December 20, 2014

Latham sees ‘big appetite’ for ‘big deal’ in next congress

Congressman Tom Latham during his retirement speech Monday.

Congressman Tom Latham during his retirement speech. (file photo)

Retiring Congressman Tom Latham is offering this advice to those who’ll serve in the U.S. House and Senate next year: “do some big things.”

“We’ve got to address our long term debt,” Latham says. “We’ve got to look at entitlements…They’re not sustainable as they are and so I’m hopeful that there will be some serious legislation. We have a great opportunity but also great hazards, too, if in fact we’re not successful.”

House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama were rumored to be on the verge of what was called a “grand bargain” a few years ago, but the deal fell through. Latham and Boehner have become best friends during their time in congress over the last 20 years and Latham says he’s told his friend to “think big” and seize “the opportunity of a lifetime.”

“The speaker very well knows that this is an opportunity in a limited time,” Latham says. “And I don’t know how long he’s going to stay there, but he knows that if history is going to treat him well and treat the congress well, then something needs to be done and something very significant.”

With the 2016 presidential campaign essentially underway today, Latham cautions that “it’s going to be difficult” to reach agreement.

“You’re going to have people on both sides of the aisle that will use it as a political weapon if, in fact, you try to have a ‘grand bargain’ — a big deal that would give us solvency in the long term and that’s the unfortunate part of it…Anything is possible,” Latham says. “…I think if the president would lead, I think it would make it very possible, but he’s always been very hestitant and the ‘grand bargain’ they almost had a few years that he walked away from, you know, we were right there and it didn’t happen.”

Republicans will hold a huge majority in the U.S. House and the GOP will take over control of the U.S. Senate in January. Latham suggests a good first step would be for the president to sit down and start negotiating with congressional leaders from both parties.

“To have anything that’s going to actually work long term, that’s not going to be used as a political club in the future, it has to be bipartisan,” Latham says, “and if the president will lead, I think that there is a huge appetite on both sides in the House and Senate to actually get that big deal done.”

Latham decided about a year ago that he would not seek reelection in 2014. Latham, who is 66, describes serving in congress as the “honor of his life.” He plans to vacation “somewhere warm” and talk with his wife about what part-time work he might choose to take in the future.

Latham discussed his career and his future plans during taping of the Iowa Public Television program, “Iowa Press,” which airs tonight at 7:30.

ISU professor expects many Iowa businesses to welcome new Cuban policy

Steffen Schmidt

Steffen Schmidt

An Iowa State University political science professor says President Barrack Obama’s announcement that he is easing economic and diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba won’t fit under the normal formula of politics. ISU professor Steffen Schmidt, says it doesn’t come as a big surprise, as people have wondered with each new president if the policy would change.

“Here you’ve got a policy that is 54 years old more or less, and isn’t working. We have not gotten Cuba to become more democratic, we haven’t gotten the Castro brothers to move the economy towards a more prosperous with the embargo and no diplomatic relations we haven’t gotten Cuba to stop meddling in Latin America.”

Schmidt says the move by Obama could actually be coming at a good time as the Republicans take over the U.S. Senate in January. “It seems kind of weird, but the new congress is going to be dominated in the Senate by the Republicans and not the Democrats. And it’s actually a better situation because the (current) chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is a Cuban American who would be and is dead set opposed to normalizing relations with Cuba,” Schmidt says.

Schmidt believes the changes will be supported by many in Iowa. “I know a lot of businesses in Iowa, agricultural businesses, exporters, companies that deal with agricultural technology for example — chemical fertilizers, machinery packing, so on. They have been anxious to do business in Cuba,” Schmidt explains. He says that’s because Cuba is so far behind modern agriculture. “When I was in Cuba on a state department trip not too long ago, we went out and looked a little bit as some of the rural areas,” Schmidt says, “and good grief, the farming is really 1950’s style and not American 1950’s, a lot of horses and oxen and donkeys, really outdated.”

He believes Republicans will get a lot of pressure from businesses who are in favor of better relations with Cuba. “Insurance and banking and others who are going to say, look we are doing business in China, we don’t like China’s communist government, it is too repressive, there’s only one political party and they have political prisoners and all the rest of the stuff that is similar to Cuba. But we are doing business with them and maybe we can influence those other things a little bit if we have a lot of Americans there, if we have a lot of American companies and businesses there,” Schmidt says.

