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Grassley listens up

By ANDREA FURLONG

grassley
United States Senator Chuck Grassley listens intently to the concerns of one of his constituents at the Williamsburg Recreation Center Tuesday, Jan. 12. During the town hall meeting, Grassley addressed Iowa County residents’ questions on a variety of topics including healthcare reform, unemployment and illegal immigration. More than 100 people attended the meeting.

Over 100 people came from all over Iowa County to hear Senator Chuck Grassley speak at the Williamsburg Recreation Center Jan. 12.

During the town hall meeting, Grassley addressed questions covering everything from unemployment to the financial bailout. Audience members were particularly interested in the future of healthcare reform in America. Grassley answered he believes Democrats, which hold the majority of seats in the Senate and House of Representatives, will likely pass a bill that includes the public option.

“Unless people speak up like they have been speaking up . . . I don’t see it being stopped. There is a chance — but I think this is a long shot — that if a Republican would win in Massachusetts, that would put an end to it,” he said.

The election for the contested senate seat was held Tuesday, Jan. 19, one week after Grassley’s town hall meeting. Since Grassley’s trip to Williamsburg, election officials in Massachusetts said even if official poll results indicated a Republican win, Massachusetts’ state law gives voters up to 10 days after the election to cast absentee ballots, according to an Associated Press article. This extra 10 days could keep the Massachusetts interim senator in his seat a little while longer, temporarily maintaining the Democratic majority in the Senate, which may be needed to pass the healthcare reform bill.

GREATER TRANSPARENCY

Audience members in attendance clapped in support of Doug Heinichen’s, Marengo, challenge toward Grassley for more transparency from Congress on bills under consideration, particularly those involving healthcare reform.

“I don’t know why we shouldn’t have every bill read aloud before it’s voted on. Why do you and your compatriots allow this unanimous not-reading-of-the-bills? Maybe the bills would get smaller. Maybe some of the garbage would go out and you could focus on the stuff that’s good in there.”

Grassley said after a healthcare bill he helped to draft failed, he thoroughly read the one that passed the Senate.

“When you work on a piece of legislation for 31 meetings, as I did . . . you know what’s in a bill, but if a bill came out of another committee, obviously you had to spend time to read it. I’m not so sure that reading it . . . it’s the studying of it, because for me being a non-lawyer, not only do I have to read it . . . you actually study it, too, to some extent.”

Grassley said his vision of healthcare reform would include no mandates to carry insurance, coverage of pre-existing conditions and bigger pools for small businesses, among other features. This type of plan would be funded by “making more efficient use of money in healthcare.”

“There’s a real feeling that we’re spending one out of $6 in the American economy on healthcare. You shouldn’t be spending more — you ought to be spending more efficiently. There’s plenty of healthcare economists that will say out of the $2 trillion or so dollars we’re spending on healthcare each year, probably about 30 percent of it is wasted.”

ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS

In response to audience’s questions about illegal immigration, Grassley said there are other national problems that warrant more immediate attention.

“The immigration issue doesn’t sound like a very smart thing to be working on when you got 10 percent unemployment. Maybe one of the reasons you have 10 percent unemployment is because people are here illegally. If they’re here illegally, passing another bill isn’t going to do any more. Finishing the (border) fence and putting more people in charge of security is probably going to do it,” he said.

Grassley added he does not support amnesty and believes any bill granting illegal immigrants amnesty would not earn support across party lines.

“More penalties for people who hire illegal immigrants, more checking to see if people who apply for a job are here legally and beefing up security — most of those I think we can get bipartisan support on, but where you don’t is on this issue of amnesty,” he said.

UNEMPLOYMENT

Emilie Hoppe, West Amana, asked Senator Grassley how he will help improve the economy in Iowa and bring jobs back to places like Iowa County, which has lost approximately 1,000 jobs in the last year.

Senator Grassley replied that he believes establishing international trade agreements that “would put us on a better playing field with other countries” could open up job opportunities in Iowa and other states that export goods. However, Grassley noted without product torte reform and looser product regulation standards, he does not see how the United States can achieve more competitive international trade agreements.

