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Grassley: GOP candidates need to rally for free trade

Senator speaks at opening day of Farm News Ag Show

-Messenger photo by Lori Berglund
U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, visits with Messenger Editor Bill Shea, left, during the opening of the Farm News Ag Show at the Webster County Fairgrounds Friday.

The CJ Bio America presents 2023 Farm News Ag Show opened at the Webster County Fairgrounds Friday with a first-time ever appearance at the show by the state’s senior U.S. Senator, Charles Grassley.

Grassley sat down for a wide-ranging live interview with Messenger Editor Bill Shea, attended by some 80 people in the very opening hour of the show. The Republican lawmaker was welcomed to the stage by show planner, and Farm News Advertising Manager, Dana Lantz.

If Republican presidential candidates could have listened to his talk in Fort Dodge, they would have a clue of something they need to be talking about with Iowa voters — free trade.

“We need to get tariffs around the world down so that we can sell more freely,” Grassley said in response to Shea’s questions on agricultural trade issues.

The Biden Administration, according to Grassley, has not been a friend to free trade. Given the abundance of American agriculture, access to free markets is critical to profitability for farmers, he noted.

“We produce a third more domestically than we consume, so that has to be exported,” Grassley said. “Free trade agreements are very important, but we aren’t getting free trade agreements negotiated with this Administration. We need those tariffs down so that we can export more.”

In fact, rather than moving towards greater free trade, Grassley is concerned that the pendulum is swinging the other direction, even among some in his own party.

“I am chagrined that there is a movement for protectionism even within my Republican Party,” Grassley said. “I think that is bad for agriculture.”

The senator would clearly like to see the presidential candidates make this a priority and talk about it more often.

“I wish I could tell you that we have Republican candidates that are going to do it, but I haven’t heard them talk about it enough to tell you,” Grassley told the crowd.

But one thing is certain to the senator: free trade will not improve with the current president.

“I think until we get a new president we are not going to have any negotiations on free trade,” Grassley said.

Immigration a top concern

With long lines of people trying to enter the United States from Mexico, particularly along the Arizona border in recent days, Iowans continue to voice strong concerns regarding illegal immigration, according to Grassley.

“Border security is probably the No. 1 concern I hear from Iowans,” Grassley said. “In the last three days, we have had historic high numbers of people crossing the border, entering our country illegally.”

To Grassley, the frustration is that Congress has acted, does have laws on the books, but those laws are not being enforced by the Biden Administration.

“I hear at my county meetings, ‘Why don’t you guys do something about illegal immigration?’ My answer is, ‘We’ve already done that with laws decades ago that you cannot come into the United States without our permission.”

As Grassley noted, it’s the job of Congress to pass such laws, but it’s up to the executive branch to enforce the laws. Without enforcement, the laws mean little.

“This president has decided he’s not going to enforce those laws,” Grassley said. “I haven’t really heard him say why he doesn’t want to do it.”

While it may be partially for humanitarian reasons, Grassley said there is also speculation that Biden fails to enforce immigration laws for political reasons.

While Congress cannot enforce the law, Grassley would like to see legislation passed to tighten up those laws in regards to reasons for the granting of asylum. Asylum-seekers need to be in true danger for their lives, not simply seeking better job opportunities, he said.

Still, without enforcement, he acknowledged that better laws would do little to stem the tide.

“About 90 percent of the people who claim asylum, if they ever get to court — it takes five years to get to court — never show up for the court appearance,” Grassley said.

In the meantime, those great numbers of undocumented people are simply staying in the country under the radar and living their lives with little known about them or their reasons for coming.

Will they or won’t they?

Yet another topic touched on during the wide-ranging interview was the possibility of a government shut-down early next year.

Shea asked, “Will you pass a bill or will there be cliffhanger on another government shutdown?”

Grassley said there is a lot of work to be done as 2023 closes and 2024 is ushered in.

“Before Jan. 19, we have to pass all the appropriation bills so we know what’s going to be spent between now and Sept. 30,” Grassley said. “I suppose every year we have this conversation of if the government will shut-down. Maybe 10 times since 1977, which is too many that it has shut down, but it’s not as many as is sometimes talked about.”

Grassley made it clear that he would like to see more cooperation and less of individual members of Congress demanding any one thing before they will support a bill.

“This is a lesson you have to learn,” said Grassley, who has been in Washington since being elected to the House of Representatives in 1975. “One time you say, ‘By golly, I’m not going to fund the government if I don’t get this or that…. By golly, I’m going to get what I want or I’m going to shut the government down.'”

Whatever that particular person may be seeking, Grassley said, may not even have anything to do with the money being spent, but a line has already been drawn. To Grassley, the result is that everyone loses and he sounded a bit fed up as he raised his voice to this lack of putting the country first.

“If you take that attitude, you find out that it takes money to shut the government down, and it takes money to open it up. And whatever you were holding up the government for, you didn’t get in the end. It’s a stupid thing to do,” Grassley said.

More farm in the Farm Bill

Grassley also touched on the Farm Bill, which is due for a new, five year-bill but only a one-year extension was approved in 2023. Part of his comments served to educate the general public as to the true nature of what’s included.

“We need to put more farm in the Farm Bill, because 85 percent of the money that is spent in the Farm Bill is for food stamps and it’s getting to the point where that gets more attention than the plight of the farmers,” he said.

Grassley was not advocating for less money to feed people, but a return to the fundamentals in the Farm Bill. “Reference pricing” was offered as one example by Grassley. Payments for reference pricing come into play when the national average price paid for a certain commodity falls below a certain dollar amount. Commodity groups have urged that reference prices be increased in the next farm bill to compensate for inflation and the higher cost of production.

A key sticking point in getting a new five-year bill passed is the partisan divide on what to do with savings that may occur within any given area of the Farm Bill, according to Grassley.

“There are nine or 10 titles to the Farm Bill,” he said. “Republicans have taken the position that if we save money in one area, it should be able to be spent in another area, or just saved. Democrats have said that if we save money in food stamps, it has to be spent in food stamps, and that’s 85 percent of the bill already.”

Both Grassley and fellow Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst serve on the Senate Ag Committee, which is chaired by Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

• The Farm News Ag Show continues today from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Webster County Fairgrounds, 22770 Old Highway 169. Admission is free.

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