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Transcription of Senator Grassley's News Conference Call with Iowa Reporters

Interview

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GRASSLEY: I wanted to tell you about a letter that I sent to the FEMA administrator asking for additional relief for 2008 Iowa flood victims who must soon move back into rental housing.

This month FEMA extended the temporary housing program in Iowa, which is very helpful, especially for families who benefit from staying put with school kids until the end of the semester.

Now, there's a wrinkle that FEMA also said fair market rental rates for temporary housing would take effect at the end of November. The problem is that fair market rates have gone up substantially compared to pre-flood rates because rental property isn't eligible for FEMA assistance, so it's taken longer to get it rehabilitated and rebuilt, and as a result the rent has gone up.

So my letter to FEMA administrator makes the point that these families need more time to adjust to those higher rates. The end of November is a short time frame for them to come up with money for new large expenditures. I hope to be able to work with FEMA to come up with a workable plan for flood victims who must either cough up a lot of money in a short amount of time or be forced out of their housing during the holiday season.

I plan to stay on top of this issue as part of a continuing effort to assist recovery from 2008 floods and tornadoes.

I'm ready for questions, and I'll start with Kerry.

QUESTION: Thank you, Senator. What do you think the president should do about the situation in Afghanistan?

GRASSLEY: Well, I think I said over the last month that the president came up with a plan that was announced in March, so I assume it's still his plan. And I don't think he'd change plans now.

He appointed General McChrystal to get the job done. General McChrystal needs more troops. We've lost eight people over there in one day, 14 in another day. I think we're losing troops because they aren't adequately fortified and backed up.

And so I think if -- you ought to have confidence in the general you put in the place. The president's our commander in chief, but they aren't on the ground every day. And presidents announce plans, and that's what this one did. He's sticking to his plan. He needs to deliver what's needed to get the job done.

And then also that -- that plan that General McChrystal puts together follows on the same sort of plan that was used in Iraq, and it worked in Iraq. And presumably it's going to work in -- in Afghanistan.

And when there's been any dispute about whether or not additional troops ought to be added, nobody ever talked down either the president's plan that was announced in March or what General McChrystal has said. I think there's been great deal of deference.

So if there are people opposed to more troops being in there, I think that they probably are the ones that would say that we shouldn't be there in the first place.

(CROSSTALK)

GRASSLEY: But we are there.

QUESTION: You -- you do not oppose sending more troops?

GRASSLEY: Uh, I thought that's what I was just talking about.

QUESTION: I know, but you would support that if more troops go right?

GRASSLEY: Well it isn't a case of support. It's a case of the president delivering on his plan. And -- and what it is now, if you're asking would I support more money for those troops, if -- if it's not already in the budget and if I haven't already supported it, my position since 2003 is you make a decision to put people into the field to do a job, you got to give them what it takes to do the job or you shouldn't have them there.

Tom Beaumont?

James Lynch?

QUESTION: Senator, I wanted to follow up on your letter to FEMA. I'm wondering, do you think those people in the trailers should continue to live there rent free or should the rent be based on their income or is there some other formula that FEMA should be using?

GRASSLEY: Well, I think it -- I think there is -- if there is going to be rent, it's already prorated based upon ability to pay. That's -- that's a conversation I had with Sherry 48 hours ago. Sherry's on my staff. I can have Sherry get back to you.

But here's, you know, this is kind of a negotiating posture I'm in, and I'm not sure I want to comment. But I thought I can comment partially, but not wholly.

I think that right now, during Thanksgiving and the holidays, is a very bad time to start charging rent -- making rent go up for people. So maybe starting after the holidays would be a very good place to start, wherever you start.

And then, if I'm wrong about it not being based on the ability to pay -- and I'll get an answer for you on that after we get off the line -- we -- I would start there, but I would also start with the possibility of maybe phasing in rent.

QUESTION: OK.

GRASSLEY: Are you done, James?

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask one more question.

Is this the same practice FEMA has used in -- after Katrina and other disasters, that at some point they start charging rent in those -- for those trailers?

GRASSLEY: I believe so, but I -- I'm not sure I can answer that for certainty. And so we'll have Sherry get back to you on that point as well.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

GRASSLEY: Yeah. Let's see, the next person is going to be Mike Glover. How about Sue at WHO Radio? How about Tim Rohwer?

QUESTION: Yes, Senator. I understand -- I was wondering, have you met yet or will with the Enlisted Association and Officers Association of the Iowa National Guard? And if so, did they mention anything about this possible deployment next year?

