Finance Senators' Rural Heritage Conservation Extension Act Would Permanently Extend Tax Breaks for Donating Land for Protection

Washington, DC - February 16, 2011 - Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have introduced legislation to permanently extend income tax relief for ranchers, farmers and other landowners who donate agricultural land for conservation.

"This bill rewards ranchers and farmers in Montana and across the country who want to conserve our land and preserve open space for their kids and grandkids," said Baucus. "Our nation is losing precious agricultural and ranch lands at a record pace, resulting in a loss of natural habitats for wildlife and open spaces for our communities.  We need to protect our land for future generations and to support the ranchers, farmers and other landowners who rely on it to make a living.  These tax incentives provide the right tools to help landowners move toward conservation."

 

"Economists say if you want more of a certain behavior, give incentives to encourage the behavior," Grassley said.  "Land conservation is something people want.  Farmers already practice good stewardship of the land used for production agriculture.  Conserving land is another example of good stewardship."

The Rural Heritage Conservation Extension Act of 2011 would permanently extend an increase in the maximum tax deduction for charitable contributions of conservation easements from 30 percent to 50 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI).  The bill further benefits farmers and ranchers by permanently extending the current law allowing a charitable deduction for up to 100 percent of AGI for their donations of conservation easements.  Any unused deduction can be carried forward for up to 15 years.

Baucus and Grassley first introduced legislation to create an enhanced conservation easement tax deduction in 2006 as part of the Pension Protection Act.  The provision was subsequently extended in the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 and the Taxpayer Relief, Unemployment Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010.  The tax deduction currently expires at the end of 2011.  In 2009, the Senators introduced legislation to make the enhanced deduction permanent.

The text of the Rural Heritage Conservation Extension Act of 2011 can be found on the Finance Committee website here: http://finance.senate.gov/legislation/.

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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa today made the following comment on a report released by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, "Reduction Targets and Strategies Have Not Been Established to Reduce the Billions of Dollars in Improper Earned Income Tax Credit Payments Each Year."  The report says the IRS continues to report that 23 percent to 28 percent of EITC payments are issued improperly each year. In Fiscal Year 2009, this equated to $11 billion to $13 billion in EITC improper payments.

"This is an outrageously high improper payment rate.  It's higher than Medicare's improper payment rate.  The taxpayers can't sustain a failure rate of one-fourth and on the way to one-third.  For more than eight years, the IRS hasn't made a dent in this problem.  It's more than enough time to figure out a way to fix it.  The report says the IRS doesn't have the resources to go after all of the improper payments in this program. This is a good indication of how the IRS is poorly equipped to handle the huge new responsibilities of health care reform. If the IRS can't handle its existing responsibilities, it won't be able to handle its new responsibilities under health care reform.  Maybe if the White House focused more on what's already owed, it wouldn't need to propose tax increases, such as the one on employers to pay for unemployment benefits just disclosed this week."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Senators Ask for Next Steps on Agriculture Competition

WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley, along with Senator Patrick Leahy, today asked for the next steps planned for agricultural competition issues by the Departments of Justice and Agriculture.  The two agencies held joint workshops over the last year to learn about the key competition issues facing the agriculture industry.   Grassley and Leahy are respectively Ranking Member and Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over federal antitrust policy.  Both senators are also members of the Senate Agriculture Committee which has jurisdiction over the Packers and Stockyards Administration.

"The agriculture industry has consolidated to the point where family farmers, independent producers and other smaller market participants do not have equal access to fair and competitive markets.  Increased concentration in agriculture will lead to fewer product choices and higher product prices for the American consumer," Grassley said.  "The workshops offered a chance for people involved in the ag industry to voice their concerns and provide comment.  It was a strong signal that the two agencies were communicating about this important issue.  Now, it's time to take another step forward.  I look forward to hearing what the Justice Department and Agriculture Department have in mind.

