OCHEYEDAN, Iowa — As part of his annual 99-county tour of Iowa, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley visited Ocheyedan Wednesday afternoon to answer questions and discuss policy positions with local residents.
The longtime Republican senator began his visit by touring Cooperative Farmers Elevator (CFE) and holding a small Q&A with employees there. The workers told him they were concerned about the economy — specifically citing the struggle to hire capable laborers — since unemployment is paying more than some folks would make at a job.
They also wanted to know about Grassley's recent trip to the southern border of the U.S. He shared a few experiences, including a visit to a tent city that was designed for 250 people but was actually holding about 4,000 migrants waiting to enter the country.
"There's a super spreader situation," he said, explaining that of the people there that the U.S. Border Patrol tested for COVID, about 10% were positive for the virus.
Grassley also expressed compassion for those who have mistreated by coyotes — people who help immigrants cross the border undetected, often charging exorbitant fees and taking advantage of desperate people who would do anything to get into the U.S. He said he heard stories about gang rapes and other horrors committed by coyotes.
Leaving CFE, Grassley headed over to City Hall for another Q&A session, this time with a wider audience. The public at large also wanted to know about what he saw at the border, and the senator reiterated what he had previously shared.
The attendees — mostly farmers — raised several agricultural concerns.
Grassley explained that he recently reintroduced a bill that would require meat packers to get 50% of their weekly volume from the spot market, meaning buying the meat at current market cash price rather than according to pre-arranged contractual agreements. The senator has previously made five attempts to pass this legislation, but has not been successful so far.
"The environment's better now than when I first tried to do it," he said.
The bill has widespread bipartisan support.
Area farmers also said they're worried about farm and corporate taxes. Grassley told them he supports keeping the corporate tax rate at 21%, as per the 2017 tax bill. That rate is down from 28%, which Grassley said was supposed to finance support for infrastructure.
"I think there's a lot of bipartisan support for infrastructure," he said, noting that many of his Senate colleagues are in favor of expanding roads, bridges, dams and broadband.
However, he added, Biden's infrastructure bill includes "more money to broaden Medicaid than for this."
Although he said he disagrees with Biden on many points, Grassley noted that he supports the president's strategy in dealing with China. Trump preferred to negotiate one-on-one, but Biden is opting to partner with other nations in approaching China about trade.
"I think he's got a good idea," Grassley said.
The senator expressed optimism that Biden's selection of Katherine Tai as U.S. Trade Representative should be an asset in negotiating with China. Tai, an Asian-American, is fluent in Mandarin and has a long career history of taking on China.
While most of Biden's cabinet picks have been confirmed by a narrow Senate majority, Grassley noted, Tai was confirmed by a 98-0 vote.
"There's a good deal of confidence in her ability," he said.
After leaving Ocheyedan, Grassley made stops in several other northwest Iowa communities Wednesday.