While many of the president’s moves have been opposed along party lines, Schmidt says the split over the new policy will not necessarily be Democrat versus Republican, as there are a lot of Democrat who will oppose it. He is anxious to see how the process rolls out. “Because this thing is not going to be slam, bang overnight, it’s going to be slowly rolled out with small steps taken along the way as we try to kind of loosen up those relations. And it will be very interesting,” Schmidt says.

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, released a statement today opposing the president’s move:

“This policy change is a gift for the Cuban government that has done nothing to provide basic, fundamental human rights to the Cuban people. According to our own Department of State, the authoritarian regime led by the Castros for decades ‘has severely restricted fundamental freedoms, repressed political opponents, and violated human rights.’ Today’s announcement of eased economic and diplomatic relations is not a result of democratic or economic reforms or a newfound respect for human rights or religious freedom. This decision rewards a brutal regime without any significant commitment toward change for the oppressed Cuban people.”


Ernst to welcome all 2016 GOP presidential candidates to Iowa, but won’t endorse before Caucuses

Joni Ernst

Joni Ernst

This past year Senator-elect Joni Ernst got campaign help from most of the Republicans who plan to run for the White House in 2016, but she plans to welcome all presidential hopefuls to Iowa and will not publicly pick a favorite in the 2016 race before Iowa’s Caucuses.

“I do not intend to endorse anyone,” Ernst told Radio Iowa during a recent interview. “I would love to welcome anybody that like want to put their name out there.”

The list of possible presidential candidates who campaigned with and for Ernst before November’s election includes former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who hosted a fundraiser for Ernst in Florida. Florida Senator Marco Rubio campaigned with her in Iowa twice, donated $10,000 to the Ernst campaign and paid for commercials touting her candidacy.

In October, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee campaigned with Ernst in western Iowa and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul headlined a rally with Ernst in Iowa City. Ernst said she’ll throw the welcome mat out to all the Republicans who jump into the next presidential race.

“We’ll have a lot of visitors coming to Iowa and I’m so excited about that,” Ernst said. “Iowa is a great agricultural state, a great manufacturing state with great financial institutions here and I am going to have a wonderful time sharing Iowa experiences with them and showing them how wonderful our people are.”

Ernst did publicly endorse Mitt Romney’s bid for the White House in 2008 and Romney returned the favor this past spring with his endorsement of her when she faced five Republican competitors in the June Primary.

“I am going to be a welcomer to the state of Iowa,” Ernst said of her role in 2015 and early 2016. “I welcome anybody that’s choosing to place themselves out there and seek the nomination.”

Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s Republican governor, is among those considering a bid for the presidency and he was the keynote speaker last night for the Polk County Republican Party’s holiday party in Des Moines. In October Jindal met with Iowa voters at one of Ernst’s campaign offices, but Ernst was not there.

In June, right after her GOP Primary victory, Texas Senator Ted Cruz endorsed Ernst on his Facebook page and urged his supporters to make a contribution to her campaign. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin endorsed Ernst in March, right after the debut of the campaign ad in which Ernst talked about castrating pigs and promised to cut pork in Washington.

Jeb Bush ‘actively exploring’ run for White House in 2016

Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has revealed he’s going to “actively explore” a run for the job his father and his brother have both held. Bush posted a holiday message on his Facebook page, saying he had talked with his family over the Thanksgiving holiday about seeking the presidency. Governor Terry Branstad said this morning that he’s surprised Bush is making his intentions this clear this early.

“We’ve been hearing rumors for some time that he was seriously thinking about it and it sounds like he’s made some progress with his mother, at least from what I heard on the news this morning,” Branstad said, adding with a laugh: “I had that issue with my wife, so I know how those things go.”

Former First Lady Barbara Bush said in 2013 that while her son, Jeb, was the “most qualified” to be the next president, the country had “had enough Bushes” in the White House. Bush, who is 64 years old, said on his Facebook post that he hoped to travel the country in 2015 and “have a conservation about restoring the promise of America.” Bush held a fundraiser for Branstad in Florida this fall, but Branstad said they did not discuss the 2016 presidential campaign.