Grassley is a strong advocate for increased competition in agriculture and has sought to ensure healthy competition in the agriculture industry for all market participants by taking legislative action and conducting aggressive oversight.  The 2008 farm bill included positive steps in market transparency and increased competition, based on legislation sponsored by Grassley, but he has reiterated the need for additional action.

Here is a copy of the text of the letter sent to Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

 

February 9, 2011

The Honorable Eric Holder                 The Honorable Tom Vilsack

Attorney General                                Secretary

U.S. Department of Justice                U.S. Department of Agriculture

950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW          1400 Independence Avenue SW

Washington, DC 20530                      Washington, DC 20250

 

Dear Attorney General Holder and Secretary Vilsack,

We are writing in regard to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) competition workshops which were held throughout 2010.  From March through December 2010, workshops were held in Iowa, Alabama, Wisconsin, Colorado, and the District of Columbia covering seed, poultry, dairy, livestock, and price margins.  In addition, written and public comments were also accepted on these topics.

These workshops brought many of the key players on agricultural competition together and we thank you for this proactive step in beginning a dialogue on vertical integration, buyer power, market transparency, concentration, and retail prices. Producers, economists, academics, and government and elected officials were all able to participate in this process.

With the conclusion of the last workshop on December 8, 2010, we would appreciate an update as to what the DOJ and USDA plans for its next steps.  As Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee on Judiciary, please provide to us an outline of any plans or further action items that DOJ and USDA intend to take in this area.  While making the workshop transcripts and comments available to the public has been helpful, we would also like to know what your Departments have learned from this process and whether any additional follow up is warranted.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.

Sincerely,

Patrick Leahy                 Chuck Grassley

Chairman                      Ranking Member

Grassley Keeps Pressure on EPA to Focus on Job Creation Instead of Over Burdensome Regulations

WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley is continuing to highlight the senseless regulations placed on family farmers and small businesses by the Environmental Protection Agency.  Today, Grassley sent a letter to Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Darrell Issa, to bring to his attention the EPA's attempt to regulate dust.

The EPA has released several policy assessments that would lower the particulate matter standards for dust to levels which would be extremely burdensome for farmers and livestock producers. Whether its livestock kicking up dust, soybeans being combined on a dry day in the fall, or driving a car down the gravel road, dust happens. Producers could potentially be fined for not meeting the particulate matter standards while still practicing good management practices on their soils.

"The EPA's attempt to regulate dust is just another example of how out of touch the agency is with the grassroots," Grassley said.  "The continued disregard for agriculture hurts the economic viability of rural America and hinders job creation."

Grassley said he wanted Issa, who is bringing to light hundreds of federal regulations that hurt job creation, to be aware of yet another nonsensical regulation that would slow economic development and cause significant costs on the nation's family farmers.

Here is a copy of the text of Grassley's letter to Issa.

February 8, 2011

The Honorable Darrell Issa

Chairman

House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

2157 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515

 

Dear Chairman Issa,

As you know, on January 18, 2011, President Obama signed an Executive Order which required federal agencies to review all regulations, taking into account the costs and excessive burdens they might put on businesses.  A recent Wall Street Journal editorial reported that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), less than a week after the President signed this Order, stated "that it was 'confident' it wouldn't need to alter a single current or pending rule."  This statement appears pre-emptive of the President's order.

I commend you for scheduling a full committee hearing on Thursday, February 10, 2011 on "Regulatory Impediments to Job Creation."  It is my belief that EPA has long over stretched its bounds, resulting in detrimental impacts to farmers and ranchers across the country.

Last July, I and twenty of my Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle wrote to Administrator Lisa Jackson with our continued concerns regarding EPA's actions in its review of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).  If approved, the Second Draft Policy Assessment (PA) for Particulate Matter (PM) released on July 8, 2010 would establish the most stringent and unparalleled regulation of dust in our nation's history revising current levels of 150ug/m3 down to 65-85 ug/m3.  Our letter encouraged EPA to consider maintaining the primary and secondary standards, or in the alternative, consider different PM indicators.  We also asked that the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee focus attention on EPA's choice to not adopt a PM10-2.5 standard.  I have enclosed a copy of that letter for your information.

