It was just a few minutes into last week’s Town Hall meeting at the Glenwood Senior Center when an Iowa woman hurled a stinging indictment at featured speaker Chuck Grassley, the five-term Republican senator who’s been trailing across western Iowa to dialogue with voters.
The woman’s question? Simple.
“Why the heck can’t Congress get anything done before vacation?” she asked, without identifying herself.
Grassley’s answer? Not so simple.
“That’s the way the Constitution was written,“ he said. “To make change very slow.”
Grassley placated the audience of about 50 — including farmers, Boy Scouts, retirees, small business owners and homeschoolers — with a quick civics lesson on “checks and balances,” the Roman-based system devised to equally divide power among the country’s three governing branches, before he was interrupted.
“But you don’t do anything,” the woman challenged, mimicking the high percentage of U.S. voters who disapprove of federal lawmakers.
“You leave things on the table and you go on vacation,” the woman said.”
It was a fact the five-decade state and federal lawmaker couldn’t easily evade.
In 2011, the Senate passed just 368 bills — the fewest since 1995. Congress was only less productive in 1944, at the peak of World War II.
Grassley blamed Democrats for setting the Senate’s schedule, adding a side note which he echoes during his stops across the state of Iowa.
“I haven’t missed a vote since 1993. I’ve cast 6,400 votes,” Grassley said. “And I go to every county, every year.”
It’s something Grassley said he’s done on his “vacations” away from Washington, D.C. since taking office.
While Grassley couldn’t appease everyone in Glenwood, he defended many of his policies, scribbling notes as some in his audience complained about the state of the union.
Many urged Grassley and lawmakers to pass a comprehensive immigration bill.
“The illegals come here and shouldn’t be here. Period,” said an elderly man, who didn’t identifying himself. “Contractors hire illegals. I can’t blame them. They will work cheaper.”
Grassley said while it will take a bipartisan compromise to forge a comprehensive immigration bill — one that’s focused on electronic background checks, as well as increased border patrol and security — he believes it’s unlikely to happen any time soon.
A majority of Democrats favor amnesty for existing illegal immigrants; Republicans don’t.
“But we probably need a guest worker program that will work,” Grassley said.
Barbara Markuson, of Glenwood, said the country’s immigration policy shouldn’t be solely targeted at Mexico and other Latino countries. Mexicans account for less than half of all illegal immigrants in this country, according to data from federal immigration agencies.
“I’ve visited migrant workers in the fields and that’s a terrible kind of work,” Markuson said. “But we forget that we have illegal immigrants from China, Latvia, wherever.”
Markuson wants lawmakers to improve the poorest job conditions for existing immigrants, while developing a plan to attract the most qualified immigrants from around the world.
But Cheryl Evans of Glenwood voiced health concerns with immigrants who are crossing the border. She worries that more needs to be done to vaccinate immigrants before they enter the United States.
“A lot of immigrants are handling food,” Evans said. “We are opening ourselves up for disease. Right now we’re fair game for everyone bringing in disease.”
Many in the crowd expressed displeasure about the country’s nearly $16 trillion deficit. Democrats and Republicans have both presented plans to balance the budget, but none have been implemented.
Grassley said he supports a budget plan from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.).
The presumptive Republican vice-president nominee’s plan has been criticized by Democrats for lowering taxes for the wealthiest Americans, but not for the lowest income earners. It would also make cuts to Medicaid and reduce military spending.
“We don’t have a deficit because you’re under taxed,” Grassley told his Glenwood audience. “We have a deficit because [Congress] over spends.”
Grassley said a balanced-budget amendment would require great bi-partisan support and wouldn’t immediately solve the country’s financial woes.
Heidi Higgins, a Glenwood Republican who attended the meeting with her 13-year-old son, Adam, said Tuesday’s meeting went great. She appeared to represent a growing number of homeschoolers in Mills County.
Heidi and her son, who appeared in his boy scout uniform, were pleased to hear Grassley offer support for that organization.
Grassley made appearances last week in the southwest Iowa communities of Atlantic, Villisca, Bedford, Clarinda, Percival, Glenwood, Logan, Harlan, Audubon, Carroll, Corning and Council Bluffs.