Washington, DC - The U.S. Senate late last night unanimously approved the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2009 (S. 372).  The bill amends the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) and strengthens the rights and protections of federal employees who come forward to disclose government waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.

The legislation is sponsored by Senators Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) and Susan M. Collins (R-ME) and cosponsored by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Joe I. Lieberman (ID-CT), George V. Voinovich (R-OH), Carl Levin (D-MI), Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT), Thomas R. Carper (D-DE), Mark L. Pryor (D-AR), Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), and Jon Tester (D-MT).

"For far too long, Federal employees have feared retaliation for disclosing government wrongdoing," said Senator Akaka.  "This legislation strengthens critical protections federal whistleblowers need to help us stop waste and abuse."

Senator Collins added: "I am pleased that the Whistleblower Protection Act is moving forward.  Whistleblowers play a crucial role in Congress's efforts to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse and to help ensure the effectiveness of government programs.  They provide crucial information that Congress and our Committee need to conduct proper oversight of the federal government.  This legislation would give federal workers the peace of mind that if they speak out, they will be protected."

"Whistleblowers know where the skeletons are, deep in the closets of the federal bureaucracy.  They help strengthen transparency, good government and accountability," Senator Grassley said.  "The bill restores the congressional intent behind a number of key whistleblower laws.  It also includes, for the first time, whistleblower protections for employees in the intelligence community by creating a new procedure for whistleblowers to come forward and shed light on fraud and wrongdoing in the intelligence community."

"The federal government's most critical asset is its people," said Senator Voinovich.  "This legislation clearly provides the protection federal employees deserve if they find themselves subject to retaliation following a credible disclosure of waste, fraud or abuse. Protecting the federal workforce is critical to the integrity of government programs and operations."

The bill as amended would:

·         Clarify the broad protections for disclosure of waste, fraud, or abuse - including those made as part of an employee's job duties.
·         Extend whistleblower protections and other non-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws to employees at the Transportation Security Administration.
·         Clarify that whistleblowers may disclose evidence of censorship of scientific or technical information under the same standards that apply to disclosures of other kinds of waste, fraud, and abuse.
·         Provide all federal employees a process for making protected disclosures of classified information to Congress.
·         Suspend the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals sole jurisdiction over federal employee whistleblower cases for five years.
·         Codify and strengthen the anti-gag provision that has been part annual appropriations laws since 1988.
·         Require Whistleblower Ombudsmen in Inspectors General offices to educate federal whistleblowers.
·         Allow whistleblowers to bring their cases before a jury under certain circumstances.
·         Provide protection for Intelligence Community employees against retaliation for whistleblowing.
·         Set up a process to review claims of whistleblower retaliation in security clearance decisions.

-END-

Common sense prevailed in the agreement reached last night on a tax proposal, including the fact that ethanol and biodiesel offer the most effective alternative to foreign oil and support hundreds of thousands of jobs in the United States.

The federal legislation contains an extension of the ethanol and biodiesel tax credits and an extension of the ethanol tariff at current rates.  The U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill on Monday afternoon.  The ethanol provision in this tax bill is an extension of current  law.  To leave it out of the tax bill would be a tax increase, which I don't support.

Americans spend $730 million a day on imported petroleum, and ethanol is the only renewable fuel substantially working to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.  Domestic ethanol displaces oil from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Nigeria.  It now accounts for almost 10 percent of the U.S. fuel supply.

The billions of dollars we spend on imported petroleum prop up unfriendly governments and dictators.  An average of $84 billion is spent each year by the U.S. military to protect oil transit routes.  Until there's another alternative fuel doing as much to reduce oil dependence, it would be foolish to undermine the only green, domestic alternative to imported oil.

I fought tooth and nail to secure the inclusion of both the ethanol and biodiesel provisions in the new legislative proposal.  There were efforts by some congressional majority Democrats and the White House to weaken the tax policy for these alternative fuels.  In fact, the current congressional majority allowed the blenders' tax credit for biodiesel to expire at the end of 2009.  Since then, 23,000 jobs in biodiesel have been lost nationwide.  The new tax agreement would extend the biodiesel credit retroactively to cover all of 2010 and through the end of 2011.

We can't risk a repeat performance with ethanol, where 112,000 jobs are at stake.  Getting both of these tax provisions extended through the end of next year will boost jobs and investment in the alternative energy sector, exactly when the economy needs a real shot in the arm.

