WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley called on the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, Dick Durbin, to immediately begin holding hearings on a balanced budget amendment.

The letter to Durbin, signed by all Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says that a balanced budget amendment would "put in place a much-needed restraint on runaway Washington spending and protect working Americans from higher taxes."

"Today of every dollar spent, more than 40 cents is borrowed. Our country is on an unsustainable path," Grassley said. "It's time to have an honest and open debate about the fiscal future of our country."

A balanced budget amendment was last seriously debated in 1997 when the Senate was one vote short of passing the measure.  The budget deficit is now almost 15 times greater than in 1997.

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

June 8, 2011

The Honorable Dick Durbin, Chairman
Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights
Senate Judiciary Committee
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20150

Dear Chairman Durbin,

Our nation is facing a fiscal crisis that is only getting worse. The national debt, now over $14 trillion, has increased by more than one-third since January 2009. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the deficit for the current fiscal year will be approximately $1.4 trillion and the national debt will soon be larger than the economy. The debt also has implications for our national security. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calls the debt "the most significant threat to our national security." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warns that the debt "sends a message of weakness internationally."

Therefore, we ask that you immediately hold hearings on S.J. Res. 10, which calls for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. S.J. Res. 10 would also put in place a much-needed restraint on runaway Washington spending and protect working Americans from higher taxes. S.J. Res. 10 is supported by 47 Senators and has the support of numerous grassroots organizations.

Undoubtedly, Washington has a spending problem and this problem is getting worse. The budget deficit is now almost fifteen times the size it was when the Senate came within one vote of passing a balanced budget amendment in 1997. A balanced budget amendment is a measure that is long overdue and whose time has come.

The American people are demanding action from Washington to get our fiscal house in order once and for all.

 Sincerely,

John Cornyn
Orrin Hatch
Michael Lee
Jon Kyl
Chuck Grassley
Jeff Sessions
Lindsey Graham
Tom Coburn

Cc: The Honorable Patrick Leahy

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee

Washington, DC - Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, and Co-Chairman Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) will hold a hearing on Wednesday, June 15 at 2:30 p.m.

The hearing will examine the continued construction of illegal tunnels on the southwest border of the United States and the ways these increasingly sophisticated tunnels may be used in the transport of drugs, weapons and human beings.

WHAT:

Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control Hearing on "Illegal Tunnels on the Southwest Border"

WHEN:

2:30 p.m., Wednesday, June 15, 2011

WHERE:

562 Dirksen Senate Office Building

WHO:

James Dinkens, Executive Associate Director, Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

Laura Duffy, United States Attorney, Southern District of California

Tim Durst, Assistant Special Agent in Charge for ICE's San Diego office.

LIVE STREAM: www.drugcaucus.senate.gov

###

WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley today said that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has awarded funding totaling $1,853,527 to Iowa the through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, Iowa will use the funds to upgrade 42.9 miles of electric distribution line, so that it can better withstand severe weather.  This is part of Iowa's Consumers Energy Overhead Electric Retrofit Project.

FEMA obligates funding for these projects directly to the state.  It is the state's responsibility to ensure that the eligible sub-grantees receive these awards.  FEMA contributes 75 percent of the total cost of a project.  State and local entities contribute the other 25 percent.

-30-

WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley today announced that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded five grants totaling $7,495,016 to Iowa to help fund Head Start projects.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will distribute the funds as described below.

  • Community Action Agency of Siouxland in Sioux City will receive $1,141,829
  • Community Action of Eastern Iowa in Davenport will receive $1,543,327
  • Hawkeye Area Community Action Program, Inc. in Hiawatha will receive $2,465,916
  • North Iowa Community Action Organization in Mason City will receive $1,223,209
  • Upper Des Moines Opportunity, Inc. in Graettinger will receive $1,120,735

-30-

WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley today announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation has distributed three grants totaling $1,371,194 to Iowa.

The funds will be distributed as follows:

  • Council Bluffs Municipal Airport will receive $656,179 from the Federal Aviation Administration to make improvements to manage storm water runoff and comply with environmental requirements.
  • The Iowa Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau will receive $246,672 from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to enforce occupant protection programs to reduce deaths and injuries from riding unrestrained or improperly restrained.
  • Ottumwa Regional Airport will receive $468,343 from the Federal Aviation Administration to relocate a road that is currently in the area that must be object free for runway safety.

