Unusual split in Iowa delegation as House scraps wasteful jet engine funding

In a surprising victory for common sense over lobbying by major defense contractor General Electric, the House of Representatives on February 16 scrapped funding for an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter backup engine the Pentagon doesn’t want.  The amendment to the continuing resolution on defense funding for the current fiscal year passed on an unusual bipartisan vote; 123 Democrats and 110 Republicans voted to kill the $450 million appropriation, while 130 Republicans and 68 Democrats voted to keep money for the jet engine in the bill (roll call). Democrat Bruce Braley (IA-01) was the only member of the Iowa House delegation to vote for ending the funding. He should cite this vote as evidence that he is serious about tackling government waste. Democrats Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Leonard Boswell (IA-03) and Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) all voted against the amendment. They should explain why they want to spend $450 million this fiscal year to continue a program that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called “a waste of nearly $3 billion.”

Loebsack serves on the House Armed Services Committee. Boswell used to serve on that committee but no longer does in the new Congress.

In other Congressional news, the U.S. Senate approved a three-month extension for controversial PATRIOT Act provisions on February 15 by a vote of 86 to 12. Senator Chuck Grassley voted yes, as did all but two of his Republican colleagues. Senator Tom Harkin was among ten members of the Democratic caucus to vote no (roll call). Harkin’s office did not issue a statement on this vote and did not respond to my request for comment, so I don’t know whether he is against all efforts to extend those controversial PATRIOT Act provisions, or whether he would support Senator Pat Leahy’s bill to extend the provisions through 2013 with “additional safeguards to the act which would provide for increased oversight of U.S. Intelligence gathering tools.” Grassley has introduced a rival Senate bill that would permanently extend the government surveillance powers.  

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Iowa delegation split as House passes PATRIOT Act extension

The House of Representatives passed an extension of three PATRIOT Act provisions yesterday by a vote of 275 to 144. The roll call shows that Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) voted for the bill, as did all but 27 members of their caucus. Leonard Boswell (IA-03) was among 65 Democrats voting for the extensions, while Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted with the majority of the Democratic caucus against the bill.

Iowa’s representatives voted the same way last week when a similar measure failed to win the two-thirds majority needed for passage under special House rules.

Open Congress summarized the bill as follows:

Extends three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act that are set to expire on February, 28, 2011. They include the authority for “roving” wiretaps that allows the government to monitor computers that may occasionally be used by suspected terrorists, the “tangible records provision” that requires banks, telecoms and libraries to hand over any customer information the government requests without informing the customer, and the “lone wolf” provision allowing the government to track international terrorist groups. These would be extended straight up — i.e. no reforms — and would expire again under the bill on December 8, 2011.

According to the Washington Post, senators “are debating three competing proposals that would either permanently extend the [PATRIOT Act] provisions or extend them through 2013.”

UPDATE: The U.S. Senate approved a three-month extension for controversial PATRIOT Act provisions on February 15 by a vote of 86 to 12. Senator Chuck Grassley voted yes, as did all but two of his Republican colleagues. Senator Tom Harkin was among ten members of the Democratic caucus to vote no (roll call). Harkin’s office did not issue a statement on this vote and did not respond to my request for comment, so I don’t know whether he is against all efforts to extend those controversial PATRIOT Act provisions, or whether he would support Senator Pat Leahy’s bill to extend the provisions through 2013with “additional safeguards to the act which would provide for increased oversight of U.S. Intelligence gathering tools.” Grassley has introduced a rival Senate bill that would permanently extend the government surveillance powers.  

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Boswell votes with Republicans but PATRIOT Act extension fails (for now)

A bill to extend parts of the PATRIOT Act fell seven votes short of passage in the House of Representatives yesterday. A summary at OpenCongress.org explains that this bill

Extends three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act that are set to expire on February, 28, 2011. They include the authority for “roving” wiretaps that allows the government to monitor computers that may occasionally be used by suspected terrorists, the “tangible records provision” that requires banks, telecoms and libraries to hand over any customer information the government requests without informing the customer, and the “lone wolf” provision allowing the government to track international terrorist groups. These would be extended straight up — i.e. no reforms — and would expire again under the bill on December 8, 2011.

Although 277 House members voted for the bill and only 148 opposed it, the measure failed because it had been brought to the floor under special rules that limit debate but require a two-thirds majority. The roll call shows that 67 Democrats voted with the majority of the Republican caucus in favor of the PATRIOT Act extension, but 26 Republicans voted with most of the Democratic caucus against the bill.

Iowa Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted no yesterday, while Democrat Leonard Boswell (IA-03) and Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) voted yes. In all likelihood this bill will pass later this month when House leaders bring it to the floor under normal rules, requiring only 218 yes votes to pass.

Boswell’s vote yesterday is consistent with his record in this area. He voted for the PATRIOT Act in 2001 and its extension in 2005. He also voted with most House Republicans on the controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 2008. Last year, Boswell voted for another PATRIOT Act extension bill that Loebsack and Braley opposed.

If Boswell faces a Democratic primary challenge in the new third Congressional district in 2012, his voting record on government surveillance may become a campaign issue. During his 2008 primary race against Ed Fallon, Boswell temporarily changed his stand on the FISA Act. He reverted to his original position after winning the primary.

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