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Transcription of Senator Grassley's Agriculture News Conference

Press Conference

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GRASSLEY: Today, I'm adding my voice to the chorus of people from agriculture to Washington here asking Secretary Vilsack to consider having agriculture purchase $50 million of pork products to be used in various feeding programs. Of course, you all know pork producers have been swept up in the myriad of problems impacting their livelihood; high corn prices, low profits, market prices down, oversupply, foreign trade obstacles, and now, most recent, $50 million requests related to the H1N1 virus.

And the reason for that is because it's been, unfortunately, called swine flu. It's a -- all of these things are a perfect storm of events for pork industry. Purchase of pork products will alleviate some of this stress. And they need this because everything's impacting the bottom line of the pork producer.

This purchase will be a great help, but I'd also be open to additional remedies down the road that may be possible. And I think I answered some questions last week would I help the swine industry. I said with purchases. At that time, I hadn't given thought to doing what I've asked to do now. We've done this in the past when we've had low prices.

It's a program that has precedent, and I feel comfortable asking for help this way.

Go ahead and call the names.

STAFF: Dan Looker, Successful Farming?

QUESTION: Thank you. Good morning, Senator.

GRASSLEY: Good morning.

QUESTION: Last week, I had a chance to ask Senator Harkin if he had heard back from EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, if he had gotten a response to a letter, a bipartisan letter asking the EPA to not use the indirect land use in their calculation of the new renewable fuel standard. And he said he hadn't heard back from her yet.

I wondered if you -- I noticed you were also one of the signers of the letter. Have you heard back? And I also wanted to get your reaction to EPA not using -- or EPA going ahead and using the low carbon fuel standard.

GRASSLEY: Yes. Well, I have not heard back. And if I had heard back from the EPA, I would guess that they would have said something like they're in the process of getting public comment on the indirect land use situation and they're going to wait until they get those comments back and then make a final ruling.

My feeling is that it doesn't meet the common-sense test because, first of all, there's no science behind it. And we ought to -- EPA ought to only be making their decisions based on science. And then you get into the ridiculous situation that somewhere around the world somebody's waiting to plow up an acre of virgin soil just because they're waiting to see if Chuck Grassley sells a little more corn for ethanol. I think that's a ridiculous combination that doesn't face the real-world test.

The second one is even if that were the case, isn't it ridiculous that Iowa farmers would be penalized for something that's going on in Brazil or some other country? So...

QUESTION: Yes.

GRASSLEY: I don't think it ought it be a factor.

QUESTION: OK. Do you know what the next step might be if the EPA -- obviously, they didn't -- they didn't agree with the first letter. What is the next step?

GRASSLEY: Well, they haven't answered this letter. But the next step is going on right now. They put out a rule that they're asking for comment. And so you can write in, Dan Looker, Chuck Grassley can write in. I hope they get a myriad of comment that causes them to change their view, and they could.

QUESTION: OK. Thank you.

GRASSLEY: All right.

STAFF: Tom Rider, WNAX?

QUESTION: Good morning, Senator.

Senator, I understand Mexico has joined Canada in their world trade complaint over the U.S. country-of-origin labeling laws seek consultations on that. Do you think they have a case? And what should we be doing at this time to fight this?

GRASSLEY: Yes. Well, I think there's a lot of countries that are going to file with WTO at least preliminary on COOL legislation. But I don't think it's got any basis. And I think we will fight it, yes.

QUESTION: And what should be our argument, sir?

GRASSLEY: Well, our argument is just like on -- on any trade issue going back, I suppose, for decades that we've had laws. I think we've had laws for 75 years on labeling things coming into the country. That's not a -- a trade distortion of any sort, a barrier of any sort. It's been commonly accepted that any country exporting into the United States ought to be willing to say what country that product comes from. And anybody importing ought to expect the consumers to know where their product's coming from.

So the same thing is applicable to food as it is for anything else.

STAFF: Gene Lucht, Iowa Farmer Today?

QUESTION: No questions.

STAFF: Tom Steever, Brownfield?

Ken Root, WHO?

QUESTION: Senator, good morning.

GRASSLEY: Good morning.

QUESTION: You were fairly harsh about your views on China stopping their importing of U.S. pork, especially that's been a state that had shown up with H1N1 virus. Do you want to escalate this into some type of a trade challenge?

