March 28, 2014

A couple of issues important to Iowa voters are due for attention on Capitol Hill during a short legislative sprint prior to the Easter recess.

The Iowa delegation surely will continue to split along partisan lines in the coming weeks, but there are areas of overlapping interest where even conservative Rep. Steve King and liberal Sen. Tom Harkin are in the same camp.

The entire Iowa delegation is pushing for an extension of the wind-energy-production tax credit, which expired at the end of 2013.

But Harkin and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley will have an easier task in getting a bill through the Senate than Reps. King, Tom Latham, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack face in the House.

The Senate Finance Committee, on which Grassley serves, is prepared to move a "tax extenders" bill with the wind-energy credit in April, The Hill newspaper reported. The new chairman of the Finance Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is an avid supporter of wind and other forms of renewable energy.

In the House, however, Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., isn't much interested in extending the tax credit for wind or a hodgepodge of other tax breaks that Congress typically extends for a year or two in a bit of bipartisan sleight of hand that minimizes the long-term budget impact.

Camp is retiring next year, and he has put out a comprehensive plan for tax reform that would eliminate credits for wind, ethanol, biodiesel, you name it. Camp's bill isn't going anywhere, but it remains to be seen whether he'll agree to move an extenders package that includes the wind credit.

King and Loebsack last week spearheaded a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, urging a vote on legislation to extend the credit. The letter was signed by 118 House members, while Grassley initiated a letter to the Senate leadership that was signed by 25 of his colleagues.

Many of King's allies at conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation say the production tax credit for wind is an unnecessary subsidy.

This one is in Boehner's hands, and the speaker has demonstrated a willingness to ignore criticism from the conservative movement. It seems entirely plausible he and his leadership team will decide that extending the wind credit is good politics for the majority of his House Republican Conference.

A new report by the American Wind Energy Association may back him up: The group found that Republicans represent most of the congressional districts where wind power is produced.

Also on the agenda is a planned House vote on the "Ryan budget," another place where King could find himself voting the same way as Loebsack, Braley and other Democrats.

In this case, King may vote "no" along with Democrats, although it will be for vastly different reasons.

For Democrats, the Ryan budget is synonymous with a policy of extreme austerity that is particularly damaging for the middle class.

King, on the other hand, could be concerned that it locks in spending levels that are too high in the early years in exchange for promised cuts down the road.

Spending levels for fiscal year 2015, which begins in October, were established under a deal Latham helped develop last December -- which both King and Grassley opposed.

Senate Democratic leaders don't even intend to vote on an overall budget this year because the spending figures are locked in already.

Regardless, House Republican leaders are teeing up an April vote on the budget developed by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the former GOP vice presidential nominee.

The thinking is, conservatives like King, who last December voted against the deal on spending levels, will support a broader plan that balances the federal budget over the coming decade and reforms so-called entitlement programs.

Leaders are also scheduling votes on a few measures to reform the way Congress considers budgets, another nod to conservative critics of the budgeting process.

The strategy is a gamble because Democrats provided the crucial votes in December to offset Republican defections. This time around, Democrats will oppose the Ryan budget unanimously, or close to it. Simply put, there's nothing in the Ryan budget that Democrats like, want or need.

Republican leaders need to get King or enough of his conservative colleagues on board to avoid an embarrassing defeat on the House floor.

Will leaders ask King to support the Ryan budget in exchange for help on the wind credit? It probably won't be as obvious as that.

Still, it should be interesting to see whether King starts saying nice things about the budget in the next few weeks and otherwise tries to stay off Boehner's back.