Grassley is Key to Securing Inclusion of Biodiesel, Ethanol Tax Credits in Tax Agreement

WASHINGTON - Prevailing in the view that ethanol and biodiesel offer the most effective alternative to foreign oil and support hundreds of thousands of jobs in the United States, Sen. Chuck Grassley today said the tax agreement negotiated between congressional leaders and the White House contains an extension of the ethanol and biodiesel tax credits and an extension of the ethanol tariff at current rates.  The Senate and House next will need to vote on the tax agreement to advance the provisions.

"Ethanol has proven its value as a homegrown, renewable fuel and, in light of the hundreds of billions of dollars shipped abroad as a result of foreign oil dependence, ethanol is a relative bargain," Grassley said.  "Biodiesel also builds energy independence.   Our country spends more than $730 million a day on imported petroleum.  Letting these items lapse would be a textbook case of penny-wise, pound-foolish legislating."

Grassley fought tooth and nail to secure the inclusion of the ethanol and biodiesel provisions in the tax legislation agreement negotiated by the White House and congressional leaders, facing efforts by some congressional majority Democrats and the White House to undermine biofuels production. He also marshaled like-minded senators to voice support for continuing these economy-boosting provisions.

Under the tax agreement, the ethanol tax credit - known as the volumetric ethanol excise tax credit, or VEETC, also known as the blenders' credit - will continue at its current level of 45 cents through Dec. 31, 2011.  The tariff on imported ethanol will continue at its current level of 54 cents.   "The United States already provides generous duty-free access to ethanol from Brazil and other countries imported under the Caribbean Basin Initiative, but the CBI cap has never once been fulfilled.  In fact, in 2009, only 25 percent of it was even used by Brazil and other countries, and for this year, the figure is projected to be less than 1 percent," Grassley said.

The current congressional majority allowed the blenders' tax credit for biodiesel to expire at the end of 2009, causing the loss of nearly 23,000 jobs.  The tax agreement would extend the biodiesel credit retroactively to cover all of 2010 and through the end of 2011.

"It's tragic to lose nearly 23,000 jobs in this economy," Grassley said.  "We can't risk a repeat performance with ethanol, where 112,000 jobs are at stake.  Getting these tax provisions extended will boost jobs and investment in the alternative energy sector, exactly when the economy needs a real shot in the arm."

Grassley has worked at every opportunity to extend the biodiesel and ethanol tax credits.  He and Sen. Maria Cantwell filed a biodiesel bill in August 2009, and he's pushed for action ever since, including making unanimous consent requests this summer, which were objected to by Democratic leaders.  He also filed a biodiesel tax credit amendment to the small business lending bill.   Grassley and Sen. Kent Conrad introduced a bill in April to extend the ethanol tax incentives, and Grassley has pushed to keep these green-energy job-creating incentives at the forefront.

Grassley has a long record of building support for alternative energy sources.  He worked to dramatically expand the wind energy tax credit that he first authored in 1992.  Also included in the 2005 energy tax incentives package were major Grassley-written extensions and expansions for biodiesel, biomass, ethanol and solar energy.   Grassley also took on and derailed a deceptive smear campaign launched by Washington lobbyists against ethanol that threatened to hinder the ethanol industry.

-30-

REID, MCCONNELL, BAUCUS, GRASSLEY HAIL SENATE PASSAGE OF BILL TO ENSURE SENIORS, MILITARY FAMILIES CONTINUE ACCESS TO HIGH-QUALITY DOCTORS

Senate Leaders' Bill Would Fix Medicare Physician Payment Formula to Ensure Doctors Can Continue Seeing Medicare, Tricare Patients

Washington, DC - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) today applauded Senate passage of legislation extending through 2011 a fix to the Medicare physician payment formula to ensure seniors and military families can be confident they will be able to continue seeing their doctors.  The legislation would ensure Medicare and Tricare, the health care program for active-duty service members, National Guard and Reserve members, retirees and their families, will continue to pay physicians who participate in those programs at current levels.

"This bipartisan agreement gives peace of mind to seniors and military families in Nevada and across the nation," said Senator Reid. "We ensured that our seniors and veterans can continue seeing their doctors and getting the treatment they need.  I appreciate the leadership of Chairman Baucus and Ranking Member Grassley for leading the effort to work across the aisle and reach this common-sense solution."

