Tuesday, September 27, 2010

WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley today said that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Center for Substance Abuse Treatment has awarded a $3,352,000 grant to the Iowa State Department of Public Health.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the Iowa State Department of Public Health will use the money to fund the project entitled, "Access to Recovery."

Each year, thousands of local Iowa organizations, colleges and universities, individuals and state agencies apply for competitive grants from the federal government.  The funding is then awarded based on each local organization or individual's ability to meet criteria set by the federal entity administering the funds.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Grassley:  Independent assessment needed to verify savings for hospitals and others under existing system for group purchasing

WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley said today that more needs to be done to determine if Group Purchasing Organizations are helping to achieve significant savings for hospitals and others buying medical products, much of which is ultimately taxpayer funded.

"Whether Group Purchasing Organizations are able to help save money on medical supply costs, or not, impacts federal health care spending," Grassley said.  "There's no data with which to independently verify the effect, one way or another, and that's a shortcoming in the current system."

Grassley's comments came along with the release of a new review by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and a report of his own staff about Group Purchasing Organizations.  Grassley requested the GAO report in January 2009, to update its earlier study on the business practices of Group Purchasing Organizations.

Grassley said the report of his staff of the Senate Committee on Finance summarizes the information he received directly from Group Purchasing Organizations, about their activities and operations, in response to the requests he made in 2009.  He said there is not empirical data available to support claims of savings by Group Purchasing Organizations.

Group Purchasing Organizations act as purchasing intermediaries that negotiate contracts between health care providers and vendors of medical products.  The GAO said that a 2009 study found that Group Purchasing Organization contracts account for an average of 73 percent of non-labor purchases that hospitals make.  Others estimate that about 98 percent of hospitals use Group Purchasing Organizations to purchase products.

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WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley today, Monday, September 27th, announced that the U.S. Department of Education has awarded a $46,041 grant to the Iowa Department of Education.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the Iowa Department of Education will use the money to fund an in-service training program for Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services staff

Each year, thousands of local Iowa organizations, colleges and universities, individuals and state agencies apply for competitive grants and loans from the federal government.  The funding is then awarded based on each local organization or individual's ability to meet criteria set by the federal entity administering the funds.

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WASHINGTON - Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Finance Committee, and six other committee members are asking for an inspector general review of whether Obama Administration officials illegally accessed and disclosed confidential taxpayer information.

The inquiry comes after media reports quoted a senior Obama Administration official describing the tax structure of Koch Industries, Inc.  Taxpayer confidentiality laws are strict, in part to prevent the use of tax information for political gain.  The official appeared to indicate knowledge of Koch Industries' tax structure beyond what is publicly available.

Grassley, along with Sens. Jon Kyl, Jim Bunning, Pat Roberts, Michael B. Enzi, John Cornyn and John Ensign, asked the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to investigate whether Obama Administration officials inappropriately examined and disclosed confidential taxpayer information and if so, whether they violated the taxpayer confidentiality law, known as section 6103.

"... the statement that Koch is a pass-through entity implies direct knowledge of Koch's legal and tax status, which would appear to be a violation of section 6103," the senators wrote.  "Alternatively, if the statement was based on speculation, it raises the question of whether the Administration speculating about any specific taxpayer's liability is appropriate."

The Finance Committee has exclusive Senate jurisdiction over tax policy.  The signed version of the senators' letter is available here.  The text of the senators' letter follows below.

An article from The Wall Street Journal quoting a senior Obama Administration official describing Koch Industries' tax structure is available here.

A transcript of a speech by President Obama in which he singles out Americans for Prosperity is available here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley is asking the Labor Department to justify how it counts arbitrators, mediators, conciliators, financial analysts, investment underwriters, marketing managers, personal financial advisers, public relations specialists, and reporters in its definition of what is a green job.

Grassley said the Labor Department is apparently allowing stimulus dollars that were supposed to support green jobs to be spent on these sorts of positions.  The Labor Department also administers the spending of $125 million a year on "energy efficiency and renewable energy" worker retraining through the Green Jobs Act of 2007.  That law specifies that federal dollars will support retrofitting buildings, biofuels and wind turbines.

