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


Location: Unknown

GRASSLEY: Later this morning, I'm going to meet with Governor

Kathleen Sebelius, who is has been nominated by the president to serve

as secretary of HHS. Last week, I participated in the White House

forum on health care reform. This week, the Finance Committee is

holding two hearings on the subject of health care reform.

Committee members have agreed to a timeframe for working on a

bipartisan bill that could be presented to the full Senate in July. I

hope that Governor Sebelius brings Midwest common sense to the job at

HHS. Her state of Kansas faces many of the same rural health care

challenges that we do in Iowa from Medicare reimbursement rates for

doctors to having access to Medicare Advantage benefits that are on a

par with people in the big states like Florida and California.

Ready for questions, and I'll start with Kerry.

QUESTION: Thank you. Senator, since the president said he was

opposed to earmarks during the campaign, should he veto the spending


GRASSLEY: Yes. And I say that not because the spending bill

doesn't have to pass or even because it's 8 percent higher than what

we have been operating under the first 5 months. Although, I think

that 8 percent is ridiculous as well.

But he's got to learn from Bush -- Bush mistakes. And one of

them is on earmarks and the posture towards them, and the other one is

on the level of the spending that's in this first appropriation bill

going to this president.

If you look at spending on the part of Bush on domestic programs,

you'd find, in 2002, 2003, and 2004, the first Bush budgets, dramatic

increases. And then the last three or four years, you had freezes.

And the reason you had those freezes was because spending was

ridiculously high during the first year and, also, public reaction to

it. And what did Bush do? He didn't do much about it until it got

real bad, and then he didn't threatening to veto bills. I doubt if he

ever got much of an appropriation bill to ever veto because it was --

because it had earmarks in it. It was when the Democrats took over.

So he didn't have any credibility.

So my statement, in answer to your question, is he ought to veto

the bill because of the earmarks. He campaigned against earmarks. He

said he wasn't going to allow earmarks. And if he doesn't stand up

against his own majority party or since Republicans have earmarks,

too, stand up against the Congress, he's not going to have any

credibility on anything if he can't have it on earmarks which are

easily defined.

You know, there's a lot of things you might say I'm against, but

then sign a bill with them in because they've been compromised or

something. But you either have earmarks or you don't have earmarks.

And if you take a stand against earmarks, you've got keep that stand.

His -- the Democrats are inconsistent on this because, you know,

they won the 2006 election. One of their four or five main

planks was not to have earmarks. So the first year in control, they

didn't have earmarks, but the second year, 2008, they did have


So if he's sincere about it, he ought to veto this bill. But

I'll bet he won't.

QUESTION: If he vetoed the bill, do you think he would build a

tremendous amount of good will with the Republicans?

GRASSLEY: I'd hate to -- he would with 25 of us that voted with

the principle of not having earmarks when we had that vote up last

fall. But I think Republicans are as guilty of earmarks as Democrats.

And I suppose, in a sense, I'm guilty, too, because, you know, I

submit earmarks to -- my constituents come to me. When I say "my

constituents," cities, counties, universities, state government,

private universities, community colleges come to us and want earmarks

and a pass them on because I believe we shouldn't have earmarks, vote

not to have earmarks.

But if we're going to have earmarks, Iowans pay taxes like every

other state, Iowans ought to have a level playing field the same as

the other states have.

But your question to me is will he -- would he gain with the

Republicans if he vetoed because of earmarks. It would be a heck of a

lot for Republicans than Democrats would applaud him, but there's

still a lot of Republicans believe in earmarks.

Tom Beaumont?

QUESTION: The tone in your voice got a little elevated yesterday

during the testimony of the budget director. Can you explain why?

And more generally, were you satisfied or disappointed with his

testimony yesterday?

GRASSLEY: Well, disappointed from the standpoint that I'd like

to have answers to questions. It helps us to move ahead if we know

where the president is coming from. But from the standpoint of this

president trying to avoid the mistakes of Clinton on health care

reform when Clinton presented a bill and it was rejected by Congress

because it was too dictatorial -- well, it probably wasn't the right

bill, either, coming from the Clinton White House.

And he wants Congress to develop the bill. So then you've got

give some flexibility to Congress under those circumstances. But it

seemed to me he could have answered within certain parameters of where

the president is coming from that would have helped us.

My reaction was that I was being lectured, too, about what

capitalism was. I wasn't getting my questions answered, and I wanted

answers to my questions. And, you know, I don't need to be lectured,

too, about -- like I'm a freshman in college about what capitalism is.


GRASSLEY: Mike Myers?

Jim Boyd?

QUESTION: You covered it today, Senator. Thank you.

GRASSLEY: OK. Back to Mike Myers?

