D.C. Dispatch: Iowa delegation leads on veteran suicide prevention bill

By: - October 22, 2021 4:09 pm

U.S. Army Soldiers with 2nd Battalion, 35 Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, discuss and transmit mission plans before moving to an objective on Oct. 18, 2021, at Pohakuloa Training Area, Hawaii. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Rachel Christensen/28th Public Affairs Detachment)

Happy Friday, and welcome to the D.C. Dispatch. This week in our nation’s capital, Iowa’s delegation introduced several new bills on suicide prevention, the IRS, Social Security and more.

Ernst, Miller-Meeks introduce bipartisan suicide prevention proposal for veterans

Sen. Joni Ernst and Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, both veterans, led the introduction of a bicameral bill this week that would require the Department of Defense to evaluate their suicide prevention efforts and make improvements. 

A recent report found that military suicides have increased by 15% in the last year.

“We need to put out the (Save Our Servicemembers Act). and get to the root of this alarming and disturbing trend,” Ernst said in a statement. “That starts with this straightforward, bipartisan measure directing the Pentagon to streamline their prevention efforts and to clean up collaboration within its own offices.”

The Senate bill had 33 co-sponsors on Friday, including Sen. Chuck Grassley and several Democrats. The House bill had just one co-sponsor: Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Democrat from Texas.

Republicans introduce bills to block IRS changes

Democrats proposed a new policy to allow the Internal Revenue Service to monitor certain bank transactions for money that does not come from a taxable payroll or from federal benefits. The intent, according to the Biden administration, was to better track which businesses and individuals were reporting less taxable income than they actually made.

Under the original proposal, the IRS would gain access to every account that had a total of $600 in deposits and withdrawals annually. 

Republicans condemned the proposal, arguing that it would be a breach of privacy. Democrats walked back the legislation a little bit, instead putting a cap of annual deposits or withdrawals of over $10,000.

Iowa Republicans still object to the proposal.

“The information that the Democrats are seeking is a complete invasion of privacy,” Grassley said in a statement. “The average American shouldn’t have to explain every financial transaction to the federal government.”

Senate Republicans introduced a bill to combat the requirements, which have yet to pass. Grassley and Ernst co-sponsored the legislation.

In the House, Miller-Meeks and Rep. Ashley Hinson co-sponsored a similar bill against reporting bank information to the IRS. Rep. Randy Feenstra was not listed as a co-sponsor on Friday, but he did sign onto a letter from House Republicans to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. The letter condemned both the $600 and $10,000 thresholds.

“Your proposal … will likely sow further distrust in our financial system due to the ongoing and valid concerns about the IRS’s ability to protect the privacy and financial data of the American people and potentially enlarge the unbanked population,” the letter reads.

Miller-Meeks and Hinson also signed the letter.

Axne launches proposal for Social Security phone lines

Rep. Cindy Axne introduced a bill this week that would require the Social Security Administration to properly staff their phone lines. Axne said that older Iowans relied on hotline during the COVID-19 pandemic, but that many constituents reported long wait times.

“My bill is a common-sense fix: it says that federal Social Security offices need to allocate the appropriate staff to have real people manning those phone lines,” Axne said in a statement. “And it doesn’t ask taxpayers to spend a single additional dime, because frankly, this is something they should already be doing.”

Senators send letters about agriculture, energy

One of the primary ways lawmakers communicate between branches and agencies is through the public release of letters. Iowa’s senators kept the postal service busy this week.

  • Grassley asked Biden to keep wind energy in mind while considering new environmental and economic policies. The letter comes after news that a Newton wind blade turbine manufacturer will lay off more than 700 workers. 
    • “In order to meet such an ambitious goal, it will be vital to retain and grow our existing base of American clean energy jobs,” Grassley wrote. “Yet in Iowa, people who already work in the clean energy sector are getting pink slips.”
  • Ernst, Grassley and a handful of other senators sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. They asked Vilsack why a $700 million aid package for biofuels has not yet been implemented. 
  • Grassley and Ernst asked the Department of Homeland Security for more details about ransomware attacks on agricultural companies.

What happened to the infrastructure and spending bills?

Democrats continued to chip away at a compromise on a massive reconciliation bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that Democrats were close to finishing a version of the package that the whole caucus will agree on. It’s a balancing act between appeasing moderates, who balked at an initial $3.5 trillion price tag, and progressives, who advocated for major policy changes.

House leadership has not set a date for debate on the bill. 

Ernst rolls the dice on another board game presentation

Ernst continued a streak of board game-themed floor speeches this week, delivering a wide-ranging critique of the Biden administration using the game “LIFE.” Last month, Ernst did an UNO-themed speech on the spending proposal.

When accused on Twitter of giving speeches with a high “cringe factor,” Ernst told the commenter to “Get a LIFE.”


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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.