June 9, 2014

As spring finally sprung in May, so too did Rep. Steve King finally springing into action as a legislator.

The Kiron Republican offered a new bill and wedged two amendments into an appropriations measure on the House floor, his first legislative footprints of 2014.

Early in the month, King introduced a bill that would allow taxpayers to deduct the full cost of their health insurance.

This was the first bill King has introduced this year. He introduced 11 bills last year, none of which received a floor vote.

In the two full years of the 112th Congress, 2011-2012, King introduced 20 bills and managed to get a floor vote on none.

King currently has 21 co-sponsors on his health-insurance bill, including stalwart conservatives like his close friend Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.

The proposal could be seen as a conservative marker both on how to replace Obamacare and on tax reform.

The bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee, where Chairman Dave Camp. R-Mich., has very different ideas about health and tax reform.

Camp's approach is to get the government out of the business of tax preferences across the board and instead let consumers and the market make the decisions.

Camp hasn't commented on King's bill, and it's doubtful it will see the light of day in committee.

But one obvious problem with the measure is that it would encourage well-off taxpayers to load up on tax-free benefits, potentially driving up the cost of health-care services for everyone.

Regardless, this bill will surely add to King's record of futility in moving bills to the floor.

King was also active recently as appropriations season got underway in the House.

This is typically where King finds his best opportunities for legislative success, adding hot-button amendments to spending bills during freewheeling debate on the House floor.

King successfully attached two amendments to the annual appropriations bill for the Justice Department on his favorite subject: illegal immigration.

His first amendment would redirect $5 million away from other Justice Department programs and require the department to investigate the "discretionary enforcement decisions" allegedly being made by the Department of Homeland Security.

King said 36,007 "criminal aliens" were freed pending deportation and called this a "de facto amnesty" program at DHS that was putting murderers and rapists on the street.

Critics said the real target of the investigation required by the King amendment was the Obama administration's policy to stop deporting young people brought to the United States as children.

The amendment passed 218-193 with all but five Democrats voting no. One Republican opposed it as well.

King's second amendment passed 214-194, with nine Republicans and all but two Democrats opposing.

That amendment would prohibit certain funding for so-called sanctuary cities where, King argued, local officials are preventing federal authorities from enforcing immigration law.

"This is, I guess, not actually part of their effort to reach out for a greater fan base," Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., said, tongue firmly in cheek.

As usual, King's efforts were doing nothing to help Republicans make headway with Hispanic voters.

Fattah found great irony in the whole debate over King's amendments, saying the Iowan wanted to inject a debate over national immigration policy into the rather humble business of passing annual appropriations bills.

But at the same time, Fattah argued, King has been instrumental in blocking a real House floor debate over proposed immigration reform.

"This is an appropriations bill," Fattah said. "We are not in the business of immigration reform on this bill. We are just trying to run the bare bones of the United States government."

Perhaps, Fattah suggested, King and other foes of immigration reform would allow a full-fledged debate over that policy.

"I would hope that we would usher in the day in which the House would take up comprehensive immigration reform," Fattah said.

Not likely.

King is shadowing Republican presidential candidates across the country: He was in New Hampshire two weeks ago; last week he was at a GOP presidential candidate cattle show in Texas.

He is amplifying his message and ensuring it's at the top of the agenda wherever GOP presidential hopefuls appear.

It also keeps King in the news, which is important because the incumbent doesn't much care for fundraising.

In fact, Democratic challenger Jim Mowrer's $514,000 cash on hand is more than twice as much as King has in the bank.

Mowrer is still a long-shot candidate. But now the general-election campaign begins in earnest in Iowa's 4th District, and Mowrer will probably start spending that money.

Plus, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently announced it has reserved over $400,000 in air time in the Des Moines market. If Mowrer can make a race of it, the DCCC will pull the trigger and run ads in the fall slamming King.

The next phase of this campaign begins now.