Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks during a town hall meeting in Cedar Rapids on March 17. Ernst was wrapping up a 99-county tour.(Joseph Cress/The Daily Iowan)

Guest Opinion: Ignoring constituents is unpatritotic and cowardly

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Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst are ducking the public in their continued avoidance of discussing the Better Care Reconciliation Act.

During his weeklong Fourth of July recess, Sen. Chuck Grassley attended at least nine invitation-only meetings throughout southeastern Iowa. Outside of “private business meetings,” Grassley found no time to publicly address his constituents’ concerns about the Senate’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare.”

According to his office, Grassley will not host any public events in Iowa until the Senate’s August recess, which will likely take place after the Senate’s vote on the Better Care Reconciliation Act. The bill would bring about the largest cuts to Medicaid in the program’s more than 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, Sen. Joni Ernst also ducked the traditional town hall-style meeting during her July Fourth recess by hosting a telephone conference with questions from pre-selected participants, as well as one open meeting at Harlan High School in western 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 early this year, Grassley and Enst 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 Obamacare 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 22 million people who will lose health insurance in the widely publicized encounter. The Iowa pig farmer explained that he would be unable to afford insurance without “Obamacare.”

During the same month, 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 who will be the most severely affected by the Senate’s repeal of Obamacare 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 cuts to Medicaid on both 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 that 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, for instance, we must also work to protect the tradition of open town halls and to uphold our leaders’ responsibility to be accessible to all of us.

Blake McGhghy

is a senior at Harvard who is doing thesis research at the University of Iowa for the summer

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