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News from Senator Grassley's Office PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Grassley Press   
Tuesday, 15 November 2011 12:53

Good Government 101:  Public’s Right to Know

by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

A bit of wisdom attributed to a 16th century philosopher has nearly become cliché’ in today’s 21st century information age:  Knowledge is power.

The Internet and widespread, user-friendly technology allow people from around the world to mobilize, communicate and share unfiltered information and ideas like never before.  Going digital has revolutionized consumer behavior, the global economy and the public’s expectations for information.

The public’s right to know dates back to America’s founders whose advocacy and altruism planted the seeds of our republic that would create a lasting government created of, by and for the people.

James Madison, hailed as the father of the U.S. Constitution, served as the primary architect of our system of checks and balances and embraced the rights of the individual, saying, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

Representing Iowans in the U.S. Senate, I have championed the public’s right to know and to protect freedom of information.

Meeting with Iowans in each of Iowa’s 99 counties at least once every year for the past three decades helps keep me accountable to the people who elect me to public office.  Keeping in touch with constituents – whether it’s face-to-face or by e-mail, with traditional news outlets or via social media – helps me to uphold the public trust.

What’s more, I take seriously my oath of office to uphold the Constitution.  As an elected caretaker of our representative democracy, I work to nurture and cultivate the freedoms and responsibilities of all Americans.

Transparency, openness, accessibility and accountability are non-negotiable cornerstones of good government that build faith in the three branches of the federal government.  Bureaucratic stonewalling and judicial over-reaching foster cynicism and distrust that harm public confidence.  In turn, this damages the government’s ability to effectively serve its citizens and, for example, could lead to an erosion of voluntary tax compliance.

From City Hall, to the Statehouse, to Capitol Hill, the taxpaying public has a vested interest in the people’s business.  Taxpayers deserve scrupulous stewardship of their tax dollars and assurance that our system of checks and balances is working to root out waste, fraud and abuse and to protect the integrity of the rule of law.

That’s why I have worked year after year to keep the people’s business open for public consumption.  Most recently, that includes my ongoing oversight of the:

  • Department of Justice’s “Fast and Furious” gun walking fiasco that allowed the illegal sale of thousands of weapons to flow to Mexico;
  • Department of Health and Human Service’s decision to shut down a public website with information on malpractice cases involving thousands of the nation’s doctors;
  • Federal Communications Commission and its attempt to block information from members of Congress and the public about a fast-tracked licensing agreement for a politically-connected applicant;
  • Securities and Exchange Commission’s missteps in its mission to protect investor confidence and the integrity of capital markets, including my efforts to support whistleblowers, tighten the revolving door between investment firms and regulatory and law enforcement, and to protect record-keeping relevant to investigations of wrongdoing on Wall Street.

The public’s right to know is a fundamental liberty of citizenship.  So whether it’s protecting watchdogs and whistleblowers or clearing out bureaucratic cobwebs with stronger sunshine laws, I’m working in Washington to promote access to government information.  The taxpaying public pays the bills, and the taxpaying public deserves to know how its government operates.

As James Madison wrote, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”  That’s why I’m committed to encourage, enable and engage the public to, as Madison also said, “arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

Friday, November 11, 2011

 

Q&A on the Deficit Reduction Committee

with U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Q:        What exactly is the deficit reduction committee in Congress, and under what authority was it created?

A:        Last summer, Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2011.  The law made it possible for the federal government to borrow more money, avoiding possible default on debt, and authorized the formation of a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.  Twelve members of Congress – six Democrats and six Republicans – were named by party leaders to the Joint Committee, and two of them are designated as co-chairs.  Committee members are charged with presenting a ten-year proposal for at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction by November 23.  Both the Senate and the House are supposed to vote on the Joint Committee’s legislative package by December 23.  If the Joint Committee doesn’t agree on deficit reduction legislation or it is not enacted, then an automatic spending reduction process would be triggered beginning in January 2013.  These automatic reductions would be divided evenly between defense and non-defense spending.  The way that the Budget Control Act restricts amendments and limits time for debate is unusual.  I’m an advocate for regular order where standing committees develop responsible policy and legislative proposals in their areas of jurisdiction.  And, I voted against the Budget Control Act because the spending reductions weren’t proportional to the massive fiscal challenges we face.  But, Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution gives to both the Senate and House the power to “determine the Rules of its proceedings,” and the Budget Control Act was adopted by Congress and signed into law by the President on August 2, 2011.

 

Q:        Can Congress unravel the law if the Joint Committee isn’t successful, preventing the automatic deficit reduction from taking effect?

