During today's conference call with Iowa reporters, Senator Chuck Grassley answered questions about the following issues:
International Trade, Medicaid Reimbursements to Doctors, Bipartisanship in Health Care, Reconciliation, Senator Bunning, Unemployment Benefits, Pay as You Go Rules, and Post Office Reduced Mail Delivery
Click here to listen to the audio of the conference call or go to http://grassley.senate.gov. Click on News Center and select News Conference Calls.
The transcription of the conference call is below or click here.
SEN. CHARLES E. GRASSLEY, R-IOWA, HOLDS A NEWS
MARCH 3, 2010
SPEAKER: SEN. CHARLES E. GRASSLEY, R-IOWA
GRASSLEY: I went to the Senate floor offering an amendment to make sure that Medicare providers in this (inaudible) bill are fully offset and paid for. It also would extend physician payment update til the end of the year to bring some uncertainty to doctors -- or to bring certainty to doctors.
All of these provisions are very important to the wellbeing of Medicare beneficiaries.
It's also very important that they be taken care of in a way that's fiscally responsible. Senator Baucus and I tried to update these provisions before they expired at the end of February, but of course our efforts were rebuffed by the Senate majority leader, Senator Reid.
Senator Baucus and I had a bipartisan bill that was paid for. Senator Reid pushed it aside and now put a second bill on the floor that's both partisan and fiscally irresponsible. The Reid bill this week is almost three times the size of the bill Senator Baucus and I put together in February and, again, our bill was fiscally responsible. My amendment needs to be passed so that the cost of the Medicare provisions isn't added to the federal debt.
In the Finance Committee this morning, I questioned U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk about the trade policy agenda released by the president Monday. One of my main concerns is the lack of anything specific in that agenda regarding the Panama, Colombia and Korea free trade agreements. It's been nearly three years since all of them have been modified according to a compromise between congressional Democrats and the then-Bush administration.
The Obama trade agenda says only that the administration will continue to engage, without any timetable for moving ahead. Continued delay is hurting U.S. credibility around the world, both economically and geopolitically.
These trade agreements are good policies. And while the United States sits on the sidelines, the world is moving on without us. South Korea now has a trade agreement with European Union and Colombia has done the same. When the United States becomes less globally competitive, there are bottom-line consequences for Iowa agriculture, manufacturing and service industries, and employers across the country.
International trade is an opportunity for job creation through new markets and it doesn't make any sense to neglect it when job creation is so very much needed. In fact, trade is one of the very best ways of moving us out of this recession we're in.
QUESTION: Senator, do you take President Obama's comments yesterday or in the letter about Medicaid being underfunded in the Senate bill as an authentic attempt to win your support?
GRASSLEY: Well, the answer is definitively yes. I think it's a sincere effort.
That in and of itself doesn't win my support because, you know, he's adding these things to a 2,700-page bill that we have taken the position of 70 percent of Americans that we ought to start over.
But this is a very important issue that isn't only important because I brought it up with the president and he recognizes it, but it's also an issue I brought up when the health care reform bill was before the Senate Finance Committee, and I did it in a way that was paid for.
There's no question that Medicaid won't be able to provide adequate access to these 15 million people that the bill adds to it and -- and pushing both of them into Medicaid. It's -- as I think I stated it this way to the president, it's kind of a false promise. I think I may have even used the words it's kind of intellectually dishonest. But a false promise to the very low-income people in our country.
And something that Speaker Pelosi said to me after the meeting, as we were walking out. So I hate to report the exact -- well, I don't have the exact language in my mind, but I can give you the gist of it.
I hate to say a one-on-one conversation, but it adds emphasis to what the president said, and I think that it may be because of Pelosi that maybe the president has taken this step.
And that is that she agreed with me it is a problem and we need to do something about it. And that's, kind of, the gist of what she said to me, because, you know, you're, kind of, surprised when the speaker of the House, who's almost my opposite politically, agrees with me on something.
I take notice that she's agreeing with me, but you're almost stunned, so I don't remember exactly how she put it, but that's the gist of it.
QUESTION: Considering have for a long time been an advocate of a bipartisan bill, how are you going to respond to -- to this, you know, invitation, if you will, to consider an area that was pretty -- a priority for you?
GRASSLEY: Well, I think I've just given you that response that -- that...
QUESTION: I mean, are you going to -- are you going to, you know, White House, you know, in some way on this?
