An icon of Iowan character
Tuesday, December 18, 2018
Artwork by Seth Boyes
U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley's remarks after the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill make me fairly proud to be an Iowan. It's not even that I necessarily agree with what he said, though I gotta admit it's hard to argue with him. What really makes me proud is that he pointed out a problem he sees in the system without degrading his colleagues. I'd say he was angry, but he wasn't rude. He was critical, clear and direct, but didn't mince words — somehow seems appropriate for Iowa.
I mean, the guy started his floor speech by thanking folks for their work in getting the bill together, simply because it's a terribly long and no doubt frustrating task. But, while he was happy to see the Conservation Reservation Program get a facelift, he seems to be approaching his limit on subsidy limitations.
"As far as I’m concerned, recipients cashing subsidy checks from the federal treasury ought to have farm dirt underneath their fingernails to qualify," Grassley said in a statement dated three days after the vote. "To my disgust, the final version of the 2018 Farm Bill once again failed to include my payment limit reforms."
Now, to understand his frustration, you have to realize the Farm Bill isn't something he gets a shot at every year. Congress puts together a new version but once every five years — and they had to tack an extra year onto the 2013 version because they couldn't get it together before 2014. Somewhere along the line, the government began paying farm operations a subsidy based on the number of workers, or in some cases family members working the farm. Back in June, Grassley cited a government study that found the top 50 subsidy recipients hired 200 more employees than necessary and cost taxpayers around $259 million. So, good ol' Chuck has been trying to put the kibosh on this subsidy issue with an amendment in the last three versions of the Farm Bill. It's been cut out each time — that's 15 years without crossing the finish line. And, upon seeing the 2018 Farm Bill pass the Senate despite his nay vote, Grassley kept his head and delivered his remarks.
While he was obviously reading a prepared statement (as evidenced by the transcript on his congressional website titled "Prepared Floor Remarks by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa on the Passage of the 2018 Farm Bill"), he went off script when he seemed to have a particularly strong feeling behind a point. It first caught my attention when he looked up from his paper and asked his fellow Senators, "But you know what?" in a less formal tone. He kept the momentum going and said some in Congress had kicked the legs out from under his subsidy limits "in the dark rooms of conference committee meetings" despite it being supported by both parties.
I gotta admit, for an off-the-cuff comment, our Sen. Grassley sure paints a poetic portrait. I wouldn't change that quote if my life depended on it (and I didn't, see elsewhere in this edition).
And here's the part that impressed me. Despite all the pent-up, concentrated, 15-year vintage of frustration that was pumping through Grassley's arteries (which are assumably quite clear, you should see that guy's work out routine), he made it about fighting for the farmers, rather than cutting down the senators. He said the committee members worry more about the wealthy farmer than the little guy, but he didn't say they don't care. He said the bill isn't getting much praise outside the lobby groups, but he didn't say his colleagues were pawns. He called parts of the bill a gimmick, and he was the only one of Iowa's legislators in Washington — Republican or otherwise — to vote against the bill, but he didn't call those in support of the bill stupid or evil (and yes, I realize Iowa's only got one Democrat in Washington right now — though, our first and third congressional districts will see some turnover). Grassley even said months ago he felt the bill was way too heavily slanted toward southern crops but, when the bill passed, he didn't loose his venom on the senators from the south.
"Corn and soybeans have had significant price declines over the past several years" he said. "If only all crops were as lucky as cotton with its high prices ensured by the federal government over the last year."
At least in this instance, Grassley's more about consequences for the constituent rather than reelection for the representative. And in a day where the word "slam" is in far too many headlines and the default for some in power is to splice the opposition's name with an unfavorable adjective, it's good to see some of Iowa's classic character coming through on Capitol Hill. Character over image — that's something all of us, from Washington, Iowa, to Washington, D.C., should aspire to do.
Maybe Meredith Wilson (another Iowa native) was right, "You really ought to give Iowa a try."