Editorial Roundup: Iowa

Des Moines Register. September 24, 2023.

Editorial: Listen to Chuck Grassley. Government shutdowns achieve nothing.

Republican members of Congress, including Iowa’s delegation, should loudly tell Speaker Kevin McCarthy to ditch the threats and do some real work.

One of the few things Congress actually has to do is appropriate money for government operations. Senators and representatives of both parties have been awful at this task for decades. Under the current appropriations system, Congress has not passed all its necessary annual appropriations bills ahead of the Oct. 1 beginning of the fiscal year since 1997.

Sometimes the consequences are more severe than having to pass stopgap measures until negotiations are complete. We might be headed toward another of those times. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that conservatives want to extract significant spending reductions even in a stopgap bill. To condense the politics as much as possible: Even if Speaker Kevin McCarthy can muscle such a measure through the Republican-controlled House – and it’s a big “if” – it will never pass the Democratic-controlled Senate. If nothing happens by Sept. 30, the 11th government shutdown to include furloughs of federal employees will likely follow.

Shutdowns cause real harm without achieving their goals

Iowa’s four members of the House, all Republicans, are all relatively new to the chamber, and together they make up less than 1% of the body. But with the Republicans’ majority being just 10 seats, 222 to 212, dissent from any voice is magnified, which has been evident throughout McCarthy’s nine months as speaker.

A government shutdown of any duration would hurt Iowans. About 2,000 would stop getting paychecks. Work projects and federal lending would stop. The Biden administration says money for the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program will be in a vulnerable state even with status-quo funding, let alone the bottom falling out.

Those facts should be reason enough for Reps. Randy Feenstra, Ashley Hinson, Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Zach Nunn to publicly announce that they won’t support major changes in any temporary bill because doing so risks a shutdown. Such a commitment from four Iowans plus one more representative would make clear that the status quo is the only viable path.

Republicans’ repeated attempts to use doomsday brinkmanship (debt limit, fiscal cliff, and so on and so on) to achieve what they cannot muster support for in normal legislation is odious. But even if the Iowa quartet disagrees with that, they ought to find compelling the views of Iowa’s senior senator, Republican Chuck Grassley, on government shutdowns.

He said recently on Iowa PBS’ “Iowa Press” that shutdowns are counterproductive, noting that the demands that forced past shutdowns were rarely satisfied in the end, meaning all that’s accomplished is weakening safety nets, forcing federal workers to visit food banks, and tanking public confidence in our leaders. He also endorsed a call this month from Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, to pass bipartisan legislation that would require Congress to work nonstop, without taxpayer-funded travel, to resolve budget impasses like these, while automatic continuing resolutions keep the federal government running.

“If you don’t get it done, Congress works seven days a week until we get this thing settled,” Grassley said.

House puts on a Merrick Garland sideshow instead of working to meet deadlines

Of course, this is not the direction things are heading. On Wednesday, with eight business days left in the fiscal year, all of Congress’ attention was on the House Judiciary Committee as it called in Attorney General Merrick Garland. Republicans on the committee sounded off with wild accusations and innuendo — the accusations about how Garland’s Justice Department has dealt with its duty while prosecuting Donald Trump, the innuendo about vague and/or unproven connections between Hunter Biden’s troubles and his father, President Joe Biden. Another day lost.

The legislation Grassley mentioned is worth considering, but with 10 shutdowns in the past 44 years, maybe an even more aggressive approach to get budgets approved by Oct. 1 is in order. House and Senate rules could be amended to provide that missing the deadline by a certain number of days means both parties in each chamber must elect new leadership. And besides requiring Congress to work nonstop after Oct. 1 until budgets are passed, let’s also not pay members, with no retroactive checks, until that work is done. Why should they get paid when they haven’t done their job? Clearly we need something, anything to provide motivation for this mandatory task.

It’s a well-worn saw for Iowa politicians to criticize the federal government for one thing or another and then appeal to local pride by saying something like, “We don’t have that problem here in Iowa.” This might be the rare case where that proclamation is justified.

The Iowa Legislature typically hits its mark for passing appropriations bills with weeks to spare, even during divided government. When it tested that deadline in 2011, Iowa’s balanced budget was still passed on June 30, the last day of the state’s fiscal year. State agencies were granted some grace to adapt to the new numbers, and legislators admitted they weren’t happy with the experience.

There is no upside if Congress allows the government to shut down for any length of time. Republican members, including Iowa’s delegation, should loudly tell Speaker Kevin McCarthy to ditch the threats and do some real work.