I am concerned that EPA has pre-judged its review of existing and pending rules.  The President has now required that cost considerations on businesses, including farmers and ranchers, be taken into account.  I respectfully ask that when your committee meets on February 10, 2011, that the PA for Particulate Matter be discussed.  This would be an opportune time to further highlight and expose this potential rule which could wreck havoc, particularly in the Western part of the United States.

As I have continually advocated over the years, lowering these PM standards could have devastating and burdensome effects on farmers and ranchers across the country. Excessive dust control measures could be imposed on agricultural operations which would only slow economic development and impose significant costs on our nation's family farmers and ranchers.

As I've often said, only God can determine when the wind blows.  Exposing EPA's potential rulemaking in this area of dust control is critically important to the future profitability of our nation's producers. Thank you for scheduling this important hearing and for consideration of my request.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Grassley

United States Senator

February 8, 2011

Grassley works to stop abuse of government charge cards by federal employees

WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley today introduced a bill to require federal agencies to put new safeguards and controls on government charge cards used by federal employees.  The bill also would require penalties for violations.

"This bill is about accountability," Grassley said.  "The public trust has been violated by abusive use of government charge cards.  The federal bureaucracy needs to improve the way it manages the use of these cards."

Grassley said his bill responds to outrageous accounts of purchases made with government charge cards, as well as independent analysis which found inadequate and inconsistent controls within government agencies for these government charge cards.  Purchase cards are used by authorized federal employees for the small-scale items needed for official business, such as office supplies.  Travel cards are issued to federal employees to pay for official travel expenses.

Grassley has put the spotlight on problematic use of these cards for ten years, first at the Department of Defense and then also at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Forest Service, the Federal Aviation Administration, and elsewhere.

Over the years, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has documented fraudulent, questionable and overly expensive purchases made by federal workers with government purchase and travel cards, including kitchen appliances, jewelry, gambling, cruises, and even the tab at gentlemen's clubs and legalized brothels.

Below is a summary of the reform legislation that Grassley is reintroducing.  It is cosponsored by Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins.  The Senate passed the measure in 2009, but it was not taken up by the House of Representatives during the last Congress.

Summary of the Government Charge Card Abuse Prevention Act

The bill would require all federal agencies to establish certain safeguards and internal controls for government charge card programs, and to establish penalties for violations, including dismissal when circumstances warrant.  The bill would also increase oversight by providing that each agency Inspector General periodically conduct risk assessments and audits to identify fraud and improper use of government charge cards. These reforms are based on the experience of Senator Grassley and other members of Congress, the GAO, and agency Inspectors General in investigating the weaknesses in agency policies and procedures that have lead to instances of waste, fraud, and abuse in government charge card programs.

The required safeguards and internal controls include :

  • performing credit checks for travel card holders and issuing restricted cards for those with poor or no credit to reduce the potential for misuse
  • maintaining a record of each cardholder, including single transaction limits and total transaction limits so agencies can effectively manage their cardholders
  • implementing periodic reviews to determine if cardholders have a need for a card
  • properly recording rebates to the government based on prompt payment, sales volume, etc.
  • providing training for cardholders and managers
  • utilizing effective systems, techniques, and technologies to prevent or catch fraudulent purchases
  • establishing specific policies about the number of cards to be issued, the credit limits for certain categories of cardholders, and categories of employees eligible to be issued cards
  • invalidating cards when employees leave the agency or transfer
  • establishing an approving official other than the purchase card holder so employees cannot approve their own purchases
  • reconciling purchase card charges on the bill with receipts and supporting documentation
  • reconciling disputed purchase card charges and discrepancies with the bank according to the proper procedure
  • making purchase card payments promptly to avoid interest penalties
  • retaining records of purchase card transactions in accordance with standard government record keeping polices
  • utilizing direct payments to the bank when reimbursing employees for travel card purchases to ensure that travel card bills get paid
  • comparing items submitted on travel vouchers with items already paid for with centrally billed accounts to avoid reimbursing employees for items already paid for by the agency
  • submitting refund requests for unused airline tickets so the taxpayers don't pay for tickets that were not used
  • disputing unauthorized charges and tracking the status of disputed charges to proper resolution

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Grassley Works to Close Loophole that Allows Terrorists to Stay in U.S.

