During his week-long Fourth of July recess, Senator Grassley attended at least nine invitation-only meetings throughout southeast Iowa. Outside of “private business meetings,” Grassley found no time to address his constituents’ concerns in-person about the Senate’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or “Obamacare.”
According to his office, Grassley will not host any public events in Iowa until his August Recess, which will likely take place after the Senate’s vote on the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA). The bill would bring about the largest cuts to Medicaid in the program’s over five-decade history, but neither of Iowa’s Senators could find adequate time to talk publicly about the significant piece of health care legislation.
Following several of her Republican colleagues, Senator Ernst also ducked public criticism during her July 4th recess by hosting a telephone conference with questions from pre-selected participants, as well as one open meeting at Harlan High School in west Iowa.
Although Iowa’s Senators campaigned to promote a more transparent health care debate, Grassley and Ernst have only served to make the deliberations more opaque.
After tense public appearances in early 2017, Senator Grassley and Senator Ernst are apparently avoiding the public and open dialogue. In fact, Grassley and Ernst are following an alarming trend among Republican members of Congress by abandoning the tradition of accessible, open meetings during summer recesses for the sake of optics.
Referencing Grassley’s fictitious 2009 allegation that the ACA would allow the government to decide when to “pull the plug on grandma,” a 62-year-old Iowan confronted Grassley at a February meeting in Clear Lake. He asserted that the Senate’s bill would “create one big death panel” for the twenty-two million people that will lose health insurance during the widely-publicized encounter. The Iowa pig farmer explained that he would be unable to afford insurance himself without “Obamacare.”
During the same month, Senator Ernst walked out of a roundtable meeting that she hosted in Maquoketa, as an angry crowd of her constituents chanted, “Your Last Term!”
Although some will argue that disrupting town halls is not “Iowa Nice,” ignoring the voices of Iowans that will be the most severely impacted by the Senate’s repeal of the ACA is assuredly much meaner.
While Grassley listened to pre-selected business and civic leaders in West Burlington at his July 6 meeting, for instance, he ignored the needs of the more than two-fifths of children in Des Moines and Lee counties whose health care will be at risk under the Republicans’ health care bill.
As he spoke with invited members of Burlington’s business community, he was likely not asked to consider the effects of drastic cuts to Medicaid on access to care in rural communities or on small town economies.
There were likely no voices in the room to remind Grassley that many of Iowa’s struggling small hospitals in rural communities remain open due to the funding which the Senate bill would cut, especially after the state privatized Medicaid.
As the emptiness of our Senators’ promises for transparency has grown increasingly apparent, activists have found ways to continue to express their disapproval of the Senate’s bill. While Iowans must continue to call our Senators and protest at their offices, we must also protect the tradition of open town halls and maintain our leaders’ responsibility to be accessible to all of us.
Originally from Keokuk, Iowa, Blake is a Harvard senior that studies "Civic Epistemology," or how policy-relevant facts are made. He is passionate about grassroots movements and student journalism.