Dec 23 2019
As we wrap-up 2019, I wanted to take a moment to look back on some of the highlights of the past year.
First and foremost, I completed my fifth 99 County Tour, my annual tradition where I visit every single one of Iowa’s 99 counties within a calendar year, and hold public town hall meetings to hear directly from constituents. In fact, over the last year, I held 35 public town hall meetings—in small rural areas, like my hometown of Red Oak to Iowa’s most populated county, Polk County. And as of this year, I’ve officially held a public event in all 99 counties since I first started serving in office.
Getting out and hearing from Iowans in every corner of the state allows me not only to connect with my fellow Iowans, but to hear directly from folks about the issues that are important to them. This input has helped me every step of the way in delivering real results for the people of Iowa.
Throughout 2019, Iowa experienced devastating flooding, including in areas around my hometown of Red Oak. As a member of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, I’ve used my position there to fight for flood relief, improved river management, and the development of Iowa’s infrastructure. We passed a federal disaster relief package, which included my provision to extend USDA funds to cover Iowa farmers who had lost stored grain. In addition, following years of relentless efforts to secure federal funding for the Cedar Rapids flood mitigation project, I was thrilled to witness the groundbreaking of this critical infrastructure project. I also helped finalize the roll back of the harmful Obama-era Waters of the U.S.—or WOTUS—rule, which would have allowed the federal government to regulate 97% of the land in Iowa.
After working closely with President Trump, we finally got E15 year-round by the summer driving season, which provided a boon for our farmers and growers, and more choice at the pump for Iowa consumers. I also helped secure an extension of the biodiesel tax credit which ensures predictability for Iowa biofuel producers. And, after negotiating an agreement with the White House to guarantee 15 billion gallons of ethanol, I’m continuing to hold the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Administrator Andrew Wheeler accountable to hold up their end of the bargain.
As chairman of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy, I helped secure relief for family farmers facing financial hardship through the Family Farmer Relief Act, which is now law, and assisted Iowa farmers with mental health support through my FARMERS FIRST Act.
When it comes to trade, one of the top issues I heard about on my 99 County Tour was the need to pass the United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement—the USMCA. For more than a year, my Republican colleagues and I have pushed for Congress, particularly Democrats in the House, to move on this critical trade deal. And finally, we’re seeing the results of our persistence. We forced House Democrats to get on board with this trade agreement, which will provide certainty to farmers across our state, and I’m hoping to get it across the finish line soon.
Another top issue I heard about from Iowans this year is the cost of health care, particularly prescription drug costs. As someone who has multiple family members with medical conditions, such as my nephew with autism and my two siblings who both have Type 1 diabetes, I’ve been laser focused on improving health care for my fellow Iowans. This year, I worked toward lowering the costs of prescription drugs by advancing multiple bills through the Senate, and successfully got one of these bipartisan bills, the CREATES Act, signed into law, which will help increase competition in the marketplace.
But our work didn’t stop there. As a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence, this past year I’ve continued to prioritize combating these horrific abuses. To that end, I authored legislation to modernize and reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act—or VAWA. I was also proud to have multiple provisions included in the annual defense bill to expand support for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence in the military.
I’ve also continued to fight to improve the benefits and support for Iowa’s veterans and to hold the Department of Veterans Affairs, the VA, accountable. This year, I successfully had my bipartisan bill that will help protect the economic security and well-being of veterans and their families who rely on important benefits, signed into law. I’ve also fought to improve health care for veterans with bipartisan legislation that advanced in the Senate this year, and to combat veteran suicide by demanding accountability at the VA.
2019 was a great year, and I’m extremely proud of the work we’ve been able to get done. I couldn’t have done it without the input, help, and support of Iowans from every corner of the state. It’s truly an honor to represent the greatest state in the country. While we’ve accomplished a lot in 2019, there’s still plenty more to be done in the year ahead, and I look forward to getting right back to work for Iowans.
Joni Ernst, a native of Red Oak and a combat veteran, represents Iowa in the United States Senate.