WASHINGTON - Senator Chuck Grassley today introduced legislation to close a loophole in U.S. visa policy that could allow foreign nationals remain in the United States after they have had their visa revoked.

Since 2001, the Government Accountability Office has repeatedly sounded the alarm about the weaknesses of the visa revocation process.  Their investigations revealed the extreme difficulty the United States has in deporting suspected terrorists already on U.S. soil if their visa is revoked on terrorism grounds.

"Current law handicaps our law enforcement and makes it nearly impossible to deport a potential terrorist if they are already in the United States," Grassley said.  "We shouldn't allow suspected terrorists to take advantage of our court system and exploit our laws.  Revocations can be a useful anti-terrorism tool that can better project the security of our borders and our nation."

Grassley said that a change in law is needed so that people who wish to do Americans harm are deported, and our nation's intelligence is protected.

If the federal government determines that a visa must be revoked for an individual already on U.S. soil, such individual could be allowed to block deportation using the United States court system.

The bill would treat visa revocations similar to visa denials because the right of that person to be in the United States is no longer valid.  If an individual is denied a visa by the consular officer, there's no judicial review of that decision.  The Grassley bill applies the same standard for individuals on U.S. soil who should not have been granted a visa, limiting their rights to judicial review of such a decision.

The legislation is cosponsored by Senators David Vitter of Louisiana, Orrin Hatch of Utah, John Cornyn of Texas, Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Pat Roberts of Kansas. 

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Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa made the following comment on data gathered from 850 U.S. colleges, universities and affiliated foundations participating in the 2010 NACUBO-Commonfund Study of Endowments® (NCSE).  The study shows that these institutions' endowments returned an average of 11.9 percent (net of fees) for the 2010 fiscal year (July 1, 2009 - June 30, 2010). This represented a sharp improvement over the average -18.7 percent return (net of fees) reported in last year's study for fiscal year 2009.  Grassley has a long-standing interest in university endowment pay-out rates, drawing on his oversight of tax-exempt policies as a leader of the Finance Committee, with jurisdiction over tax policy.  Grassley's encouragement of well-funded universities to increase student aid led to some significantly more generous aid policies at several institutions.

"This most recent study strengthens the case for reviewing the investment and payout policies of endowments in the context of tax reform.  Taxpayers and students deserve to understand what they're getting in return for the tax benefits awarded to these institutions.  These endowment managers should consider the challenge presented by the President in his state of the union speech and expand educational opportunities by making college more affordable for more students

"It's good to see that university endowments are starting to recover.  Unfortunately, the recoveries aren't leading to significantly higher payouts.  There are more than 62 institutions with endowments greater than $1 billion and more than half of them are private, tax-exempt charities.  The trends in endowment payout rates show that, even in a good economy, the wealthiest institutions hardly ever exceeded a payout of 5 percent.  The trends also show that my concerns about a 5 percent payout rate being a ceiling rather than a floor are valid.  Private foundations have to pay out at least 5 percent every year, and that's become a ceiling for them.

"These same billion-dollar endowments are also making significantly greater investments in alternative strategies when compared to their smaller counterparts.  These alternative strategies include illiquid investments such as hedge funds and private equity funds, many of which are likely offshore.  They also include investments in commodities and distressed debt.  These strategies may be legal but they're not necessarily responsible.  And when the economy declined and students and their families needed the most tuition assistance, many of these institutions raised tuition and lowered endowment payouts because they couldn't liquidate their investments in these alternative strategies."