"I'm a strong supporter of green jobs, and taxpayers deserve an honest reporting of how their money is being spent.  This kind of work is not what most people would think of as green jobs," Grassley said.  "It's a matter of responsible stewardship of tax dollars.  Since February 2009, the Department of Labor has given out $490 million in stimulus dollars for 'green jobs training,' and the Department tells me that it's still working to define green jobs."

Grassley began pressing the Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, for information about how the administration defines a green job in June.  In response, an assistant secretary said that the Bureau of Labor Statistics is "working to develop a definition for green jobs sectors and jobs" and directed Grassley to the Occupational Information Network of the Labor Department, or O*NET.  O*NET listed jobs that could be classified as green, including those now in question.

Grassley followed up on his initial inquiry in a letter sent today which asks the Secretary of Labor what changes, if any, are being made to the stimulus spending program at the Department of Labor to make sure tax dollars aren't squandered on jobs that aren't really green and on programs that produce few employment results.  Grassley's June letter and the Labor Department's response are attached to today's letter.

Grassley is conducting congressional oversight of stimulus spending by various federal agencies, including the Department of Energy and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  The stimulus bill enacted in February 2009 has an $814 billion price tag.  Grassley did not vote for the measure.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Grassley Continues to Press for Release of Congressionally Mandated Report on Medicaid's Status

WASHINGTON - Sen. Chuck Grassley is again pressing the federal Department of Health and Human Services to finish and release a long overdue, congressionally mandated report on Medicaid's financial and enrollment status.  The report was due Jan. 1, 2010.

"I said before that the report might contain bad news, but we all need to see it," Grassley said.  "The new health care reform law expands Medicaid by the greatest amount in the program's history, yet states are already struggling to afford their existing Medicaid responsibilities.  A true picture of Medicaid's financial state is necessary to ensure that services are funded adequately for the millions of people who rely on the program.  It would really bother me if HHS were withholding the report because they don't want people to know what the true picture of Medicaid is."

Grassley is ranking member of the Committee on Finance, with jurisdiction over health care programs including Medicaid.  The text of his letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is available here.

During his weekly video address, Chuck Grassley discusses legislation he co-sponsored that would require Congress to give final approval before major federal regulations can take effect.

Senator Grassley:  "I would like to visit with you about the runaway federal government bureaucracy. Consequently, this week I joined a group of senators introducing a bill that would require Congress to give final approval to major federal regulations before those regulations can take effect.

The new bill responds to growing regulatory burden and its negative impact on job creation.  The Constitution vests all legislative power in the Congress, which is the branch most accountable to the people.  Yet, year after year, Congress passes legislation that delegates more power to the executive branch.  In doing so, it also fails to assess the full impact of those laws and how that power is used.  As a result, federal agencies are increasingly bypassing Congress and imposing new regulations that Congress never intended.  Unfortunately, these regulations often have grave consequences for average Americans that don't appear to be explored or are ignored by the federal agency.

For instance, a tidal wave of new regulations is hitting the private sector with health care reform and other big pieces of legislation like the financial system regulation.  The uncertainty about the real impact and cost of these new regulations, along with the uncertainty of looming tax increases, make it much harder for employers to make commitments to create new jobs and hire workers.

The financial burdens of new regulations are estimated to be in the many trillions of dollars.  The Heritage Foundation estimates that the rules issued by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon dioxide alone could reach nearly $7 trillion in the next 20 years.  This is a cost that Americans simply can't handle.

This bill is a step in the right direction.  It will help establish greater accountability for major regulations handed down from the executive branch.  And, it will restore some badly needed checks and balances in our system of government that have been eroded."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Senator Chuck Grassley made the comment below about the Senate Majority Leader delaying a decision on whether to raise taxes until after the November elections.  As Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley worked to get through Congress bipartisan tax relief, including the 2001 across-the-board rate reduction.  This legislation made the tax code more progressive.  It reduced the tax rate on the lowest taxable income from 15 to 10 percent. It removed millions of low-income workers from the tax rolls entirely.  It increased the child tax credit from $500 to $1,000 and expanded the credit to low-income people without any tax liability.  The legislation included marriage penalty tax relief.  Twelve Democratic senators supported the 2001 legislation.  Two years later, after 9-11, Grassley worked to get through dividends and capital gains tax rate cuts to help spur economic growth.  The result was more revenue to the federal Treasury.  The expanding economy helped reduce the annual budget deficit from $415 billion in 2004 to $167 billion in 2007.

