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D.C. Dispatch: Iowa lawmakers advance bills addressing electric vehicles, manufacturing and Medicare


D.C. Dispatch: Iowa lawmakers advance bills addressing electric vehicles, manufacturing and Medicare

Dec 08, 2023 | 4:10 pm ET
By Jay Waagmeester
D.C. Dispatch: Iowa lawmakers advance bills addressing electric vehicles, manufacturing and Medicare
U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks shown here during a 2022 appearance on Iowa PBS, saw several of her bills advance this week in the House. (Pool photo by Zachary Boyden-Holmes/Courtesy of Iowa PBS)

Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks passed several bills through committee this week, while Sen. Chuck Grassley lamented the shorter amount of time senators spend on the budget compared to when he started in 1981.

Members of Iowa’s congressional delegation introduced new bills and made progress on those already introduced before a three-week holiday break that starts Dec. 16.

See what Iowa’s lawmakers were up to this week:

No benefits for expelled lawmakers, Nunn says

Following the expulsion of Rep. George Santos, a Republican from New York, Rep. Zach Nunn introduced a bill to eliminate pensions for members of Congress who have been expelled. 

Santos did not serve long enough to be eligible to receive a pension. 

“Thankfully, George Santos won’t be eligible to receive a pension because he didn’t hit the minimum term of service, but this episode exposed a major flaw that needs to be fixed: those who are unfit to serve in Congress are unfit to receive a pension,” Nunn said in a news release.

The bill would eliminate a legislator’s years of service in Congress when determining eligibility for a pension, effectively preventing them from receiving a pension. Expelled members also would have retirement account contributions from the federal government clawed back. 

Nunn, and several other Congress members, have called for the expulsion of Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, who is eligible for the pension and retirement benefits. 

Feenstra calls for ban on Paraguayan beef

Rep. Randy Feenstra and 20 other members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, asking to stop importing beef from Paraguay.

Feenstra’s office claims a proven existence of foot-and-mouth disease in Paraguayan cattle. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a final rule in November that allows cattle to be imported from Paraguay under certain rules. Animals must be inspected before and after death, the animal must come from a premises where foot-and-mouth disease has not been detected during the lifetime of any of the animals, and foot-and-mouth disease must not have been diagnosed in the exporting region for 12 months prior. 

“Iowa cattle producers raise the best beef in the world,” Feenstra said in a news release. “By allowing countries like Paraguay – where foot-and-mouth disease remains prevalent – to sell their beef in the United States, we unnecessarily threaten our domestic herds with disease and jeopardize the financial wellbeing of cattle producers and their families.”

The lawmakers claim in the letter the USDA relied on outdated site visits, irrelevant inspections and inadequate data to meet provisions required for importing the animals. They also claim that site visits were not conducted to ensure Paraguay producers were compliant when issuing this final rule. The letter asks the USDA to halt the final rule until a more recent assessment can be made. 

EPA emissions regulations receive vote

A bill cosponsored by Miller-Meeks and Rep. Ashley Hinson passed the House and if made law, would limit the Environment Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate emission standards for new vehicles. 

The Choice in Automobile Retail Sales Act of 2023 would prevent the EPA from making regulations that mandate the production of a specific technology or would limit production based on a specific motor vehicle engine.

The bill would also eliminate the multi-pollutant emissions standards for model years 2027 and rules for later light-duty and medium-duty vehicles proposed by the EPA, which creates more rules regarding greenhouse gas standards in vehicles made after 2027. 

Hinson said the bill pushes back on President Joe Biden’s “out of touch electric vehicle obsession” and preserves consumer choice.

“Forcing American families to buy electric vehicles they don’t want and can’t afford is government overreach at its worst,” Hinson said in a news release.

Transportation training

Hinson introduced a bill to allow 18- to 20-year-olds obtain a commercial drivers license for interstate travel. 

Hinson said the rule change would support family farmers, small businesses and manufacturers. 

