Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama’s administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn’t have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can’t say I wasn’t warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year’s political events are welcome in this thread.

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Legislator scorecards don't tell the whole story

One of my pet peeves is when interest groups release rank legislators according to how they have voted on a few key bills. These scorecards can be helpful as a general guideline, but some lawmakers game the system by voting the “right” way on a scorecard issue but voting with the other side on procedural measures. A classic example was when some pro-choice and environmental groups gave Senator Joe Lieberman credit for voting against confirming Justice Samuel Alito, even though Lieberman had voted against the filibuster that was the only realistic way to keep Alito off the Supreme Court.

Progressive Punch has a search engine that lets you view how individual members of Congress have voted in certain issue categories. Even more useful, Progressive Punch has incorporated a “crucial vote” score that includes bills and procedural measures that passed or failed by narrow margins. You’d be surprised by how many Democrats have high Progressive Punch ratings overall but much lower crucial vote scores, indicating that “when the chips were down,” these people were not reliable allies.

But even the Progressive Punch rating system doesn’t tell the whole story, because committee and floor votes aren’t the only way for legislators to exercise their power.

Yesterday Environment Iowa reminded me of the problems with scorecards when the group announced its rating of Iowa’s members of Congress. The scores were based on “seven votes in the Senate ranging from an economic recovery bill with investments in public transit and energy efficiency to legislation saving the nation’s coasts from offshore drilling,” and 15 votes in the House “including funding to make schools more energy efficient and legislation protecting the Great Lakes.” Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Leonard Boswell (IA-03) received 100 percent scores, while Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) scored 93 percent and Representative Bruce Braley (IA-01) scored 80 percent. Environment Iowa commented, “These numbers include a few absences from key votes that occurred during the floods of 2008.”

A few things are very wrong with this picture.  

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Farm Bureau confident climate change bill going nowhere

A friend sent me an e-mail she received from the Iowa Farm Bureau. Excerpt:

Mary Kay Thatcher, AFBF director of public policy, tells Agriculture Online that Farm Bureau doesn’t anticipate the massive climate change bill passed by the House last week to pass the Senate this year.

And the New York Times reported Tuesday that opposition from Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups threatens to kill the bill in the Senate. The Times reports that groups such as AFBF wield greater clout in the Senate, because members there must be protective of an entire state, rather than a small congressional district.

Here are the links to the Agriculture Online piece and the New York Times article.

The American Farm Bureau Federation lobbied members of the U.S. House to vote for Collin Peterson’s lousy amendments to the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act but against the bill intended to address climate change.

I have my own problems with the ACES bill, especially the deals made to appease the coal industry and Peterson’s colleagues on the House Agriculture Committee. That said, the objections big agribusiness and their Congressional allies have raised against the cap-and-trade approach are off-base and short-sighted.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Farm Bureau’s vote-counter is correct and the Senate rejects the Waxman-Markey bill for the wrong reasons. Frankly, that might be better than letting senators like Claire McCaskill of Missouri make this flawed bill even worse.

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Climate bill passes House, Iowans split on party lines (updated)

The Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) barely passed the U.S. House of Representatives on a 219-212 vote today. As you can see from the roll call, Iowa Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Leonard Boswell (IA-03) voted for the bill, while Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) voted against.

King claimed ACES “could be the most colossal mistake ever made in the history of the United State Congress.”

Latham brought a big box to the House chamber, with the label “TO: CHINA. FROM: The U.S. CONGRESS.” Inside the box was a hardhat labeled “American jobs.”

What a joke. The ACES bill should create jobs, although it would have created a lot more if it contained better renewable energy targets.

According to Populista, only three House Democrats voted against ACES because it was too weak, while 41 voted against it because it was supposedly too strong, even with all the compromises made to placate regional and corporate interests. I have to agree with Ezra Klein: “our political process has gone into total system failure and the overriding priority is building the long-term case for structural reform of America’s lawmaking process”.

UPDATE: Congressman Braley issued the following statement after the Waxman-Markey bill passed:

“This landmark energy bill will create thousands of clean energy jobs in Iowa, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and take a big step forward toward tackling climate change.  This represents a huge new investment in renewable energy in the United States.  While this bill is far from perfect, it does include provisions that help consumers and exempt agriculture.  The bottom line is that we need to act now to address our nation’s energy problems and create jobs.”

