STAFF: The following is an unrehearsed interview with Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, speaking to you live from Washington. Participating in today's public affairs program are Sara Konrad with KIFG Radio and the Iowa Falls Times-Citizen in Iowa Falls and Eric Owomayela with the Mount Pleasant News in Mount Pleasant.
The first question will be from Sara Konrad.
QUESTION: Good afternoon, Senator. Thanks for joining us.
GRASSLEY: Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: There's been so much committee activity with the health care reform bill that maybe you could kind of catch us up on what's happening. I know there have been several amendments proposed.
QUESTION: Are we any closer to -- I guess you've said you would like to see a bipartisan bill. Are we any closer to -- to getting that?
GRASSLEY: We won't have a bipartisan bill because the White House stepped in here two weeks ago and demanded that Senator Baucus break off his talks with the Republicans. I don't think Senator Baucus wanted to do that. And there was still some very key differences between the two sides.
But I think they could have been done, and I think Senator Baucus would have liked to have done it, but he was overridden, so that means that a partisan document's before us, and there hasn't been enough change in it or enough invitation to Republican points of view for it to become bipartisan.
And we've tried to offer a lot of amendments, and this is our ninth day, I think, of consideration of the bill. It may be our last one. It won't be a final vote out of committee today because we've got to make sure that the revised -- the amended version is put in final form, and 72 hours for people to read it and study it, and then have the Congressional Budget Office score it. So even if we finish tonight, my guess is it'll be next Wednesday or Thursday before we'll actually have it out of committee.
But I've -- I've gotten some amendments adopted. They don't change the significant health policy that the bill -- a comprehensive bill wants to do, but it does take care of some problems we have for rural America, and that is to get a better basis and a better formula for the reimbursement of doctors so that Iowa and other rural states are -- are treated more fairly than we are now and more equitably with large metropolitan areas.
QUESTION: And I wanted to ask you about the climate bill that was introduced this week in the Senate. The House version has already been passed. And this is, obviously, a concern to people here in Iowa for a couple of different reasons. Farmers are worried about how this is going to affect their produce, but, on the other hand, renewable energy is brought up a lot as one of the big job opportunities here. How do you think Congress ought to balance those concerns?
GRASSLEY: Well, I don't think a balanced energy policy is necessarily encompassed in a global warming bill. You can have the two separately. But the extent to which you move to alternative energy, which I very much support, deals with the global warming issue.
My -- I approach it from this standpoint, that an energy program needs to have three prongs. Two of them are very definitely related towards reducing carbon dioxide, the extent to which we can serve more than we have in the past. And I would do that through tax incentives, and we're now doing that through some tax incentives.
The other one is alternative energy, ethanol, biodiesel, wind, solar, and maybe I ought to say all of the above. We -- we have tax incentives for those. And, in fact, I'm the author of the wind energy tax credit of 1992. I've done an awful lot for the ethanol industry and biodiesel industry, as an example, so I'm a promoter of alternative energy, as well as conservation.
Where we really come up short is drilling in the United States for resources we have in petroleum and natural gas to the fullest. Now, I think that with finding more natural gas in the United States, that's apt to happen, but I would have that three-prong approach for an energy policy, but two-thirds of it also deals with global warming issues.
Now, the bill you were asking me about that came out, I -- I, obviously, haven't read it at this point. And since I'm not on that committee, I may wait for committee action. I don't expect a global warming bill, cap-and-trade bill, whatever you want to call it, to come up this year, but I can tell you, I've studied the bill in the House of Representatives that passed there on July -- at the end of June, and I would not vote for that bill, because for the same reasons as your questions.
It isn't fair to agriculture, because agriculture is heavily vested in use of energy that would be taxed at a very high rate and make our agriculture more uncompetitive. And then the other aspect of it is that, in Iowa and the Midwest and the Southeast of the United States, we're so dependent upon coal for electric generation, so when you tax that stuff, as the House bill does, you are going to increase costs to these parts of the country to make us uncompetitive with the rest of the country.
