Punches pulled from Iowa Republicans on budget

Congress’ upcoming vote on a trillion-dollar, omnibus spending package marks the beginning of the final act for one of the two Iowa Republicans in the U.S. House.

For Iowa’s other House Republican, the vote will mark an end to a distracting period of budget debates and a chance to get back to the hot-button controversies that he delights in stoking.

Let’s start with the 3rd district’s Tom Latham.

Latham is an appropriator, one of the elite “cardinals” who put together the bills that fund road works, air traffic controllers, various farm programs and about half of everything the federal government does.

He’s retiring at the end of the year so he’ll be taking his final laps through the appropriations process in the coming months, beginning with the vote on the omnibus spending bill.

Current government funding expires on Jan. 15 and lawmakers are expected to hold their noses and approve the omnibus measure by then or shortly thereafter.

Latham and other Appropriations Committee leaders are combining what should be 12 separate appropriations bills into one big, messy package that no one particularly likes.

But the appropriators are hardly to blame: Democrats and Republicans couldn’t come close to agreeing on how to pass the 12 bills under regular order. So Latham and his fellow appropriators were instructed to create the omnibus.

That bill will pass in the coming days, in all likelihood, and then Latham will turn to putting together appropriations for the next fiscal year under the two-year budget deal that set the stage for the upcoming vote.

Ready to rumble

The 4th district’s Steve King is not an appropriator: He’s a tea party-aligned, frequent critic of appropriators’ efforts, and he voted late last year against the budget deal.

For King, getting past this spending bill vote marks a beginning of sorts, a chance to refocus the spotlight on issues that motivate conservative voters and donors in the months before the next election.

The budget and spending fights of the last several years sucked the oxygen out of the political process in the nation’s capital and inflicted disproportionate, if short-term, damage on the Republican Party.

King for awhile was perfectly willing to revel in the supposed benefits of a government shutdown, despite the anxiety his comments caused among his own party leaders.

But he seems to have tired of budget issues and is not leading any kind of charge against the omnibus package.

King voted without comment against the December budget agreement — which Latham reluctantly supported — and by press time this week King still hadn’t publicly said a word about how he will vote on the omnibus. His office declined to comment.

King seems happy to put the interminable spending clashes of the past few years in the rearview mirror. His allies in the conservative movement were similarly quiet about the issue over the holidays, suggesting this particular battle may be over for the time being.

Now King can focus on the issues he cherishes, like fighting California’s animal welfare law on egg-producing hens or manning the rhetorical barricades against a renewed push by President Obama for immigration reform.

Or, perhaps, rallying support for a star of the “Duck Dynasty” TV show, whose anti-gay comments generated a holiday-season controversy that King incorporated into a fundraising appeal.

Latham, meanwhile, in December acknowledged the shortcomings of the budget deal even as he explained that it was probably the best Congress could do right now.

“I have always been dedicated to supporting common sense solutions that transcend politics and provide results that end wasteful spending, gets our debt under control and delivers a more efficient, effective and accountable government,” Latham said at the time. “To claim that this budget blueprint would achieve all of those goals would be nothing more than empty rhetoric — because it won’t.”

Still, he said, it’s “a step in the right direction” amid the realities of divided government.

For the time being, Congress appears to have hopped off the hamster wheel of constant budget showdowns and government shutdown threats

But hold tight: There’s a debt-ceiling debate coming soon that could reignite all those fights.


Thanks for reading the inaugural “Potomac Watch” column. Each week I hope to provide fresh insights and observations from Washington, D.C., that bring Congress a little closer to the people of western and central Iowa.

I hope you’ll feel free to contact me with your thoughts, questions and comments at c.mitchell@carrollspaper.com.

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