Grassley comment:

"This delay is irresponsible and reckless.  It's no wonder the American people are fed up with the leadership of Congress.  Every family in America faces a major tax increase next year because the Senate majority leader has failed to take action to prevent it.  Without congressional action, a family of four who earns $50,000 will see a $2,155 increase next year.  If congressional leaders are stalling in order to protect their members from votes or to raise more revenue for even more government spending, they are completely out of touch with reality.  People understand the problem isn't that they're taxed too little, but that Washington spends too much.

"Leaving people with uncertainty is a dereliction of duty.  One party has control of the White House and both houses of Congress and still can't get the people's business done.  And uncertainty is terrible for the economy.  Small businesses don't hire people while they sit in limbo, wondering if they'll get hit with a tax increase."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Senator Chuck Grassley made the comment below about the Senate Majority Leader delaying a decision on whether to raise taxes until after the November elections.  As Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley worked to get through Congress bipartisan tax relief, including the 2001 across-the-board rate reduction.  This legislation made the tax code more progressive.  It reduced the tax rate on the lowest taxable income from 15 to 10 percent. It removed millions of low-income workers from the tax rolls entirely.  It increased the child tax credit from $500 to $1,000 and expanded the credit to low-income people without any tax liability.  The legislation included marriage penalty tax relief.  Twelve Democratic senators supported the 2001 legislation.  Two years later, after 9-11, Grassley worked to get through dividends and capital gains tax rate cuts to help spur economic growth.  The result was more revenue to the federal Treasury.  The expanding economy helped reduce the annual budget deficit from $415 billion in 2004 to $167 billion in 2007.

Grassley comment:

"This delay is irresponsible and reckless.  It's no wonder the American people are fed up with the leadership of Congress.  Every family in America faces a major tax increase next year because the Senate majority leader has failed to take action to prevent it.  Without congressional action, a family of four who earns $50,000 will see a $2,155 increase next year.  If congressional leaders are stalling in order in order to protect their members from votes or to raise more revenue for even more government spending, they are completely out of touch with reality.  People understand the problem isn't that they're taxed too little, but that Washington spends too much.

"Leaving people with uncertainty is a dereliction of duty.  One party has control of the White House and both houses of Congress and still can't get the people's business done.  And uncertainty is terrible for the economy.  Small businesses don't hire people while they sit in limbo, wondering if they'll get hit with a tax increase."

Senators Call on Obama to Fire Government Watchdog for Afghanistan

The group expresses frustration with president's failure to act sooner

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A bipartisan group of four senators today called on President Barack Obama to fire the government watchdog responsible for investigating tax dollar misuse in Afghanistan amid mounting evidence of incompetence and mismanagement.  U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), along with Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Charles Grassley (R-IA), sent a letter asking the president to remove Arnold Fields as the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

"It has been clear for several months that SIGAR's mission is not being served effectively.  It is for this reason that we have concluded that SIGAR would be better served with new leadership," the letter states.

Over the past 18 months, all four senators have repeatedly raised concerns regarding SIGAR's performance, but recent actions by Fields have spurred the senators to more aggressively press the president for action.  Fields exhibited questionable judgment by entering into a no-bid $95,000 contract with Joseph Schmitz as a consultant for the agency.  Schmitz, a former Department of Defense Inspector General, resigned among serious allegations of misconduct, including obstructing criminal investigations, quashing audits, and misleading Congress.  He has been hired to independently monitor SIGAR's performance in implementing the recommendations of Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE).  CIGIE is an independent government organization that reviews the work of inspectors general and found earlier this year a number of serious deficiencies in SIGAR's performance.

Beyond calling for Fields' dismissal and expressing outrage over the hiring of Schmitz, the senators also expressed their frustration with the president's failure to change SIGAR leadership sooner.

"We urge you to act now.  We are disappointed by your Administration's ongoing failure to take decisive action to improve SIGAR," they wrote in the letter.

CIGIE recently released three reviews of SIGAR, and found numerous problems with the agency's work, including their failure to meet minimum standards for their investigations.  The reviews also found that the agency has no meaningful strategic plan for their audits and investigations and that leadership at SIGAR remains more concerned with the quantity of their work rather than the quality.

A copy of the letter is available here.

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