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Grassley re-introduces bill to apply health care reforms to White House and administration leaders, and equitably in Congress

WASHINGTON - January 26, 2011 - Senator Chuck Grassley today renewed his effort to apply the health care reform law to the President, Vice President, cabinet members, top White House staff, and the congressional staff who worked for passage of the massive overhaul enacted in March 2010.

Previous legislative initiatives by Grassley to establish accountability in Congress and the administration were rebuffed, both in 2009 and 2010, by the Democratic Majority Leader in the Senate.  "As a result, the health care reforms driven by President Obama and Senator Reid do not apply to President Obama and top administration officials or to the powerful congressional leadership staff who helped to make the overhaul the law of the land," Grassley said.  "The message to grassroots America is that health care reform is good enough for you, but not for us."

Grassley said that now that a new Congress has started, Senate leaders have another chance to make things right and should act immediately to pass his Health Reform Accountability Act.  "Until the health care overhaul is repealed and replaced with reforms that have broad-based support, the majority leadership in the Senate and the administration ought to make sure they are required to live under the health care law they put on the books."

Grassley started his accountability effort in September 2009, when the Finance Committee, where he served as Ranking Member, was acting on its reform proposal.  Committee members approved a Grassley amendment to have members of Congress and all congressional staff obtain their health insurance through the same health insurance exchanges where health plans for the general public would be available.  After the bill left committee and during the closed-door reworking of the legislation in the Senate Majority Leader's office, Senate committee and leadership staffs were exempted from the requirement.

In December 2010, when the carve-out was discovered, Grassley and Senator Tom Coburn offered an amendment to restore the requirement for all congressional staff and also to statutorily require the President, the Vice President, top White House staff and cabinet members to get their health insurance through the newly created exchanges.  The amendment did not apply to federal employees in the civil service.  The Grassley-Coburn amendment was never brought up for a vote.  The legislative fix also was not included in the final manager's amendment, controlled by the Senate Majority Leader, on Christmas Eve, when the Senate passed the legislation that ultimately became law.  Grassley made another attempt to have the special carve-out removed during Senate consideration of the health-care reconciliation bill in March 2010.  Again, he was rebuffed.  Grassley filed the same free-standing legislation introduced today immediately following final passage, but it has never been brought up by the Senate Majority Leader, who controls the calendar and Senate businesss.

Grassley said the motivation for his initiative is simple:  public officials who make the laws or lead efforts to have laws changed should live under those laws.  "It's the same principle that motivated me to pursue legislation over 20 years ago to apply civil rights, labor and employment laws to Congress," Grassley said.

That previous Grassley crusade met success in 1995, when President Clinton signed into law Grassley's Congressional Accountability Act.  Before then, Congress had routinely exempted itself from major laws, including the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Veteran's Employment and Reemployment Rights at Chapter 43 of Title 38 of the U.S. Code, and the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1989.  All 12 of those laws now apply to Congress, thanks to Grassley's reform legislation.

Today, Grassley also is working to make sure Congress lives up to the same standards it imposes on others with legislation such as his Congressional Whistleblower Protection Act.

As far as the health care law, as it stands today, because of the amendment Grassley included in the Finance Committee bill, at least members of Congress and their personal office staffs will be required to obtain their health insurance coverage through the newly created health care exchanges, when the law takes full effect in 2014, instead of the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program.

In March 2010, the White House announced that the President planned to participate in the health insurance exchanges in 2014.  Grassley said at the time that the move effectively endorsed his legislation.  "I appreciate it, but the principle of living under the law shouldn't be voluntary for political leaders."

The companion bill to the legislation filed today by Grassley was introduced last week in the House of Representatives by Representative Michael Burgess of Texas.  It's H.R.360.