"I'm encouraged that we were able to work together in a bipartisan way and protect access to care for America's 45 million Medicare beneficiaries in a fiscally responsible manner," said Senator McConnell. "This bipartisan accomplishment will help ensure that Kentucky's seniors and military personnel and their families won't be denied access to their doctors as a result of inaction in Washington. I'm pleased that the White House is supportive and I hope our colleagues in the House will take up this measure and pass it promptly. "

"We worked together on this longer-term solution to give seniors and military families in Montana and across the country the peace of mind of knowing they still will be able to see their doctors and get the medicine they need," said Senator Baucus. "This bill provides the security patients deserve and the certainty doctors need, ensuring seniors and military families have access to the doctors they know and trust."

"With a double-digit payment cut, some doctors would stop seeing Medicare and Tricare patients," Senator Grassley said. "This bipartisan legislation will help to ensure that older Americans and military families can continue to get quality health care."

The bill, the Medicare and Medicaid Extenders Act of 2010, would avoid a 25-percent cut to Medicare physician payments under the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula that would otherwise go into effect on January 1, 2011.  The proposal also includes extensions of other expiring health care provisions, including protections for rural hospitals and doctors, Transitional Medical Assistance and the Special Diabetes Program.  The legislation would be paid for by modifying the policy regarding overpayments of the health care affordability tax credit.  This policy does not change the tax credits for which people are eligible based on their income.  Instead, the proposal would change the way people pay back overpayments when they have received more credit than they are eligible for because, for example, they earned more money than expected in a given year.

Under current law there is a flat cap of $250 for individuals and $400 for families on the amount of the health care affordability tax credit people are required to pay back when they received an overpayment.  This payback cap is the same for people earning 160 percent of the federal poverty level and 360 percent of the federal poverty level.  Under this proposal for correcting overpayments, the cap on the payback amount would be on a sliding scale based on the income of the recipient of the tax credit, making the policy fairer to both recipients and all taxpayers.

The Finance Committee has jurisdiction over the Medicare program and the physician payment formula, which also sets payment levels for the Tricare program.  A summary and legislative text of the Medicare and Medicaid Extenders Act of 2010 can be found on the Finance Committee website http://finance.senate.gov/legislation/.  The legislation must now be passed by the House and signed into law by the President.

 

 

###

Monday, December 06, 2010

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, ranking member of the Finance Committee, today joined the committee chairman in releasing a committee report detailing ties between a Maryland doctor who is accused of implanting hundreds of potentially unnecessary cardiac stents and his ties to the drug company that manufactured the stents.  The doctor is said to have accepted payment for at least two social events at his home paid for by the device maker, including a pig roast, and became a paid contractor with the company, Abbott Labs, to promote its stents in China and Japan.  Grassley is the co-author of the provisions enacted through the new health care law that will require drug companies and medical device makers to disclose their payments to doctors.  The payments will be publicly available on Sept. 30, 2013.  Grassley made the following comment on today's report and future payment disclosure.

"It's standard operating procedure for drug and device makers to give doctors honoraria or pay for dinner parties or travel to promote certain products.  That's all legal, but it's been disclosed to the public only in limited cases, either voluntarily by the drug companies or as part of lawsuits.  For the most part, people scheduled for surgery don't know if there's a financial relationship between the doctor implanting a device and the maker of that device.  Starting in 2013, that will change.  The public will have access to the financial information.  There will be transparency.  I hope that bringing this information out of the shadows will help rein in the most questionable cases.  It's common sense that doctors should choose medical devices because the devices will help their patients, not because the device makers paid the doctors to give a speech about their product.  Also, Medicare and Medicaid can't spare a penny for procedures that aren't medically necessary.  Limiting abuse in this area will help program finances.

The Finance Committee report released today is available here.

An article in the Baltimore Sun, which broke the Maryland stent story, on today's report is available here.

A series of articles about Grassley's work on payment sunshine is available here.

Floor Statement of U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Ranking Member of the Committee on Finance

Still Another Chapter of Revisionist Fiscal History: Lame Duck Tax Relief Debate

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Since yesterday, we've witnessed in this chamber the resumption of a set of tired and worn talking points that the other side drags out whenever they are forced to finally get around to discussing tax policy.

By once again beating the same dead horse, the other side has attempted to go back in time, again, and talk about fiscal history. Earlier this week there has been a lot of revision or perhaps editing of recent budget history.  I expect more of it from some on the other side.

