On last Friday’s episode of Iowa Press, Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D) made the remarkable claim that he is willing to negotiate everything with Governor Branstad and the Republican majority in the House. His statements were remarkable for not only being patently absurd, but for not being challenged by a single journalist on the show’s panel.
“Here’s what I’ve tried to avoid,” Gronstal told the panel. “Everybody, you know, the House says $5.999 [billion] is non-negotiable, the Governor says two-year budget is non-negotiable. I’ve never once said any of these pieces are non-negotiable. I don’t want to play that game. I think Iowans elected us to come in, listen to the concerns of Iowans and go out and listen to them.”
Gronstal later repeated his denials of obstructionism: “Like I say, I have studiously avoided drawing those lines in the sand, saying it’s our way or the highway on anything. Those words have not come out of my mouth, I’ve been on this show several times. I don’t think you’ve ever heard me say, this is something we will not compromise in any way whatsoever. I have even taken some criticism from our own members for not drawing lines in the sand. But I recognize our job is to find common ground.”
Gronstal continued his protestations of innocence by claiming: “I’m the guy that keeps saying I’m not drawing the lines in the sand. I’m not saying that there’s nothing negotiable, that’s the other side saying that, that’s the message I got out of the House Republicans, it’s the message I get out of the Governor, these things that are non-negotiable. I’m ready, willing and able to sit down at any time with people and look for common ground and we’re going to continue to do that until we find it.”
These statements are pure posturing to avoid blame for a possible government shutdown if the legislature fails to pass a budget by July 1st, and it is a shame the media never called him on it. A simple review of statements made by Gronstal during the course of the legislative session, including those on Iowa Press, show how patently false his “everything is negotiable” claims are.
For instance, a vote on a marriage amendment is dead upon arrival in a Gronstal-led senate. On the January 28th episode of Iowa Press, Gronstal said that he would never allow a vote, even if that means he loses his seat in the next election. Sure enough, a marriage amendment never saw the light of day in the Senate.
But in that same episode of Iowa Press, Gronstal assured Iowans that “I don’t take that position very often except on very, very important issues.” In fact, “everything is negotiable” Gronstal promised that the House late-term abortion bill would “get a fair hearing” in the Senate and that he would not prevent it from being debated. On the April 8th episode of Iowa Press, Gronstal began to hedge his bets but still claimed that the bill was “a viable option.”
Then “my way or the highway” Gronstal showed his true colors by forcing through a farce Senate bill without allowing a vote on the House bill. On Friday’s episode, “non-negotiable” Gronstal stated that “the surest way to keep [late-term abortionist] Carhart out of Iowa is for the House to pass the bill the Senate passed.”
When the AP’s Mike Glover told him “the House is not going to do that,” Gronstal repeated that the “House ought to pass it.” When asked by Radio Iowa’s Kay Henderson how he was going to resolve this stalemate, he repeated yet again, “If the House wants to keep Carhart out of Iowa, they should pass the bill.” Gronstal not only broke his word on allowing a vote, but has proven to be every bit as non-negotiable as he claims Republicans are.
So Gronstal has proven to be an intractable liberal on social issues, but what about fiscal policies? When asked on the January 28th episode of Iowa Press about Governor Branstad’s proposed zero percent allowable growth in education funding, Gronstal replied: “With all due respect, from what planet do you have to be from to think I’m going to go along with zero for two years? I know he can veto anything we get through the legislature for one year, but he also can’t make us pass something for two years.”
On February 11th, Gronstal continued that “zero (percent allowable growth) for the first time in history is unacceptable.” On the April 8th episode of Iowa Press, “I never draw lines in the sand” Gronstal repeated that zero percent allow growth is “unacceptable.” Again, on April 20th, Gronstal said, “There is no scenario, there is no scenario where the Democratic Legislature will pass zero allowable growth for two years. That scenario is not going to happen.”
But surely no lines have been drawn in the sand when it comes to Governor Branstad’s proposed two-year budget? Not quite. During a twenty-minute press conference on April 21st, Gronstal said that, while Democrats may be willing to work on pilot or experimental two-year budgets in other areas, they will never agree to two-year budgets in education or health care.
“We think it’s a mistake to go down that road,” he said. “We’re not going to do two-year budgets on those areas. We think it’s a horrible mistake to lock in zero percent allowable growth for two years for our local schools.” On April 28th, Gronstal said he is done negotiating with Governor Branstad on two-year budgets. So much for not drawing lines in the sand.
For a man who once told Iowa Press that “I’m really comfortable every morning when I look myself in the mirror as I shave,” he has a nasty little habit of lying about his positions when it suits his political purposes. If there really were no lines in the sand, then compromises on all these issues would have been reached long ago.
Instead, it appears that Gronstal does indeed draw lines in the sand, though he strangely isn’t always willing to publicly fight for them. Is he embarrassed by them, or are they just that indefensible? Unfortunately, we’ll never know because the Iowa Press panel never pressed him on it.
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