A:        As the director of the Congressional Budget Office recently said, “Any Congress can reverse the actions of a previous Congress.”  At the same time, there is tremendous pressure to begin reversing unsustainable growth in the federal debt and deficits.  In 2009, for the first time ever, the deficit was more than $1 trillion.  From 1946 to 2008, budget deficits averaged 1.7 percent of the gross domestic product and exceeded five percent only three times.  From 2009 to 2011, budget deficits will average 9.4 percent of the gross domestic product.  The federal debt held by the public has grown from 40 percent of the gross domestic product in 2008 to an estimated 69 percent of the gross domestic product in 2011.  The fact that Congress can vote to abandon plans put in place for spending restraint – and, too often, either has unraveled budget controls or never adopted them in the first place – makes the case for a constitutional requirement for a balanced budget.  I’m a co-sponsor of legislation that would establish a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.  The last time the Senate voted on a balanced budget amendment was in March 1997, when the nation’s debt was less than half of what it is today.  The resolution failed by one vote.  A balanced budget amendment passed the House of Representatives in 1995.  Both the Senate and the House of Representatives must vote on a balanced budget amendment this year, sometime before December 31, thanks to a requirement in the Budget Control Act.

 

Q:        Don’t tax increases need to be part of the solution for reducing deficits and debt?

A:        Fiscal discipline and economic growth need to be the top priorities for deficit and debt reduction.  Unchecked government spending will further threaten economic opportunity with higher debt and higher taxes.  It might be one thing if tax increases actually were used to reduce the deficit, but that’s not what happens.  Since World War II, every new dollar in tax increases has resulted in Congress’ spending $1.17.  Raising taxes has been a license for Congress to spend even more.  And, every dollar spent by Congress is a dollar taken out of the economy, and higher taxes leave fewer resources for the private sector to make investments, expand production, and create sustainable jobs.  The work of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction should stay focused on reducing spending, not on finding ways to increase revenue to fuel excessive government spending.  In addition to supporting reforms to entitlement spending to make sure valued programs are available to future generations of Americans and sustainable for taxpayers, I’ve submitted specific recommendations to the Joint Committee for spending reductions totaling hundreds of millions to even billions of dollars from administrative restructuring, reduction of duplicative  and overlapping programs, and unnecessary and wasteful programs under the authority and jurisdiction of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, where I serve as Ranking Member.  I also made recommendations to the Joint Committee for my bipartisan legislation that would save $4.8 billion in federal government spending on prescription drugs, including through Medicare and Medicaid, by stopping deals between name-brand and generic drug makers that keep less expensive drugs off the market.  I’ve urged the Joint Committee to adopt caps on farm payments, for a savings of $1.5 billion, and backed a goal of saving $23 billion in spending from programs that fall under the jurisdiction of the Senate Committee on Agriculture.  The bottom line is that Washington doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.

 

Friday, November 11, 2011

 
Bringing Families of Fallen Servicemembers Together PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Civic News & Info
Written by Spc. Dorian Daily, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment   
Friday, 11 November 2011 14:37

BELLEVILLE, IL (11/08/2011)(readMedia)-- Losing a family member can be difficult, especially when that loved one made the ultimate sacrifice while serving his or her country. However, those who grieve do not have to take the journey alone.

The Illinois Connections for Families of the Fallen (ICFF) held a conference "Connections in Southern Illinois: Bringing Families of the Fallen Together" on the campus of Southwestern Illinois College Nov. 5. ICFF is a coalition of more than 25 organizations, including the Army Survivor Outreach Services (SOS) program.

"ICFF ensures families are connected to resources, connected to their local community, and connected to peer support," said Bob Gillmore, the support coordinator of Army Survivor Outreach Services and native of Petersburg.

The event was open to the families of fallen servicemembers. Participants were asked to bring a personal token of remembrance to use as a symbol of strength.

The event was comprised of three tracks: groups/workshops, resources, and creative arts.

In the groups/workshops track, participants discussed how they coped with the loss of their servicemember. Everybody described their grieving process differently.

"We found that we were so busy, we really didn't have time to grieve," said Sheila Tracy of Palestine, who attended on behalf of her son, Pfc. Jacob Tracy.

In the resources track, participants learned how to improve advocacy skills, develop peer networks in their home area, reach financial goals, and change or restart their careers.

The creative arts tracks helped participants reveal a creative side some may have thought they never had.

"Art therapy is a mental health profession that uses a creative process and art materials to help people express themselves," said art therapist Leslee Goldman of Evanston. "When it comes to mourning a loved one, it becomes another language of expression for those who cannot find the words to say. The grieving process can be long and challenging and not everyone is comfortable with just talking."