The revisionist history basically boils down to two conclusions:  1. That all of the "good" fiscal history of the 1990's was derived from a partisan tax increase bill of 1993; and 2. That all of the "bad" fiscal history of this decade to-date is attributable to the bipartisan tax relief plans

Not surprisingly, nearly all of the revisionists who spoke generally oppose tax relief and support tax increases.  The same crew generally support spending increases and oppose spending cuts.

For this debate, it is important to be aware of some key facts.  The stimulus bill passed by the Senate, with interest included, increased the deficit by over $1 trillion.  The stimulus bill was a heavy stew of spending increases and refundable tax credits, seasoned with small pieces of tax relief.  The bill passed by the Senate had new temporary spending, that, if made permanent, will burden future budget deficits by over $2.5 trillion.  That's not Senate Republicans speaking.  It's the official Congressional scorekeeper, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).  In fact, the deficit effects of the stimulus bill, passed within a short time after Democrats assumed full control of the Federal Government, roughly exceeded the deficit impact of the 8 years of bipartisan tax relief.

All of this occurred in an environment where the automatic economic stabilizers thankfully kicked in to help the most unfortunate in America with unemployment insurance, food stamps and other benefits.

That anti-recessionary spending, together with lower tax receipts, and the TARP activities, set a fiscal table of a deficit of $1.4 trillion that was the highest deficit, as a percentage of the economy, in Post World War II history.

From the perspective of those on our side, this debate seems to be a strategy to divert, through a twisted blame game, from the facts before us.  How is the history revisionist?  Let's take each conclusion one-by-one.

The first conclusion is that all of the "good" fiscal history was derived from the 1993 tax increase.  To test that assertion, all you have to do is take a look at data from the Clinton Administration.

The much-ballyhooed 1993 partisan tax increase accounts for 13 percent of the deficit reduction in the 1990's.  Thirteen percent.  That thirteen percent figure was calculated by the Clinton Administration's Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

The biggest source of deficit reduction, 35%, came from a reduction in defense spending.  Of course, that fiscal benefit originated from President Reagan's stare-down of the communist regime in Russia.

The same folks on that side who opposed President Reagan's defense build-up take credit for the fiscal benefit of the "peace dividend."

The next biggest source of deficit reduction, 32%, came from other revenue.

Basically, this was the fiscal benefit from pro-growth policies, like the bipartisan capital gains tax cut in 1997, and the free-trade agreements President Clinton, with Republican votes, established.

The savings from the policies I've pointed out translated to interest savings.  Interest savings account for 15% of the deficit reduction.

Now, for all the chest-thumping about the 1990s, the chest thumpers, who push for big social spending, didn't bring much to the deficit reduction table in the 1990's.  Their contribution was 5%.

What's more the fiscal revisionist historians in this body tend to forget who the players were.  They are correct that there was a Democratic President in the White House.  But they conveniently forget that Republicans controlled the Congress for the period where the deficit came down and turned to surplus. They tend to forget they fought the principle of a balanced budget that was the centerpiece of Republican fiscal policy.

Remember the government shutdown of late 1995?  Remember what that was about?  It was about a plan to balance the budget.  We are constantly reminded of the political price paid by the other side for the record tax increase they put in the law in 1993.  Republicans paid a political price for forcing the balanced budget issue in 1996.  But, in 1997, President Clinton agreed.  Recall as well all through the 1990's what the year-end battles were about.

On one side, Congressional Democrats and the Clinton Administration pushed for more spending.  On the other side, Congressional Republicans were pushing for tax relief.

In the end, both sides compromised.  That's the real fiscal history of the 1990's.

Let's turn to the other conclusion of the revisionist fiscal historians.  That conclusion is that, in this decade, all fiscal problems are attributable to the widespread tax relief enacted in 2001, 2003, 2004, and 2006.

In 2001, President Bush came into office.  He inherited an economy that was careening downhill.  Investment started to go flat in 2000.  The tech-fueled stock market bubble was bursting.  After that came the economic shocks of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

Add in the corporate scandals to that economic environment.

And it's true, as fiscal year 2001 came to close, the projected surplus turned to a deficit.  But it is wrong to attribute the entire deficit occurring during this period to the bipartisan tax relief.  According to CBO, the bipartisan tax relief is responsible for only 25% of the deficit change, while 44% is attributable to higher spending, and 31% is attributable to economic and technical changes. In just the right time, the 2001 tax relief plan started to kick in.   As the tax relief hits its full force in 2003, the deficits grew smaller.  This pattern continued up through 2007.

