WASHINGTON—Gov. Terry Branstad, R-Iowa, met with members of Iowa’s congressional delegation Monday night for a wide-ranging discussion on issues impacting the Hawkeye State.
As the Senate finished their last votes for the evening, Branstad met with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, as well as Reps. Tom Latham, R-Clive, Steve King, R-Kiron, Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa City, and Bruce Braley, D-Waterloo. The six-some, along with top aides, gathered in the Lyndon B. Johnson room, just off the Senate floor, to discuss agriculture, the federal budget’s impact on Iowa, wind energy tax credits, fighting to keep wrestling an Olympic sport and lingering FEMA issues related to flood recovery.
The room erupted with laughter a few times during the meeting. Afterward, Grassley said he joked about a “stupid” bet he made with Loebsack about the NCAA tournament and whether Cornell and the Iowa State Teachers College (the forerunner to the University of Northern Iowa) won consecutive tourneys in 1947 or 1949. Loebsack won the contest of arcane sports trivia and will enjoy lunch at Grassley’s expense.
TheIowaRepublican.com briefly interviewed Branstad and Grassley after the meeting (the congressmen had to leave for a vote right after the meeting):
TIR: What issues did you discuss at the meeting?
Gov. Branstad: We covered a whole lot of things. We talked talked about how they helped up extend the wind tax credit and how we’re fighting to keep wrestling in the Olympics. We also talked about the work that we’re doing with FEMA to rebuild the buildings that were damaged by the flood in Iowa City—Congressman Loebsack, Senator Grassley and Senator Harkin all helped us on that.
We’ve worked together on a lot of things, and I just wanted to update them on all the economic development activity—the two fertilizer plants, the two biggest economic development projects in Iowa history, and some of the other bioscience investments, and also the industrial comeback, even cattle feeding because of the benefit of ethanol and DDGs (a byproduct of ethanol production).
Grassley: I thought the meeting went very well. I think the two things that were enlightening to me were the issues of Medicaid—and what the governor said about that—and mental health issues.
TIR: Have you worked out any sort of agreement with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Medicaid issues?
Branstad: We just laid out what we want. And we’re going to follow up with our written plan. But we had a constructive meeting with Sebelius, and we had both Nick Gerhart, the new insurance commissioner, and Chuck Palmer [the director of the Iowa Department of Human Services] with us. We laid out why we think that we need to continue with IowaCares—we want to improve that and really focus on things that are going to help people become healthier.
The present Medicaid system has not improved people’s health. The cost has gone up dramatically. When I was governor before, we had 250,000 people on Medicaid and the cost was 12 percent of our budget. It’s now approaching 18 percent of our budget. It has increased 29 percent, and we have 400,000 people on Medicaid. Just to fund the present program, we have to spend about $90 million more next year. We think that adding another 150,000 people under a 1960s system that is not working doesn’t make a lot of sense. So, what we’re trying to do is redesign IowaCares to make it a much more effective program, focusing on things that can help people to reduce their risk factors and improve their health.
TIR: What’s your read on how Sen. Harkin’s retirement announcement has changed the dynamics of the Iowa delegation?
Grassley: You hear talk about it, but I don’t know exactly how much is going on. I know that they’re both [Latham and King] looking into [running for U.S. Senate]…
It doesn’t matter whether it’s this meeting with a Republican governor, or a Democratic governor, over a long period of time—when it comes to things that affect Iowa—the delegation is pretty united. Whether it’s farm legislation, whether it’s natural disasters, whether it’s things for small businesses in the state, we’re pretty united. I don’t recall, at least for Senator Harkin and me in the Senate, there’s never been any light between us when it comes to things pertaining to Iowa.
TIR: Gov. Branstad, in an interview with Politico.com this weekend, said that Latham would be the strongest Senate candidate for Republicans. What are your thoughts on that?
Grassley: Well if I say something, people will think that I’m getting involved in a primary, and I’ve told everybody that I’m not going to get involved in a primary. I do believe that if we only have one congressman running, we could have other candidates in the Republican race, but I don’t think they will have much of a chance against one of the congressmen.
TheIowaRepublican.com also reached out to Reps. King and Loebsack for bipartisan reaction to the meeting:
“Meeting with Governor Branstad and the members of the Iowa Delegation today allowed us to discuss issues directly affecting Iowans,” King said in a statement after the meeting. “From economic development, health care, education and drought issues, we focused on how we can work together to ensure that Iowa maintains its high standards for quality of life, job creation and agricultural advancement. We are ready to take on the challenges facing our great state, and I look forward to the promising future ahead.”
“Dave always appreciates the opportunity to sit down with the Governor and other members of the delegation to discuss ways they can work together to move our state and economy forward,” said Loebsack spokesman Joe Hand. “In true Iowa fashion, Dave and the Governor both arrived early and chatted about the importance of expanding economic development opportunities across Iowa, but especially in our rural areas.”
Branstad’s delegation meeting was the last item on his D.C. agenda after meetings with the National Governors Association, Republican Governors Association, national business leaders and ambassadors. Branstad held a similar meeting last year.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, did not attend the meeting, and a press aide did not respond to a request for comment.
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