D.C. Dispatch: Lawmakers prepare for shutdown; organ donation bill signed

By: - September 29, 2023 2:16 pm

A bipartisan bill sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley to restructure the process of organ procurement has been signed into law. (Photo illustration via Canva)

Heading toward a potential government shutdown, Iowa lawmakers introduced bills addressing pay for themselves and others and legislation regarding solar panels, food assistance benefits and more. 

Check out what Iowa’s congressional delegates were up to this week:

Grassley’s organ procurement bill becomes law

A bipartisan bill to restructure the process of the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network has been signed into law by President Joe Biden. 

Currently, a single contract is held by the United Network for Organ Sharing, the organization that has held the rights to the process of U.S. organ procurement since 1986. The contract expires Saturday. 

The law, guided by Sen. Chuck Grassley and Oregon Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden allows multiple contracts to be accepted for the management of organ transplants. 

The new law also removes the maximum amount of funding available for supporting the donation network.

“In my nearly two decades spent fighting for U.S. organ donation reforms, I’ve heard far too many stories of patients who have lost their lives due to negligence and abuse of the system,” Grassley said in a news release.

He said the law’s enactment “opens a new chapter in our nation’s organ donation system by addressing the many failures that have plagued the organ procurement network, with disastrous consequences. This law will help bring positive outcomes for thousands of patients, including the nearly 600 Iowans currently waiting to receive an organ transplant.”

Grassley took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to thank those who helped pass the legislation. 

Jennifer Erickson, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, said the new law allows organizations that specialize in each part of the procurement process to be involved. 

“If you’re very good at health I.T., that doesn’t mean you’re great at logistics, or if you’re great at logistics, that doesn’t mean you’re great at patient safety,” Erickson told Iowa Capital Dispatch in July. “Those are fundamentally different skills. And so instead of one monopoly that fails at each of these functions, Health and Human Services is now able to break it up and then offer contracts to the best to the best in each of these fields.”

Nunn addresses congressional pay during shutdown

In advance of a potential government shutdown, Rep. Zach Nunn wrote a letter requesting his pay be suspended until a budget agreement is made. That’s not legally allowed, however — pay is mandated by the U.S. Constitution.

Nunn addressed the letter to the chief administrative officer of the House of Representatives, which said, “My understanding is that pursuant to the Constitution, members of Congress will continue to receive their pay during a lapse in appropriations. I am, therefore, requesting that, in the event of a lapse of appropriations beginning at midnight on Oct. 1, 2023, my pay be withheld until legislation has taken effect to completely end the lapse in appropriations.”

Earlier this week, Nunn introduced legislation to fine members of Congress the equivalent of their daily pay and prohibit them from fundraising during a government shutdown. 

Iowans call for maintaining military pay during shutdown

Also regarding a government shutdown, Reps. Randy Feenstra, Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Nunn introduced legislation to maintain pay for those in the military and border patrol agents. 

“Our troops and border patrol agents make incredible sacrifices to defend our country and protect our families from drug traffickers, criminals, terrorists and other bad actors,” Feenstra said in a news release. “It is only right that they receive their full pay – uninterrupted – in the event of a government shutdown.”

The legislation would use unassigned funds from the Treasury to pay the individuals in the event of a shutdown. 

Ernst looks to make SNAP changes

Sen. Joni Ernst introduced legislation this week to require states to claw back Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) overpayments. 

The legislation could reduce spending by almost $1 billion a month, according to Ernst’s office.

“Families across the country are going hungry while bureaucrats are jumping the line to gobble up SNAP dollars, either as a meal ticket to beef up state budgets or a self-serve buffet of benefits for themselves or others who do not qualify,” Ernst said in a news release.

Ernst’s proposed regulations would also require all SNAP payment errors to be reported. Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not calculate errors less than $54. 

Grassley aims to make Pell Grant tax-free

Grassley introduced bipartisan legislation this week to combat the cost of college. 

The bipartisan legislation would make Pell Grants tax-free.

The coordination between the Pell Grant regulations and the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), in conjunction with tax codes, means students do not get the most out of educational funding opportunities, according to Grassley’s office. 

“We expect students to work hard in order to maximize their academic success while in school,” Grassley said in a news release. “Likewise, we ought to ensure our tax code is set up to maximize students’ financial success as they pursue higher education. This bipartisan proposal would cut through confusing tax rules and permit young Iowans to take full advantage of available financial aid.”

The legislation would also remove the requirement for students to “subtract Pell grants from expenses for which the AOTC can be claimed,” according to Grassley’s office. 

Feenstra looks to change life insurance treatment

Feenstra introduced legislation aimed at reducing costs and unnecessary risks for life insurance. 

Feenstra’s Secure Family Futures Act would “apply ordinary treatment of debt investments for certain insurance companies,” according to his office. 

“Our economy and our tax code need to support the financial security of our families, and we’ve made tremendous progress on this effort in recent years to help folks save for the future and protect their finances,” Feenstra said in a news release. “It’s time we build on that progress and fix the misalignment in our tax code that creates high costs and unnecessary risks for life insurance.”

Grassley looks to research solar panel effects

Grassley introduced legislation to require data collection on lands hosting renewable energy production. 

The legislation aims to protect the soil health of lands hosting solar panels by conducting a risk-benefit analysis, researching soil health and best practices for installing and removing solar energy systems. 

“We must be certain that embracing solar doesn’t damage our most valuable commodity: our rich Iowa soil,” Grassley said in a news release. “I’m proud to introduce this bill to help the Heartland continue to lead the way in pursuing ag innovation and renewable resource development in a responsible manner.”

Two Miller-Meeks resolutions

Miller-Meeks introduced two bipartisan resolutions this week to acknowledge environmental topics. 

Alongside Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, a Democrat from Delaware, Miller-Meeks submitted a resolution to make this past week “National Clean Energy Week.”

“National Clean Energy Week is a time to acknowledge all the progress Iowa has made from lowering emissions without mandates or reducing energy supply to offering a roadmap for other states to use as a guide to a cleaner future for America to demonstrating the opportunities that come from flexibility and an any of-the-above approach to energy production,” Miller-Meeks said in a news release.

With Rep. John Sarbanes, a Democrat from Maryland, Miller-Meeks submitted a resolution to make this week “National Source Water Protection Week,” which according to her office, recognizes the central role of water in sustaining life and highlights the importance of conserving, protecting and restoring the nation’s drinking water resources.

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Jay Waagmeester
Jay Waagmeester

Jay is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch intern. Jay is based in Ames and is currently a senior majoring in journalism and marketing at Iowa State University. He has interned at New Century Press and contributed to the Iowa State Daily.