Iowa Lawmakers Frustrated with Fiscal Cliff Deal

By Chris Earl

WASHINGTON -- Long-tenured U.S. Senators Charles Grassley and Tom Harkin found themselves in the distinct minority early Tuesday but for vastly different reasons.

With the Senate passed the "fiscal cliff" bill by an overwhelming 89-8 majority, Grassley and Harkin, frequent politcal opponents, voted against the measure.

Harkin, a Democrat in his fifth term, called the bill a compromise that benefits the wealthy and not the middle class. Grassley, the Republican first elected in 1980, was pushing for spending cuts and said that simply never materialized.

In a Wednesday satellite interview from Washington, D.C., Grassley said the recent hectic days surrounding the fiscal cliff could have been avoided.

"There's 99 of us in the Senate," Grassley said. "If (Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid had started on this in November, we wouldn't be up to this fiscal cliff thing you saw just happened."

Grassley was also critical about President Obama's role in the talks since the November election.

"When the president is not at the table and as inactive at the issues and not really sitting down and negotiating, you aren't going to get much done," said Grassley. "We need presidential leadership."

On Tuesday night, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the bill, 257-167, moving the legislation to the White House for President Obama's signature.

Iowa's five Congressional members voted along party lines. Democrats Bruce Braley, Dave Loebsack and outgoing Congressman Leonard Boswell votes with many other Democrats in approving the measure. Republicans Tom Lathan and Steve King cast 'no' votes, as did many other Republicans.

Braley, who represents Waterloo, Cedar Rapids and Dubuque in the newly-redrawn 1st District, had sharp words for the process, saying his colleagues deserved more time to debate the legislation.

"A lot of the things in the bill we voted on last night should have been debated in the House over the last two years and were never brought to the floor for a vote and it's frustrating to have this shoved into a last-minute conversation," said Braley in a phone interview.

As so many are critical of the role of Congress amid partisan and political trench battles, Braley said he understands this but also that the battles in Congress have been divisive throughout history.

"Watch the movie 'Lincoln' and watch some of the floor debate that's portrayed in that movie," said Braley, who won his fourth term in November. "People who think it used to be a big, friendly environment where people said 'kumbaya' and things got done on a regular basis don't understand American history. When you're here to do a tough job, it can create moments of crisis that makes the body of Congress unpopular."

Dave Loebsack, also close to starting his fourth term in Congress, now represents Iowa City and the Quad Cities. He had sharper words for Congress, saying this bill, even though he supported it, is "kicking the can".

"This is really dysfunctional," said Loebsack. "We use that word a lot and this is beyond that. It's frustration and, for my constituents and people who are simply fed up with the business as usual in D.C., partisan bickering and a lack of trust with the leaders. People have got to put down their political arms and sit down and talk with one another."

While the vast majority of American workers will not face a higher rate of federal income tax, most workers will see fewer take home dollars. For 2011 and 2012, a payroll tax holiday dropped the FICA rate (money for Social Security programs) from 6.2% to 4.2%. A worker making $50,000 a year would pay $1,000 more in FICA taxes than in 2012. That would mean about $38 less per paycheck in a two-week pay cycle.

That two-year break expired at the first of the year. Loebsack broke from both Braley and Grassley in that he wanted the lower rate for one more year.

"It would've been preferable if we could have extended the 2% holiday another year so people wouldn't see that money coming out of their pockets," said Loebsack. "There wasn't any political support to speak of to keep it at 4.2%."
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