 

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WASHINGTON - January 26, 2011 - Senator Chuck Grassley is an original cosponsor of a bill by Senator David Vitter of Louisiana which permanently eliminates the automatic pay raise for members of Congress that exists in current law.

"There is definitely a lack of accountability to the American people when members of Congress receive an automatic pay raise without a yes-or-no vote," Grassley said. "If members of Congress think they deserve a raise, they should have the guts to vote publicly for it."

Grassley has consistently worked to stop automatic pay raises for members of Congress since he has been in Congress.  Grassley has also recently been part of the successful efforts to block the scheduled congressional pay raise for 2010 and 2011.

The legislation would eliminate the automatic pay increase and require any provision included in a bill that would increase congressional pay to receive a roll-call vote in the Senate before it can pass. Under current law, members of Congress automatically receive an increase each year based on a cost-of-living-adjustment, unless the Congress takes action otherwise, as it did for 2010 and 2011.

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KOHL, GRASSLEY: STOPPING "PAY-FOR-DELAY" DEALS ESSENTIAL TO LOWERING RX DRUG COSTS

Bipartisan effort to speed less expensive generic prescription drugs to market

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senators Herb Kohl and Chuck Grassley have reintroduced legislation limiting pay-for-delay settlements used to keep lower-cost generic drugs off pharmacy shelves.  Under these pay-off agreements, brand name drug companies settle patent disputes by paying the generic drug manufacturer in exchange for a promise that it will keep its generic version of the drug off the market. Kohl and Grassley's "Preserve Access to Affordable Generics Act" will stop this anti-consumer practice by presuming these deals illegal, and giving the FTC the authority to stop them.

"Generic drugs save consumers and the federal government money, to the tune of billions of dollars a year. But in order to freeze out competition and delay entry of low cost generic drugs for consumers, brand-name drug companies pay-off generic manufactures to keep their products off the market.  It is past time to put an end to these backroom deals and pass this bipartisan legislation," Kohl said.

"These agreements between generic and brand name pharmaceutical manufacturers are only serving to line the pockets of the companies.  When people across the country are having a hard time making ends meet, this wheeling and dealing simply delays the entry of lower priced medicines into the marketplace, leaving consumers on the short end of the stick," Grassley said.

A compromise version of this legislation passed the Judiciary Committee in late 2009 and was included in the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill reported out of the Senate Appropriations Committee last year. Final passage of the bill stalled when the House and Senate failed to agree on an Omnibus Appropriations package last month.

The Federal Trade Commission has estimated that stopping these types of settlement agreements would save consumers at least $35 billion over the next ten years, and provide significant cost savings in the amount of $12 billion over ten years for the federal government, which pays approximately one-third of all prescription drug costs. A recent CBO report estimates that the federal government could save $2.68 billion over ten years, should this bill become law

Despite the FTC's opposition to pay-for-delay patent settlements, two 2005 appellate court decisions have permitted these payoffs.  In the two years after these two decisions, the FTC has found nearly half of all patent settlements involved payments from the brand name from the generic manufacturer in return for an agreement by the generic to keep its drug off the market.  According to a study by Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA), health plans and consumers could save $26.4 billion over the next five years by using the generic versions of 14 popular drugs that are scheduled to lose their patent protections before 2010.

Brand-name drug companies and generic manufacturers routinely enter into settlement agreements to end drug patent litigation, but until 2005, none of them included pay-for-delay provisions. From 2000 to 2004, companies assumed such agreements violated antitrust law.  But in 2005, following three courts of appeals decisions that prevented the FTC from taking action on behalf of consumers, pay-for-delay settlements became commonplace. In the four years following these court decisions 63 out of 194 patent settlements had provisions in which the brand name drug company made payments to the generic manufacturer in exchange for the generic manufacturer agreeing to delay entry of generic competition.  In 2009, there were a record 19 pay-for-delay settlement agreements that kept generics off the market.

Last Congress, Kohl served as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights. Grassley is the incoming Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee.

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