D.C. Dispatch: Government shutdown averted; Grassley blocks universal background checks

By: - December 3, 2021 2:58 pm

Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks on the Senate floor on March 20, 2020. (Screen shot from video provided by Grassley’s office)

Congress acted this week to keep the government funded until February, although all of Iowa’s Republican delegates voted against the budget proposal. Iowa’s delegation also weighed in on gun control, military sexual assault, settlement payments for immigrants and more.

Government shutdown averted, but debt limit deadline looms

Congress averted a government shutdown on Thursday by passing a short-term budget bill that keeps the country funded until February.

Iowa’s Republican members voted against the budget bill. Lone Democrat Cindy Axne voted in favor.

Lawmakers still need to vote this month to raise the national debt limit. Republican leadership earlier this year said Democrats would need to pass a debt limit increase along party lines, or face defaulting on the debt.

Now, leadership from both parties say they’re working toward a solution. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters this week the U.S. would not default on its debts.

Grassley blocks universal background check proposal

After a Michigan school shooting, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat, asked the Senate for unanimous consent to pass H.R. 8, legislation that would expand background checks for firearms purchases. 

“I understand the chances are slim to none that this unanimous consent request will be adopted, but I am at my wit’s end,” Murphy said on the floor.

Grassley objected to the bill, blocking its passage. He acknowledged the school shooting was a “shocking act of violence,” but said H.R. 4 was not the solution.

“This bill is hostile toward lawful gun owners and lawful firearms transactions … So-called ‘universal’ background checks will not prevent crime, but will turn otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals,” Grassley said.

Instead, Grassley asked senators to adopt his proposal to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Murphy blocked that bill.

Bipartisan group: Keep sexual assault prevention in NDAA

A group of 66 House and Senate members signed onto a letter this week, urging negotiators to keep the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act in the annual defense bill. Grassley and Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks signed onto the letter.

“Sexual assault in the military is a serious concern and demands a real solution, not a watered-down provision slipped in the final bill behind closed doors,” the letter reads.

The defense bill has stalled while senators debate amendments to the legislation.

Ernst and Grassley sponsor bill to prevent payments to separated immigrant families

Migrant families who were separated from their children under former President Donald Trump are in negotiations to settle with the U.S. government, but critics say the settlements could create incentives for more illegal immigration.

Grassley and Sen. Joni Ernst co-sponsored legislation that would prohibit the government from using federal funds to pay settlements to undocumented immigrants. The bill has no Democratic support.

“As you can imagine, many Americans think it’s a pretty outrageous idea to offer massive taxpayer-funded payments to illegal immigrants who broke our laws, particularly in the middle of a record-shattering border crisis that this administration has created,” Grassley told Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas at a hearing this week.

Lee Gelernt, an attorney from the American Civil Liberties Union, pushed back in a call with reporters, arguing that many of the families were legally seeking asylum when they were separated.

First round of infrastructure bill funds arrive in Iowa

The first round of money from the infrastructure bill is headed to Iowa, Axne announced Thursday. The state will receive $110,000 to upgrade water infrastructure.

“Our bipartisan infrastructure law tackles that challenge head on by bringing more than $600 million to Iowa over the next five years to invest in clean drinking water and create jobs by replacing miles of lead pipes and other water projects,” Axne said in a news release. “I’m pleased to see the first fifth of that money already on its way to Iowa to begin this important and lifesaving work.”

Department of Justice grants Iowa police forces $500,000 for hiring

The Norwalk Police Department and the Union County Sheriff’s Department will receive $500,000 from the Department of Justice to hire additional officers, Axne announced last week.

“These grants come at an especially critical time as law enforcement agencies prepare for a new year while continuing to help their communities through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Axne said in a news release.

The Norwalk Police will receive $375,000 and the Union County Sheriff’s Department will receive the other $125,000.

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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.