Each year, 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.

-30-

Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., to be Solicitor General of the United States
Monday, June 6, 2011 

Mr. President:

I will vote to confirm Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., to be Solicitor General of the United States, but I do so with little enthusiasm.  Mr. Verrilli has impressive credentials and noteworthy accomplishments.  In addition to his government service in the White House Counsel's Office and at the Department of Justice, he has been a litigator in private practice for more than 20 years. He has argued twelve cases, and participated in more than 100 cases, before the Supreme Court of the United States.  Mr. Verrilli served for over fifteen years as an adjunct professor of constitutional law at the Georgetown University Law Center.  He clerked for Associate Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., of the United States Supreme Court, and Judge J. Skelly Wright of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

My concern with this nomination is whether or not the nominee will demonstrate appropriate independence in the office.  His testimony at his hearing raised doubts about his ability and commitment to uphold that principle. Mr. Verrilli seemed to buy into the notion that he was still the President's lawyer.  He gave lip service to the two traditional exceptions to the Solicitor General defending a statute - first, if the statute violates separation of powers by infringing on the President's constitutional authority; and second, if there is no reasonable argument that can be advanced in defense of the statute.  Mr. Verrilli then appeared to create a third exception - one that is not supported by practice or tradition.  He stated he would defend a statute's constitutionality "unless instructed by my superior not to do so."

This position advocated by the nominee - that interference in the rule of law, by the President or by the Attorney General, is an appropriate reason not to defend statutes - was extremely troubling to me and other members of the Committee.  That position is not the standard of the office.  It is not what the nation expects from its Solicitor General. His response gave me great pause about supporting his nomination.

Following his hearing, I gave Mr. Verrilli ample opportunity to address my concerns.  In extensive written questions I asked the nominee to review and comment on testimony given by previous Solicitor General nominees.  In particular, I asked many questions regarding statements by prior Solicitors General regarding the independence of the office.  I asked him to review cases where the Department of Justice had made a determination not to defend a statute.  I asked him to analyze those cases as to the rationale for not defending the statute.  In addition, I asked him to review and comment on a number of Supreme Court cases that address serious constitutional issues.

I reviewed his answers to my written questions for the record.  I commend Mr. Verrilli for his serious approach to the task of providing responses.  In most cases he gave thoughtful answers.  In many instances he declined to provide his views on the topic, but gave general assertions that he would follow the law. In other instances he claimed confidentiality.  I do not agree with his assertion of confidentiality in most of the instances where he raised that as a basis for not responding.  In other circumstances, such a response would be unacceptable.  In the past, such responses, or allegations of similar responses, have resulted in a failed confirmation or withdrawal of the nomination.

Based upon my review of his responses, I am more comfortable with the notion that Mr. Verrilli understands the duty of the Solicitor General. I believe, because of my questions and the time he spent contemplating the issues, he will be a better Solicitor General than he otherwise would have been.  Mr. Verrilli has been exposed to decades of thought and experience by this review.  On the whole, I concluded that Mr. Verrilli now has a greater sensitivity to the necessity of independence in the office.  In numerous answers he provided a much better response than he did at his hearing.  He indicated he would not lend his name or that of the office to carry out any order which he believed to be based on partisan political consideration or other illegitimate reasons.  Rather than do so, he said he would resign from office.  I will hold him to that pledge.

I want to be clear about my tepid support for Mr. Verrilli.  He is nominated to an executive branch position, not a lifetime appointment.  My lukewarm support is based largely on the nature of the office to which he will be appointed, if confirmed.

I will put the administration on notice, as well as Mr. Verrilli, the Senate, the media, and any other interested party.  My less than enthusiastic vote for Mr. Verrilli to be Solicitor General of the United States is limited to that office alone.  No entity or individual should presume my support for Mr. Verrilli for any other future office to which he may aspire or to which he may be nominated - be it in the executive, judicial, or legislative branch of government.

