Congressman heeds the call: Loebsack reaches out to constituents during telephone town hall Tuesday

By Mike Ferguson, Muscatine Journal.

MUSCATINE, Iowa — From his office in Washington, D.C., Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, is almost 900 miles from the 2nd congressional district he represents.

Nonetheless, the Iowa City Democrat has figured out a way to keep up with constituent concerns.

Every few weeks, Loebsack picks up the phone and hosts what he calls a telephone town hall meeting, a public event he repeated Tuesday evening, the seventh such town hall the Iowa City Democrat has held.

“I get back to the district just about every weekend,” Loebsack said. “Tonight we get to continue the conversation we might have started in Hy-Vee.”

For an hour, Loebsack fielded constituent inquiries. Among them:

Rising gas prices

Loebsack said a poll on his website,, shows that 26 percent of respondents believe the main cause of spikes in gas prices is oil speculation and price-gouging. Nineteen percent favor increased investment in alternative energy, including wind, as a way to drive down fuel prices.

Loebsack said he supports opening up more areas for drilling, including Alaska and offshore tracts, so long as they’re not too close to U.S. coastline.

Trimming the budget

Asked about saving money by reducing his own salary — which comes in a $174,000 annually — Loebsack said he cosponsored a bill to trim congressional salaries by 5 percent and is cosponsor of a bill to withhold congressional salaries when lawmakers fail to pass a budget.

“Those won’t save a tremendous amount of money,” he said. “But they will send an important signal to people that Congress gets it.”

On deficit reduction, Loebsack said legislators must be smart about “not taking the meat axe approach,” such as the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts — half in military spending — that are the result of the failure of last year’s supercommittee to reach agreement.

“We have got to put down our partisan weapons, look each other in the eye, and say, ‘The American people are demanding that we (reduce the deficit),’” he said.

Unemployment benefits

Loebsack noted Congress has once again extended benefits for the nation’s 12.8 million workers without a job.

“That’s way too many people who are still out of work and need help,” he said. “Many folks are unemployed through no fault of their own. They want to be productive citizens who are paying taxes and putting their kids through college.

“That dream is more out of reach during this economic downturn, but one thing you know about unemployment benefits: People will spend them right away, and that’s good for the economy.”

Crossing the aisle

Iowa’s House delegation may be split — three Democrats and two Republicans for now, with the state losing one seat due to redistricting after the fall election — but it’s united to help address a few key challenges, Loebsack said.

One is over a 39 percent staffing cut — which would amount to 459 jobs — announced Tuesday for the 132nd Fighter Wing, stationed in Des Moines.

“Our entire delegation is working hard to keep that wing there,” he said. “It’s probably the most efficient National Guard unit for fighter jets in America.”

Other bipartisan issues for the state delegation include funding for the Rock Island Arsenal and federal funding for flood prevention.

“I don’t want to be Pollyanna about (working together), but I am hopeful,” Loebsack said. “If enough Americans put enough pressure on Congress to work across the aisle, things will change.”