GRASSLEY: I think it's perfectly legitimate when it comes to China not taking our meat because of swine flu, now called H1N1. So I shouldn't have used the word "swine flu" because that's what's behind the problem when it's not based on science. And that science is based upon what the WTO organization and Paris Organization of Scientists say is safe and isn't safe.

And I didn't mean to say the Chinese people are stupid. I meant to say that they were misinformed. That they think that swine flu can be transferred to human beings by eating, no, it can't be.

And so that misinformation has led to the prohibiting our imports, our exports there to China and it not being scientifically based because we all know that. And so why should they do it? So, yes, we should fight it.

QUESTION: Sir, can I come from another direction? On the recent announcement that the European Union will take American beef now but they're still saying they won't they any beef that's had hormones given to the animals for growth hormones. Did we win one or lose one there?

GRASSLEY: Well, the extent to which -- and I -- I don't have an answer to this question in regard to beef to Europe. The extent to which -- it looks like we won a partial victory unless we've given in entirely on hormone beef not going into Europe. And I hope we haven't given up on that point.

But I'm not sure that I remember from the ruling if we have totally accepted their point of view on hormones, and we haven't accepted their point of view, as my judgment. So I would consider it a partial victory and not a defeat, but I would say that this is a first step towards complete victory with Europe is the way I would like to view it.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

STAFF: Dan Skelton in Spencer?

Stacia Cudd, National Farm Broadcasters?

Gary Digiuseppe, Arkansas Radio Network?

QUESTION: Senator, I understand the president's 2010 budget calls for gleaning and additional $24 billion over ten years from the estate tax by changing the way assets are valued. Do you know what they're talking about? Do you know if you're going to oppose that?

GRASSLEY: I can only tell you what my position is on estate tax. I read in the newspaper what the president wants to do in that area. But I could not get -- glean enough information from the newspaper article to know exactly what he's talking about. And I haven't talked to my tax staff on that yet.

But, obviously, I have to be on top of it, and I hope -- hopefully, maybe in a couple weeks, I'll have an answer for you. So if you would ask me again in a couple weeks -- in fact, if you want to ask me next week, I'll make sure I've got an answer for you.

QUESTION: OK. Do you oppose the concept of that? Is the estate tax, in your opinion, tight enough?

GRASSLEY: I believe that what we ought to be talking about on estate tax is only the exemption, the indexing of the exemption and the rate of taxation. And any time that I've dealt with the estate tax over the last 28 years, going back to 1981 when we first made some changes when I came to the Senate, we've only talked about those three aspects of it.

And if everything else has been working well for 25 years, I don't think it's part of the debate. I'm saying that without having an answer for your first question of how do I react specifically to the president's suggestions. And I'm going to have to take a look at that.

So I may backtrack a little bit from it, but it just seems funny to me and it seems odd to me that if these have not been issues for 25 years, that they're pretty much an accepted part of how we handle estates and how you handle estate planning and that there would have to be a terrible abuse for me to see something that hasn't been raised for 20 years that needs to be raised now.

Now, it could be that tax lawyers have found some way to advise on -- on avoiding taxes legally that have just been recently used by estates -- estate planning and could be new arguments that lawyers have made that maybe I would find tax avoidance as far as legitimate estate planning. But I can't answer that question right now, and I hope I have an answer for you next week.

QUESTION: OK. I've got a question on another subject. The president's also proposing that clearance of futures contracts be assessed a fee in order to help pay for the CFTC's activities. Would you oppose that?

GRASSLEY: Yes, I believe that what we ought to do is -- there's no reason to change any government regulation of commodity futures. We've been having the taxpayers pay forever. When you start assessing fees, we -- we have been doing that for about 20 years for pharmaceutical -- it leaves the impression with the public that because the pharmaceutical industry is being charged fees for FDA to function and have more resources, that they have too much influence with the FDA.

And I think we need to have reduction of cynicism regard to people's attitude towards government regulation. And I think that we'd find the same sort of cynicism come in commodity futures regulation as we now have with FDA regulation.

QUESTION: OK. Thank you.

GRASSLEY: You bet.

STAFF: Jean Simmet, Agrinews?

QUESTION: Good morning, Senator Grassley.

GRASSLEY: Good morning.