Furthermore, as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, I will vigorously carry out my oversight responsibilities to ensure the Solicitor General and his subordinates are performing as they should.  I will be watching to make certain Mr. Verrilli complies with his oath of office, with his obligation to the Constitution and statutes of the United States, with his duties of the office, and with the assurances he has given the Senate in his oral and written testimony.  I expect nothing less from all officials of government.  I have every expectation that Mr. Verrilli, if confirmed, will honorably live up to those duties, obligations, and assurances.

-30-

WASHINGTON - Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa today released a report giving the Defense Department's inspector general audits a D- grade on a "junkyard dog" index for tracking waste, fraud and abuse of tax dollars.

"Audits are the tip of the inspector general's spear," Grassley said.  "A good spear always needs a finely honed cutting edge. Right now, the point of that spear is dull.  The best audit weapon is disabled. As a watchdog, I get serious heartburn from degraded audit capabilities.  It puts the taxpayers' money in harm's way.  It leaves huge sums of money vulnerable to theft and waste."

Grassley directed his staff to review all 113 unclassified Defense Department inspector general audits for Fiscal Year 2010.  Under the Grassley analysis, 15 reports are "good to very good."  But other reports earn more negative assessments for failing to track the tax dollars, taking too long to complete and losing the money trail, and other shortcomings.  The report assigns a D- grade overall to the 113 audits.

The report names nine audit roadblocks that Grassley said stand between lackluster audits and quality audits.  He encouraged the inspector general to dismantle each roadblock.  "The inspector general must find a way to tear down these walls," Grassley said.  "Otherwise, audit reform and transformation will never happen. My staff will keep reading and evaluating inspector general audits until steady improvement is popping up on the radar screen every day."

Today's report is a follow-up to Grassley's first such oversight review, issued on Sept. 7, 2010.  The initial report evaluated the 113 audit reports issued in FY 2009. It determined that the Defense Department inspector general audit capabilities, which cost the taxpayers about $100 million a year, were gravely impaired.  The inspector general's office pledged to improve audit quality, a promise Grassley is working to hold the office to fulfill.

Grassley began conducting oversight of the Pentagon in the early 1980s when President Reagan was ramping up the defense budget. A group of defense reformers including Grassley examined the pricing of spare parts and uncovered $750 toilet seats and $695 ashtrays for military aircraft.  As a result of the Inspector General Act of 1978, offices of inspectors general were set up at each federal agency.

In 1986, Grassley authored a major update of the federal False Claims Act, with Rep. Howard Berman of California. Since then, the law has recovered more than $28 billion and deterred billions of dollars in additional fraud against the taxpayers.   It has been used to uncover defense fraud and recently in particular, health care fraud.

Click on the following links to view Grassley's report released today, his letter to the Defense Department inspector general accompanying the report, and the video and text of a speech delivered on the Senate floor on the report.

-30-

by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Family members in Iowa are among the legions of caregivers across the country who sacrifice time, careers and money to provide care for loved ones who no longer are able to live independently or care for themselves.

The family safety net for generations has helped loved ones stay longer in their own homes and helped to enhance the quality of life for aging parents and grandparents.

Sometimes, it becomes impossible for these laborers of love to provide the 24-hour care and medical attention that America's most vulnerable population requires.

In communities across Iowa, trusted long-term care facilities provide a valuable service close to home for families who are no longer able to provide the level of care an aging or disabled loved one requires.

To be sure, America's aging population is creating increased demand for long-term care services. Nearly 1.7 million elderly and disabled Americans live in 17,000 nursing home facilities. The percentage of the U.S. population living in a nursing home is on the rise as Americans continue to defy life expectancy estimates from even a generation ago.

The two giant government health programs, Medicare and Medicaid, spend an estimated $70 billion each year for nursing home services. As a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Medicare and Medicaid programs, I've conducted extensive oversight of these programs to strengthen patient safety, track accountability within the U.S. health care system, and protect the integrity of tax dollars.

A recent federal report I requested to analyze how anti-psychotic drugs are being prescribed in nursing homes raises important questions in these areas. The audit shows an increase in the use of anti-psychotic drugs, such as Risperdal, Seroquel and Zyprexa, for so-called "off-label" use for patients suffering from dementia. The Food and Drug Administration requires makers of this class of drugs to put a "black box" warning on the product label (the FDA's strongest patient safety warning) about using these drugs for patients with dementia. In this way, the FDA warns that elderly patients with dementia who take these drugs have an increased risk of death.

