With both chambers of Congress now back in Washington after their holiday break, the Iowa delegation introduced legislation on biofuels, border security, artificial intelligence and more.
House members also voted in a bipartisan fashion to expel a colleague, with all four of Iowa’s representatives voting in favor of the expulsion.
Here’s what Iowa’s lawmakers were up to this past week:
Citing a threat to the availability of gas-powered vehicles for farmers, Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks introduced the Flex Fuel Fairness Act of 2023, which would address how emissions are calculated in an Environment Protection Agency (EPA) proposal. The EPA proposal would apply more stringent emissions standards for vehicles made between 2027 and 2032.
The bill, cosponsored by Reps. Randy Feenstra and Ashley Hinson, would allow for estimating lower average CO2 emissions in vehicle models that can run on flex fuels. Lowering the emission standard would “level the playing field for vehicles running on low-carbon liquid fuels,” according to Miller-Meeks.
“Flex-fuel vehicles provide more options for consumers and the U.S. supply chain and unlock increased use of lower-carbon liquid fuel blends containing higher levels of ethanol, like E30 and E85,” Miller-Meeks said in a news release.
The determined emissions of flex-fuel vehicles would be 31% lower than a vehicle that runs on just gasoline under the proposed bill, which would broaden the use of flex fuels that are often produced in the Midwest.
Southern border focus
As a companion bill to one Sen. Joni Ernst announced in November, Hinson sponsored — and Feenstra, Miller-Meeks and Rep. Zach Nunn cosponsored — a bill to authorize border agents to fingerprint children at the age of 14. The fingerprint data could be used to determine if a child is being “recycled,” or trafficked across the border by people attempting to make it appear they are a family crossing the border.
The bill, the Preventing the Recycling of Immigrants is Necessary for Trafficking Suspension Act would also create harsher penalties for those caught child recycling and would criminalize child recycling.
“The Biden Administration continues to turn a blind eye to the devastating border crisis their policies have created – allowing children to be trafficked, endangering Americans and jeopardizing our national security,” Hinson said in a news release. “Meanwhile, they’ve deceived the American people about the extent to which they’ve widened asylum loopholes and expanded catch and release.”
Feenstra said Biden has “empowered” drug cartels and human traffickers.
“Thanks to President Biden’s failed open-border policies, he has empowered human traffickers, drug cartels and criminals to exploit children for their own personal and financial gain,” Feenstra said. “His radical agenda has also allowed millions of illegal immigrants to cross our border and overwhelm our border patrol agents with no consequences whatsoever. This chaos must end.”
Hinson, joined by Feenstra, Nunn and Miller-Meeks, also introduced the Southern Border Transparency Act, which would require a published report of immigrants apprehended or paroled while illegally entering the United States. The report would include the outcome of the apprehension, including departure or removal.
SNAP overpayments addressed
By changing a reporting threshold, Feenstra is looking to reduce the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) overpayments through a companion bill that’s tied to one Ernst introduced in September.
Currently, SNAP overpayments or underpayments of $54 are considered an error. Under the Snap Back Inaccurate SNAP Payments Act, the threshold would be reduced to $0.
States would face increased liability for overpayments if found to be continually having higher payment error rates.
“As a strong, fiscal conservative, I believe that Congress must do everything possible to protect taxpayer dollars from being wasted or fraudulently disbursed,” Feenstra said in a news release. “The sad reality is that waste, fraud and abuse have become commonplace in our federal bureaucracy, weakening our already poor fiscal health and forcing American taxpayers to pick up the tab.”
Ernst’s office reported estimated spending could be reduced by nearly $1 billion a month if the bill were to pass.
Overpayments in fiscal year 2022 occurred at a rate of 9.84% nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service.
Nunn on automated jobs
Automation, artificial intelligence and other workforce automation technologies are replacing some jobs, and Nunn introduced legislation that he said can help address the issue.
“Technological advancement is good for society, and if done right, will make all of our lives easier,” Nunn said in a news release. “At the same time, we must ensure that workforce changes don’t eliminate good paying jobs that Iowans rely on.”
Nunn expressed a goal to embrace technology, using automation as “a tool to make work easier, not an excuse to eliminate jobs.”
Nunn’s proposed law would conduct a workforce automation study assessing industries and occupations impacted by technology and establish an advisory board comprised of state representatives, labor organizations, industry representatives and non-profits to provide recommendations on automation in the workforce.
Braces for guns addressed in court filing
Ernst and Hinson joined an amicus brief in court case involving the Bureau of Alcohol, Tabacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The brief argues against a court ruling that says the bureau can reclassify pistols with stabilizing braces as short-barreled rifles.
These braces are often used by disabled veterans, Hinson argues, and would negatively affect gun owners.
“The Second Amendment isn’t a suggestion, it is a constitutional right that must be upheld,” Hinson said in a news release. “The ATF’s overreach impacts millions of gun owners across the country, particularly disabled veterans, and unravels over a decade of legal precedent.”