QUESTION: Today is the first-year anniversary of the immigration raid at the plant at the Agriprocessors plant at Postville. And I was just wondering if you had any comment on, you know, like what happened there in the aftermath and, you know, if there's likely to be immigration reform as a result of that.

GRASSLEY: Yes. Well, I think you're really asking two separate questions. One's on the Postville anniversary, and the other one is on immigration reform.

Obviously, Postville emphasizes the need for immigration law reform, but I think they have to be answered as two separate issues. In regard to Postville, I think one thing it emphasizes is that the responsibility of the federal government is to enforce law when there's law violators. And in the case of Postville, you found that both people coming here to this country illegally were violating the law and that we had the employer very much violating the law.

And the two acting together has brought a great deal of stress to Postville and to economic harm to Postville. But I think that nobody can find fault with the enforcement of law. Illegality has to be confronted wherever it happens. And it's sad that it happened to a little community of Postville because it has economically harmed that community. But it also shows that when employers will go to great lengths to reap a tremendous profit without regard for the law, that it has to be punished. And I think it will be punished.

And in the case of most of the time we blame people just coming to this country illegally, but in this particular case, it was -- the employer, hand-in-glove, was -- was encouraging illegal immigration which is even worse, from my standpoint, that the immigrants coming here illegally in the first place.

Now, in regard to immigration reform, I don't think we're going to have it as long as we have a recession and high unemployment because one of the things you have to deal with is the 12 million people being here illegally. And a lot of people want to, in a bill, give them a path to citizenship. I'm opposed to that. But even the people that want to do that, I don't think, would bring that up at a time of high unemployment.

STAFF: OK. I've read through the entire list. Was anybody added late or does anyone have a follow-up?

QUESTION: This is Julie Harker with Brownfield. I have a question.

GRASSLEY: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: OK. The listening sessions that Secretary Vilsack is having on mandatory NAIS, they're going on now, none of them are really in cattle country. And, of course, cattlemen seem most opposed to the mandatory system.

Do you think that's going to impact the outcome of these sessions? And what do you think these sessions are going to be -- actually do?

GRASSLEY: Well, they can be very helpful. If the secretary of agriculture want to listen, and I think he does want to listen, I think coming from Iowa, he knows the process of representative government, what people think at the grass roots is very, very important.

I would think, as loud of a voice as cattlemen have here in Washington, D.C., exactly where the -- where the hearings are held are probably immaterial, although, I guess I'd be surprised some wouldn't be held in cattle country. But regardless, Secretary Vilsack is the person that wants to hear all points of view and will make recommendations accordingly, I believe.

Some people have suggested it might be a dog-and-pony show. I don't think that Secretary Vilsack would be connected with any such operation. He's intellectually honest, and he's going to use it as information gathering. It's going to be partly an education program, I believe, as well. It will be a controversial issue.

I'm not for mandatory ID at this point, particularly, if the individual farmer has to be paying for it. And let me tell you why. I think you've got to see animal ID directly related to security of our food system. OK? Since 1912, since we've had government meat inspection, we've had the taxpayers paying for it because we wanted it to be a credible program and we wanted the slaughter houses to be -- not have a financial interest in making sure that things were determined healthy when they weren't. And that's important for the farmer. That's important for the consumer.

OK. Animal ID is just an extension backwards to the farm of -- of safety of food. And so it ought to be paid for by the taxpayers the same as the other is paid for by the taxpayers. And just to emphasize how I think Congress feels strongly about the safety of food is that there's been several attempts under both Republican and Democrat presidents to charge a fee for meat inspection. And Congress has never gone along with that.

QUESTION: I have another question about the proposed $1.25 billion in President Obama's 2010 budget for -- to settle the final Pigford claims. Is that enough to make that chapter in America's history end?

GRASSLEY: No. And you'll find a bill put in by Grassley and Hagan, a bipartisan bill, that would take care of the fact that the hundred million dollars is not enough. And it would allow, through a fund that is used to settle court claims in the Treasury Department that would used for the first Pigford payouts, to continue to be used for that if the hundred million is not enough. And it's my belief it won't be enough.

QUESTION: Well, sir, you're speaking about $100 million, but he says he plans to include $1.25 billion in settlement funds in addition to that hundred million.