If my comments were meant to be partisan shots, I could say this favorable fiscal path from 2003 to 2007 was the only period, aside from 6 months in 2001, where Republicans controlled the White House and the Congress.   But, unlike the fiscal history revisionists, I'm not trying to make any partisan points, I'm just trying to get to the fiscal facts.

There is also data that compares the tax receipts for four years after the much-ballyhooed 1993 tax increase and the four year period after the 2003 tax cuts.  I have a chart that tracks those trends.

In 1993, the Clinton tax increase brought in more revenue as compared to the 2003 tax cut.  That trend reversed as both policies moved along.

Over the first few years, the extra revenue went up over time relative to the flat line of the 1993 tax increase.

So, let's get the fiscal history right.

The pro-growth tax and trade policies of the 1990's along with the "peace dividend" had a lot more to do with the deficit reduction in the 1990's than the 1993 tax increase.  In this decade, deficits went down after the tax relief plans were put in full effect.

No economist I'm aware of would link the bursting of the housing bubble with the bipartisan tax relief plans of 2001 and 2003.

Likewise, I know of no economic research that concludes that the bipartisan tax relief of 2001 and 2003 caused the financial meltdown of the September and October 2008.

As I said, from the period of 2003 through 2007, after the bipartisan tax relief program was in full effect, the general pattern was this:  revenues went up and deficits went down.

One major point that needs to be said right here is to state where the government gets the money it spends.  Basically I'm asking "Where do taxes come from?"

I would have thought this would have been perfectly obvious to most people, but I may have been wrong.  Taxes come from taxpayers!  I say this because we have heard tax relief for certain individuals referred to as a bonus.  A search of The Congressional Record for the Senate on December 1, 2010, shows that the word "bonus" was said nearly 50 times.

The implication being that by extending tax relief for all Americans we are giving some people a bonus that other people are paying for.  Let me try to simplify this for my colleagues that are having trouble understanding.  There is no proposal to cut taxes for anyone before this body.  The question is are we going to allow taxes to go up, or are we going to prevent a tax increase?  If we prevent taxes for everyone from going up, we are letting taxpayers keep more of their own money that they have earned and worked hard for.  No one is proposing a bonus or a gift for anyone.  The question is, do we want taxpayers to have more or less of their own money.

My colleagues on the other side have been especially incensed by what they consistently refer to as "tax cuts for the rich" and seem to believe that tax relief for everyone is responsible for our disastrous budget situation.  However, I think nearly everyone serving in the chamber, and certainly the President and House and Senate leadership, supports extending around 80% of tax relief.  If those on the other side are serious in their pleas that taxes must be increased in the name of fiscal responsibility, how can they claim 80% of tax relief is absolutely necessary and that 20% of tax relief is absolutely wrong?

This chart, drawn from Congressional Budget Office (CBO) data, should get more insight into the two groups the other side is talking about.  The orange line measures the effective tax rate paid by the top 5% of taxpayers.  By the way, this is where the Small business owner tax hit occurs.  This group roughly represents those taxpaying families with incomes over $250,000.  Under the Democratic Leadership's preferred tax policy, this line will go back up to where it was in 2000.  Republicans would prefer to prevent this tax increase, and we have shown that it falls primarily on the backs of small businesses.  The main point this chart shows though is that the tax relief undertaken during the last administration benefited all taxpayers, and characterizing it as "tax-cuts-for-the rich" is simply not accurate.

Of course I want to put our country on a path to fiscal responsibility, but I do not believe that higher taxes will lead us to that path.  Rather we need to carefully examine how we spend the money we already collect.  This debate is about one fundamental question. Who does the money you, the taxpayer, have worked hard for belong to?  Does it belong to the citizen that earned it, or does it belong to the government?  Is whatever the taxpayer is left with an allowance, with the balance to be spent by a government that knows best?  I think most people would answer my last two questions with a strong "No."

As we continue to discuss pressing tax matters in Congress, we need to keep these fundamental and simple truths in mind.  We need to stop taxes from increasing for all Americans.

