D.C. Dispatch: New speaker, community college grants and eliminating food waste

By: - October 27, 2023 3:12 pm

The U.S. Capitol on April 4, 2023. (Photo by Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)

Members of Iowa’s congressional delegation spent the week sending multiple letters to federal agencies and releasing statements on the new U.S. House speaker and expressions of support for Israel.

Check out what Iowa’s delegates were up to this week:

Representatives congratulate new speaker

After sitting speakerless for three weeks, the House on Wednesday elected Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana to serve as the chamber’s top leader. 

Iowa’s representatives, all of whom voted for Johnson, reacted to the news on X, formerly known as Twitter, showing relief and sharing congratulations. 

“[Johnson] has united our Conference around a plan to advance our conservative agenda by moving single-subject appropriations bills, supporting Israel, securing the border and continuing serious oversight of the Biden Administration,” Rep. Ashley Hinson said in a news release

Hinson called the gap without a speaker inexcusable. “The recent chaos and dysfunction is inexcusable, but it is time to move forward and focus on our legislative agenda. If there is a silver lining to the past few weeks, it is the thoughtful ideas put forward by Speaker candidates to help Washington work better for the Americans we are lucky to serve.”

Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks congratulated Johnson and, in the same X post, voiced support for the first piece of legislation with the new speaker. 

“Speaker Mike Johnson is a humble servant leader that I trust to carefully guide our Republican Conference,” Miller-Meeks said in a news release. “Now it’s time resume our efforts to fortify our border, keep parents involved in educational decisions, make meaningful steps towards energy independence, regain global leadership over China, affirm our support for Israel and most importantly continue to work for the American people.”

Rep. Randy Feenstra said he was proud to vote for Johnson. “Mike is a strong conservative who will guide our Republican majority and support our work to hold the Biden administration accountable, rebuild our economy, secure our border and stand up to China,” Feenstra said in a news release.

Rep. Zach Nunn said the American people deserve better than the way Washington has been operating and said he has been fighting to restore sanity. 

“The made-for-TV chaos engulfing Washington, D.C. recently is partisan politics at its absolute worst,” Nunn said in a news release. “We are elected to serve the people, but instead, some are more focused on getting their five minutes of fame. The American people deserve better. That’s why I’ve been fighting to restore sanity, forcing our nation’s capital to operate with the more pragmatic and commonsense approach we know in Iowa. That mission is far from over, but with today’s vote, it’s time to double down on the necessary work to address the most pressing needs facing our country.”

Nunn briefly congratulated Johnson on X:

Farm Bill a “critical agenda item”

Iowa’s representatives all joined a letter addressed to Johnson, a day after he was named speaker, calling for the farm bill’s swift passage. 

A letter with 60 signatures, including the four Iowans, called the farm bill a critical agenda item that must be addressed by the current Congress. “We urge you and the Conference at-large to be united in ensuring swift passage of a strong Farm Bill that is written by farmers, for farmers, and by rural communities, for rural communities – supporting the farm, ranch, and forester families we represent,” the letter stated.

Community colleges to receive trucking grants

Nearly $500,000 in federal funds will be disbursed to three Iowa community colleges to assist motor vehicle operations programs. 

The three institutions, Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Des Moines Area Community College and Eastern Iowa Community Colleges in Davenport, will receive money allocated as a result of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. 

The law passed in 2021 with Sen. Chuck Grassley voting for it, and Sen. Joni Ernst voting against. In the House, former Rep. Cindy Axne voted for the bill and Miller-Meeks, Feenstra and Hinson voted against it.

Hawkeye Community College will receive $200,000, Des Moines Area Community College will receive $196,000 and Eastern Iowa Community Colleges will receive $80,460.

“Our community colleges have stepped up by establishing programs that equip Iowans with tools to pursue their career goals and help businesses bolster their rosters,” Grassley said in a news release. “This funding will provide these three colleges needed resources to maintain and grow their CDL training offerings.”

Grassley initiative aims to avert food waste

With bipartisan support, Grassley introduced legislation intended to prevent and reduce food waste. 

Citing environmental impacts, cost and wasted agricultural production, Grassley introduced the  Reduce Food Loss and Waste Act to establish a U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Loss and Waste Reduction Certification. 

The certification would be awarded to organizations and businesses who voluntarily meet criteria established by the department. 

The program to award the certificate must aim to reduce food waste, increase donations of excess food to nonprofits and increase the use of alternative disposal methods for food, according to the bill’s text. 

“Through the work of the Iowa Waste Reduction Center housed at the University of Northern Iowa, I’ve seen firsthand the economic and environmental benefits that come from reducing food waste,” Grassley said in a news release. “Our bill would help cut back on food waste by recognizing businesses for using excess food responsibly and incentivizing others to improve their practices.”

