Sen. Charles Grassley on Tuesday took part in an exclusive interview with the Journal-Express. Several topics were addressed.
Health care reform
Last week, Grassley successfully proposed an amendment that put Senators under the same law and regulations as other Americans regarding health care reform.
“We will still have to go to the exchange,” Grassley said. Meanwhile, many companies have been granted exemptions from the 2010 law, set to go into full effect on Jan. 1, 2014.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has been designated as the enforcement arm of the law, though the union representing IRS employees is seeking an exemption from it. Grassley was unsure of where that fight stands.
The mandate in which employers are forced to provide health insurance to employees who work at least 30 hours a week has been suspended for one year, through an executive order by President Obama. Grassley, as well as Sen. Tom Harkin, question whether or not Obama has the authority to suspend the mandate. The matter has been turned over to the courts.
“I don’t think he does,” Grassley said of Obama. “The law is the law, but it takes forever to get a court decision.”
Grassley believes that if such a suspension is good enough for corporations, it is good enough for working Americans. McClatchy reported, based upon Bureau of Labor statistics, that 97 percent of the jobs created in America in 2013 have been classified as part-time.
When asked if the American economy can survive and grow with figures like this, Grassley said, “Absolutely not.” He added, “You’d have to get two part-time jobs.”
The bottom line is that the economy is not growing, he said. An issue that he has commonly heard during his town hall meetings is that there are couples in which both spouses work. One of them is covered by the other’s health care plan. However, the spouse who is not employed by the health care provider is still seeing his or her hours reduced because of the regulations in the law.
In October, changes to Medicare Advantage will kick in. Medicare Advantage is a way for seniors to pay a fee for services, through private insurance companies. According to an August 2012 Time article, approximately 25 percent of eligible seniors are enrolled in the program.
These changes include fewer subsidies for seniors’ health care and less choice. Doctors who participate in Medicare Advantage will be paid less, which will likely lead to fewer doctors taking part in the program.
“It’s going to have a dramatic change,” Grassley said. He believes this provision of the law is intended to move America closer to socialized, single-payer health care.
“Democrats don’t like the marketplace involved in medicine,” Grassley said. “Democrats want one-size fits all.”
As of Tuesday evening, America’s national debt was at nearly $16.9 trillion. The decision of whether or not to increase the debt ceiling is looming for Congress within the next month. Grassley was asked if he would vote to approve an increase in the debt limit, but he could not commit until the actual bill was in front of him.
“I think you don’t really know until you know what’s in it,” Grassley said. He added that Senators will not be able to have a simple, up-or-down vote on whether or not to raise the limit. The bill will include add-ons, such as the future of sequestration. While he is unsure of how he will vote, Grassley does not want to see the government shut down.
“It costs money to shut down the government and open it up,” Grassley said. Even if the Republicans follow through with their threat to shut the federal government down, no money will be saved, he said.
The debt is also tied to the economy and America’s ability to compete. Grassley believes lower taxes, less regulations and other efforts to decrease the costs of operation will stimulate business growth in America. There is one issue, not widely discussed as of late, that Grassley says cannot pass if the country hopes to improve its economic outlook.
“For sure, don’t pass global warming legislation,” he said. “That’s going to send jobs overseas.”
National Security Agency domestic program
Congress is holding hearings regarding the National Security Agency’s (NSA) domestic intelligence program. Legislation is possible to limit the NSA’s ability to monitor the activities of American citizens. Grassley believes that suspicion and outrage over domestic surveillance is the NSA’s own fault, for not being more honest.
“There’s more secrecy than there needs to be,” Grassley said. “There’s no point in being secret about it. It raises questions about the integrity of the government.”
Grassley was asked if attempts to defund the domestic surveillance program would affect the NSA’s overall mission to look for threats. He believes there might be a way, as waste is common among several federal agencies.
The NSA program was brought to light when Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, shared the news with the UK Guardian. Grassley said Snowden did break the law, and cannot be considered a whistleblower.
Grassley believes the time may be right for legislation to protect employees, such as Snowden, who inform Americans about possible Constitutional violations by the federal government. Protection should be available for those who go through proper channels.
As for whether or not the federal government has the right to collect telephone number data, Grassley said this information is already public. Therefore, there should be no expectation of privacy.
“Business records are not private,” Grassley said. “There’s no secrets about telephone numbers.” The NSA is still required to get a court order to tap phone lines and actually listen to conversations. Once again, Grassley believes that if everyone knew the NSA was doing this, the outrage would have been diminished.
“That doesn’t have to be classified,” Grassley said. “Everybody ought to know about it.”
When asked if he believes Snowden has jeopardized America’s security with his actions, Grassley replied, “I think so, based upon what our national security people have told us.”
This past weekend, embassies and other American facilities in the Middle East were closed due to a terror threat. Grassley is disappointed that media reports have indicated how we learned about the threat. When our enemies are tipped off about ways America’s defense follows their communications, that avenue of data collection is sullied.
Grassley said the same thing happened when America was hunting bin Laden. When it was revealed that America was tracking his telephone, bin Laden stopped using it. According to Grassley, that caused the decade-long delay in bringing bin Laden to justice.
Fast and Furious still in the courts
The alleged gun-running program, known as Fast and Furious, remains in the court system. Grassley fought for more information to be released about the program, in which the US government allegedly allowed guns to be transported to drug cartels in Mexico. As a result, at least one US Border Patrol agent, Brian Terry, was killed.
When Grassley tried to move the investigation forward, the Justice Department stalled and President Obama claimed executive privilege. There are 7,000 pages of documents the Justice Department eventually provided that are being reviewed by a judge to see if they legally fall under executive privilege and can be kept from Congress.
Grassley was also asked about the Justice Department’s actions following the verdict in the George Zimmerman murder trial. Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch captain in Florida, was found not guilty of the murder of Treyvon Martin. In the aftermath, the Justice Department announced it was launching its own investigation into Zimmerman.
Grassley believes the Justice Department was responding to political pressure from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) when it made the announcement. He is unsure of where this situation stands.
CIA and Benghazi
Reports surfaced last week that there were dozens of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agents on the ground during the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed in the attack.
“I think that’s probably true,” Grassley said about the CIA. He believes the CIA should be talking to Congress about the attack, but they are refusing. In Grassley’s opinion, the Obama Administration does not want the truth about what happened there to be revealed.
“That’s hot and heavy in the House of Representatives,” Grassley said. Nothing is being done in the Democrat-controlled Senate regarding the attack.
Some of the reports last week also suggested that the CIA was in Libya running guns to Syrian rebels. Grassley did not know if that was the case, but supports more investigation into what happened.
Plans for time off
Grassley has a couple of free days to work on his farm in Iowa. He has a few political events in Iowa this week, and a trip to the Iowa State Fair, planned. He will vacation in Kansas and Missouri for four days, and he intends to finish his annual 99-county tour for the year in northwest Iowa. The recess will be complete for Grassley when he “watches UNI beat Iowa State” on Aug. 31.