GRASSLEY: I'm always available to talk to the White House, but I'm not anxious to let people -- are very much opposed to this 2,700-page bill to give any indication to them or to even Iowans who object to the 2,700-page bill that I'm compromising on the 2,700-page bill.
QUESTION: Thank you.
GRASSLEY: Ed Tibbetts?
QUESTION: Senator, I'm just wondering if you would -- people talk about reconciliation. And I think there's some confusion about -- out there about why it's been used and how it's been used. The other side will say that -- that reconciliation has been used a number of times, many times when the Republicans were in the leadership, including on the Children's Health Insurance Program and on -- and on Medicare Advantage -- on insurance policies.
QUESTION: And I guess I'm just wondering if -- if you might speak to why -- given that, why you think that this is an inappropriate use of that technique.
GRASSLEY: Yeah, I'd be glad to.
And I think I -- if you go back -- if you can get to the congressional record for what I said today -- is a partial answer to this -- and it was at the end of my speech, which was prepared text for my amendment that I just talk about on Medicare.
But I did give off-the-cuff comments in rebuttal to something that the previous speaker had said in morning business about the health care bill and finding faults with Republicans on this very subject that you're asking me about.
But before I answer your question, if Tom Beaumont's still on, I just thought of one other thing that I ought to say about some consideration about the president going this direction -- because I suggested it on Medicaid -- more funding for Medicaid. I think that it's legitimate that we know how he's going to pay for it.
Now to your question. The main difference that I said on the floor a few hours ago -- in answer to your question but also answering your question -- is it that I didn't disagree with anything Senator Durbin was saying about Republican use of filibuster, because he was accurate as far as I know, without going back and checking everything he said.
But right now what's so different is we are restructuring one-sixth of the economy. And there's no -- there's no reconciliation bill that you can name that restructures the economy, including a $1.1 trillion cut in taxes in 2001, which would have been $1.3 trillion of approximately $10 trillion or $11 trillion economy. And that was spread out over 10 years; not a complete restructuring of our economy. So that's the difference, to use reconciliation.
And then just think of the history that you heard me talk about 12 years in negotiating on health care or being involved with health care. When Senator Baucus and I started out a year ago, we were going to get 75, 80 votes because we were restructuring one part of the economy, and it ought to be done in a consensus basis.
Then -- then another difference for reconciliation in this instance is they want to have the Senate pass a bill to reconcile a policy that isn't even law yet. And reconciliation is always used to reconcile or to change existing policy; in other words, law of the land.
And what they want to reconcile is some changes in the Senate bill that is now residing in the House. And that's never been done before.
And then I believe the other thing is -- my answer to -- to the people that say, "Well, you ought to be able to pass it by a majority vote," well, the House of Representatives always does things by a majority vote. If they want to pass a health care reform bill, just pass the bill that the Senate passed, and it'll be given to the president and then for sure the president's going to sign it.
So they don't have to use reconciliation if they want to get a health care reform bill. Just go pass the bill that we sent over there.
QUESTION: If I might follow up, with respect to the issue of the size of a piece of legislation, whether reconciliation is appropriate, my understanding is that when welfare was overhauled back in the mid-'90s that reconciliation was used as well. And while that may not be a sixth of the economy, it did, indeed, affect millions of people. I guess, where do you draw the line, where reconciliation -- where a proposal is too big to -- to use reconciliation on?
GRASSLEY: Well, first of all, welfare reform was passed in a bipartisan way. And it was vetoed twice by President Clinton. But finally the message got through that the public wanted it, and so the president eventually signed it, after a third time.
So I think that in that particular case, where we were using something that at the grassroots of America was demanded, and in this particular case, of this 2,700-page bill, the public's saying, "Start over."
QUESTION: Yes, Senator. Did you vote -- I understand the Senate last night voted to extend unemployment benefits. And -- and what's your thoughts on the action of Senator Jim Bunning yesterday, trying to apparently block those unemployment? I mean, I guess he had some controversy, even in -- with fellow Republicans.
GRASSLEY: Well, those questions are, kind of, tied together, but I'll answer them separately.
First of all, I did vote for it. And the reason I voted for it, and still support Senator Bunning, is because Senator Bunning offered an amendment to pay for it. The Democrats said he could get a vote on his amendment. Then, quite frankly, they lied to him and raised a point of order so it took 60 votes to override it. Every Republican voted to override it, but we didn't get the 60 votes to override it, so we never really got a vote on his amendment.
But by voting for overriding the point of order, every Republican, including this Republican, was voting to pay for it, because that was what the -- what the point of order was against.
