Unwrapping 2019 and looking ahead to 2020
At the start of 2019, I became only the second U.S. senator from Iowa to be sworn in as Senate president pro tempore, one of only two constitutional officers in Congress. As the most senior lawmaker in the Senate Majority, it’s an honor to serve in this leadership position on behalf of Iowans.
Although I’m now third in the presidential succession line, the prestige of the office hasn’t changed the way I serve Iowans. In August, I wrapped up my 39th consecutive year holding meetings in each of Iowa’s 99 counties.
Meeting with Iowans where they work, attend school, access health care and even get their gas and groceries makes me a better senator. Having face-to-face dialogue where constituents set the agenda is essential to representative government.
One thing’s for sure, Iowans aren’t wrapped up with tweets and partisan-driven hysteria that consume people inside the Beltway. Here’s what is on their minds.
Iowans harmed by historic floods are still coping and working to restore their homes, businesses and livelihoods. In April, I participated in a field hearing led by Sen. Joni Ernst and made clear to the U.S. Army Corps that flood control needs to be its number one priority. I helped secure a federal disaster relief bill, including an amendment to help farmers who lost on-farm stored grain due to busted bins eligible for disaster payments. I’ll continue to work with Iowans on flood recovery and the Corps on restoring the levee system. I am a sponsor of three bills with colleagues in the region to help with these efforts. I’m also pleased we were able to get additional tax relief for Iowans affected by the floods in the year-end appropriations package.
Although the overall U.S. economy is experiencing wage growth and historic low unemployment, the farm economy is straddled with low commodity prices, trade uncertainty and natural disasters. Iowa farmers depend on trade to boost the prices they’re paid for the grain they grow, the hogs they raise and the dairy products they produce. Although USMCA stalled in the House of Representatives, it was finally passed in December. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I’ll work to get it to the president’s desk early next year. Biofuels are a big deal to Iowa’s economy. I successfully led efforts to extend the federal biodiesel tax credit through 2022. This delivers a boost of relief to soybean farmers and biodiesel workers. Although the Trump administration delivered on year-round sales of E15, I’m not satisfied with its implementation of the Renewable Fuel Standard by any stretch of the imagination. I will hold the EPA’s feet to the fire on this issue for as long as it takes to get it right.
Farm families also talked about the increase in suicides. As a lifelong family farmer, I empathize with the burdens borne by farmers to keep one’s operation afloat during downturns in the farm economy. Congress renewed the FARMERS FIRST Act to provide funds for helplines, suicide prevention training and other outreach services. I’m also working to enact the bipartisan Seeding Rural Resilience Act to provide additional resources and training for local USDA employees who work closely with farmers to identify and help people at risk.
No matter where I go in Iowa, I also hear about the soaring costs of prescription drugs. Seniors tell me they skip doses or leave unfilled prescriptions at the pharmacy counter. Families are pinched to pay for the rising cost of insulin, for example. Iowans don’t want to hear more excuses. They want Congress to act. My Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act is the only comprehensive, bipartisan plan that has broad support, including President Trump’s support. Passing meaningful drug pricing reforms are a top priority for me in 2020. In the meantime, consumers will find some relief with passage of my bipartisan CREATES Act. Included in the year-end package, it will help accelerate lower-cost generic drugs to reach consumers.
Workers care about their paychecks and retirement security. Small businesses worry about filling job openings and attracting the workforce they need to grow and expand. Local leaders tell me about challenges they face with housing and rural broadband infrastructure. From my chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee, I shepherded passage of the SECURE Act through Congress. It will make it easier and more affordable for small businesses to offer retirement plans for employees. This new law will help small businesses with employee recruitment and retention and give workers another way to build retirement savings to last a lifetime.
Communities devastated by the opioid and methamphetamine crises also struggle when families are torn apart from addiction. My bipartisan legislation, the Family First Transition Act, will help states implement the Family First Prevention Services Act which passed last year, to help keep more children safely at home, instead of placing them in foster care.
Throughout my service as a U.S. Senator for Iowa, I’ve kept my nose to the grindstone to make the government work for Iowans, not the other way around. When Washington operates like a three-ring circus, I don’t get caught up in the partisan side shows. Even as we ring in the New Year under the cloud of a presidential impeachment, I’m confident our system of representative government will prevail and I’ll continue working for Iowans.