GRASSLEY: No. They came in more on personnel problems. And I met with them yesterday sometime between 3:00 and 5:00, and there was about eight people in, couple retired, couple active, couple part-time. And they brought up various issues about retirement, about health care. Let's see, what else? It was four issues they brought up.

Oh, something about with the Webb bill that passed for education for kids -- for people have been in Iraq or Afghanistan coming back, getting better educational benefits, hard time -- slow time getting their money to go to college. And then there's something about somebody that's retired, doesn't have to go to college, that can be passed on to the kids. There's a problem there as well.

And that's -- they brought up not about the deployment, except the extent to which lots of deployments have been the basis for a lot of this legislation that they're talking about.

And then, Tim, I don't have this article in front of me, and I don't know whether it was an editorial in your paper or whether it was an article that was written, but it suggested -- and this is not a criticism; it'd just be a lack of information probably your newspaper had -- it -- it was an editorial my staff tells me, and they ask that I get on top of this business of -- of conditions in nursing homes.

And -- and I can submit a lot of information going back to my chairmanship of the House Aging Committee and then hearings that I've even had when I was chairman of the Finance Committee, but probably more during the period of time I was of the Aging Committee and -- and bringing about a lot of changes within the Clinton administration on the enforcement of federal law on quality of care at nursing homes.

And so, if your -- if your editor is interested in that, I'd be glad to submit that information.

There's nothing wrong -- there was nothing wrong with the article that was written. The only thing that was different was their asking me to take a leadership role.

Now, a continuing leadership role is legitimate, but I've already been in a leadership role on that point.

QUESTION: Oh, sure. Yes.

GRASSLEY: OK. Did you get your question answered, Tim?

QUESTION: Sure.

GRASSLEY: OK. How about Bret, in Sioux City?

QUESTION: Good morning, Senator. What do you make of the discussions by Leader Harry Reid and the Democratic senators on whether a public option has 60 votes in the chamber?

GRASSLEY: Well, the fact of whether it has 60 votes are not is pretty -- is pretty -- I mean, that's pretty quantifiable. And probably within the last 24 hours -- some surprise to me -- Senator Lieberman coming out very strong of supporting a filibuster if there's a public option in. And I believe that also -- don't -- don't quote me on this, because your paper goes over into Nebraska, but I think that maybe there were some questions raised about

Nelson...

QUESTION: Right.

GRASSLEY: ... maybe being on the fence on that issue, or maybe even being opposed to it. And then Blanche Lincoln. And if these -- if one or two or three of these people would take that position, it -- it -- I don't see how a bill with a public option could be in it.

But I think the substance of a public option or all the versions of it that they're talking about is more important. Because it's the substance that bothers me, because, you know, I've been opposed to it.

But, you know, you've got the pure public option. You've got the alternative to the public option, of a co-op. As we know, co-ops in the Midwest, isn't bad.

But when it comes to public option, whether it's the version that has a trigger, the version that is opt-out or opt-in, it's still a government-run plan that's going to undermine for close to 200 million people already having private insurance.

Because, see, you get the federal government -- this is true, opt-in, opt-out, trigger or just pure option -- you get the government as a competitor, the government's the regulator, and the government is a funder. And if you're going to have a new government-run health entitlement, health insurance entitlement, it's going to be all three of those, and it's ultimately going to force private insurers out of business and -- and that's -- the other one was the Lewin Group, it said, you know tens of millions of people were going to be forced into -- into the private -- or into the public plan. And it's going -- and you're going to have employers dropping coverage.

So the president made a promise, "If you want to keep what you have, you can keep it." That promise isn't going to be viable anymore.

So I would rather -- I appreciate your question, but I would rather look at the substance of the issue. And I think that's what Senator Lieberman, Senator Lincoln and Senator Nelson are doing. And there may be others. In fact, there is another one. I think Evan Bayh and -- and Landrieu are others that are raising questions about it.

QUESTION: Do you feel like Republicans are now, so to say, on the sidelines of the issue? And, secondly, do you think Republicans did enough to make sure ideas that you wanted in the reform bill will be properly weighed by Democrats?

GRASSLEY: Yes, and they were defeated in committee on party-line votes. They don't like our ideas, and our ideas have a lot of support at the grassroots of America.

For instance, I can tell you, my town meetings that I had at least since May, but particularly during August, it came up at every meeting -- you know, people were kind of disgusted. And I don't know whether they were disgusted with me as part of the process, but they were worried about all the federal government nationalizing health insurance. And they said, "Why don't you do something like take care of medical malpractice lawsuits, the abuse of that, frivolous lawsuits, as an example? Or why don't you sell -- let insurance be sold across state lines like you do for car insurance?" And things like that.

