Two of Iowa’s political heavyweights spent some time in Lee County this week. They used separate events to tout one of the state’s growing industries.
U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, visits Lee County at least once a year as part of his annual 99-county tour of the state.
His counterpart, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin’s, D-Iowa, visits are much more sporadic, which made their visits occurring at the same time rather unique.
SENATOR HARKIN VISITS FARM
Sen. Harkin visited Maple Lawn Farms, which is located just north of Keokuk along 243rd Avenue, Monday afternoon.
He spent more than an hour walking through a corn field, examining underdeveloped ears of corn, and speaking with about 20 local farmers.
Much of the discussion focused on drought relief and the failed extension of a farm bill.
“The U.S. Senate passed a farm bill with Democratic and Republican support… supported by all of the farm groups,” says Sen. Harkin. “Yet the House (of Representatives) will not do it. I am sorry, but I have no control over the House of Representatives.”
Sen. Harkin says the delay comes down to funding in the bill for nutrition programs.
“We took some out of the programs, but they went overboard,” says Sen. Harkin. “They took out twice as much. They want twice as much at a time when we still have high unemployment, poverty is increasing and at a time when we know food prices are going up and you are going to cut the nutrition programs… I don’t think so.”
The Senator says the food stamp portion of the farm bill cannot be separated because that could cost it the support of urban lawmakers.
Sen. Harkin hopes to get a five-year extension of the farm bill completed after lawmakers return to Washington D.C. in September. If not, he says the priority will be a disaster relief bill.
Some of the other topics covered during the Senator’s trip to Maple Lawn Farms include environmental regulations from the EPA, crop insurance, and yield expectations.
SENATOR HARKIN VISITS SIEMENS
About 18 hours after his stop in Keokuk, Sen. Harkin visited Siemens Wind Energy.
He spent about an hour touring the complex along Highway 61, just southeast of Fort Madison.
Sen. Harkin says he has been a strong supporter of wind energy for more than 30 years.
“I have had a long interest in and the development of wind energy,” says Sen. Harkin.
He says it does need some tax benefits to get up on its feet.
“When oil/gas people tell me that they (wind energy) should stand on their own feet, I tell them to look at the head-start they received 100-years ago and what the taxpayers did for them,” says Sen. Harkin.
He says he wanted to see what was going on at Siemens Wind Energy and encourage employees to keep producing the blades because “we have just scratched the surface.”
Sen. Harkin says it is difficult to get the wind energy production tax credit approved because of the money that is needed. The credit expires at the end of the year.
He says Congress must deal with it, next month, and pass the extension.
SENATOR GRASSLEY HOLDS MEETING
Senator Chuck Grassley made just one stop in Lee County this week.
He spent about an hour taking questions and listening to concerns from about 75 people in the Pilot Grove Savings Bank Community Room.
The topics covered everything from a balanced budget amendment to compensation for workers at the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant to former Governor Mitt Romney’s tax returns.
Two stood out, though, based on the repeated mentions from those in attendance: EPA regulations and the future of Keokuk Area Hospital.
Sen. Grassley says the EPA takes every law and stretches it as far as the agency can take it.
“And Congress has not be vigilant enough in our oversight,” says Sen. Grassley, “to make sure they have not gone too far and in too many instances they have gone too far.”
He says a perfect example of that is the previous effort to control the dust generated by Iowa’s farms.
“Only God determines when the wind blows and only God determines when beans are 13% moisture and you gotta combine,” says Sen. Grassley, “when you combine, dust happens! You got to do it, you want to eat or you don’t want to eat.”
He says the EPA is sometimes lacking in common sense.
Keokuk Area Hospital CEO Wally Winkler invited the Senator to visit the facility and see the type of care being provided while it works to address funding issues.
KAH is seeking a designation as a critical access hospital, which would open up the amount the facility is reimbursed for Medicare patients.
The appeal is based on several factors, including past precedent that allows critical access hospitals to be within 35-miles of each other. The distance has been a factor in Keokuk Area Hospital not securing the designation.
Sen. Grassley says he will continue to look into the situation and speak with representatives at the federal level in support of the hospital’s appeal.
The Senator took notes throughout the forum on a large, yellow pad.