Ernst reflects on her first 100 days in Senate

As published in: Des Moines Register

This past Thursday marked the 100th day since I took office as Iowa's newest U.S. senator. It has truly been an honor, and I have wasted no time getting to work serving Iowans across our state.

In January, I launched my 99-county tour with a town hall meeting in Red Oak. I have visited 51 counties to date. Iowans know what is best for Iowa, which is why I want to hear directly from folks statewide.

These visits have been a great mix of manufacturing tours, chamber visits, hospital visits, constituent meetings, veterans meetings, school visits, agricultural stops and more. This is an educational tour for me, and a great way to hear directly from Iowans about their concerns. I am also here to help folks who need assistance with the federal government. My staff and I can help with issues ranging from Social Security and Medicare benefits, to veterans needing assistance, to helping businesses cut through red tape. To do so we have opened offices across the state, in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Sioux City, and have a fifth coming soon in Council Bluffs.

When you are visiting Washington, please know that meeting you is important to me. Over the last 100 days, I have met with more than 1,200 Iowans in D.C., which gives me a great understanding of what folks want to see happen in the Senate. After each meeting, I think through ways to implement your ideas to better our country. I am focused on finding ways to protect our agricultural interests, grow a vibrant economy, balance the budget, ensure our veterans receive timely care and make certain that our military has the tools to defend our nation.

In the Senate, I have the tremendous honor of serving on the Senate Agriculture Committee alongside Sen. Chuck Grassley. As a leading state in renewable fuels, I am working to push the Environmental Protection Agency to issue strong renewable-fuel standards (RFS) which encourage consumer choice, investment and innovation. In February, I invited EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to Iowa to see how inaction on RFS directly affects Iowans. While I am glad to see a path forward on RFS, it is unacceptable that the EPA has failed to act for so long, and I will continue fighting to defend the renewable fuel sector in Iowa.

Last month, I gave my first speech on the Senate floor addressing the critical need to provide timely mental health care for our veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has previously said that the average wait time for a mental health appointment at their facilities is 36 days, which is completely unacceptable. With that in mind, I introduced the Prioritizing Veterans' Access to Mental Health Care Act. This legislation provides a back-stop to VA mental health care other than the emergency room, and prioritizes incentives to hire more mental health care professionals at the VA. We can and must do better for our veterans.

I also remain focused on ways to strengthen our national security, both in my role on the Senate Armed Services Committee and as a soldier in the Iowa Army National Guard. On this committee, my colleagues and I work to support our exceptional military and develop bipartisan strategies to confront terrorism and destroy Al Qaeda, ISIS, and those radicalized by them. During the budget debate last month, we fought hard to ensure that Congress provided the necessary resources for our military. The budget that passed the Senate was an important step towards accomplishing this and restoring fiscal responsibility. In addition, the Senate-passed budget achieves the goal of a balanced budget, the first in four years, and cuts spending.

Last, but not least, I promised Iowans I would cut wasteful spending, which is why I have been working to eliminate frivolous perks for Congress, like flying first class on the taxpayers' dime. Similarly, I have advocated for cutting the funds given to former U.S. presidents. This would not affect the security protection they receive, but rather examines how much taxpayers should be forced to provide for past presidents when they have already generated significant income from book sales and paid speeches.

While these are smaller items in the bigger picture, this is an issue of restoring taxpayer trust by being smarter about how government spends your money.

I am working hard every day to ensure your voice is heard in the Senate and my office and I are here to help however we can.

SEN. JONI ERNST, a Republican, is serving her first term in the U.S. Senate. Contact:www.Ernst.Senate.Gov

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