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Transcription of Senator Grassley Conference Call with Iowa Reporters

Interview

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Date:
Location: Unknown

GRASSLEY: As part of my congressional oversight of the federal bureaucracy, I've asked the chairman of the International Trade Commission to account for what the agency has done to fix the substantial and systemic management problems identified in publicly available financial statements.

The mismanagement of taxpayers' dollars by the agency, according to basic accounting standards, has been documented in three years of audits. The failure -- the failures put taxpayers' money at heightened risk for fraud, waste and abuse. My questions for the agency are about holding the leadership accountable for responding to the findings and taking action to turn the problem around.

This is the kind of thing that can't be allowed to go on, and that's too often the case with the federal bureaucracy.

I'm also following up today on the response that I got from the Transportation Department to my inquiry of late last year about administrative costs associated with the cash-for-clunker program.

This federal program moved $3 billion, taxpayer dollars that is, out the door in a very short time frame. I asked for an accounting of the administrative costs and a record of how contractors were picked to process the transaction.

Taxpayers deserve a full report on the money that was spent, and if there's another such program in the future it should have the benefit of what happened with cash-for-clunkers, for good or bad. But if there are mistakes, at least don't repeat those mistakes.

In a follow-up letter today then, to the Department of Transportation, I'm asking for more information to complete the picture for transparency and good government.

Courtney Blanchard?

Steve at Cedar Rapids Gazette?

Tim Rohwer?

QUESTION: Yes, Senator.

I understand that you and Senator Baucus, it concerns an article in the New York Times about the quality in long-term care hospitals, and I think you mentioned a particular company involved in this.

Has your office received any complaints or concerns about these problems in Iowa?

GRASSLEY: No.

QUESTION: I mean, do you think it's more of, you know, just in select areas around the country or...

GRASSLEY: Well, we don't know, and that's why we wrote the letter. And these were allegations made about patient safety and quality, and we want information to assess the questions that you're asking me, because the questions you're asking are very basic.

And let me explain that long-term hospitals are a special class of hospitals, somewheres between a skilled nursing home and just a regular hospital, and generally stays that are in the neighborhood of one month. And there's accusations, I think, at this point just among -- just against one company, but that company's got a lot of hospitals.

And so we felt that since there were these accusations, and since there's a lot of Medicare and Medicaid money goes into these hospitals, that in order to protect the taxpayers and also the patients and make sure that quality care is delivered for what we're paying for, that we ought to get to the bottom of it.

Now, we may get this information and find out that these are isolated cases. Or we may get information and find out that there's a systemic problem. But we don't know right now.

GRASSLEY: Mike Glover?

QUESTION: I'm fine, Senator.

GRASSLEY: OK. Thank you, Mike.

Ed Tibbetts?

QUESTION: I'm the same. Thanks, sir.

GRASSLEY: Yes, thank you, Ed.

Bill Petroski, Des Moines Register? And you aren't on here very often, so I welcome you, Bill.

QUESTION: Well, thanks a lot, Senator.

Hey, Senator, I have a question in regards to Wellmark. It was well known last month that you sent a letter to the CEO of Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield asking for justification of the rate increases. And then I saw after that this action was stayed and that the governor took some action.

And I saw that Matt Kelly (ph) from (inaudible) Radio News quoted you as saying, "I'm glad my letter got more attention for consumers on that rate increase than it seems to have gotten the attention of the governor," who has reversed his own insurance commissioner...

...QUESTION: Hey, Senator, it's Ed Tibbetts. If you don't mind I'd like to...

GRASSLEY: Sure.

QUESTION: ... chime in with a question here.

GRASSLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: There have been numerous reports about Senator Lindsey Graham talking with the administration about a deal that would result in the closing of Guantanamo Bay. Obviously that's of interest here.

But obviously there's a lot of resistance to that on the Republican side. There seems to be the indication that Senator Graham and maybe some other Republicans might, if there's a deal struck, go along with it. But I also understand that there is some resistance in the Democratic Caucus as well.

I was just wondering, to the extent that you're able, can you sort of help sort out for me where the opportunities from the administration's point of view are on the Republican side and where the road blocks are on the Democratic side?

GRASSLEY: Yes. Well, I was just -- on the latter point, I was going to ask you a follow-up question. Are you saying that there's opposition within the Democratic Party because there's some that don't want to close down Gitmo or because there's some that don't want to compromise on the other end of the party, the constitutional rights of terrorists in our criminal courts?

QUESTION: Well, I'm not sure how it all shakes out, but I know that Senator Durbin said the other day that there are Democrats who are reluctant to go along with closing Guantanamo Bay, and I know that Ben Nelson...

GRASSLEY: Well, then...

QUESTION: ... is one of those...

GRASSLEY: Yes. And I think Lieberman would be another one. Isn't he one of them?

Well, listen, I believe it's a long shot for Lindsey Graham to get very many Republicans for closing down Gitmo. I don't have -- I can't quantify it. I haven't had conversations on it.

But I think that both the philosophical feelings of Republican senators themselves, plus grassroots opposition to closing Gitmo, or more importantly, grassroots opposition to bringing them to the United States -- I don't think anybody would care if we close Gitmo, but not bring them to the United States and not turn them loose so that they can fight against us again -- is pretty -- is pretty strong. And that's why it would be difficult for too many Republicans.

I -- if Lindsey Graham came to Chuck Grassley and said, "Well, if I can make a deal with the president to close Gitmo, move these people to continental United States, and we don't give them our constitutional rights, we'll still try them in military commission," would I be for it? I'd say no.

QUESTION: How many -- how many Republicans -- I mean, you said it's going to be difficult for him to bring very many. I mean, what's sort of the top end that's even possible for it?

GRASSLEY: I don't have any basis for saying that.

QUESTION: OK.

GRASSLEY: And maybe I'd be shocked, that there'll be a lot go along with it.

Now, you understand that I have great respect for Lindsey Graham, great respect, but on this issue I would disagree with him.

QUESTION: Thanks.

GRASSLEY: And part of this is a half a billion dollars -- no, a half -- yes, a half a billion dollars in this president's budget to do a lot of things with moving them here.

We've already spent the taxpayers' money once, and when you're running these budget deficits and you're tripling the national debt over a period of 10 years, why would you want to spend the money twice to take care of the same group of people? Plus, why give them a propaganda platform for the freedom of press that we have that they would take advantage of?

QUESTION: Why do you think -- what do you think's motivating him to seek out this deal?

GRASSLEY: I believe he's sincere, and I believe he believes that if he can get a trade-off of not giving the sheik constitutional rights, that even our own men and women in uniform in court martial don't have, that closing Guantanamo is a -- is a -- very little sacrifice compared to the other advantages that we gain as a society for not trying these people in our own courts.

QUESTION: OK. Thanks.

GRASSLEY: Anybody else?...

...Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: Thank you, Senator.


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