And so we're going to offer those ideas. And -- and you saw them in committee, you saw them on the floor. You didn't see them when I was trying to negotiate some of those things during the -- during the group of six. But we got our plans. We got big -- when I say "big" plans, I mean we got a comprehensive bill and then we got bits and pieces, but big bits and pieces that we're going to be offering as amendments on the floor.

So you'll know where Republicans stand.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Those amendments will still be coming.

GRASSLEY: ... for the status quo. Because there's no Republican satisfied with the status quo on health care.

Christinia Crippes?

QUESTION: Hi, Senator.

I wanted to go back to the FEMA letter and just get an idea from you, kind of, what's your sense of how recovery is going. I mean, we're about 16 months out from the flood. What's your sense in talking to people? Are things getting better?

GRASSLEY: I think for anybody that was in the flood home and they are not -- I mean, in the flood zone, they are not in their house. And particularly those that might be in the 200- or 300-year range, things are still not very good for them.

The people that were in the 100-year flood plain I think are getting bought out. But the ones that are in the 200- and 300- -- now I'm speaking more for Cedar Rapids than I am for -- for any other town, because I suppose if 300 towns were hurt by floods, you know, there's 300 different answers. But particularly in Cedar Rapids and maybe other places in Linn County, where -- where -- and now speaking of Cedar Rapids, so I digress just a little bit there

-- continuing to speak about Cedar Rapids.

In the 100-year flood plain, they probably know where they are. But when you get to 200- or 300-year flood plain, the Corps of Engineer is conducting a study that's not going to be done until December 2010, and the city's not going to make any moves on those properties until they get some word about what the Corps is going to do to prevent floods in the future, and how much lanes (ph) you have to buy up and how far you're going to go back. And

you're going to go back to 200- and 300-year floods or not -- flood plains or not.

But...

QUESTION: Thank you.

GRASSLEY: OK.

But I can add this: that for people that are wondering about X-number of dollars that it takes to meet the federal government's commitment to -- to be available for what the law has been for a long period of time, that money's going to be available, but it may not be paid out as quickly as people need to have it paid out.

Let's see, Kathie Obradovich?

QUESTION: Senator, what's your experience tell you about the kinds of things that happen when the president and the majority party are only about three or four votes away from getting to a -- getting to the floor with their absolute top priority? You know, what kinds of arm twisting, what kinds of things have you seen in the past? And are you worried about anything like that going on now?

GRASSLEY: Well, I think it is going on. I don't know -- I don't want to give credence to the terms "arm twisting" and stuff like that, because you have to be there to know exactly like it is.

But I think I want to answer your question one way, as opposed to another way, and right now we're in the first way.

I think when you have a new president elected, particularly elected with a margin that this guy was elected, and with the 60 votes they have in the United States Senate, that there's tremendous pressure on the majority party to deliver a win for the president, particularly if it's his number one goal.

And this is his number one goal.

Now, the further you get away from that election and that mandate, then there could still be the same amount of pressure and arm twisting -- and I'm using your words, not mine -- less effective than it is right here in the first year.

That's my experience, probably with more than one president.

QUESTION: So drawing on your experience, do you think that that four -- three or four votes is a doable burden to overcome in order to get to that 60 votes?

GRASSLEY: No, I think they'll find ways to overcome it. So...

QUESTION: Yes.

GRASSLEY: ... I don't know whether I said this to press people like you, but when a lot of people -- you'd be surprised. I -- you know, I spent two full days and parts of two days in Polk County over the -- last weekend going to church suppers and VFWs and to zoos and, you know, you can see my schedule, so I don't have to tell you the whole schedule. But maybe eating at Hy-Vees, et cetera, et cetera.

People come up to you, they want to say, "Well, thank you for fighting hard," you know, and I have to get down and tell them what it is, you know, it's quantifiable. When you're outvoted 60-40 and you have the pressure from the White House to get something passed, it's pretty difficult, unless there's problems within their party, of stopping it. I mean, it's just simple mathematics.

And so that's what I'm -- I appreciate people tell me they appreciate my fighting, looking out for their interest, trying to not wreck our health care system, et cetera, et cetera. But the fact is there's 60 of them and if they 60 stick together, they're going to get it done.

Now, will they stick together? Then that gets back to your first question. I don't know.

QUESTION: Thanks, Senator.

GRASSLEY: OK. I went through the whole list, follow-up or somebody I forgot?

OK. Thank you all very much.


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