Israel remarks

Iowa’s delegates continue to condemn Hamas’ attacks on Israel and support Israel, with Feenstra calling the attacks “reprehensible,” Hinson calling pro-Hamas rallies “disturbing” and two letters sent to federal departments on the topic.

Ernst and Grassley signed on to a letter sent to the Department of Education, calling for the department to live up to obligations set by the department this spring, when it ran an antisemitism awareness campaign. 

The letter ask the department to protect Jewish students at universities and colleges and mentions reported behaviors targeting Jewish students occurring since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks.

“There have been dozens of targeted attacks on American college campuses since October 7, including reported vandalism, arson and even professors taking discriminatory actions in their classroom toward their students, based on the student’s status as a member of a protected class,” the letter reads. 

The letter goes on to mention reported instances at Drexel University, Georgia Tech, Stanford University and the University of California Davis where Jewish students were targeted.

In a news release from her office, Hinson condemned antisemitic attacks occurring in Iowa, and nationwide. 

“It has been disturbing to witness pro-Hamas demonstrations across the United States, and even in Cedar Rapids, following Hamas’s horrific terrorist attacks on Israel,” Hinson said in a news release. “We must call out anti-Semitism in every form and I condemn the recent rise in blatant anti-Semitic rhetoric – whether it is in the halls of Congress, at pro-Hamas rallies, or from student groups at elite universities.”

Hinson, Miller-Meeks and Feesntra joined a letter to the Department of Justice, calling for equal application for the law, saying “we want to know what steps are being taken by the Department of Justice to investigate Hamas supporters in the United States, as well as the perpetrators of anti-Semitic violence in cities and school campuses across the nation.”

Ernst awarded for Second Amendment support

A gun-rights lobbying and activism organization named Ernst the legislator of the year, calling her a “stand out champion on Second Amendment issues.”

The Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms Chairman Alan Gottlieb called Ernst a “Capitol Hill leader,” and said Iowans can be proud of her work. “The environment for gun owners under the current administration has required politicians to stand up for honest gun owners, but Sen. Ernst has become a ‘stand out’ champion on Second Amendment issues.”

Ernst said as a veteran, she feels the Second Amendment is personal.

“As a veteran, standing up for Iowans’ Second Amendment rights is personal to me,” said Ernst said in a news release. “…Our Constitutionally-protected rights are non negotiable –  I’ll always work to ensure Iowans can continue protecting their families and communities.”

Ernst bill on ‘boondoggles’ advances

A bill requiring public disclosure of public projects that are over budget or behind schedule has advanced to the Senate floor. 

Ernst’s Billion Dollar Boondoggle Act would require taxpayer-funded projects more than $1 billion over budget, to be disclosed to the public, including why the project is over budget.

Additionally, if a project is more than five years behind schedule, the reason must be publicly disclosed. 

Grassley raises retail crime awareness

Grassley, along with another Republican and three Democrats, hosted a press conference Thursday to raise awareness of the Combating Organized Retail Crime Act. 

The bipartisan bill aims to create a multi-agency response to organized retail crime. 

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, retail theft in Iowa amounted to more than $1 billion in lost product costs in 2021, increased insurance costs, increased price of goods and more monetary costs, but there is more to it, Grassley said.

“But you also have to recognize not just the theft, but the danger to the employees, the cost to the consumers and then the impact upon the individual retailers,” he said in a statement.

The bill would allow for federal judges to order criminal forfeiture after convictions for charges related to organized retail theft. The bill also would create the Center to Combat Organized Retail Crime, which would include representatives from various government agencies. 

Fertilizer tariffs too high, delegates say

Ernst, Grassley, Nunn and Miller-Meeks asked the Department of Commerce to reduce countervailing duties on phosphate fertilizers imported from Morocco. 

 In the bipartisan letter, the four Iowa lawmakers, along with 35 other members of Congress, stated that “the countervailing duty order on Moroccan exports and magnitude places U.S. farmers at a competitive disadvantage.”

On X, Grassley said farmers cannot afford tariffs.

The countervailing duties present an undue burden on farmers, and as a result of the increased costs, imports from Morocco have decreased, according to Grassley’s office.

Grassley’s office an ‘incubator’ for marriages

Grassley recently attended a wedding of two of his former staffers. The significance? The marriage marked a score of couples who have met in the senior senator’s office and later married. 

A bipartisan group in the Senate Judiciary Committee poked fun at the statistic, and one, Sen. Cory Booker, at himself. 

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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.