Let the overreach set in



While the Iowa Democrats were still thick in the moors of a wake the Republicans immediately stepped into the brave new world of one-party control.

House Speaker Paul Ryan last week talked up taking Medicare private with cheering from the Ways and Means Committee chairman of Texas and Trump’s new Health and Human Services secretary. The Senate already is talking about slowing that process down, knowing the Democrats can block it.

Gov. Terry Branstad, meanwhile, suggested that we could sort of take the Iowa Public Employees Retirement System private, or turn it into something like a 401K. Majority Republicans in the Iowa House are clamoring for it. There is no filibuster in the Republican-controlled state senate. Lawsuits to block legislation or executive orders have not met with enthusiasm after the 2010 restructuring of the Iowa Supreme Court.

There is nothing to stop the freight train. Branstad one day last week responded to The Des Moines Register by saying that he is open to the idea of “reforming” IPERS. The next day the governor said not to worry, it would take a long while. Sort of like what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConell said about taking Medicare private — that third rail can be hot.

Wall Street financiers have been claiming for years that Medicare, Social Security and IPERS are broke and you will never get to see the benefits. I remember them talking about it when Nixon was President. We boomers would never get to see our benefits. Brother John just started collecting this year. He loves Social Security and Medicare. So does the Mayo Clinic. So does every senior in Iowa.

The sky did not fall. Social Security is fine. IPERS was supposed to be bankrupt 10 years ago. It just paid out nearly $10 million last year in BV County.

The facts will not stop the Republicans from overreaching on behalf of their paymasters and ideological core.

They are putting the big toe near that hot rail and wondering just how to grab it without getting killed.

You may wish that Democrats, reason and lawsuits will hold back the train. In Washington, that may be the case. In Iowa, forget about it.

The donkey was beheaded.

IPERS is on the way to getting get the same bloody treatment. Already there is talk in the legislature about restoring the death penalty in Iowa. There are all sorts of crazy corporate ag welfare programs disguised as water quality improvement that will drink from the natural resources funding well.

So let’s see: The Republicans already plan to infuriate every government secretary and cop, the Methodist and Catholic churches, and the very hunters and fishermen who put Donald Trump in the White House.

The Democrats overreached when they banned smoking and slot machines from bars. They’ve paid for it, although few of them know it.

The Republicans will do the same thing, in a different form. They will forget the people who put them there. They will steer too far to the right and into the ditch. It will not take more than a year, because the governor had already set the course.

He shut down the state’s workforce development offices (including Storm Lake’s), he shuttered state homes and mental health institutes single-handedly, rewrote the state Medicaid program by himself and is personally making a mishmash of the state mental health system.

If Branstad could do that with the formidable Mike Gronstal leading a Democratic Senate, think of what he can do with Gronstal out of the way.

The temptations will be so great the foolishness is inevitable.

Already the Medicaid reforms are resulting in insurance companies losing millions, health care providers not getting paid and poor people being denied services.

It’s one thing to screw poor people, but it is quite another to stiff the insurance companies and the medical-industrial complex.

That’s where Gronstal comes in.

It is hard to see the Democrats taking control of the state Senate or House in two years. They have taken too hard a beating to recover that soon.

A Democrat could retake Terrace Hill once the single-party statehouse has made a wreck of Iowa.

That person is Gronstal. There simply is no one else of his stature other than Tom Vilsack, who has been there and done that. Vilsack had his chance to run for a third (and a fourth and a fifth) term as governor and opted to run for President instead and settling for US Secretary of Agriculture.

Gronstal has made it clear he is not stepping back at age 66 after his defeat in Council Bluffs at the trigger-finger of the gun lobby. Gronstal is running for Iowa Democratic Party chair, which would give him the bullhorn he needs to mount a bid for governor.

Branstad may decamp for China as ambassador or for Washington in some nice Trump job. Or he could simply step out to retirement. The governor is 70. He would probably like to see Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds have a leg up with incumbency in two years. If Branstad did retire, it could expose rifts in the Iowa GOP so evident now in the Democratic Party. He holds the operation together. It took him to come out of retirement to unseat Gov. Chet Culver, not some young rising star from the “bench.”

Progressives should love to see a debate between Gronstal and Reynolds, Ag Secretary Bill Northey or Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett. Gronstal is smarter and has more experience in statewide campaigns. Plus, voters actually are tired of Terry Branstad. Council Bluffs voters were tired of Mike Gronstal, but people in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids may have an entirely different view — and so might the ingrates in the Bluffs after a year or two.

The overreach has begun and will only grow.

The question is whether Democrats are smart enough to concentrate their resources on electing a governor and getting back to old-fashioned divided government, the way Iowans like it. If the Democrats blow this chance, they have a long walk in the cocklebur patch ahead.