiscally responsible spending bills across the finish line, and work to make this place run better for taxpayers.”
Only a few days ago, Nunn had talked a good game about opposing any continuing resolution that didn’t include spending cuts and more funding for border security. Stephen Gruber-Miller reported for the Des Moines Register on September 27 that Nunn described the Senate’s short-term funding bill as “dead on arrival in the House.”
“And the reason being is it does nothing to actually cut spending. If anything, it actually adds to the deficit that we’re already doing by advancing a number of programs even the Senate says need to be reformed. Twinned with that, it does very little, if it’s not outright negligent, in addressing border security.” […]
“We do not want to see the government shut down, but it will not be a continuing resolution like the Senate does,” Nunn said. “It will be a stopgap that would cut spending in real ways but provide a short runway to finish the appropriation bills that still remain in the House.”
The bill Nunn approved on September 30 contained no spending cuts or additional border security measures. He explained on his social media, “The status quo in D.C. is critically broken & we cannot right the ship by letting it sink. That’s why I voted to keep the government open—ensuring no Iowan loses access to critical services—while we urgently continue working to cut wasteful spending.”
A news release from Feenstra’s office likewise emphasized that he voted to protect various groups from the impact of a shutdown:
The American people are fed up with the dysfunction in Congress and expect us to deliver real results. That’s why I voted to ensure that our troops and border patrol agents receive their full pay, our seniors receive their Social Security checks, our veterans receive the quality healthcare they have earned, and our government remains operational. This legislation provides us the necessary time to curb President Biden’s wasteful spending policies through a transparent and fiscally sound appropriations process. We must now continue our important work to secure our border, reduce reckless government spending, and honor our Commitment to America.
IOWA’S HOUSE MEMBERS REMAIN LOYAL TO SPEAKER MCCARTHY
Iowa’s House delegation supported Kevin McCarthy during his long battle to be elected speaker and have not given him trouble on any high-profile vote this year. For instance, all voted for the debt ceiling deal in May, which averted a default.
That trend continued this week, as Miller-Meeks, Hinson, Nunn, and Feenstra backed the speaker’s approach to the budget standoff. Unlike some of their GOP colleagues, they didn’t criticize McCarthy’s strategy (or lack thereof) in comments to the media. They voted for three of the four spending bills focused on certain departments, which House leaders brought to the floor in a semblance of “regular order.”
Perhaps most important, Iowa’s Republicans all backed the 30-day continuing resolution McCarthy brought up on September 29. That measure failed after 21 GOP members joined all House Democrats to oppose it. The vote was politically risky, because in order to reduce overall spending while keeping the Defense, Veterans, and Homeland Security departments whole, McCarthy’s bill would have imposed short-term spending cuts of nearly 30 percent to many other federal domestic programs, including housing subsidies, cancer research, nutrition assistance, environmental cleanups, Social Security Administration offices, Head Start, and heating assistance for low-income households.
Although those cuts would never have gotten past the Democratic-controlled Senate or Biden, most House Republicans are now on record voting for them.
Iowans can expect to hear more about this doomed proposal during next year’s campaigns. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee previewed some talking points in a September 29 news release slamming Nunn for voting to:
- Defund law enforcement by slashing funding for the FBI, DEA and other cuts that could lead to the elimination of hundreds of state and local law enforcement nationwide.
- Cut funding for loan and grant programs for farmers, as well as the Rural Housing Service and Rural Utility Service programs that help rural residents afford homes and utilities.
- Hurt seniors by gutting funding for the Social Security Administration (SSA) that could lead to closing SSA field offices that seniors rely on.
- Cut SBA Entrepreneurial Development programs that support small businesses by 30%, potentially cutting support to 400,000 small businesses.
It’s anybody’s guess how House Republicans will handle the next budget showdown as the November 17 deadline approaches. But count on Miller-Meeks, Hinson, Nunn, and Feenstra to follow McCarthy’s lead.
IOWANS SUPPORT ANTI-ABORTION BUDGET RIDERS—BUT NOT AT THE EXPENSE OF FARM PROGRAMS
House Republicans have added language to various budget bills this year to express their opposition to abortion or Biden administration policies. When the House approved the defense authorization bill in July, Iowa’s delegation supported several controversial amendments, which “would prohibit the secretary of defense from paying for or reimbursing expenses relating to abortion services,” and “would bar a health care program for service members from covering hormone treatments for transgender individuals and gender confirmation surgeries.”
