SEN. CHARLES E. GRASSLEY, R-IOWA, HOLDS A NEWS TELECONFERENCE
MARCH 23, 2010
GRASSLEY: Tomorrow, our Agriculture Committee is going to start consideration of what's called the child nutrition bill. This bill is a -- is going to bring into consideration a number of improvements and heavy investment in programs that gives kids healthier meals and learn more nutritious habits. Some of the improvements that are expected in the bill, changes in current law include making science-based nutrition standards based on dietary guidelines for all foods sold in the schools. It encourages wellness, physical activity at child care centers, a nice improvement to help get kids off of the couch and actively take part in their own health. And the bill would give the first increase in reimbursement rates to schools in more than 30 years. There are some concerns about using EQIP money as an offset to pay for nearly half the bill. Some will argue that not all the EQIP dollars were spent last year, but the problem with that argument is that the funds are lost from the baseline for the 2012 farm bill yet to be negotiated. I look forward to seeing amendments offered in committee to improve the bill without increasing the deficit.
QUESTION: Good morning, Senator. Senator, I was visiting with the Iowa cattlemen. They're quite concerned about that EQIP money. Will you be offering any amendments yourself to try to restore that funding?
GRASSLEY: I don't -- I haven't reached a decision on that yet, but my guess is that I probably would not, but I think that others are, and then I've got to look at what they substitute as a source of revenue on that point to whether or not it'd be EQIP or other dollars.
QUESTION: Good morning, Senator. Even though the House-passed version of health care came on Sunday, there is still some more work to be done in the Senate on health care. What -- do you see any problems coming up with -- with that?
GRASSLEY: Well, I hope there's a lot of problems coming up with it, because I don't support the bill. You know, I voted -- the bill the president's going to sign today I voted against just before Christmas. Now, this reconciliation bill is supposedly changing some things in that bill that got it enough votes so the bill the president's signing could pass the House. And so I don't see things in this bill changing my mind and probably would vote against it, but I intend to offer some amendments. One amendment I would offer is that this bill, the president's a very strong proponent of it, but he's not covered by it. So I'm going to offer an amendment that the president, cabinet members, not executive branch civil servants, but political appointees and their staff and the president, the White House be covered by it. And that's a follow-on to my amendment that I got adopted in the Finance Committee that will be in the bill the president's signing this morning that members of Congress and their staff get their health care insurance through the exchange. It should be the same for the president. The president thinks this is such a good program, then shouldn't he get his health care the same way that members of Congress would get their health care under this bill, through the exchange? I just think it's -- that's one of the things. Then there are some things on rural health care and reimbursement for low reimbursement states that I'm going to be offering amendments on, as well. And naturally, I hope that these amendments carry, and that's why they're being offered.
Bob Quinn? Dan Skelton?
QUESTION: Good morning, Senator. The administration has become more active on trade. We've seen the deals with Russia on pork and China on pork in recent weeks. Can you give us an update? What's the status of Isi Siddiqui as chief ag negotiator? Is there any movement on that nomination?
GRASSLEY: No. And there isn't. It's being held up. But I can tell you this, that a real litmus test of the president moving on trade ought to be judged from the standpoint, is he pushing Colombia, Panama, and South Korea? Those are all negotiated. They're all under fast track. That's a real litmus test. Now, I know he's put out a lot of other things. And I don't oppose what the president wants to do in these other areas, including what you just give him credit for accomplishing, but a real test of the seriousness of this administration ought to be -- the benchmark ought to be Panama, Colombia, and South Korea. Until I see those being pushed by this administration -- and I'm going to help them -- I have serious doubts about whether or not they ought to be given much credit for pushing trade.
Stacia? Gary, Arkansas?
QUESTION: Senator, first, I would like to go back, again, to the Child Nutrition Act and EQIP. Why isn't all the EQIP money being spent?
GRASSLEY: I would only guess that it's getting approval. I wouldn't say that there's not enough applications. But -- but it's -- it's crimped by appropriations.
QUESTION: My theory has always been that, in particular, Stenholm and Combest had sought a large amount of EQIP money because they feared EPA was going to clam down on large livestock operations. This would have been, you know, 2002. EPA didn't do that, and the EQIP money wasn't needed. Do you see any -- any reason to believe that?
GRASSLEY: Well, that may be the reason, but you can't count on this EPA in this administration, not in the future, being tough on -- on any livestock operation, large or small, and -- and so consequently, the need for more EQIP money.