Most Americans have grown accustomed to the risk of side effects when taking medication. Do nursing home residents, who are receiving powerful drugs not intended for their underlying condition, understand the risks? Are these drugs being prescribed in the best interest of the patient?  Also, to what extent are Medicare and Medicaid paying for drugs that may not be in the best interest of the patient?  Separately, I've examined the link between payments that pharmaceutical companies make to physicians. Some reports suggest some health care practitioners might be unduly influenced by drug companies to prescribe drugs "off label."

As more elderly patients are diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, policymakers, patient safety advocates and health care professionals have a responsibility to protect this vulnerable population. The rising use of anti-psychotic medicines -  which are FDA-approved to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder - may not be the best treatment for a nursing home patient exhibiting symptoms of age-onset dementia.

My list of credentials does not include a medical license. I'm not telling physicians what to prescribe to their patients. However, we all have a moral obligation to try to make sure the most vulnerable among us, the frail elderly, are not victims of medication misuse.  And, as I serve Iowans in the U.S. Senate, I have a legislative license to hold to account those who receive payments from taxpayer-financed public health programs.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Q.  What is the debt ceiling?

A.  The debt ceiling is a cap set by Congress on the amount of debt the federal government can legally borrow from both the public (such as anyone who buys bonds) and government trust funds (including the Social Security Trust Fund).  The Treasury Department cannot issue any debt above the amount approved by Congress.  The first such debt limit was set in 1917.  In 2010, the debt ceiling was raised by $1.9 trillion to make the current limit $14.294 trillion.  The Treasury Secretary has said that Congress must act to raise the debt ceiling this year by August 2, or risk defaulting on U.S. borrowing obligations.  Until very recently, President Obama argued for raising the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion without any accompanying conditions for reducing government spending.  The debate then shifted, and in May, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 318 to 97 against such a no-strings-attached increase in the debt ceiling.  Having to consider the debt limit should help Congress control spending and force Congress and the President to take stock of the country's fiscal situation.

Q.  Why shouldn't the debt ceiling be raised without spending cuts?

A.  Today, the federal debt and deficits are at record levels.  These obligations inhibit the ability of the U.S. economy to grow and create private-sector jobs.  It also is morally wrong to make the next generation pay the bills for the way we live today.  Americans sent a clear message in the last election that they want government spending reined in.  Today, the need to make sure the federal government doesn't default by increasing the debt limit should serve as a positive impetus for Congress and the President to commit to meaningful deficit reduction measures.  In fact, continuing to raise the debt ceiling without concrete plans to reduce spending is itself a recipe for disaster.  The inability of Washington to chart a course to bring down federal deficits already resulted in Standard & Poor's lowering its outlook for America's long-term credit rating from "stable" to "negative," for the first time ever, earlier this year.  Serious spending reforms are needed for the sake of America's fiscal well-being.  Negotiations now are under way between congressional leaders and the White House on an agreement for spending reductions along with an increase in the debt ceiling.  This debate provides a major opportunity to bring fiscal responsibility and accountability to Washington.

WASHINGTON – Applications for fall semester internships in the Iowa and Washington, D.C. offices of Senator Chuck Grassley are due June 15.

Grassley said he encourages young Iowans who are interested in learning more about government to apply.  "Spending a semester working in a congressional office is a good way for college students and new graduates to learn more about the legislative branch of the federal government and to gain valuable work experience," he said.  "Exposure to the work of a Senate office can enhance a college education and make students more competitive job applicants when they graduate.  These internships are available to students in all areas of study. 

Full- and part-time internships are available for Iowans in Grassley's offices in Washington, D.C., Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Sioux City and Waterloo.  The fall internships run from late August to mid-December.  Interns assist staff members with administrative, legislative and communications work, including that of Grassley's staff on the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, where he serves as Ranking Member.

Application forms are available on Grassley's Senate website, in the placement offices of many Iowa colleges and universities, and in Grassley's offices in Iowa. Due to security-related delays in postal mail delivery to U.S. Senate office buildings, internship applications should be faxed to 202-224-5136 or emailed to intern_applications@grassley.senate.gov.  For more information, send messages tointern_applications@grassley.senate.gov or call 202-224-3744.

-30-

Pages