“As I’ve traveled across Iowa, I’ve consistently heard about the negative impacts of the trucking workforce shortage, exacerbated by limitations with interstate licensing,” Hinson said in a news release.

This bill addresses a topic that has received significant attention from Iowa lawmakers recently. Iowa community colleges have received investments in trucking training, including a $9 million project at Des Moines Area Community College, $500,000 in federal grants spread across Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Des Moines Area Community College and Eastern Iowa Community Colleges in Davenport, and $5 million in state funding for community colleges assisting in commercial drivers license training. 

Hinson addressed the demand and importance for a change in interstate driving privileges on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Biofuel for ocean-going vessels, too

Miller-Meeks introduced a bill that would create incentives for ocean-going vessels to use renewable fuel.

The Renewable Fuel for Ocean-Going Vessels Act would allow companies to preserve renewable fuel credits for ocean-going vessels, including cargo ships, tankers and passenger vessels. 

The bill would allow for Renewable Identification Numbers, an EPA credit managing compliance in the Renewable Fuel Standard program, to be generated for renewable marine fuel. Ocean-going vessels have a need for low-carbon, low-sulfur biodiesel and renewable diesel, according to Miller-Meeks.

Reporting on foreign gifts in higher education

In an effort to “protect higher education institutions from foreign adversaries’ influence,” Grassley and Sen. Joni Ernst introduced a bill to change how foreign gifts in higher education are reported.

The Defending Education Transparency and Ending Rogue Regimes Engaging in Nefarious Transactions Act would require foreign gifts of $50,000 or higher to be reported. The current threshold is $250,000.  All contributions from “countries of concern” would be reported, no matter the amount. 

Individual staff and faculty at research-heavy institutions would also be required to disclose foreign gifts under the bill. 

The bill would also penalize institutions that violate the law by implementing fines and loss of Title IV funding.

“The United States must be on the lookout for adversarial foreign powers who lavish academic institutions with gifts in an effort to curry good favor with or shape American education,” Grassley said in a news release.

Gifts, especially those from China, come with strings attached, Ernst said. 

The companion bill in the House passed through the House Education and Workforce Committee. 

Infrastructure study bill passes through committee

A Miller-Meeks bill to start a feasibility study on increasing manufacturing in the U.S. passed through the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

The bill aims to study increased production in manufactured goods, especially goods that are key to critical infrastructure sectors. 

“I am proud that my bipartisan bill ‘The Critical Infrastructure Manufacturing Feasibility Act’ passed out of the Energy and Commerce Committee this week and moves one step closer to floor action and passage through the House,” Miller-Meeks said in a news release. “This important bill not only protects the United States from global supply chain issues, but it also determines which rural communities are best suited to manufacture products right here in America.”

The bill was introduced in September

Physician fee schedule passes committee

Introduced last week, Miller-Meeks’ bill to change the Medicare physician fee schedule passed through the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

The current Medicare structure does not provide doctors sustainable, reliable or consistent payment rates, according to Miller-Meeks, an ophthalmologist.

The bill aims to stabilize reimbursements by updating the formula used to calculate payment rates to reflect the accurate costs of running a medical practice, according to Miller-Meeks’ office. 

“These cuts, especially when the costs to practice have markedly increased, further strain our nation’s doctors, limiting patient access to care,” Miller-Meeks said in a news release. “Each year, doctors routinely face harmful payment cuts making it increasingly difficult to remain in practice and accept Medicare patients, which is worsened in rural areas like southeastern Iowa.”

The program is budget neutral, according to Miller-Meeks, and maxes out at $20 million, currently. The bill would increase the budget to $53 million to allow payments to increase while remaining budget neutral.

Grassley makes farm bill requests

In a letter to the majority and minority leaders in each chamber, Grassley highlighted his priorities for the next farm bill. 

Grassley and Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy focused on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), controls on foreign ownership of U.S. farmland and calling for a reform of the USDA Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). 

