#DMDC2019 is in the books. 

The 40th annual Greater Des Moines Partnership lobbying trip to the nation’s capital got a late start when a planeload of community leaders were ordered off a broken Southwest Airlines charter while a new cabin pressurization valve was flown in from Omaha. 

The plane trouble may have taken the edge off a cute side note: The flight number was 8035, a Partnership inside joke referring to the 80/35 Music Festival. 

The Partnership managed to salvage the full agenda, delay aside, and a slightly smaller than usual contingent still approaching 200 made the rounds of D.C. offices to encourage support of the water trails plan, the new Des Moines International Airport terminal, improved mass transit, affordable housing and other initiatives. 

The gathering included the usual mix of serious panel discussions and even more serious private meetings, stirred together with rooftop networking, the obligatory group photo on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, an assortment of small-group dinners, a full airing of the Partnership’s priorities, updates from the congressional delegation and up-front and personal looks at the latest in office-building security and gridlock transportation. 

Here’s a look at some of what happened:

Congressional recap

Members of the Iowa delegation at a breakfast session at the famed Kennedy Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Office Building each gave a quick account of current events. It was worth pausing to note an unusual moment in Iowa history: The delegation consists of three women and three men, with three Republicans and three Democrats. 

Here’s a rundown:

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley: “Getting the [United States-Canada-Mexico Agreement] is very, very important for the reason of getting these retaliatory tariffs on corn changed and pigs going to Mexico and to get some of our wheat and other products into Canada. That will take congressional action.”

On China, Grassley said he is a bit more pessimistic about a full trade agreement than he was a few months ago. “So we’ll just have to see how that works out,” he said of talks with China, which continue as both sides threaten to raise tariffs in coming weeks. “Right now, it will probably be by executive agreement, and won’t go through our committee.” 

Grassley had harsh words for President Donald Trump, a fellow member of the GOP, on trade with Japan. “I’m looking forward to trade agreements with Japan and those will have to go through the Senate. If we can get an agreement with Japan, it will make up for about 90% of the president’s mistake in pulling out of the [Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multination trade agreement supported by the Partnership that President Trump exited]. 

However, Grassley added that Trump deserves credit for pushing for China to comply with the obligations of the World Trade Organization. 

Sen. Joni Ernst: “One of the major issues I work on as well is the trade and tariff issue. This is a joint effort on behalf of the Iowa delegation in pushing the administration to release on those tariffs because it has been very detrimental to our farmers and ranchers and our manufacturers in the state of Iowa. Making sure we get these deals done is absolutely imperative. That’s one of the largest pushes we’ve had in recent months.” 

Ernst said another major focus is improving conditions for small businesses, which make up most of Iowa’s employment. 

Rep. Abby Finkenauer: Finkenauer said a central goal is to keep residents in Iowa through creative opportunities and to coax those who have left back to the state. 

She added that she is on a transportation infrastructure committee that will be looking at roads and bridges issue in major legislation this fall — which will be important in Iowa, home to one of the largest collections of insufficient bridges in the nation. “We also desperately need to update our locks and dams.” Finkenauer said she hopes the talk of a $2 trillion infrastructure package will be more than talk. 

Rep. Dave Loebsack: Loebsack is looking at flood aid, making sure Americans with preexisting medical conditions are covered by insurance, and supporting agriculture. He recently made his first trip to Brazil in 17 years, and it left him wary of the competition from grain farmers there. “I know the challenges that a country like Brazil presents to us if they get their infrastructure figured out. They are going to eat our lunch, folks, if we don’t take care of the locks and dams issue.” He referred to decades-old proposals to modernize and expand the locks and dams on the Mississippi River, a move that trade groups support as crucial and environmental groups have opposed as unnecessary. 

Rep. Cindy Axne: “I’m thrilled to say that we are working on a great package to help our folks with disaster issues. When it meant that Iowa needed to be in this disaster bill, I was the head of appropriations at almost midnight. We got $3 billion for the Midwest plugged into just this disaster bill.” 
She said she’s also working on health coverage issues and helping local economies through grant programs. 

Rep. Steve King: King said he’s supporting the new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico. “I want [Trump] to have the best hand possible to get the best deal we can, but I also want to move this thing as quickly as we can because we see what’s happening to our markets.”

King had tough words for the Chinese: “It needs to be said in every conversation about this that the central issue is their theft of our intellectual property, somewhere between $300 billion and $600 billion a year. It is unsustainable and it is intolerable.” King recalled when he appealed to the Chinese on a five-city tour of China a dozen or so years ago to stop stealing intellectual property. “As I got the to third city, it was clear that they were all speaking from the same script. It was a cost of doing business to wine and dine members of the U.S. Congress. They had no intention of backing off, and they surely haven’t.” 

King added that he also is less optimistic about a long-term deal with China than he was earlier.

Shazam’s Kramer on cybersecurity

Before the delegation took the lectern, Dan Kramer, executive vice president of government and community affairs at Shazam, one of the event sponsors, sounded a warning about cybersecurity.

“There are tremendous ways to protect data today,” Kramer said. “There are ways to secure transactions. But unfortunately we have a fraud problem. There are people knocking on the front door just to see if they can get in.
“We have rampant skimming. Your every day is consumed, unfortunately, with having to take a look at what may be a present threat to you. That’s not the way things should work.

“We want to make sure there is integrity in that [security] system.”

One answer: biometrics. Kramer said if people gave permission, security systems could use data on a person’s walking rate, heart rate, the way you hold your phone, the way you type, all of it recorded by cellphones or other devices. “But we can’t use that data,” he said.

“The fact of the matter is the capability for us as an organization and for you as consumers to eliminate fraud is there,” Kramer added. 

Gillibrand aims to help Iowa, others

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said she has pushed legislation that helps places in the Midwest, along with others. 

“Last Congress, I passed 18 pieces of legislation, common-sense legislation that helps places like Iowa, places like upstate New York, for example, with more money for rural broadband,” Gillibrand said in a keynote address. “We are desperate for more money for infrastructure and rural broadband, more money for rural manufacturing, more money for small businesses. Those are the kinds of common-sense bipartisan ideas that you can get from A to B, even with a Republican House, Senate and president, because I know how to reach across the aisle. I can reach across the aisle to Sen. Grassley, to any senator, to get something done. In fact, the last bill I passed I worked with Ted Cruz. So, really, I can work with anybody in the chamber.” The crowd laughed. 

Airport financing hot topic

Much of the chatter in D.C. was how to gain support for legislation that would allow airports to increase the per-flight passenger facility charge, or PFC. Des Moines International Airport chief Kevin Foley has appealed to business leaders to push approval, because the added revenue is critical to plans for a $500 million project that would include a new airport terminal in Des Moines. 

Comments from Sherry Kuntz, legislative aide to Grassley, made it sound as though the fee would be a tough sell, at least for her. Kuntz said that during the most recent FAA reauthorization bill, members of both parties agreed “there would be no changes to fees, taxes or other types of concerns.”
Kuntz said transportation bills might add money to another federal program that pays for airport projects but requires a 10% local match, something the passenger fees do not. 

Joe Murphy, the Partnership’s senior vice president of government relations and public policy, noted that while the Partnership was pushing for a higher passenger fee ceiling, “the broader goal is to get the new airport terminal. So whatever method that occurs in, we’re supportive.”