CLINTON – “What is Congress doing?” Clinton resident Arlen Van Zee asked U.S. Senator Joni Ernst Monday during a town hall meeting at Clinton Middle School.

“It appears that the Democrats’ strategy is to obstruct,” Van Zee said, but Ernst told the nearly 60 residents in attendance that she thinks Democrats and Republicans can and will work together.

“I tend to be optimistic because I do believe in human nature,” Ernst said.

Ernst’s stop in Clinton was part of her town-hall tour to hear from voters in each of the state’s 99 counties.

Congress would accomplish more if social media would crash, Ernst said, and if they didn’t have television cameras to play to. “Let’s talk through it in a rational manner, ...and let’s find solutions.

“We’ll be judged on what we accomplish,” not on talking points, Ernst said.

Ernst answered questions about trade, the cost of prescription medication and health care, climate change and bipartisanship but not before asking the crowd to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance with her.

“I’ve always led with the Pledge of Allegiance,” Ernst said in an interview following the meeting.

“I am a proud American,” the retired Iowa Army National Guard lieutenant colonel said. “I tend to believe we are the greatest country.... I think our flag represents so much.”

We still have a country that allows disagreement, said Ernst. “I think we’re pretty blessed to disagree.”

Ernst has seen a lot of disagreement during her Iowa tour, she said. She’s been met with protesters waving signs and has had residents yell at her during meetings, she said. None of that happened in Clinton. “This was a pretty calm town hall,” Ernst said.

Matt Willimack with Clinton County Farm Bureau asked about trade issues that affect Iowa farmers.

Mexico already has approved the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, Ernst said, and USMCA is working it’s way through the Canadian parliament. In the U. S., “There will be no problem getting this through the Senate,” Ernst said.

A small number of freshmen in Congress don’t want to see USMCA pass, Ernst said. Twenty-seven of them signed a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi asking her not to support it.

“It does have to move through the House first,” Ernst said, but the House is proposing amendments adding labor and environmental provisions that the Senate objects to. “There are already provisions for labor and for the environment” in the base agreement,” Ernst said.

Though she doesn’t think USMCA can pass before the August recess, Ernst hopes to see it approved before the end of the year. The agreement includes many provisions favorable to agriculture and manufacturing, she said.

Kathleen Colpous decried the cost of healthcare and criticized Congress for having their healthcare paid for at taxpayer expense.

“We have to purchase our medical coverage off of the... D.C. exchange,” Ernst said. “We have to follow Obama Care rules.” Because legislators work in Washington, D.C., they have to purchase health insurance there.

Ernst started to say that was more expensive, but she stopped herself and said it might not be more expensive than Iowa’s coverage. “In Iowa we only have one insurer that is participating in the state exchange,” Ernst said. That’s why some lawmakers want to “open up state lines.”

“Ultimately... [Democrats] would like to see more of a single-payer system,” but Ernst said that drives up the price. “Why don’t we allow insurers to complete for folks in border states?”

Citing numerous problems with the government-run Veterans Affairs healthcare system, Ernst advocated for a market-based system. “We certainly don’t want the government running all of our healthcare.”

A former county auditor, Ernst criticized the lack of responsibility Congress shows in not passing budgets on time. Counties are required to approve budgets by a certain date and submit them to the state. Congress has no such oversight, Ernst said.

The Senator said that Congress should not be allowed to recess without approving a budget. She also suggested that Congress not be paid until it passes a budget, “but the majority of members would not support it.”

Congress has only passed a budget in regular order four times in 45 years, Ernst said.

In answer to Tom Streveler’s question about combating climate change, Ernst said there’s a better way than the drastic mandates in the Democrats’ Green New Deal.

“Our climate is always changing,” Ernst said. The government has many programs that will help with the move to renewable energy, but “we have to be pragmatic and realistic about it,” she said.

“We have done a great job of that in Iowa without being heavy-handed with mandates,” Ernst said. Forty percent of the electricity in Iowa is produced by wind energy, she said. She wants to see investment in batteries to store the energy and a plan to sell what the state isn’t utilizing.

“What I push back upon” are plans like the Green New Deal, Ernst said, which would have mandated such things as changing the country’s transportation system. While a bullet-train may work in metro communities, they aren’t feasible for rural areas or as a replacement for school buses, Ernst said.

“What I don’t want to destroy... is our livelihood” by requiring mandates such as Green New Deal in a short 10 years.

During Monday’s hour-long meeting Ernst highlighted bipartisan efforts in the Senate. The House only requires a simple majority to pass a bill, Ernst said after the meeting. The Democrats have a majority so they don’t have to reach a compromise with Republicans.

The Senate requires 60 votes to pass a bill. “We have to work with Democrats to get things done,” Ernst said.

A native of Centerville, Winona comes to the Clinton Herald after writing for the Ottumwa Courier for two years.