The senators included a call to address SNAP overpayments, a bill that has been in the works in each chamber. they also asked for reforms in the CCC that they say would save $8 billion over 20 years. 

“By making conservative reforms to key programs, we will be able to tame inflation while also keeping in place a responsible safety net for families and farmers,” the lawmakers said of their chosen priorities for the next farm bill. 

Grassley told reporters last week the farm bill must be finished by early August to avoid another one-year extension. 

Grassley laments budget process

Grassley recalled a time years ago when senators would spend more time working on budgeting.

“We’ve always budgeted a year at time, so you go through this process every year,” Grassley said to a reporter who asked about the budget deadline approaching. “It’s just getting worse and worse because Congress isn’t spending the time that you need to do individual appropriation bills.”

Grassley said budget planning received more time and attention from senators when he started more than 40 years ago.

“When I first came to the Senate, we started at 10 on Monday and would go to 4 on Friday, now it seems like we start at 5:30 vote on Monday, we have full days Tuesday and Wednesday and then on Thursday midafternoon, everybody heads to the airport. There’s plenty of work for senators seven days a week, but you can’t make policy if the Senate’s not meeting. So I think longer sessions and more days worked would help this process along so you don’t have to go up until Christmas Eve.”

Miller-Meeks, Feenstra look to form commission against antisemitism

A commission to examine a rise in antisemitic acts in the U.S. and to investigate the causes and evidence has been proposed by Miller-Meeks and Feenstra, along with other lawmakers. 

“With the rise in antisemitic violence and brazen attacks on our Jewish communities in the United States, it is important, now more than ever, that we find the cause of these alarming acts of antisemitism and work to protect our communities and religious institutions,” Miller-Meeks said in a news release.

The commission would include eight members, with two members being appointed by the majority and minority leaders in each chamber. 

Nunn looks to terminate terrorist technology tactics

Nunn is calling on the U.S. Department of Treasury to more precisely determine the location of a person when they are making a financial transaction. 

In an effort to deter illicit actors manipulating financial technology systems by disguising their location, Nunn introduced a bill that would develop a plan to attempt to combat money laundering.

According to Nunn’s office, the bill would prevent terrorist groups from disguising digital location, which would attempt to prevent money from funding terrorism. 

“With the development of new technologies, it’s become easier for terrorists to disguise their true location to evade sanctions and mask their sources of funding,” Nunn said in a news release. “The Stop Terrorism and Illicit finance Location Exploitation Act is a commonsense, bipartisan approach to cut off terrorist funding sources.” 

Grassley: Private equity at for-profit hospitals hurts care quality

Grassley is asking five health care organizations for documents and detailed answers about third-party transactions to get a better understanding of how private equity firms contribute to decisions made at hospitals owned by private equity companies. 

Grassley said he was prompted to look deeper into how private equity firm ownership can affect the quality of care a hospital delivers after multiple assaults and a suicide took place at the Ottumwa Regional Health Center.

Grassley says hospitals that have been purchased by private equity firms have experienced staffing reductions and substandard health care. The Ottumwa Regional Health Center was purchased by a for-profit firm in 2010, after previously being nonprofit. 

“When it comes to our nation’s hospitals, a business model that prioritizes profits over patient care and safety is unacceptable,” Grassley said in a news release.

Grassley asked for financial information from the four companies with ownership interest in Ottumwa Regional Health Center in March, but says he has not received a full and complete response from the companies. 

Ernst asks for Ukraine small business aid response

Ernst wrote a letter to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), asking for details on how money in support of small businesses in Ukraine has been spent. This is the third time Ernst has requested a response from USAID, but she said she is yet to receive the information she requested. 

Ernst renewed her call following a $106 billion request for military, humanitarian and general foreign aid for Israel and Ukraine from Biden. 

Breakfast bunch

The six members of Iowa’s congressional delegation met for a breakfast this week hosted by Ernst, Nunn reported on X.