Now, does something need to be done about global warming? If we're going to do something, it should be done through an international treaty, so China, the biggest emitter of CO-2 into the air, is -- ought to be on the same plane as the United States. Otherwise, we're going to lose all of our manufacturing to China. So I'm an advocate for doing it through international treaty.
QUESTION: OK. I think it goes back to me now.
QUESTION: And not to beat a dead horse, but I'd like to go back to the health care issue.
GRASSLEY: Sure. Go ahead.
QUESTION: And I know -- I think it's twice that a public option has been rejected in the committee.
QUESTION: Do you see any hope for a public option? I mean, what's...
GRASSLEY: Well, of course, I'm against a public option.
GRASSLEY: And so if you're for it, you won't like that answer. But I would like to argue that you shouldn't be for it because several think-tanks, health economists, whether it's Heritage at 83 million or -- let's see -- the other one is the Lewin Group with 120 million, you're talking about a lot of people being forced out of their existing health plan into a government-run plan, which eventually leads us to a single-payer Canadian-style plan. And when you get the government running everything, and they're only going to spend X number of dollars, you get rationings and denial of care or delay of care.
So, consequently, I don't like that, and that's -- and I don't think the American people are going to want it. And one of the examples of rationing is you got to wait three months in Canada for an MRI. And I don't think people in this country want to wait that long. And that's just one example.
So a public option has been defeated twice in committee, but it's still going to come up on the floor of the Senate. And I wouldn't want to say that it's -- that it's going to pass in the Senate, but if it would pass in the Senate, that'd be the death knell for any hope of getting a bipartisan bill.
STAFF: Back to Eric?
QUESTION: All right. Senator, another major issue in the health care debate is that of Medicare and -- and what's going to happen there. Particularly, it's been a concern to people in Iowa and a lot of other Midwestern states that historically have not been reimbursed at the same rate from the program as other states on the coasts.
QUESTION: Is there -- do you see a chance that could be affected?
GRASSLEY: Well, no. In fact, it's going to be exacerbated if this bill goes through, because it takes $440 billion out of Medicare over the next 10 years. And in turn, that money's going to be used to finance health insurance for people below 300 percent of poverty. And so it's going to hurt health care delivery in rural America.
QUESTION: OK. I think it goes back to me.
QUESTION: I know there's been discussion about this fee for people who are not insured, requiring that people have health insurance, and then assessing a fee if they don't have health insurance, but there have been discussions about how that could be limited so the poorest Americans aren't affected by that. At what point -- or what's your opinion on that?
GRASSLEY: Yes. Well, a person that is low-income or for some other reason just can't afford it, even with a subsidy, they can be exempted from it. But the -- the theory is that that's just going to be a very, very small number of people.
Otherwise, everybody is going to have to have insurance. And if you don't, there's going to be a $900 penalty, in other words, an excise tax. If you don't pay -- have it, you have to pay it into -- along with your income tax. And $2,000 -- or, more accurately, $1,900 for a family of four. At one time, that was up to $3,800 for a family of four. If that family didn't have health insurance, they'd be taxed that amount of money, violating the president's promise that nobody under $250,000 income was going to be taxed.
And -- and that -- and this is what we call an individual mandate. And an individual mandate is supposed to be there to help more people get insurance, number one, but to bring more income into the insurance companies. And as a result, it's a violation of people's freedom that want to self-insure or maybe just don't want to buy health insurance or maybe can't afford it.
And -- and I think the same thing can be accomplished through a reinsurance amendment that I put in that wasn't taken up or our negotiations ended before we got to that point. And I think we can get about the same -- encourage the same -- about the same number of people to get health insurance the same way that the partisan bill is forcing people to get health insurance or else pay the penalty.
STAFF: Thank you, Sara and Eric, for participating in today's public affairs program. This has been Senator Chuck Grassley reporting to the people of Iowa.
GRASSLEY: Yes, thank you all very much.
QUESTION: Great. Thank you, Senator.
QUESTION: Thank you, Senator.