Children also attended the event and participated in activities with their family. The activities were designed to help families share positive memories of their loved one.

"My dad was a really nice person who wanted to make his family happy and laugh," said a young Belleville participant describing his father, who served in the Marine Corps and Air Force. "He is irreplaceable."

Another young participant, Jayse Weikert of Jacksonville, described his father, Illinois National Guard Staff Sgt. Matthew Weikert in only one word: "Awesome!!!"

Participants also had the opportunity to contribute to The Memorial Mosaic Wall, which was created by using tile pieces. Everyone contributed one piece to create an entire picture. It will travel throughout Illinois to enable others to contribute to this ever evolving piece.

The purpose of the SOS program is to provide long-term support to families of the fallen. This is done by facilitating support groups, providing life skills education, and connecting Survivors with counseling resources. SOS also works closely with benefits coordinators, casualty assistance officers, and others to ensure survivors receive the necessary services.

 
Davenport Parks and Recreation Earns National NRPA Accreditation PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ron Summers   
Tuesday, 08 November 2011 13:32
Davenport. Iowa, November 4, 2011 – The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) announced today that Davenport Parks and Recreation became one of only 104 park and recreation agencies accredited by the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA). This distinguished accomplishment was announced during the NRPA 2011 Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

National accreditation through CAPRA is an extensive multi-year process, which includes the completion of an application and detailed self-assessment report, a site visit by a committee of experienced park and recreation professionals, and a final assessment completed by the agency and the Commission. Accreditation requires agencies to respond to 144 standards representing elements of effective and efficient park and recreation operations. To become accredited, agencies must fully meet 36 standards deemed fundamental to a quality agency and at least 92 of the remaining standards.

CAPRA accreditation is the only national accreditation for park and recreation agencies, and is a measure of an agency’s overall quality of operation, management and service to the community. Accreditation is valid for a period of five years, renewed thereon for 5 years terms.

The Commission is comprised of representatives from NRPA, the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration, the National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials, the International City/County Management Association, the American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation, the Armed Forces Recreation Society and the Council of State Executive Directors.

“I’m proud of the hard work and dedication from the department staff to achieve this recognition,” said Seve Ghose, Director of Parks and Recreation. “The City can also be proud knowing that their Parks and Recreation department has been recognized for excellence in service and operations.” “By successfully completing the CAPRA accreditation process, these agencies have proven their ability to provide the highest level services and programs. NRPA truly commends our 2011 accredited agencies for their overall excellence in serving their communities and contributing to the health and vitality of America” said Barbara Tulipane, CEO of NRPA.

Parks and Recreation joins Davenport Police, Fire and Public Works in achieving national accreditation status. With formal presentation to Parks and Recreation of accreditation status, Davenport is now the first city in the United States to achieve national CALEA, CFAI, APWA and CAPRA accreditation status, while operating libraries accredited at the state level.

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Governor Quinn Announces Major Expansion of Illinois' Open Data Initiative PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Civic News & Info
Written by Andrew Mason   
Tuesday, 08 November 2011 13:23

Addition of Federal Datasets Pushes Total Sets Available on Data.Illinois.gov to Nearly 5,000

CHICAGO – November 4, 2011. Governor Pat Quinn today announced a major expansion of the information available on Illinois’ open data portal, Data.Illinois.gov. The state recently received approval from the federal government to provide more than 4,700 additional datasets containing Illinois-related information collected by a number of federal agencies. This brings total datasets available through Data.Illinois.gov to nearly 5,000. Illinois’ open data portal is an initiative of Governor Quinn’s Illinois Innovation Council.

“Giving people greater access to the information government collects can improve the lives of all Illinois residents,” Governor Quinn said. “Today’s announcement gives our innovators and entrepreneurs even more information and tools to promote innovation throughout Illinois.”

Data.Illinois.gov empowers the public to access and employ information collected and maintained by the government. It contains a user-friendly interface that describes what data is available, how it can be accessed, and different tools for making use of it. The site is maintained by the state of Illinois and encourages public participation in government by empowering Illinois’ innovators to use government data in new and creative ways.

New datasets available on Data.Illinois.gov include the results of the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which tabulates incomes, home values and average commuting times. Other datasets include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s state-by-state toxic release inventory and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports on the Midwest economy.

The new data supplements information already posted by the Illinois Departments of Transportation, Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Revenue, Human Services, Veterans Affairs, Public Health, Central Management Services and Employment Security, as well as the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. The site will continue to grow as more data from more agencies are added, with the goal of making as much data as possible available.

