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Transcription of Senator Grassley's Agriculture News Conference Call

Interview

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GRASSLEY: OK. Good morning, everybody. I know the topic on most everybody's mind is the biodiesel tax credit. The driving force behind the package proposed by Senator Baucus and me was the extension of the expired tax credits. And there's about 70 of them, but the one most concerning the Midwest right now is the biodiesel tax credit and the extension of that.

I made the case that the biodiesel provision saves jobs and saves jobs right now. There is no bucket of government money that can be thrown at an industry that will do the same thing that this tax credit would do for biodiesel. The industry has laid off 29,000 people in the last year.

I had a tele-town meeting last week, and somebody got on the call to ask the question about biodiesel, and his wife had been laid off that very day. And it's because the biodiesel plant closed down near Washington, Iowa.

The industry is hemorrhaging jobs, and we can do something to stop it. Yet Senator Reid decided that it was more important to play political games than actually saving and creating jobs in the private sector.

Congress comes back into session next week, and Reid will likely bring up a bill that may or may not garner the support of 60 senators. The majority leader is also expected to not allow any amendments on his bill, so we won't be able to offer the biodiesel tax credit as an amendment.

So it's not a very good situation after promising people that we would backdate it to January the 1st and get these people back to work and we would do it with the first tax bill of the year. Partisanship has won out over common sense.

I'm ready for questions on any subject, and Chance, you'll call the names.

STAFF: Tom Rider, WNAX?

QUESTION: Good morning, Senator.

Senator, obviously, that begs the question that, obviously, the soybean folks are very upset with the fact that Senator Reid put the kibosh on the biodiesel tax credit. What -- is there any way at all that that can be brought back? Is there any way at all that, you know, maybe even new legislation be written to try to push this thing forward, sir?

GRASSLEY: Well, there's going to be other opportunities. In fact, even if we had passed this bill with the biodiesel and other extenders in it, we still know that there's other tax bills coming down the road, probably, a couple opportunities. One, when we take up an energy tax bill -- I should say we take up an energy bill out of the energy committee.

But there is going to be tax provisions added to that bill, and that will be out of our committee. That's an opportunity. Other opportunity will be when we take up the estate tax.

The trouble is it's very essential to get this done right now. And so it's positive in the sense that there's other opportunities, but it's negative that they're down the road a little longer than they need to be if we'd gotten it done in this particular bill.

STAFF: Julie Harker, Brownfield?

GRASSLEY: Brownfield have any? OK. Go ahead.

STAFF: Chris Clayton?

QUESTION: So you expect this will actually hit the floor -- this jobs bill will hit the floor. Reid had indicated last week that the tax bill would come up separately. I mean, is that indicating that the provisions -- these extenders that you would like to see passed -- may very well still get a chance to come to the floor separately?

GRASSLEY: Yes. But I don't think that you're going to have just a bill with extenders in them, although, that would be OK with me to get it done soon. But I think you're going to have them coupled together as we did in this bill. It wasn't just an extenders bill; there were other provisions in it.

And I think -- in fact, there were even some non-tax provisions in this bill that needed to be extended right now. One of them is the Patriot Act involved with the War on Terror as just an example of a non-tax provision that we wanted to use this as a vehicle to get through.

So where are we? We've got the estate tax. We've got a possible -- a possible energy tax bill coming up. But who knows when they're going to get passed? We know this bill is probably going to pass sooner than later. And it's kind of a missed opportunity, particularly, when you have plants shut down just because the tax credit isn't there.

And if it were there, they would have been functioning and you would have had thousands of people otherwise unemployed employed.

STAFF: Stacia Cudd?

Philip Brasher?

QUESTION: Yes. Senator, just following up on that. When do you see the -- in terms of a timeframe -- these two bills that you're mentioned, energy and the estate taxes as attached here or dealt with -- what kind of timeframe are you looking at when those are likely to come up? I mean, how long -- I'm trying to get a sense of how long down the road.

GRASSLEY: Well, I don't know except there's not much of the work of our committee standing in the way of our working on them right away. But there's no time frame set.

Part of what was going to be an agreement that wouldn't have been a part of this bill was we were going to have a decision from Reid of a path to move ahead on estate tax. So that would have been another kind of victory in the sense of having some certainty of when that would come up.

