The U.S. House of Representatives passed about 350 bills in 2019 under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi, with help from longtime members and freshmen lawmakers who were critical to turning the tide for Democrats.
Two of the new Democrats elected in 2018 were from Iowa. 1st District Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer and Rep. Cindy Axne, from the 3rd District, both unseated Republican men on their way to a 233-197 House majority.
In 2019, GovTrack data show 354 bills had passed the House and were awaiting action in the Senate. In his third year in office, President Donald Trump signed more than 100 bills into law, including a defense spending bill with 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal employees and an appropriations bill with $25 million allotted to study gun violence.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made no secret of the fact his top priority was not passing legislation, but ushering through federal judges to lifetime appointments.
During the last week of session this year (Dec. 16-20), Democrats approved two articles of impeachment against Trump and partnered with Republicans to pass a new trilateral trade agreement for North America.
All four of Iowa’s representatives voted in favor of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, including 4th District Republican Rep. Steve King and 2nd District Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack.
Iowa Democrats were a part of a number of significant bills passed in 2019 in the House, including legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15; reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act; measures to lower the cost of prescription drugs; and the USMCA trade agreement.
Now, a look at three legislative highlights for Iowa Democrats:
In her first term, Finkenauer took the lead on extending the biodiesel tax credit for five additional years.
The tax credits lower the cost of diesel for American truckers and drivers, thus supporting a “strong domestic biodiesel industry,” according to Finkenauer, that saves consumers money at the gas pump. The credits also are vital to “producers and businesses at every stage of the biodiesel production and consumption process” who “rely on these tax credits to plan their investments, grow their businesses, and pass on the savings to consumers.”
Finkenauer noted the importance of the tax credits, particularly during the Trump Administration, as his Environmental Protection Agency works to undermine the nation’s ethanol and biofuels industry.
“Biofuels are just so important for Iowa in general,” said Finkenauer, in a recent press call. “It’s part of our rural economy and it also goes into our bigger cities as well. Seeing, again, the lack of support for the industry from the administration since I’ve been in Congress has been very, very concerning. But, this is a win, and we will take this win. I am very, very proud of the fact that this finally is getting done.”
The five-year biodiesel tax credit extension was included in the year-end tax extenders legislative package recently approved in the House.
Heading into his final year in Congress, the 2nd District representative was successful in one of his most significant initiatives: rural broadband.
Loebsack’s bipartisan “Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act” passed the House of Representatives in the final week of session this year. In the Senate, which is expected to take it up next year, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar is the bill’s lead sponsor.
The legislation improves the accuracy of the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband availability maps by changing the way internet data is collected.
Loebsack has long advocated for improved broadband access for rural communities, particularly in Iowa, as a way to encourage economic growth and development in small towns.
“In 2019, it is simply unacceptable that many families, small businesses, farmers, educators and healthcare providers in rural areas don’t have the necessary access to high-speed internet,” said Loebsack, in a statement. “When this bill becomes law, we will finally begin to fix the bad broadband maps that for too long have often misstated speed and availability.”
One of Axne’s greatest accomplishments came mid-way through her first term when the 3rd District, in the southwest corner of Iowa, experienced devastating floods, the affects of which are still ongoing.
Axne secured an additional $3 billion in the House disaster relief bill aimed at flood recovery in the Midwest and tornadoes in the South, including $500 million in emergency assistance for farmers.
The “Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act” was passed by the House in May and signed into law by President Trump in June.
Earlier this month, Axne announced the launch of a new Iowa Flood Funding Tracker for constituents to keep tabs on disaster relief funding spent in Iowa in the wake of the March floods. According to federal documents requested by Axne, as of Dec. 23, four agencies have spent $449.6 million in Iowa.
“While Congress has ensured this funding is available, I still hear from constituents that flood areas are not getting the assistance they need,” she said. “I will continue to hold federal agencies accountable — demanding they ‘show Iowans the money’ — and update our tracker to ensure the information is public for all to see.”
By Elizabeth Meyer