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 Tom Robinson with K-S-O-M Radio in Atlantic and Gregory Norfleet with the West Branch Times in West Branch. The first question will be from Tom Robinson.
QUESTION: Good morning, Senator. The Senate voted 98-0 to provide the unemployed 28 weeks of additional unemployment benefits and expand a first-time homebuyer tax credit to include a far larger pool of people.
You voted for this? And tell us why this is important.
GRASSLEY: Well, I suppose the main reason for voting for the bill is because, traditionally, in long recessions, we do in fact, when people -- when unemployment's not going down, and in this case it's going to go up for a few more months; when people run out of unemployment compensation, we generally increase it.
Now, your question was more directed toward a part of the bill that was housing tax credit. And the reason we extended that was because there were a lot of people, right up here until the deadline that were not getting loans approved and probably wouldn't have gotten the loans approved if the -- if it had not been extended. And it seems like the program has worked to take some of the inventory of housing out of the inventory.
And that housing recovery is very necessary to getting out of the recession. More people that were waiting to take advantage of it that couldn't take advantage of it because it looked like it was going to expire, to let that pool of people continue to use it, and also turn the economy around.
QUESTION: Good morning, Senator, this is Greg (ph). Regarding health care reform, there are not new arguments that some of the proposals like auditing self-insured employers or mandating people buy health insurance is beyond the authority of the federal government that such proposals are actually unconstitutional. Where do you stand on that?
GRASSLEY: Well, I can tell you where I stand on those issues. And I can think they're unconstitutional, but I'm not sure that I'm in a position as a farmer, as opposed to being a constitutional lawyer, to say for sure they're unconstitutional. And even a constitutional lawyer might have a difficult time saying for sure because they've got to read previous court cases. But there's nothing dealing directly with these issues that you could say, flat-out, how the Supreme Court might rule.
But, starting with the philosophy that the federal government is a -- is a government of limited power; they can't do anything that's not in the Constitution, and the states can do anything that's not prohibited in the Constitution, then I can say that, under the 10th amendment, the federal government doesn't have the authority to make you buy anything or keep you from buying anything. And particularly, that's true of guns, now, because we recently had a Supreme Court -- in that particular case of guns.
And -- states, on the other hand, could require it if they wanted to, as they do in the case of car insurance, because states have more broad authority of legislating than what the federal government has.
So I think that there is a case that it could be unconstitutional.
QUESTION: Senator, the federal budget office announced last month that the 2009 fiscal year budget deficit about $1.4 trillion, which is up over 207 percent from last year.
What would you cut? What needs to be done here?
GRASSLEY: Well, I'm an advocate for freezing across the board. Now, I know the governor of Iowa just recently got criticized for cuts across the board, and -- but I believe that if you start saying, "I'm going to cut an agricultural program or a housing program," then everybody gangs up to make sure that that doesn't happen and you eventually never get anything done because somebody getting cut and other people not getting cut, it doesn't look like it's a fair issue.
So cutting across the board I think has -- does away with the issue of fairness and being selective. And, quite frankly, you wouldn't have to cut across the board for a long period of time. If you just freeze across the board -- and I want to emphasize the word "freeze" as opposed to "cuts" -- you really aren't cutting anything next year below what they're getting this year. And if you would just freeze for one year and you would extend that lower level of spending out over 10 years, as opposed to increases you normally get, it starts adding up to real dollars.
Now, I'm not saying you're going to pay off the national debt by doing that, but you're surely going to be getting to a balanced budget and not increasing the national debt, as is the case right now under the budget that was adopted by the Democrats in March. You're going to have a three-time increase in the national debt over the next 10 years that the Congressional Budget Office surveys ahead.
QUESTION: If I can follow up, I mean, how concerned are you about this?
GRASSLEY: I'm concerned both about that, because of unfairness to our young people, our children and grandchildren.
Another reason I'm concerned about it is that I'm afraid it causes a collapse of the dollar, and I think a strong dollar is very important not only to the economy of the United States, but the economy of the entire world.
But when it comes to the question of a strong dollar, though, let me add this, even though you didn't ask about it. Congress being more responsible in budgeting is part of the answer, but also a bigger answer comes from the Federal Reserve, which does not get -- which already has existing authority to do with its money about whatever it wants to, and it has printed a lot of money that it's got to start soaking up pretty soon or we're going to have a great deal of inflation and a lowering of the value of the dollar, more because of what the Fed has done than what Congress has done.
But it's a two-part approach. You got to have both Congress and the Fed being more cautious.
QUESTION: Thanks, Senator.
QUESTION: The House today passed the credit reform bill that would ban universal default and double-cycling billing and limit fees. The bill now moves to the Senate. How do you think this is going to affect credit? And is this something you're going to support?
GRASSLEY: Well, I'm not going to say anything about support on a House bill because that's not the bill that's going to come up in the Senate. There's going to be a separate bill coming up in the Senate, and it's moving slowly through the Senate Banking Committee, and I don't expect it to be up for next year.
But I do think you have to be pretty cautious about regulations that might restrict credit. Now, I don't say that some restriction is not legitimate, because we're in a recession now because we weren't very cautious in giving credit to some people that couldn't afford new houses, you know.
We even gave credit to people that didn't have jobs or didn't justify what their assets were, and maybe didn't even have any assets.
So restricting that kind of irresponsible credit is necessary. But credit for small business and for consumers, I think you have to be careful about policies dealing with credit cards that might restrict that type of credit because some people, probably lower-income people, maybe the only the credit they can have is what they get on a credit card. So you don't want to be unfair to that class of people.
Do you want to jump in?
QUESTION: Senator, well, yes. I'm just going to -- you mentioned the farming part. The state of Iowa and the whole Midwest has been under a lot of bad weather as far as bringing the harvest in. If I may ask, how is your operation coming and maybe comment on the rest of the Midwest -- these guys trying to get this crop in. It's been a tough, tough fall. How is your operation coming, and...
GRASSLEY: As of Monday night, my farming operation, of which my son, Robin, does most of the work. I'm kind of a hired man. We had about 65 percent of our beans out and about 15 percent of our corn, where normally we'd have out about 50 percent of our corn and about 85 percent of our soybeans.
I've got time for one more question.
QUESTION: OK. The cash-for-clunkers program, according to the Associated Press, saw a lot of people turn in old gas guzzlers for new gas guzzlers. Do you think it was more important to get people to spend money on the cars to stimulate the economy? Or was it more important to use this program to preserve energy and reduce carbon emissions?
GRASSLEY: Both should have been done, and one wasn't done very well. But I can say that I was not for the program to begin with because I don't think car sales and the credit for car sales does anywheres near as much economic good as such a credit for homes. And that's why I voted for the home credit and I didn't vote for the clunker credit.
Thank you, Tom and Gregory, for participating in today's public affairs program. This has been Senator Chuck Grassley reporting to the people of Iowa.
Thank you both very much.