GRASSLEY: Oh, oh. Well, then, if the president -- if the president proposes that and Congress goes along with it, then we don't need to use the fund that I'm talking about. But let's suppose that the hundred million is used up and the president's proposal doesn't pass. Then the fund that I'm talking about and the process I'm talking about has been used before in a lot of court cases but, particularly, in the first Pigford. And it would be used kind of like an open checking account to satisfy all the claims that cannot be satisfied with the hundred million.

GRASSLEY: OK. Thanks.

QUESTION: Senator, this is Philip Brasher.

GRASSLEY: Yes, go ahead, Philip.

QUESTION: All right. I wanted to ask about two different things. One is on the -- back on the EPA decision.

A couple of things that members of Congress, including yourself, have expressed concern about were written into the bill, the requirement that they do the indirect -- use the indirect land use and also the grandfathering of the ethanol plans but no grandfathering of biodiesel which seems to have surprised some members of Congress that biodiesel wasn't taken care of.

How do you -- doesn't -- isn't Congress going to have -- I guess, first of all, how did those things get into the bill without members knowing about it and -- seemingly knowing about it? And two, how do you deal with them except by changing the law?

GRASSLEY: Yes. Well, you would have to change the law. One way of not dealing with it, in the case of indirect land use, if through the public comment period, EPA comes to the conclusion that there's -- that there's not science behind it, they would have to throw it out or not use it.

But taking it out of the law would be very important. Now, telling you how it got in, just researching this, evidently, there was -- a compromise had to be made between those of us that wanted the mandates now -- was it 30 million gallons by the year 2022?

QUESTION: Thirty-six, sir.

GRASSLEY: Thirty-six million. In order for us to get -- reach an agreement with the House, it's my understanding that Speaker Pelosi mandated that we would have to accept indirect land use. And that's how it got in.

And so now -- I guess I'd have to confess that I'm not sure that at that time I thought that was a big deal. Now, obviously, it could be a big deal if it's used to make ethanol look less environmentally positive or even environmentally negative. And -- and taking it out would be the only way to make sure it wasn't used.

Now, the second question about biodiesel, I didn't understand that question.

QUESTION: Well, the existing ethanol plants were grandfathered in from having to meet these greenhouse gas...

GRASSLEY: Oh.

QUESTION: But biodiesel was not.

GRASSLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: So they've got a bigger problem.

GRASSLEY: Well, they've got a bigger problem -- do you financially, or do you mean because of indirect land use?

QUESTION: Well, they have a big problem financially, but they have a bigger problem with the indirect land use and the greenhouse gas because they have to -- they all have to meet it.

GRASSLEY: Well, the reason they didn't get fathered -- grandfathered in, I think, that the experience with biodiesel is so near term compared to 30 years of ethanol.

QUESTION: Hmm.

GRASSLEY: In other words, we don't have the economic or I guess you'd say the economic -- the economic track record that ethanol has got.

QUESTION: On a different issue, there is some talk among your colleagues on the Democratic side about using a tax on soda, on sweetened soft drinks, Gatorade, sports drink and so forth to help pay for, I guess, health care reform. Any chance of that getting through...

GRASSLEY: No.

QUESTION: ... the Finance Committee?

GRASSLEY: I think, quite frankly, the only reason it's being brought up is to get it shot down early so it doesn't become part of the debate. I don't think it's going to have any legs at all.

QUESTION: OK.

GRASSLEY: Anybody else?

QUESTION: Thank you.

GRASSLEY: You bet.

QUESTION: Senator Grassley, Tom Rider at WNAX again.

GRASSLEY: Yes?

QUESTION: I'm curious, Senator, are you seeing more support for Senator Thune's indirect land use bill to get EPA not to use that in their determinations?

GRASSLEY: Well, I'm sure supporting it. And I think that if we have an energy bill this year, there's a -- it's going to be an issue. If we don't have an energy bill -- well, we've got to have an energy bill sometime this year. It will be an issue, and it ought to be an issue.

QUESTION: Do you see more support picking up for it in the Senate, sir?

GRASSLEY: With big oil's impact on this debate -- and I spoke to that last week. I haven't spoken to it this week, so I'm not going to report that -- or repeat that. But I think you can expect a big fight to preserve ethanol any time big oil is a part of the battle.

OK. Anybody else?

OK. Thank you all very much.


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