Charts used:

Spending Largest Source of Deficit Change Since 2001

Changes in Federal Revenue as a Percentage of GDP

Inherited Deficits 2009 - 2019

Deficits 2001 - 2019

Source of Deficit Reduction 1990 - 2000

Tax Relief vs. Stimulus

Total Effective Federal Tax Rates 1979 - 2007

Pigford II Funding Agreement Clears House

WASHINGTON -- Senator Chuck Grassley praised the quick action of the House of Representatives after it passed legislation to fund the Pigford II settlement.  The Claims Resolution Act of 2010 resolves claims against the government related to the Cobell class action lawsuit, the Pigford class action lawsuit, as well as tribal water rights claims for the White Mountain Apache, Crow, Taos Pueblo, and Aamodt Tribes.  The legislation is fully paid for, and contains additional safeguards to better fight fraud in the program.  The bill cleared the Senate on November 19.

"When I first started working on this issue, I had hoped to resolve these civil rights issues through the administrative process.  I knew that if we had to pass legislation, it would take years," Grassley said.  "As we've seen, the legislative process did take years, but these farmers who were wronged by our own federal government agency will now, once President Obama signs the bill, finally be able to plead their case in front of a neutral party and be judged on the merits."

Grassley led the effort to ensure fair treatment for African American farmers who were denied the opportunity have their case heard for the Pigford v. Glickman settlement, which ended a discrimination lawsuit between African American farmers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Approximately 75,000 black farmers filed their claims of discrimination through the Pigford consent decree process past the deadline for their claims to be evaluated on the merits.  As a result, thousands of victims of discrimination continue to be denied an opportunity even to have their claims heard.

Grassley worked to put in place a process where these African American farmers can have the opportunity to plead their case based on the merits.  He introduced legislation in 2007 and pressed for it to be included in the 2008 farm bill.

The Pigford II settlement includes several substantial changes from Pigford I in order to better fight fraud.  Changes have been made to the settlement agreement that will enhance the Department's ability to fight fraud including requiring adjudicators to be a truly neutral party; allowing that neutral adjudicator to ask the claimant for additional documentation if he or she suspects any fraud; requiring the claimants' attorneys to certify that there is evidentiary support for the claims; and requiring the Office of Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office to evaluate the Department's internal controls and audit the process in adjudicating the claims.

-30-

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Chuck Grassley and Sen. Herb Kohl are asking the federal government to move forward in implementing new physician payment sunshine provisions.  The senators said some drug and medical device makers are preparing to meet the new requirements but in the absence of clear guidance from the federal government, are preparing payment data in non-uniform ways, causing the material to be difficult for the public to use.

Kohl is chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging and Grassley is ranking member of the Senate Committee on Finance.  They sponsored the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, which became law as part of the health care overhaul enacted this year.  The new provisions require drug and medical device manufacturers to disclose to the Department of Health and Human Services anything of value given to physicians, such as payments, gifts, honoraria or travel above certain minimum thresholds.  The goal is to inform consumers in case they want to consider the role such payments or gifts play in the provision of medical care.  The senators said the information will be collected in 2012 but some companies are preparing now, and greater guidance from the agency would help the utility of the information for the public.

The text of the senators' letter is available here.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Finance Committee, with jurisdiction over key federal health care programs, made the following comment on a news report that health care costs will go up for AARP employees.

"AARP supported a partisan health care overhaul that cut Medicare by almost $500 billion. That will result in less choice, fewer benefits and decreased access to care for millions of its members. But now we hear that AARP's members aren't the only ones who will bear the brunt of the new health care law. Like companies across the country, AARP is shifting more costs onto employees in reaction to the health care overhaul. Despite their employer's support, AARP employees are learning that the health care law is not going to address the top priority of making health care coverage less expensive.  Supporters of the law tend to have tunnel vision and focus on how it will affect narrow groups of people, rather than recognizing that most people will just end up paying more.  But the big picture is clear.  Employers and employees nationwide will pay more for health care because of the new law."

A news article from the Associated Press follows.

Citing health overhaul, AARP hikes employee costs

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press Ricardo Alonso-zaldivar, Associated Press 2 hrs 52 mins ago

WASHINGTON - AARP's endorsement helped secure passage of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. Now the seniors' lobby is telling its employees their insurance costs will rise partly as a result of the law.

In an e-mail to employees, AARP says health care premiums will increase by 8 percent to 13 percent next year because of rapidly rising medical costs.

And AARP adds that it's changing copayments and deductibles to avoid a 40 percent tax on high-cost health plans that takes effect in 2018 under the law. Aerospace giant Boeing also has cited the tax in asking its workers to pay more. Shifting costs to employees lowers the value of a health care plan and acts like an escape hatch from the tax.