On September 27, all four Iowa Republicans supported amendments to cut the salaries of six Food and Drug Administration officials to $1. The sponsor had described his proposals as retaliation for the FDA approval of mifepristone, a drug frequently used for medication abortion. None of those amendments received a majority vote, so that language was not added to the bill in question.
The Iowa delegation showed on September 28 that there’s a limit to their willingness to cast symbolic anti-abortion votes. All four voted to approve three GOP spending bills focused on certain agencies (the State Department and related foreign programs, the Defense Department, and Homeland Security).
But Miller-Meeks, Hinson, Nunn, and Feenstra were among 27 Republicans who joined Democrats to vote down an appropriations bill for Agriculture, Rural Development, and other programs.
Some Republican moderates opposed that bill because of a provision that would prohibit sending mifepristone through the mail. The Iowans voted no because of the “significant cuts” to the USDA budget. A written statement from Hinson explained her position this way:
Throughout the government funding process my goal has been to pass the most fiscally conservative legislation possible while investing in Iowa’s priorities. Last night, I supported three single-subject bills that responsibly fund our military, support our national security, and secure our border.
However, I voted against the Ag-FDA funding bill. We passed legislation out of the House Appropriations Committee that cut wasteful spending at these agencies while investing in agriculture. Last night’s bill goes beyond red-lining waste, it undermines rural America. I will not compromise when it comes to investing in Iowa agriculture and I will not allow this process to happen on the backs of farmers. I will work with my colleagues in the House and Senate on a final version of this legislation that prioritizes our farmers who feed and fuel the world and funds programs vital to our food supply.
As is so often the case with the federal budget, one person’s priorities and vital programs are another person’s “wasteful spending.” How to handle farm programs will be a challenge for McCarthy in the coming weeks.
IOWA’S HOUSE MEMBERS WAVERING ON MILITARY AID FOR UKRAINE
Iowa’s Congressional delegation has generally supported U.S. military assistance to Ukraine, especially since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of that country in February 2022. For example, Iowa’s House members all backed a large military aid package in March 2022. (Feenstra voted against humanitarian aid for Ukraine at that time, though.)
This July, all four Iowans voted against an amendment to the defense authorization bill, which would have prohibited U.S. military assistance to Ukraine. They voted no on a similar amendment to the defense budget, brought to the floor on September 27.
But when a far-right colleague offered an amendment on September 27 to remove $300 million in military assistance for Ukraine from the defense budget, Nunn voted yes. (Hinson, Feenstra, and Miller-Meeks were part of the majority rejecting that proposal.)
Things took another turn on September 28, as the House continued to consider its version of the defense spending bill. To placate members of his caucus who sympathize with Russia’s position, McCarthy removed the $300 million for Ukraine from the defense budget. To placate members who sympathize with Ukraine, House leaders brought a separate bill to the floor, containing $300 million in military aid to Ukraine. That measure easily passed with support from 210 Democrats and 101 Republicans. But 117 Republicans voted no, including all four Iowans.
It’s not clear whether Miller-Meeks, Hinson, Nunn, and Feenstra will continue to oppose further military aid to Ukraine. A new stand-alone bill is expected to come up for a vote sometime before November 17. Ernst has been among the Senate’s most vocal advocates for aid to Ukraine and may encourage House Republicans to get back on board. But I perceive that Iowa’s House members are under pressure from the Trumpian wing of the GOP to disengage from this conflict.
Nunn’s mind appears to be made up. He said in a September 26 news release,
U.S. taxpayers have already sent nearly $135 billion to support the Ukrainian people, which is more than enough to give $3,000 to every Ukrainian citizen. While I believe that Russia must be stopped and punished, with American families hurting, sending even more money to Ukraine to help them rebuild their economy is not a good use of our tax dollars.
That’s why I just introduced the bipartisan Protect Taxpayers and Defeat Russia Act to advocate that frozen Russian funds – rather than U.S. taxpayer dollars – be used to fund the reconstruction of Ukraine.
Putin and his oppressive regime are solely responsible for the murderous destruction in Ukraine. Actions have consequences so they alone should be responsible for the costs of their unprovoked war. […]
Bottomline: Russia is a serious threat, but tapping into the already frozen Russian assets is far more responsible than continuing to milk American taxpayers.
In a September 27 interview with the Des Moines Register, Nunn stuck by his new position, saying, “I don’t think that any taxpayer should have to dig in their pocket to defend somebody else’s border if we can’t first defend our own.”
The trouble with Nunn’s idea is that Congress would need to enact new legislation to give the president authority to use seized Russian assets in this way. A bipartisan bill already exists, but it probably won’t make it through both chambers before funding already approved for Ukraine runs out sometime this fall.