Column: County meetings keep dialogue open

Q: What's on the minds of Iowans as you visit each of Iowa's 99 counties this year? A: Last year during the August recess, I got a lot of feedback from Iowans about government overreach, specifically regarding an Obama administration rule known a...

Q: What’s on the minds of Iowans as you visit each of Iowa’s 99 counties this year?

A: Last year during the August recess, I got a lot of feedback from Iowans about government overreach, specifically regarding an Obama administration rule known as Waters of the United States (WOTUS).

The Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had issued a rule that effectively would regulate 97 percent of the property in Iowa under the Clean Water Act. The misguided proposal would sweep nearly the entire state of Iowa under the umbrella of the EPA by vastly expanding the scope of the federal clean water law by stretching the definition of “navigable waters,” effectively regulating land that is dry much of the time, such as stream beds, ravines and ditches. In effect, farmers, property owners, local governments and municipalities would need to navigate federal approval for land-use decisions, affecting virtually every raindrop and square inch of property in the state.

I’m glad to report that this summer the Trump administration has moved to rescind the controversial regulation and restore common sense and certainty to the rulemaking process. This reality check also is in line with federal court decisions that put the flawed regulation on hold pending legal challenges.

Another issue that received considerable public attention last year was the unexpected Supreme Court vacancy and the Senate’s decision to hold off on filling it until the new presidency. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I led confirmation hearings for President Trump’s nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, who was confirmed in April and is serving as the 113th justice on the high court.


Now eight months into the new presidency and the new Congress, Iowans are as plugged in as ever to public policy and politics. During this August recess, I will meet with Iowans in 30 counties, holding Q&As in community centers, schools, factory floors, hospitals and local businesses to find out what matters most to their families and livelihoods. For 37 consecutive years, in every county, every year, I let Iowans set the agenda. And I can report that just about every issue under the sun comes up.

This August, health care insurance is dominating the conversation. And I shared with Iowans my embarrassment that Congress hasn’t reached a consensus on fixing the flaws with Obamacare. Access to affordable health care coverage is a primary concern and for good reason. For example, 72,000 Iowans who purchase insurance on the individual markets are facing major uncertainty and major sticker shock. Only one provider has filed with the Iowa Insurance Division to offer plans for the upcoming enrollment season, and it estimates rate increases of more than 56 percent for 2018. Senator Ernst and I are working with state officials to help Iowa obtain a waiver from the federal government to provide more affordable coverage in the individual markets until more permanent solutions are reached in Congress.

Q: Why do you prioritize your county meetings?

A: Iowans expect access and accountability to their public officials. And they deserve it. I decided long ago that I would make it my business to keep in touch by holding face-to-face dialogue with the people I represent. And I encourage Iowans to hold up their end of the bargain. Representative government is a two-way street. Many times I get an earful. And I’m glad to hear what’s weighing on the minds and hearts of Iowans on the issues that matter most to their families, farms, businesses and communities.

In addition to health care, Iowans so far have shared views about the farm bill, tax cuts and infrastructure, among other important issues. There’s significant uncertainty in the farm economy as farmers brace for the fourth consecutive downturn leading up to this year’s harvest. Farmers and main street businesses and lenders who depend on their prosperity shared concerns on crop insurance changes and exports affected by trade agreements. There was also an overwhelming consensus for Congress to get to work and get the job done. I sensed patience is running thin among Iowans who want to see an end to gridlock in Washington.

As always, I value the direct feedback from Iowans as it helps shape my work and my votes at the policymaking tables in Washington. Congress returns to a full plate of business this fall, with tax reform, health care, infrastructure and financing the government dominating the menu. From my seat at the table, I’ll be working tirelessly to shape policy based on the feedback I heard from Iowans and to protect and strengthen the constitutional promises of limited government, individual liberty, property rights and free enterprise that have shaped our legacy and heritage for more than 200 years.

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