And we were hoping to have that built into some sort of understanding between the two leaders, Reid and McConnell. But presumably, that's fallen through.

So I'd have a date certain there to answer that question, but I can't answer that question now, and I can't answer exactly when energy will come up. But there isn't a lot on our energy unless we get back to health-care reform. And I think the chances of that happening are not very good unless the White House is willing to start over.

And then, of course, most of it is that an energy bill or an estate tax bill could come up pretty soon. But will it? You know, I'm not chairman of the committee, but, obviously, I'm going urge those things to happen.

QUESTION: Realistically, what kind of time -- when's the -- realistically, when is the earliest this is -- these will -- could be brought back with it not being in this bill?

GRASSLEY: Yes. I always kind of measure things by recesses. And that's why, if it hadn't been for the snowstorm and this agreement stuck together, we would have had this bill through last Friday. Now, the next one is whenever the Easter break comes.

STAFF: OK. I've read through it the entire list. Does anybody have a follow-up or get added late?

QUESTION: Senator, what's your -- you're doing town halls this week, right? What's your schedule?

GRASSLEY: Yes. Today, it'll be -- if think of it off the top of my head -- an hour at Glenwood and then Rotary Club Red Oak, then Clarinda, I believe, and then Sidney and, oh, then Council Bluffs tonight at 7:00. I don't often have town meetings at night, but I have one scheduled tonight in Council Bluffs.

So I think -- I guess I have five of them today.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Senator, this is Tom Rider at WNAX again.

A question. There were flaws in a report in 2007 by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They're now bringing into question the report's projections.

And Senator Inhofe thinks the errors are reason enough to block mandatory limits on green-house gas emissions. I'm curious your thoughts on this situation.

GRASSLEY: Well, I think I've told you on this program that I would vote for Lisa Murkowski's resolution of disapproval of what the EPA is doing on CO2. And then I also -- since I told you that, I see that Senator Skelton -- no, Congressman Skelton and Congressman Peterson -- Missouri and Minnesota -- put in a bill to, I guess, just take away the authority of EPA to even do that.

So I think that there's -- that there's ample evidence even without Lisa Murkowski or without the Skelton bill that there's negative reaction to cap-and-trade. This goes one step further in both of those incidences to overturning what the EPA is trying to do by regulation based on a Supreme Court decision.

QUESTION: Senator, are you expecting any serious attempt to eliminate the ethanol tariff this year?

GRASSLEY: Oh, yes. I think Brazil is already working on that. I don't know about interest within our country, but I'd be surprised if big oil wasn't part of that. I wouldn't even be surprised if Grocery Manufacturers Association of America, like they've been trying to use ethanol scapegoating to raise their prices, wouldn't be up to that as well.

And it does sunset. And I would expect, in consideration of the three ways we try to help ethanol, through the tariff, through the credit, and through the mandate, that that's -- that would be the shakiest ground. Obviously, I'm going to be fighting to maintain it.

I said I would entertain the question of reforming it when they use up the loophole that's in the Caribbean Basin Initiative. But it's only about two-thirds used up now, and they ought to fill that in. And that serves two purposes.

That allows Brazil to export to the United States, but it's also creating jobs in the Caribbean Basin Initiative.

QUESTION: Well, is that really -- one of the things that the EPA announced this morning that there is and going to be a lot of competition for Brazilian ethanol from other countries -- from the EU, from other countries that are putting in targets and mandates.

Is it really that critical to the U.S. industry to...

GRASSLEY: I have not had a chance to study the economics, but I'd say that if there's an economic component to that that may be would be less of a worry to us if we didn't have the tariff -- and that is the high price of sugar -- but I don't know whether sugar -- you know what? I say that without checking with the price of sugar in the last two months.

But it was, you know, at a historic high of above $0.20 where it had normally been $0.05, $0.06, $0.07. So if it stays that high, you know, it's going to make it more competitive. But I don't know what the price of sugar is today.

But I haven't studied the economics of the other component of your question, so I can't answer that.

QUESTION: OK.

GRASSLEY: OK. Anybody else? OK. Thank you all very much. Goodbye.

QUESTION: Thank you, Senator.


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