May 21, 2014



This is how bad things have gotten in the U.S. Senate: Last week, Sen. Charles Grassley voted against moving ahead on a package that includes his own amendment to extend the wind energy production tax credit.

The wind credit is a top priority for Grassley and the rest of the Iowa congressional delegation.

But the provision became ensnared in a simmering dispute over management of the Senate floor that burst into the open when Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., made a procedural move to limit debate on the so-called tax-extenders measure.

Grassley and all but one of his fellow Senate Republicans voted no on a cloture motion that would have sent the extenders bill on a path toward final passage.

Under the rules of the Senate, a cloture motion requires a super majority of 60 votes to pass; the largely unified Senate Republican Conference prevented that from happening.

Grassley has been working for months to extend the wind credit, which expired at the end of last year.

However, he and other Republicans say Reid is trampling over the rights of the Senate minority by limiting their ability to offer amendments to legislation such as the extenders bill.

Ironically enough, one of the pending GOP amendments would have killed the wind credit provision, though Grassley was confident he could've beaten it on the floor if a vote were allowed.

Reid and Democrats say the Republicans want to offer bushels of amendments on unrelated issues such as Obamacare, bogging down the legislative process and making it impossible to actually finish work on bills like the tax-extenders package.

This follows Reid's move late last year to change Senate rules by eliminating the minority's power to filibuster judicial nominations. Again, Reid said the change was necessary because Republicans were routinely tying up President Obama's nominations with little or no justification.

Everyone, on both sides of this imbroglio, claims to be standing on principle.

That doesn't bode well for a compromise that would allow the extenders bill to advance.

On the other hand, a lot of senators have constituents at home who don't care much about Senate procedural disputes but do care a great deal about how the tax code treats their businesses.

Passing the extenders bill in the Senate was supposed to be the easy part.

In the House, Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, D-Mich., doesn't like extenders in general or the wind credit in particular. His committee last month approved a bill that would make some of the tax provisions permanent, but pointedly left out the wind credit.

House Republican leadership sources privately say the wind credit will be taken care of at some point this year.

But that won't happen if the Senate can't get its act together and pass simple legislation that has broad bipartisan support.

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How would Iowa's Democratic and Republican Senate hopefuls fit into, and perhaps change, this dysfunctional Senate?

Democrat Bruce Braley, who currently represents Iowa's 1st District in the U.S. House, says restoring civility and collaborative lawmaking would be his mission in the Senate.

"Compromise isn't capitulation," Braley said in an interview with Potomac Watch a couple of months ago. "But getting past that doesn't happen at the leadership level. The rank and file has to push for a different way of doing business."

Among the Republicans, who are racing toward a June 3 primary, the tone is decidedly more combative.

State Sen. Joni Ernst of Red Oak is firing bullets at Obamacare, literally, in her TV ads.

Ernst holds a better-than-10-point lead over Mark Jacobs, according to a recent Loras College poll that found Ernst at 30.8 percent and Jacobs at 19.3.

Ernst recently earned the endorsement of the Senate Conservatives Fund, a group that backs firebrands such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and has launched attacks against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for being too wishy-washy.

These are not Chuck Grassley conservatives.

Jacobs is a former Reliant Energy and Goldman Sachs executive who seems to fit into the role of "business Republican" rather than political crusader.

That likely points to a little-less-combative rhetoric, but it's always a question how a one-time Wall Street "master of the universe" will fit into a legislative body.

Sam Clovis was in third place at 9.5 percent, but that was before he received high-profile endorsements from former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and conservative activist Bob Vander Plaats. Santorum won the 2012 Iowa presidential caucus.

If no one breaks 35 percent on primary day, the nomination would be thrown to a convention.

Clovis's appeal to conservative activists could play a big role at convention.

If Clovis were elected, he says he would fight not only the Democrats but also the Republican "establishment" and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Compromise and collaboration don't seem to be a part of Clovis's play book.

Former U.S. attorney Matt Whitaker was in fourth place. He points to Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah as role models.

For many years, Iowa has sent doers to the Senate, loyalists to their respective parties, to be sure, but also lawmakers who were most interested in delivering for the Hawkeye State.

An interesting choice looms for Iowa voters.