Congressman Loebsack issued a longer statement, which I’ve posted after the jump. The key point relates to an amendment Loebsack was able to get in the ACES bill:

Congressman Loebsack’s amendment to the bill will amend the Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance (REEP) program so that building owners receiving disaster assistance can use the disaster assistance funds to leverage additional or matching funds to make energy efficient improvements to their homes and businesses. The REEP program provides funding to improve energy efficiency in homes and buildings. Congressman Loebsack’s amendment will maximize the benefits of the REEP program for disaster victims by helping Iowa homes become more energy efficient. It would also require that FEMA make information available to disaster victims that the REEP program is available for them to make energy efficiency improvements post-disaster.

SECOND UPDATE: Radio Iowa has more on the theatrics from Latham and King. Republican demagoguery has reached new lows on this bill.

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Paging Al Gore: Leonard Boswell needs to hear from you (updated)

Chris Bowers wondered yesterday at Open Left why advocates of legislation to address global warming (the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act) aren’t playing hardball with Democrats who are watering down and threatening to block this bill.

By way of example, Bowers mentioned Congressman Leonard Boswell, who along with other Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee won’t vote for Waxman-Markey unless the bill is amended to benefit conventional farmers. Brad Johnson of the Think Progress “Wonk Room” provides excellent background information on what the House Agriculture Committee members want to do to Waxman-Markey.

But back to Bowers’ post. He points out that during last year’s Democratic primary for the third Congressional district, Boswell relied heavily on Al Gore’s endorsement. Boswell featured Gore’s support in direct-mail campaign fliers and radio advertising. Gore also signed a fundraising appeal for Boswell’s campaign, which included this passage:

Whether the issue is global warming or increasing the minimum wage, making college more affordable or expanding health care to every American, Leonard Boswell is on the frontlines of these issues.

Truthfully, Boswell has never been out in front on global warming. He voted for George Bush’s awful energy bill in 2005, filled with subsidies for fossil-fuel polluters. He came late to support the Safe Climate Act in the last Congress, signing on as a co-sponsor only in December 2007, after learning that Ed Fallon was planning a primary challenge.

But that’s water under the bridge. The much more serious problem is Boswell’s threat to vote down Waxman-Markey, which for all its flaws is still the best climate change bill ever to have a chance of passing Congress.

Al Gore has said global warming is one of the great moral issues of our time. It’s time for him and other prominent environmental advocates to lean on the House Democrats who are undermining Waxman-Markey.

On a related note, Ed and Lynn Fallon’s organization I’M for Iowa sent a press release on June 16 criticizing Boswell for “failing Iowans” on climate change legislation. In a separate e-mail to supporters, the Fallons challenged Boswell to “do what Al Gore would do” and support the American Clean Energy and Security Act. I’ve posted both the press release and the e-mail message from I’M for Iowa after the jump.

Members of Congress also need to hear from ordinary citizens who support a strong American Clean Energy and Security Act. Iowa Interfaith Power and Light makes it easy for you to write to your representative by clicking here. Other non-profit organizations working on this issue include Iowa Global Warming, the Iowa Renewable Energy Association, the Sierra Club Iowa chapter, and the Iowa Environmental Council.

UPDATE: Boswell’s spokesman Mark Daley responded with a statement explaining several areas of concern with Waxman-Markey despite Boswell’s “ardent support for climate change legislation.” (Let me know if you’ve seen evidence of this “ardent support” during the past 14 years.) I’ve posted the statement after the jump.

I’m not buying it for several reasons. Many people who have thoroughly studied this issue do not agree with the alleged impact this bill would have on farmers. The idea behind giving the USDA jurisdiction over the agriculture offsets is that the USDA will give farmers more offsets than the EPA would. If this is about getting more money to farmers, then I agree with Bowers that we’d be better off just handing farmers cash instead of credits.

If we want to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from current levels, then utilities that currently rely on fossil fuels may need to do more. Boswell says this is a bias against consumers in the midwest and that the allowances for utilities should be based on “historical emissions”. I am sorry that midwestern utility companies have not been more farsighted about getting away from fossil fuels, but I don’t understand how Boswell’s approach gets us to the solution we need, which is to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Speaking more generally, no one claims the Waxman-Markey bill is ideal. I could argue that a carbon tax approach would be better than cap-and-trade, but a carbon tax isn’t politically viable, so here we are. I could complain about two dozen compromises that have already been made to satisfy this or that corporate or regional interest. Ultimately, the threat global warming poses to the planet is too great to let any one group derail the whole Waxman-Markey project, as Boswell is apparently willing to do if he doesn’t get his way about USDA jurisdiction. Someone who continually bragged about Al Gore’s endorsement during last year’s primary should be able to see the bigger picture here.

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