D.C. Dispatch: Lawmakers eye expanded grazing, foreign land ownership, stillborn baby prevention

By: - July 14, 2023 5:11 pm

Drought has greatly diminished the quality of pasture land and availability of hay. (Photo by Matt Mortenson, courtesy of USDA)

After two weeks off, Iowa’s congressional delegation got back into the swing of things in Washington. Lawmakers focused on restrictions on foreign ownership of land, foreign lobbying, spending by the secretary of agriculture, and more. 

Iowa lawmakers give gaze to grazing CRP land

Citing consecutive years of drought, the Iowa delegation sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging permission for emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program land. 

Along with drought conditions, the delegates cite derechos, floods, inflation and increasing interest rates. 

“This drought has severely impacted our pastures and has limited our grazing capacity,” the letter, signed by all six of Iowa’s federal delegates, said. “Additionally, dry conditions have dwindled new hay production. Without adequate forage, producers are forced to make production decisions like selling some of the herd they’ve spent years and sometimes generations building. It’s a tough reality of agriculture, but USDA can help.”

A July 6 report showed much of Iowa experiencing at least moderate drought.

“The extreme weather has not only devastated our crops, like corn and soybean fields, but it has also impacted our cattle farmers, who are wondering how their cows will get fed on dry pastures,” Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks said. 

The letter also asks Vilsack to be prepared to open emergency haying for eligible drought-stricken counties upon completion of the primary nesting season. 

Feenstra, Hinson look to ward off foreign ownership of U.S. land

Reps. Randy Feenstra and Ashley Hinson announced bipartisan legislation Wednesday to limit foreign purchases of land near military installations, intelligence facilities, Department of Energy national laboratories and “other sensitive locations,” according to a news release from Feenstra’s office. 

“American farmland belongs to American farmers — period,” Feenstra said in the news release. “For the sake of our national, energy and food security, we cannot let China, or any other foreign adversary, buy our fertile farmland, prevent our young producers from planting their roots or jeopardize our agricultural supply chains.”

The bill would increase governmental control over land purchases and establish guardrails against land purchases by foreign buyers by allowing the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) more oversight. 

The legislation would allow the secretary of the USDA a vote in CFIUS reviews of farmland transactions and agricultural biotechnology transactions with foreign buyers.

“The (Chinese Communist Party) isn’t buying up U.S. farmland at random — it is a deliberate effort to exert control over our food supply and have easier access to military sites,” Hinson said in a news release

Feenstra’s fight against foreign farmland purchases has been a major thrust of his agenda, as he has introduced multiple pieces of legislation on the topic, including an amendment to a House energy package that limited Chinese companies from buying farmland to host renewable energy projects. 

Grassley asks for CCC oversight

Sen. Chuck Grassley wants to add more criteria for the USDA Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) spending process to limit “wasteful spending.” 

Grassley and a group of colleagues said there should be more congressional oversight of the CCC funds, and they proposed legislation to do just that. 

“I’m concerned that the CCC is at risk of becoming a slush fund for politically-driven pet projects,” Grassley said in a news release. “When it comes to agriculture spending, we ought to separate the wheat from the chaff. U.S. dollars should only go to programs that have been specifically authorized by Congress.”

The legislation would prevent the USDA, the secretary of agriculture and the CCC from spending money through the CCC that was not under the instruction of Congress. The legislation would also prevent the CCC from borrowing money without congressional permission.

The CCC funds specific programs implemented by Congress and is managed by a board of directors, under the direction of the secretary of agriculture. 

Grassley introduced legislation alongside Republican Sens. Roger Marshall of Kansas and Mike Braun of Indiana.

Grassley continues fight against foreign lobbyists

Grassley, less than a month after unanimously passing two foreign lobbying bills through the Senate, has introduced another piece of bipartisan legislation tackling the topic. 

The legislation — the Retroactive Foreign Agents Registration Act — would close a loophole in the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which allowed lobbyists working for foreign governments to resign and face no punishment, according to Grassley’s office. 

“If an individual works to influence policy on behalf of foreign interests, there should be no loophole that allows them to avoid disclosing their efforts,” Grassley said in a news release. “Foreign agents who fail to register during their service must come clean and wash the grease off their hands even after they’ve left the job.”

The legislation “would clarify that individuals who have not registered their prior work as foreign agents have a continuing obligation to register even after ceasing to act on behalf of a foreign principal,” according to the news release.

Grassley introduced the legislation alongside Sen. Gary Peters, a Democrat from Michigan. Peters also co-sponsored the two unanimously passed bills last month. 

Hinson, Grassley introduce legislation for more funds to prevent stillbirths

Citing a “shockingly high” rate of stillbirths, Hinson, along with North Carolina Rep. Alma Adams, a Democrat, introduced bipartisan legislation aiming to prevent stillbirths. 

On the Senate side, Grassley and a group of bipartisan colleagues introduced the same legislation.

The identical pieces of legislation would add “stillbirth prevention activities and research” as an allowable use of funds through the Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant of the Social Security Act. 

“Given the advanced technologies and treatments we have today, the high rate of stillbirths occurring in our country is indefensible,” Grassley said in a news release. “Stillbirths are devastating losses that far too many families experience, and they are often avoidable.”

“Improving access to maternal care – especially in rural areas where women may have to drive an hour or more to see an OB-GYN – is critical to preventing stillbirths and reducing maternal mortality,” Hinson said in a news release

Hinson’s call for improved access to maternal care comes the same week Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law restricting most abortions, a law some lawmakers and OB-GYN students said would decrease access to maternal healthcare in the state. 

Feenstra fights for foreign fridges

Feenstra introduced bipartisan legislation to direct the USDA to negotiate contracts to enhance infrastructure construction in new and developing foreign markets. 

The legislation aims to help more effectively ship perishable goods, many of which are produced in Iowa, like beef, chicken, turkey, pork, grains and specialty crops, worldwide. 

“Meeting with Iowa farmers and producers on my biannual 36-county tour, I repeatedly hear that opening new export markets for agricultural goods is vital to our farm economy and rural main streets in the 4th congressional district,” Feenstra said in a news release. “However, without robust market development and critical infrastructure, our producers are significantly limited in their ability to export their high-quality products around the world.”

The legislation would provide $1 million per year for the next four years to provide needs assessments, training and other technical assistance. Improvements like “cold chain capacity, port improvements and other developments, to ensure United States agricultural commodities are not damaged or lost due to deficiencies of such infrastructure” are mentioned in the bill’s text.

Grassley threatens time limit for Bureau of Prisons director

Grassley introduced legislation to strip the attorney general’s duty of appointing the director of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), and instead give the power to the president and requiring approval from the Senate. 

The bill would also limit the director to a single 10-year term. 

“The Director of the Bureau of Prisons leads thousands of employees and expends a massive budget,” Grassley said in a news release. “It’s a big job with even bigger consequences should mismanagement or abuse weasel its way into the system. Making the BOP Director a Senate-confirmed position would bring badly needed transparency and accountability to the federal prison system.”

The bipartisan legislation was introduced alongside Republican Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, John Cornyn of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Braun of Indiana as well as independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Sen. Jon Ossoff, a Democrat from Georgia. 

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Jay Waagmeester
Jay Waagmeester

Jay is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch intern. Jay is based in Ames and is currently a senior majoring in journalism and marketing at Iowa State University. He has interned at New Century Press and contributed to the Iowa State Daily.