"Most plan co-pays and deductibles have been modified," Jennifer Hodges, AARP's director of compensation and benefits, wrote employees in an Oct. 25 e-mail. "Plan value changes were necessary not only from a cost management standpoint but also to ensure that AARP's plans fall below the threshold for high-cost group plans under health care reform."

AARP officials said medical inflation is the main reason employee costs will be going up. The health care law is "a small part," said David Certner, legislative affairs director.

Although the tax on so-called "Cadillac" health care plans doesn't take effect for years, employers are already beginning to assess their potential exposure because it is hefty: at 40 percent of the value above $10,200 for individual coverage and $27,500 for a family plan. The tax is intended as a savings measure, to prod employers and workers into more cost-efficient plans.

Certner said AARP's plans are currently under the threshold for the tax. "We intend to stay below those thresholds," he said. "It's not in anybody's interest to move above those thresholds, not the employees' nor the employer's."

AARP officials say the organization's public policy recommendations are made independently of other considerations, including its range of business ventures, from travel, to insurance, to publishing.

The 40 million-strong AARP represents people 50 and older, including retirees on Medicare and Social Security. Its endorsement of health care overhaul came at a critical time last year, days before a close vote on the House floor.

"The impact on AARP employees is not a factor at all in our policy making, which is directed at the impact on our membership and on all older Americans," said Certner.

About 4,500 people are covered by AARP's plans, including employees, dependents and retirees.

"We supported the (health care) package because it contained incredibly important protections for our younger members, who often have problems getting access to care," said spokesman Jim Dau. "And because it helps our older members in Medicare with important new benefits."

Starting in 2014, the overhaul law prohibits insurance companies from turning down people with medical problems, and limits what they can charge older customers. It gradually closes the coverage gap in the Medicare prescription benefit, and improves coverage for preventive care.

The Obama administration says changes required by the law so far have only had a minimal, single-digit impact on premiums. Many benefits experts agree with that assessment but point out that the increases come on top of untamed health care inflation.

AARP warned its employees that more cost-shifting could be in store. "AARP intends to make similar changes, as necessary, in the future to avoid the (health plan) tax," said Hodges' e-mail.

Current forecasts are that the overhaul will only have a small impact on job-based coverage, slightly reducing the number of people who would otherwise be covered by employer plans. Those workers would have access to taxpayer-subsidized coverage through new insurance markets.

 

Reply
Forward

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Sen. Chuck Grassley made the following comment on the terms of GM's initial public offering of stock that were made public today.  Grassley is concerned about whether the taxpayers will be repaid for rescuing the automaker.

"The inspector general confirmed for me weeks ago that the GM initial public offering would need to clear a high bar to repay taxpayers.  The inspector general said GM stock would need to sell for an average of $133.78 a share to fully recoup the tax dollars spent to rescue the automaker.   The highest share price the former GM ever reached was $94.63 in 2000.  Today's filing says at least 365 million shares will be offered at a projected $26 to $29 each.  Short of a miracle, the initial public offering won't repay the taxpayers.  The onus is on the Treasury Department to come up with a plan to make sure taxpayers get their money in full."

A press release describing what Grassley learned from the inspector general follows.

For Immediate Release

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Grassley Finds Out What's Needed to Make Taxpayers Whole in GM Bailout

WASHINGTON - Continuing to look out for taxpayers in the bailout of General Motors, Senator Chuck Grassley has secured an official determination that the U.S. government needs to sell all its stock in GM at an average price of $133.78 a share to fully recoup the tax dollars spent to rescue the automaker.

The highest share price the former GM ever reached was $94.63 in 2000.

The latest assessment comes from Neil Barofsky, the Special Inspector General for TARP, in response to a request from Grassley last month.  Grassley worked to establish and empower this inspector general in order to hold the government accountable for the use of bailout dollars.

"I didn't support the government bailout of the automakers, and I'll continue to work to see taxpayers repaid and to hold the Treasury Department accountable for the sale of the taxpayers' share of GM," Grassley said.

Earlier this year, the Iowa senator exposed the misleading claim by the Treasury Department and GM that the car company had "paid back" its $6.7 billion taxpayer-funded loan "in full, with interest, ahead of schedule.  In fact, the loan had been repaid by another taxpayer account.  Because most of the government's emergency loan to GM was converted to shares of stock during bankruptcy, that money can only be recovered if the government can sell its shares of GM at significantly higher prices than it is currently estimated to be worth.

Click to read Grassley's letter Barofsky and Barofsky's reply to Grassley.

Pages