The $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill approved by Congress and backed by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley headlined the Iowa Republican’s Scott County stop on his 42nd annual tour of his state’s 99 counties.
He told business leaders gathered Tuesday, April 12, at Davenport’s Rhythm City Casino Resort for the Quad Cities Chamber Legislative Forum that despite criticism he’s taken, he is pleased to be bringing infrastructure improvements to Iowa.
Mr. Grassley, the sole Republican in the Iowa congressional district to vote for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, addressed the controversy head-on before taking questions on such topics as worker retention and talent attraction; immigration reform; agriculture; oil prices; inflation; and the Federal Reserve.
“I had been telling people for 10 years I was going to do something about infrastructure,” he told Quad Cities business leaders. “It was time I delivered on it.”
He also reminded the crowd that many of his critics, including some in Iowa, failed to complain about a previous large infrastructure package that had been proposed by President Donald Trump. “I didn’t quite understand that,” he said.
Mr. Grassley said initially he was surprised by Iowa leaders’ criticism over investing in the state. “It just boggled my mind that for the first five months after we passed that last August, I was just being hammered on it,” he said. “And then I kind of figured out why. Because they thought this, this Build Back Better bill was still attached to it.”
Those additional and often controversial measures centered on programs that impact people – for example, Medicaid and child care costs – were severed from the final bill to win the votes needed to win approval, the senator said.
Infrastructure highlights Mr. Grassley shared included:
- $5 billion for Iowa for projects including roads, bridges, which Mr. Grassley said are among the most unsafe in the nation.
- $823 million for updating lock and dam systems.
- $638 million for water infrastructure.
- $65 billion for broadband upgrades nationwide, including a large investment in rural Iowa.
To help boost worker retention and attraction, Iowa’s senior senator said he supports the Pell Grant Preservation & Expansion Act. It would expand the needs-based federal subsidy to beyond academic degrees. For example, he said, grants could be used to train plumbers.
Mr. Grassley was critical of what he called President Biden’s open borders immigration policy. Instead, he said, he continues to back targeted reform, for example, the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The parents who came to this country illegally were lawbreakers, he added, but the children who had no choice are not.
He also touted a bill he has sponsored since 2007 with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, to reform and close loopholes in visa programs. The H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act is aimed at reducing fraud and abuse, providing protections for American workers and visa holders and requiring more transparency in the recruitment of foreign workers.
“We need programs dedicated to putting American workers first,” Mr. Grassley said in a statement last March. “When skilled foreign workers are needed to meet the demands of our labor market, we must also ensure that visa applicants who honed their skills at American colleges and universities are a priority over the importation of more foreign workers.”
Regarding rising inflation and the impact on oil prices from the Russo-Ukrainian War, Mr. Grassley attacked what he called “the bad energy policies of this administration.” He blasted President Biden for curtailing U.S. oil drilling, restricting fracking, and nixing the Keystone XL pipeline.
He also said he’s heard from Quad Cities communities worried about the impact of the increased train traffic that will result from the Canadian Pacific merger now under review. “We have heard from most of the cities up and down the river on this side and on the other side of the river,” he told the crowd in Davenport. The bulk of the complaints which need to be addressed center on police and emergency medical service delivery, he said.
On the economy, Mr. Grassley agreed with The Federal Reserve’s decision to raise interest rates. But he added “They’re probably a year late in doing what they should have started last May.” Now The Fed will have to act more aggressively, which could trigger a recession, he said.
To address concerns about social media, Mr. Grassley said he is co-sponsoring a bill with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota. According to a synopsis the bill seeks to “restore competition online by establishing common sense rules of the road for dominant digital platforms to prevent them from abusing their market power to harm competition, online businesses, and consumers.