Sen. Charles Grassley toured Innovative Lighting in Roland on Monday morning and engaged in a question-and-answer session with employees afterward.
Jerry Handsaker, president and CEO of Innovative Lighting, led Grassley’s tour of the facility, where low-voltage, energy-efficient lighting is manufactured. Located in Roland since 2001, the company employs approximately 85 people in three locations: the lighting manufacturing and injection molding facility in Roland; a sales office in Des Moines; and a molding facility in Albia.
Grassley said he was in Iowa this week because Congress isn’t in session due to the Easter holiday.
“By visiting a business I don’t know anything about … I’m learning something about the great things you do, inventing things and saving energy,” he said.
Innovative Lighting holds about a dozen different patents.
One employee asked the senator about an update on the tariffs, especially with China, from where the Roland company gets some of its materials.
“The progress that’s being made, I believe it’s tremendous progress,” Grassley said.
The goal is to have negotiations finalized by the end of the month.
One of the main concerns in Iowa has been that the Chinese government responded to the United States’ tariffs with tariffs on soybeans and corn. Grassley said China’s purchase of U.S. agricultural commodities is important, but it goes further than that.
“We want their stealing of our intellectual property — like your patents — we want that to stop,” Grassley said.
He wants China to stop stealing trade secrets and stop manipulating its currency.
He also wants parity in the ability to be able to access data.
“In the data cloud, they can operate in the United States, but we can’t operate over there,” he said. “There seems to be some progress being made in that area.”
Enforcement of trade deals is one of the important parts of negotiating, Grassley said. Removing tariffs could be one way to help enforce a deal.
“If they take a tariff off, we take a tariff off,” he said.
President Donald Trump will invite Chinese President Xi Jinping to the U.S. to sign the agreement when it’s complete, Grassley said.
The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, taking the place of NAFTA, is still in limbo, in part, because Trump has not lifted the tariffs on steel and aluminum. Grassley said Trump had enacted the tariffs because Mexico and Canada weren’t negotiating.
“Canada and Mexico have negotiated, and the president said we’ve got a very good agreement, and I agree with that. Now, why don’t the tariffs come off?” Grassley said.
Grassley said he took the opportunity to ask Trump in the Cabinet Room, “Don’t you think the tariffs ought to come off?”
“And he says, ‘No.’ A one-word answer to my question,” Grassley said. Canadian and Mexican officials say the tariffs have to come off, he said.
“The president has to know that these have to come off. It’s common sense,” Grassley said. “We’ve got a good agreement. Why not go with a victory?”
Health care was another subject brought up by several Innovative Lighting employees.
“Medicare is something that’s part of the social fabric of America,” Grassley said.
But forecasts have him concerned about the long-term viability of the program.
“We’ve got to do something, but you’re never going to be able to do anything about it unless you’ve got a bipartisan agreement to do it,” he said.
Grassley said that since the Republicans didn’t get Obamacare repealed and replaced, “it’s the law of the land, and you’ve got to live with it.”
He said a lot of people saw increases in premiums and an inability to keep their insurance and/or their doctor.
“What we’re trying to do now is make it more accountable within the law” by changing regulations involved in the legislation.
One of the last topics Grassley addressed was the Mueller report, a redacted copy of which is expected to be released sometime this week.
“I think he’s got some people scared in Washington,” Grassley said of Attorney General William Barr.
After two years of investigation into the Trump administration’s connection with the Russians, “now Mueller said there was nothing to that.”
Grassley said that Barr should now go back and “see who got this idea started. Find out and expose all of this so it doesn’t happen to someone in the future.”
Grassley recently disagreed publicly with Trump’s comments about wind energy, when the president said wind turbines decrease property values and the sound of them can cause cancer.
During an interview with the Tribune after the employee meeting, Grassley said he had not had an opportunity to discuss the matter with Trump personally.
“I think he just wants to be funny, tongue-in-cheek and stuff like that,” Grassley said. “I don’t know whether the president knows anything about wind; it’s my suspicion he doesn’t.”
“I’m the father of the wind energy tax credit that got passed in 1992, and I didn’t think it would be as big of a thing as it is now. A lot of people think 10 years later, I’m the grandfather of the wind energy tax credit,” Grassley said with a laugh.