D.C. Dispatch: Iowa lawmakers focus attention on China, agriculture

Iowa’s congressional delegation focused much of its attention on China and agriculture this week, while Rep. Ashley Hinson helped introduce legislation that that expands Pell Grant eligibility.

Meanwhile, Sen. Chuck Grassley introduced multiple bills, including several addressing pharmaceutical costs, foreign lobbying and child sex abuse.

Child sex abuse

Grassley introduced the Preventing Child Sex Abuse Act with Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia, a bill that would “strengthen a federal sex tourism law that prosecutors feared was too vague to convict former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar …” according to a news release. The bill also would “crack down on the use of foreign charity work as a cover for child sex abuse schemes and closes gaps in laws to better protect against secret sexually explicit recordings of minors as well as non-contact sexual abuse…”

“The survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse continue to demonstrate incredible bravery in their pursuit of justice. Their work will help to prevent future abuse of innocent children, and it inspired this legislation,” Grassley said.

Treatment for first responders

Grassley also reintroduced the Fighting Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Act of 2023, legislation that would “help police, fire, emergency medical and 911 personnel cope with the stresses of responding to crisis situations,” according to a news release.

The bill would “require the Justice Department to establish evidence-based treatment programs for first responders across the country, similar to services available to military personnel who develop PTSD or acute stress disorders. It would require the Justice Department to “consult with stakeholders, including public safety officer organizations in developing the program, which would be available to serve first responders in communities of all sizes across the country.”

“This bill takes an essential step toward ensuring that the brave individuals who respond in critical situations have access to mental health services needed to manage stress, stay healthy and continue to serve our communities,” Grassley said.

Foreign interest lobbying

Grassley also reintroduced the Disclosing Foreign Influence in Lobbying Act, “legislation aimed at cracking down on foreign adversaries’ efforts to secretly influence U.S. policy,” according to a news release.

The bill “closes a loophole, frequently exploited by the Chinese Communist Party, which allows some entities to conceal their role in lobbying efforts” and “makes clear that foreign governments and political parties that participate in the planning, supervision, direction or control of a lobbying effort must disclose their activity, regardless of any financial contribution to the lobbying effort,” the release stated.

Prescription drug bills

Grassley and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, reintroduced a pair of bills, the Prescription Pricing for the People Act and the Pharmacy Benefit Manager Transparency Act, intended to help lower the cost of prescription drugs by ensuring that pharmacy benefit managers do not artificially inflate the price of prescriptions.

“I’ve worked to battle price increases on many fronts, but we can’t truly restore sanity to drug prices without addressing pharmacy benefit managers [PBMs]. PBMs, the industry middlemen, operate in the shadows and drive up prices for consumers. These bills bring about greater transparency to their industry and prevent unfair or anticompetitive practices that harm consumers,” Grassley said in a press release.

Feenstra appointed to House ag committee

Rep. Randy Feenstra was appointed to serve on the House Agriculture Committee this week, providing Iowa with more influence on agriculture policy in at the Capitol.

“When I ran for Congress, I promised to deliver real results for Iowa families, farmers, small businesses, and our rural main streets. Serving on both the Ways and Means Committee and the Agriculture Committee will allow me to do just that,” Feenstra said in a press release.

Feenstra also helped introduce the Foreign Adversary Risk Management (FARM) Act, a bill that would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Government Accountability Office to “draft a report on the largest threats posed by foreign farm ownership and ag-related espionage tactics used by foreign nations to target American intellectual property, agricultural research and development, and cost and pricing data.”

The bill would appoint the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States and require the committee to “review any agricultural investment that could result in foreign control of any American agricultural producer or business,” according to a news release.

Hinson introduces bill for increased Pell eligibility

Hinson was appointed to serve on the bipartisan House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the U.S. and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) this week.

“From reshoring manufacturing jobs and supply chains, to stopping the CCP’s military aggression, and preventing China from purchasing more U.S. agricultural land – our committee will produce the policy blueprint to address these issues and ensure the U.S. is competing to win our Cold War with China,” Hinson said in a statement.

Hinson was also appointed to the Financial Services and General Government, Homeland Security and Agriculture, Rural Development and Food and Drug Administration subcommittees on the House Appropriations Committee.

Hinson, along with Republican Reps. Elise Stefanik of New York, Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, Jim Banks of Indiana and G. T. Thompson of Pennsylvania, introduced a bill that would increase the eligibility for students in certain programs to receive Pell Grant funding.

The bill creates a Workforce Pell Grant to expand Pell Grant eligibility to “high-quality, short-term programs” focused on skills education so students can move into a job quickly. Participating education providers would have to ensure that students would be “qualified to work” following program completion and ensure that program prices are “aligned with economic value so students and taxpayer receive a positive return on investment within three years or less.

Miller-Meeks named to subcommittees

Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks was appointed to the Health and Energy Subcommittees on the House Commerce Committee. Miller-Meeks is a former physician and also works on the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

Ernst calls for investigation into EcoHealth Alliance

Sen. Joni Ernst asked Congress to permanently end taxpayer funding of EcoHealth Alliance after an investigation that found the organization “mismanaged coronavirus experiments in Wuhan, China,” according to news release.

Ernst requested an investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General after she discovered “EcoHealth was spending tax dollars on dangerous coronaviruses in Communist China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology and was not disclosing information about those projects to the public, as required by law.”

“EcoHealth was paid millions, promising their hunt for bat viruses would protect the world from a pandemic… well, the world got a pandemic, and EcoHealth keeps getting millions,” Ernst said in a release. “We can’t afford any more of EcoHealth’s ‘prevention’ efforts. That’s why we must permanently ban them from receiving taxpayer dollars ever again.”

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