The Illinois Innovation Council was created by Governor Quinn in February to promote economic development through innovation and the engagement of citizens, developers, academia and industry. For more information on the council, please visit www.illinoisinnovation.com.

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Grassley Concerned about Local Ordinances Undermining Federal Immigration Laws PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Civic News & Info
Written by Sen Chuck Grassley   
Tuesday, 08 November 2011 09:10

WASHINGTON -- Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley is leading an effort to make sure the Obama administration is not turning a blind eye to local governments that resist in cooperating with federal immigration authorities and blatantly ignore the immigration status of individuals with whom they come into contact.

In a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Grassley, along with Senators John Cornyn of Texas, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, wrote that they were specifically concerned about the department’s handling of Cook County, Ill.  The senators wrote that in a meeting with Gary Mead, the Executive Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “Senate Judiciary Committee minority staff were told that Cook County presents a major problem for immigration enforcement efforts.  In fact, Mr. Mead said that Cook County is the most egregious example of sanctuary city policies and that this situation presents ‘an accident waiting to happen.’”

“The Secretary needs to step up and take control of this situation before Cook County’s ordinance is copied by other local governments,” Grassley said.  “These anti-enforcement policies are allowing criminals to walk free and putting the safety of the public at risk.”

In addition, recent press reports indicate that much to the chagrin of local Border Patrol agents, the U.S. Border Patrol ended transportation checks on random busses, trains and airports.  According to agents, the searches were an effective tool for deterring illegal immigration.

“This all adds up to an administration that has little concern with the rule of law.  Sanctuary cities undermine the ability of law enforcement personnel to enforce the laws on the books, and until the administration shows a desire to put an end to the practice, local governments will continue to thumb their nose at law enforcement,” Grassley said.

Here is a copy of the text of the letter.  A signed version of the letter can be found here.

 

November 2, 2011

 

 

The Honorable Janet Napolitano

Secretary

Department of Homeland Security

Washington, DC 20528

 

Dear Secretary Napolitano:

 

We write to express serious concerns about the Administration’s lack of attention to local law enforcement jurisdictions that enact policies that undermine federal immigration law.  Specifically, we are very concerned with policies enacted by Cook County, Illinois, and how your department is responding to them.

 

At the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on October 19, you were asked if you had communicated with Cook County officials about a recently passed ordinance that prohibits federal government officials from having access to undocumented persons detained by the county.  This ordinance aims to free suspected undocumented individuals jailed by the county on misdemeanor cases, in spite of requests from federal law enforcement to hold them for possible deportation.  During the hearing, you indicated that you had not participated in any discussions with Cook County.  You also indicated you had not had any discussions with the Justice Department about how they will handle local jurisdictions, such as Cook County, that harbor undocumented individuals.

 

When briefed by Gary Mead, Executive Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Senate Judiciary Committee minority staff were told that Cook County presents a major problem for immigration enforcement efforts.  In fact, Mr. Mead said that Cook County is the most egregious example of sanctuary city policies and that this situation presents “an accident waiting to happen.”  Mr. Mead also reported that the Department is relying on the ICE District Director to resolve the situation, although ICE Assistant Secretary Morton has taken some direct steps to address the matter.

 

We would like to know what specific steps have been and will be taken by your Department to compel Cook County to reverse its policy of ignoring immigration detainers.  In addition, we would request an overview of meetings held between federal officials and Cook County, including any emails or other documentation that exist, to understand how the federal government has been or is attempting to rectify the situation.

 

More importantly, we urge you, as Secretary, to take a direct role in this matter.  Cook County’s ordinance is a serious threat to the public’s safety that requires your immediate and personal attention.  This is too important of an issue to go unresolved, and as a matter of national security, we urge you to take control of the situation so that detainers are not ignored and undocumented individuals are properly detained and put in deportation proceedings.

 

Finally, we encourage you and your colleagues in the Administration to seriously consider taking action against local or state jurisdictions that enact policies that purposely undermine the law or encourage their officers not to cooperate with the federal government when it comes to immigration enforcement.  Given the current fiscal crisis facing the federal government, serious consideration should be given to withholding federal grant dollars to local or state jurisdictions that fail to cooperate with the federal government on immigration enforcement.  The Administration has a responsibility to ensure that the homeland is protected, and it must not turn a blind eye to such entities that proactively defy the immigration laws we have on the books.

 

Thank you and we look forward to your timely response.

 

 

Sincerely,

 

Chuck Grassley

John Cornyn

Tom Coburn

Jeff Sessions

 
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