“Because people have to protect themselves against lawsuits, we bill that into the cost of our product and most other countries don’t have a torte system like we have. If we put some caps on punitive damages and things like that, that would help us.”

Grassley continued,“Those are things that are already in place already and you’re asking me to change the things that make it make it bad for American industry and those are difficult to improve. You can’t get torte reform because all the lawyers who do the court cases give 97 percent of their contributions to the Democratic party.”

Grassley said one way he can help Iowa is to continue to promote legislation that is advantageous to small businesses. 

DAIRY DISPUTE

Former dairy farmer John Gahring, Homestead, charged Grassley with contributing to unemployment in Iowa and putting dairy farmers like himself out of business by supporting bills that are harmful to them. Gahring referred specifically to Grassley’s support of a bill that proposed taxing chocolate milk. The bill was released by Senate Finance Committee members Grassley and Senator Max Baucus last May.

Senator Grassley denied ever supporting the bill.

“Senator (Max) Baucus came up with that — not Chuck Grassley,” he said.

Gahring responded sharply, “Your name was on it. I read it right off the bill — 3 percent tax on sugary drinks, which in Iowa . . . (University of Iowa wrestler) Brent Metcalf, you know what he drinks after a match? Milk, because it helps renew his body better than Gatorade.”

Grassley brushed off the issue, claiming most of the measures he supported regarding the dairy industry were the very ones dairy industry workers proposed to Congress. 

“You send people there that want us to do this and that and we do it, and then you say we have done things to put you out of business. We were doing the things you asked us to do,” Grassley said.

Gahring said all the help he ever got from the government was a 32 cent check for his losses, while he lost thousands of dollars because of milk prices that were lower than the cost of production.

“I didn’t ask for help. I’d have been better off if you would have stayed out of it,” Gahring said.

GLOBAL WARMING

An unidentified male audience member challenged Grassley to introduce a bill that would investigate global warming information presented by scientists and politicians, including Al Gore. Grassley argued since global warming is a scientific issue, scientists are more qualified than politicians to research it.

“Scientists have a better way of deciding is something is accurate or not accurate than we do in social science because there’s what you call the scientific process. I think the scientific process will prove if things are safe or not,” he said.

However, Grassley noted it is appropriate for the government to step in when the credibility of the scientists conducting the research is questionable.

“If your question is whether global warming is manmade or natural, let the scientists decide that. But, if the scientific process is being interrupted, as these (leaked) e-mails (of conversations between scientists who appear to admit fudging global warming statistics) seem to indicate . . .and unsound science ends up being the basis for passing a cap-and-trade bill . . . then it’s got to be a consideration for us,” he said.

TAXING BONUSES

Grassley said he supports taxing bonuses, as long as they’re taxed at the same rate as the individual’s income.

“You ought to tax all income at the same rate, regardless of how it’s made,” he said.

Grassley noted he and Senator Baucus drafted a bill last year that prohibited entities who had received government bailout funds from collecting bonuses.

“About two days later the president backed off of doing it and we didn’t get our bill passed. The best we got done was to put a cap on salaries, but just for the institutions that were bailed out.”

Grassley continued, “It raises the whole question of whether or not they should be getting help to begin with or should they be going into bankruptcy? In reflection, it might have been better to let them go into bankruptcy, but at the time it helped. If you’re going to give them help and they exist because of the good favor of the taxpayer, then we ought to be able to tell them how to run their business until they get back into shape,” he said.

NEWSPAPER BILL

An unidentified female audience member asked Grassley what his plans are regarding government efforts to publish legals from schools, cities and county government on the Internet instead of newspapers. Currently, there are three state bills promoting the effort.

Grassley clarified the matter is a state issue, not one that the federal government is pushing.

“You need to talk to state representative and your state senator,” he told her.

UPDATED January 21, 2010 11:42 AM

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