Grassley on presidential endorsements
Sen. Chuck Grassley has endorsed two presidential candidates during his time serving in Congress — the first in 1996 when he endorsed former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, who lost, and again in 2000, when he endorsed George W. Bush.
In a call with reporters, Grassley did not offer an endorsement in the 2024 race or make any indication that he would be endorsing a candidate — but he did speak to the values he seeks in a candidate running for the nation’s highest office.
Grassley said he is looking for the most conservative candidate and someone who “is going to follow the Constitution and respect it, unlike President Biden.” Specifically, Grassley said Biden does not enforce laws at the border and lets people enter the country illegally.
“And just generally an all-around good person, but you can’t accomplish any of the things I want in a person if they don’t have the ability to win, so obviously you want to select somebody who has been a winner,” Grassley said.
In response to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis touring all 99 Iowa counties, which he is scheduled to complete Saturday in Jasper County, Grassley said it would be nice if every presidential candidate completed the tour, which he referred to as “the full Grassley.”
“It would be nice if every one of the candidates did the full Grassley, because Iowans ought to have a chance to see them in their hometowns, but that’s up to the individual’s choice,” Grassley said in a call with reporters. “I think it’s a good way to let them know that they’re serious about taking Iowa caucus voters seriously.”
Grassley discusses the Farm Bill
The Farm Bill received a one-year extension, which means work will continue on drafting a new bill to be implemented in 2024.
Grassley said the Farm Bill should be worked on from January to July and he expects little progress to be made on the bill during September or October due to the presidential race. Grassley said if the new bill is not finished by early August, it will likely be subject to another one-year extension.
As for any changes in the Farm Bill, Grassley said he is advocating for some revisions, including a cap on the amount of money a farmer can receive from the farm program, which he said needs to help small- and medium-sized farming operations. The senator also said he would like to have crop insurance left alone, and see more promotion of agricultural exports.
Ernst and others write to DOE
In a similar fashion to an October letter to the Department of Education, Ernst again wrote to the department to demand that schools be held to standards established under Title VI.
The October letter was related to behavior toward Jewish and Israeli students at colleges and universities. The more recent letter pertained to K-12 schools. The October letter was co-signed by Grassley; the more recent letter was not.
In the letter, Ernst and 31 other senators specifically asked the department to provide guidance on maintaining safe environments and to discuss data on anti-Semitic complaints. The letter cites instances of behavior targeting Jewish and Israeli students, and calls for the safety of those, and all students.
“Parents should feel confident that their children’s school will be safe and the focus will be on education,” the senators wrote. “Instead, parents are beginning to fear that not only is school not safe for their students, but school officials are actively working to undermine the safety of their children. Parents cannot trust their students are safe if they fear school officials are key perpetrators in spreading anti-Semitic rhetoric.”
House history: George Santos voted out by Iowa delegates
All four of House members from Iowa voted Friday to expel former Rep. George Santos from the House.
The expulsion is the sixth in U.S. House history.
“Those who serve in elected office should be held to the highest possible ethical standard,” Nunn said in a news release. “George Santos probably couldn’t even find the word ethics in a dictionary. He has repeatedly proven to be a con man, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he should be in prison, not the House of Representatives.”
Miller-Meeks, in a statement following her vote to expel Santos, said she wants the Senate to conduct due process and consider expelling Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez from New Jersey. Menendez and his wife have been charged by federal prosecutors for allegedly acting as a foreign agent on behalf of Egypt. Sen. John Fetterman, a Democrat from Pennsylvania also called for Menendez’s expulsion.
On her Santos vote, Miller-Meeks said, “I did not take this vote lightly, but I believe that we must act on our values and condemn the criminal activities of George Santos, which are not befitting of a member of Congress.”
Nunn announced plans to introduce legislation that would eliminate pensions for Congress members who have been expelled. The announcement is scheduled to take place Monday in Des Moines.
Sandra Day O’Connor reactions
Iowa’s delegates expressed fond feelings and memories of Sandra Day O’Connor, who died Friday.
“I’m saddened to hear of the passing of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor,” Ernst posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, Friday. “As the first woman to serve on our nation’s highest court, she was a trailblazer for women across America. She will be dearly missed.”
In an X post, Grassley wrote: “Sad news w the passing of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. She was a trailblazer for the high court & always worked to find consensus. She was 1st justice I had honor of voting for as senator. Her contributions 2 the court will endure + she will be missed.”
Miller-Meeks posted to X, “I was saddened to hear of the passing of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. As the first female Supreme Court justice, Justice O’Connor was a peerless champion for civic engagement and civic education, and her legacy will last for generations to come.”
Hinson posted to X, “Sandra Day O’ Connor – the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court – was a trailblazer who paved the way for generations of female lawyers and policymakers. She leaves behind an incredible legacy and will be deeply missed.”