CEDAR RAPIDS – Reaction to President Barack Obama’s two-day visit to Iowa and his calls for an end to partisan gridlock in Washington is split, predictably, along party lines.
“I just took it that it was a campaign tour through here,” said U.S. Rep. Steve King, a western Iowa Republican who expressed disappointment the president isn’t joining an Aug. 18 boat tour of Missouri River flood damage.
However, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who dismissed the Midwest bus tour as an attempt to rehabilitate the president’s image, found some areas of agreement with Obama.
He didn’t rule out supporting an extension of payroll tax cuts that the president said could put an additional $1,000 a year in the pockets of middle-class families. However, Grassley called that “a stick in the ocean” compared to the benefit of Obama announcing he will not seek to end the Bush tax cuts Congress extended to 2012.
Grassley, King, Republican Rep. Tom Latham and Democratic Reps. Bruce Braley and Leonard Boswell were in Cedar Rapids Aug. 17 for a rally organized by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.
Grassley agreed with another proposal the president pushed during stops in Decorah and Peosta Monday and Tuesday: ratifying trade pacts with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.
“We should pass trade deals that will level the playing field for American companies,” Obama said at a White House Rural Economic Conference in Peosta. “We’ve got folks in America driving Kias and Hyundais. I want to see folks in Korea driving Fords and Chryslers and Chevys. I want to sell goods all over the world that are stamped with three words: ‘Made in America.’”
Grassley expects those agreements to be approved when Congress returns to Washington from its August district work session, but wishes they had been approved six months ago.
Braley, a Waterloo Democrat who chairs the House Populist Caucus, welcomed the president emphasis on reviving the manufacturing sector.
“We’ve been pushing for a national manufacturing strategy to bring public and private money together so we are a country that still builds things,” Braley said. Earlier, he had put out a statement noting the nation has lost 54,000 manufacturers in the past decade and unemployment is above 9 percent.
Unlike his Republican colleagues, Braley also welcomed Obama’s proposal for an infrastructure bank that provide federal seed capital to leverage private investment in infrastructure.
“One of best ways to get out of this recession is to invest in infrastructure — roads, bridges, the electric grid,” Braley said. “We need to put people to work building things here in the United States.”
He cited the examples of three Mississippi River bridges in his district that need improvements or replacement. The westbound lane of the Interstate 80 bridge has been closed much of the past year at a “tremendous cost to commerce,” Braley said. Likewise, the I-74 bridge from Bettendorf to Moline and the Julien Dubuque Bridge “each will cost massive amounts to replace, but the impact on commerce is enormous.”
Private utilities might be willing to invest in a smart power grid, he said, if the federal government provides some help. Iowa, a leading wind energy producer would benefit because electricity then could be transmitted to metropolitan centers, such as Chicago.
Republicans, however, pooh-poohed the idea.
“It’s a stimulus plan under another name and it won’t fly in Washington,” Grassley said.
Latham has heard the proposal before.
“My concern is they want to make grants rather than loans,” the Ames Republican said. “I don’t know how many banks you can go to and get a grant. It’s probably not going to happen in this case either.”
King thought the last stimulus plan had convinced Obama to give up on big government, Keynesian economics.
It’s going to take free enterprise, not more government borrowing and spending, to turn around the economy, the Kiron Republican said.
“We don’t grow our economy by extending unemployment and food stamps. We grow it by producing goods and services to sell here and abroad,” King said. “We’ve got to build things that have value.”