GRASSLEY: Jean? Oh, go ahead.
QUESTION: I also wanted to ask about climate change, because you're hearing talk that the three senators working on a compromise proposal may release it by the end of the month. Are there any items in it that you find appealing?
GRASSLEY: I will wait until it's released and then answer your question at that time. But if you -- if it is released and you anticipate a question like that down the road here, after we get back from spring break, let my staff know so I'm prepared to answer it for you, because I -- I do want to be able to answer that for you.
QUESTION: OK. Do you see any likelihood that any climate legislation...
QUESTION: ... may pass this year?
QUESTION: Thank you.
GRASSLEY: And, obviously, that's what I hope for, Gary.
Jean, Agrinews? Matt Wilde, Waterloo Courier?
QUESTION: Morning, Senator. I have a question dealing with flooding issues and farm policy. In northeast Iowa, we've endured two major floods in 15 years. And the Cedar River and other waterways, as you know, are out of their banks again (ph). Some people believe that modern grain production, farm policy, and intensive tiling of farm ground is to blame or partly -- or mostly to blame for floods. It's suggested to me that the government payments force farmers to predominantly raise corn and beans, which don't exactly help hold back the water, and -- and then, of course, we don't have the native grasses like we used to have. So are lawmakers in Washington concerned about this? Is that -- is ag policy partly to blame? And what can be done to change this?
GRASSLEY: I don't policy-makers in Washington are concerned about that for the most part. And to some extent, not necessarily just answering the hypotheticals that you bring up, but I would have to say that any government program, whether it's a farm program or some other program, whether it's an expenditure or which you could call a subsidy or whether it's a tax incentive, they -- they do tend to influence the marketplace. Some of them are meant to influence the marketplace. Most cases are meant to influence it positively. In -- in -- in the case of agricultural programs, I would say that -- that I doubt if you would say the northern half of Iowa that this would apply to, but I think in the 1960s, '70s and the '80s, you had a lot of grassland that would be better used for cow calf operations in southern Iowa, probably plowed up because of the incentives of the farm program. But I believe that -- that the extent to which the concept of a safety net for agriculture is very important. And by safety net, I mean just a minimum amount to get people, farmers over humps that are beyond their control, like natural disaster, international politics, you know, war, a lot of things that affect farming, that the farmer has no control over, that -- that we have a safety net to protect those farmers from catastrophic drops (ph) in prices beyond their own control. But the extent to which farm programs have gone beyond that and helped a very small percentage of the farmers that maybe don't need subsidy because of high income and big operations, they can get over these humps themselves. It has subsidized them to get bigger. But except for within the -- then getting back to within the concept of a safety net for small- or medium-sized farmers, I think that -- that you can't take these considerations that cause your -- your question to be raised very seriously because what we're talking about is a farm program to maintain the continuity of food supply. And -- and that's done for two reasons, one, for the national security of our country, and the other one is for the social cohesion of our society, because you've got to have food for your military, and Germany and Japan learned in World War II they didn't have enough food, so that's why they protect their farmers to a great extent. The United States ought to learn that lesson. And then social cohesion. You know the old saying, you're only nine meals away from a revolution. So if we don't have a stable food supply, we'd have a more chaotic society. So those two considerations have to override the issues that you brought up.
GRASSLEY: Are you plowing up -- are we growing too much grain? I'll bet some of these very people that raise those questions would be the first to cry out that if we didn't have enough food when they go to the supermarket.
QUESTION: OK. Thank you, Senator.
GRASSLEY: All right. Hey, I see Ken Root down here. Ken, are you on there?
QUESTION: Yes, but nothing to get excited about, sir. I'm not on the air until next week on WHO-TV, so I'm just monitoring this week, but I want you to be prepared for a question next week, sir.
GRASSLEY: Well -- well, I'll be prepared. You bet.
QUESTION: OK. And I may have the WHO people ask it to you again on the television piece that you do. Don't you do that at 1 o'clock on the same day?
GRASSLEY: Yes, I do. I do.
QUESTION: OK, so sharpen up your -- you know, your wit, if you wouldn't mind, sir.
GRASSLEY: Well, I welcome you back.
QUESTION: Well, thank you very much.
GRASSLEY: And just in case the rest of you people didn't know Ken Root was still alive, he's alive. OK. Anybody else want to jump in? OK. Thank you all very much.
QUESTION: Thank you, Senator.