And so then I felt justified in voting for it, even though that amendment of Bunning's lost.
Now, my comment on Bunning is, Bunning was doing two or three things, and all of them appropriate.
Number one, he was -- wanted to -- he wanted to pay for it. That's the right thing to do.
His motive for wanting to pay for it wasn't just because he believed that it shouldn't add to the deficit, but he was raising the point with the majority party that they want pay-as-you-go, or PAYGO for short, in other words offsets to pay for it, and in this case they didn't want to do it. And from his standpoint, it was intellectually dishonest.
So he -- he was only making the point that it ought to be paid for. He had a pay-for. The Democrats held it up for two days or over the weekend because they didn't want to pay for it. They thought of it as an emergency and consequently, then, not -- didn't need a pay-for. And he disagreed, so they held it up.
And the other thing to remember is the Democrats don't -- aren't intellectually honest when they say that he was holding it up or Republicans were holding it up, because the Baucus-Grassley bill had an extension of unemployment compensation in it. We negotiated that during the last week of January and the first two weeks of -- of February. We had a bipartisan agreement. We thought we had Reid's consent.
And Reid decided to go partisan, which was the bill that we passed last week, and he took out the unemployment compensation. But if we'd gone with that bipartisan bill, we would have had a bill to the president by February 15th, and -- and they would be collecting their unemployment compensation. There wouldn't've been a lack of it.
So I don't know how -- I -- I've been asked by the media people on Capitol Hill. They just swarm you with questions about Bunning holding something up. Well, why all the attention on one Republican? Why not the attention on the Democrats, that Reid took it out of the bipartisan bill? And -- and they didn't let -- for three days, they didn't let Bunning have a vote on his amendment. What are they -- what are they scared of?
And so, you know, I've got to ask people in the fourth estate, the media of our country, how come you're letting him get away with it?
QUESTION: Nothing today, thank you.
GRASSLEY: Courtney Blanchard?
QUESTION: Senator, it's Courtney.
GRASSLEY: Courtney, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes, I just wanted to, kind of, jump in on that last question and maybe ask you to repeat a little bit about you did end up voting for the bill. I'm sorry. I just didn't get on.
I voted for the bill because I don't want people's unemployment compensation to lapse. It's a safety net for unemployed people like the farm program is for farmers, to help people when they're hit with something beyond their own control.
The other thing was that it was very important to me in backing Bunning -- and every other Republican backed Bunning -- that it be paid for. So we offered an amendment to pay for it; in fact, raise more money than what it took to pay for it. And I voted -- in a sense voting for that amendment, although we didn't get an up-or-down vote on the amendment because the issue was a point of order, and we voted to override the point of order, but we didn't win.
So since trying to pay for it, didn't get it paid for, couldn't get it paid for, I still didn't think unemployment -- unemployed people ought to be denied their unemployment check.
GRASSLEY: Kathie Obradovich?
OK, I've gone through the entire list. Anybody else want to pop in?
QUESTION: Senator, Tim Rohwer again. I was doing a story. I understand that the post office wants to, among other things, cut back mail delivery from, like, six days to five days to save money, and it has to go through Congress. That's going to come up some time this year. Would you support those cost-saving measures like reduction of mail service?
GRASSLEY: Well, let me -- let me tell you something.
I ought to be able to tell you yes or no, because that issue has been on the agenda I'll bet once or twice a year for the last five or six years. But it's never gotten out of committee. I don't know whether it's even got to the Congress because we wouldn't be acting on it unless the post office would ask us to. Now it seems like they're asking us to.
So I have not studied it, but let me give you some points that might tell you how I'm going to approach it without giving you an answer.
First of all, there's a lot of fat to be cut in the post office budget. Executive pay and relocation expenses that I have been investigating in my oversight capacity has -- has -- in my oversight capacity I've had the Government Accountability Office or my own -- post office inspectors general or my own staff investigating a lot of these things and I've been on television, like, 20 minutes on some of these things as an example. And I'm talking about things I've been looking into over the past two years.
So I want to make sure that all the fat is out of the budget in the first place before I make a decision to cut services to our country. But now, what I would take into consideration if I figured that the fat's out and you still had to do something, would Saturday delivery be one of the things to do? I want to know the impact on the economy.
Now, for the average householder it might not make much difference, but there are a lot of businesses that depend upon the Postal Service to do their business and I want to know what that impact is and I don't have any way of knowing that at this point.
So I can't answer your question definitively.
OK, anybody else want to jump in? OK. Thank you all very much.