“I have a lot of respect for him and the job that he did as governor, but, you know, I also have a lot of respect for Governor Christie and Governor Jindal and former Governor Huckabee and the governor of Texas, Governor Perry,” Branstad told reporters today.

Jindal, the Republican governor of Louisiana, is due in Iowa this evening as the keynote speaker at the Polk County GOP’s holiday get-together. As of Monday, about 150 tickets were sold for the event and organizers expect about 200 to be there tonight.

Jeb Bush served two terms as Florida’s governor and revealed recently that he will release two-hundred-thousands emails from that period for public scrutiny. In addition, Bush is writing a soon-to-be-released E-book” about his time as governor, so he’ll join the long list of presidential candidates who release a book before launching a bid for the White House.

Ernst to serve on Armed Services, Agriculture and two other senate panels

Joni Ernst

Joni Ernst

Senator-elect Joni Ernst will serve on four committees in the U.S. Senate after she’s sworn into office next month.

Ernst, who is a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard, will be a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Republican leadership have also assigned her to serve on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Retiring Senator Tom Harkin has had a seat on the Senate Ag Committee and did two stints as its chairman during his 30 year tenure in the senate and Ernst has learned she will serve on the Ag Committee as well. Her fourth committee assignment is on the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. Ernst released a statement saying all of these committees are of “major importance to Iowans” and will have an impact on “Iowans’ everyday lives.”

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is also a member of the Senate Ag Committee. Grassley will continue on the Senate Finance Committee, which he led when Republicans held majority control of the senate. He’ll be chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2015.

Grassley drafting bill to reign in government cash, asset seizures

Senator Chuck Grassley

Senator Chuck Grassley

Senator Chuck Grassley is crafting a bill to ensure changes the Internal Revenue Service has promised to make about seizing property are made law.

Grassley points to the recent decision by federal prosecutors to return cash seized from a Spirit Lake restaurant owner who authorities suspected of structuring the daily cash deposits from her restaurant to hide criminal activity. She was never charged with a crime, however.

“In the case of the Iowa restaurant owner and others like it, the IRS has now adopted an enforcement policy in which it won’t seize assets under the structuring law unless there’s evidence of underlying criminal activity, unless there’s are some extenuating circumstances,” Grassley says. “Since the IRS changed its approach in these cases, it could change its approach again and the same could be true of other federal agencies that seize property.”

Grassley says that’s why he wants to pass a law that will make the current policy permanent.

“My goal for legislative reform is to make sure the government’s power to seize assets also conserves common sense,” Grassley says.

Grassley’s proposed limittion on seizures would also apply to local police and state authorities. He cites the case of two professional poker players from California who had a hundred thousand dollars in cash seized in Iowa by state troopers during a traffic stop along Interstate 80.

“My reforms will be aimed at curbing instances in which government power unfairly infringes on the rights of motorists, small business owners and other Americans,” Grassley says. “I’m not very far along on writing this legislation. I’m still doing research, but I believe it’s something that we can get some sort of bipartisan agreement on.”

Grassley will become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in January when Republicans take majority control of the U.S. Senate and he plans to make this bill a priority in his committee.

Committee calls on legislature to help schools with transportation costs

A legislative committee is recommending that the 2015 Iowa legislature consider changes that would help schools deal with transportation costs, a particular problem in rural Iowa where many districts have long bus routes for students. A group of legislators met for four hours on Monday to discuss the details of how state aid to public schools is distributed and agreed lawmakers should find some way to address the budget difficulties in property-poor school districts, although the group did not make a specific recommendation.

Representative Ron Jorgensen, a Republican from Sioux City, is chairman of the House Education Committee.

“We all know the importance education plays in providing individuals and society with a higher standard of living,” Jorgenson says. “Having an education population will help increase wages and spur economic development.”

Senator Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames, is chairman of the Education Committee in the Iowa Senate.

“If our students in Iowa don’t get education that makes them competitive economically and in other ways with students raised in other states, then we are not being equitable to our own students,” Quirmbach says.

Quirmbach and Joregensen served on the legislative panel that met Monday to discuss preschool-through-12th grade education funding issues.