QUESTION: In respect, Senator, I believe I recall that presidential

candidate Obama said he would go through that budget or appropriations

bill line by line on examining earmarks. Is your statement, perhaps,

a little more sweeping than you intended that you believe he is

against any and all earmarks?

GRASSLEY: No. I think we're both right. I think your reference

might be wrong. He did say that's going to go through line by line,

but it wasn't just earmarks. And it wasn't the appropriation bills.

He was going to go through every program line by line that was in

his budget, I think, before he makes recommendations to the Congress.

So in a sense, he's still in that process. We'll have to look at his

budget and see what he's left out -- programs that have been on the

books for a long time, what he's left out to see how sincere he is

about going through his budget line by line.

But I do think he was against earmarks.

QUESTION: OK. On a related matter, on another subject, please.

The so-called card check bill that's been introduced in the Senate by

your colleague, Tom Harkin in the House, where is that going, sir? Is

that going to be a donnybrook with the president or do you think it's

going to be amended...

GRASSLEY: It won't become law because long we've got 41

Republicans sticking together against it -- and it's my understanding

that we have some Democrats that are nervous about it, too. I don't

see how you can get around a filibuster. And it will be filibustered

because -- let me speak from experience that sometimes that I was a

machinist there at Waterloo Register in Cedar Falls, we made furnace

registers. I know the value of a secret ballot.

I think it would have been in the period of time '67, '68, or

'69, we had a dispute between -- we were members of Machinist -- the

Sheet Metal Workers Union was not installing our products in


The -- the owners of the company -- it was locally owned in Cedar

Falls -- they wanted us to have sheet metal workers instead of

machinists. So we had a jurisdictional dispute, I guess you'd call

it. And we had a secret ballot, but we were getting pressure from

machinists not to change, from sheet metal workers to change. And we

were getting intimidated by management wanted the sheet metal workers

to go along with the sheet metal workers.

I voted in a secret ballot. I voted to keep the machinists, and

we won by four votes. But that's the value I know of a secret ballot

in union elections, and we ought to keep it.

QUESTION: Well, Senator Harkin says the bill provides that it

can be kept, it just does not give the company -- management -- the

right to veto. Is that argument baseless?
GRASSLEY: Well, it would only happen -- well, here's where --

here's where -- the crux of the matter would be this. I was thinking

about another verb, but I can't. The crux of the matter is this:

That once 51 percent of the people sign up, you've got a union. And

one by one, they're going to go to them and intimidate them into

joining the union. And so there isn't going to be much left to have a

secret ballot about.

Next would be -- let's see -- Mary Rae Bragg?

QUESTION: Senator, I see that the Senate Judiciary Committee

unanimously approved a bill they called the Railroad Antitrust

Enforcement Act. I believe that was last week.

And I wondered if you personally had received any complaints

about railroad charges from businesses here in Iowa.

GRASSLEY: Yes, mostly connected with utilities, private

municipal utilities and RECs mostly involving coal coming from Wyoming

and the tremendous charges that came with that coal -- almost, I

think, transportation is more than the coal costs. But anyway,

tremendous increases in transportation charges over the last four or

five years.

And that's part of the motivation behind the bill. It's not the

only motivation. But to answer your question, that's almost the only

people I've heard from in Iowa. And I did vote to bring the bill out

of committee.

QUESTION: OK. Thank you, sir.

GRASSLEY: Tim Rohwer?

Jane Norman?

QUESTION: Senator, President Obama issued his order this week,

as expected, on embryonic stem cell research. It turns out to be

somewhat broader than some had anticipated. And there's been a lot of

criticism that scientists at NIH and researchers at NIH will have too

much -- too much say -- too much direction to formulate the rules on

this of research.

What do you think about this issue?

GRASSLEY: Well, I can tell you what I think about it. I'm not

sure I can comment on the broadening of it or what NIH might have

authority to do or not do that could do things greater than what was


GRASSLEY: I have been for stem cell research that you would call

adult stem cells from umbilical cords. I have been for just a new

science where you can -- and I don't know how far along this is, but

I've read a lot about it in papers, so it must be coming along --

where you can get stem cells without doing damage to the egg.

And so that leaves me in support of stem cell research but

against embryonic stem cell research where you destroy the life and

the egg in the process of harvesting stem cells.

Now, my rationale is more economic than it is ideological. We've

got X number of dollars to do on stem cell research and, particularly,

in adult stem cell research, we've got 70 therapies that it can be

used for and has been used for. And I always use the example of a Mr.

Fagie (ph) who used to live in Waverly and I think he lives in Florida

most of his life now. Well, he used in live in Virginia, too.

But he was a page in the legislature when I was there, and he

came to me one day -- well, he did see me a few times over the course

of the years I've been in Congress but not too often. But he came to

me and he says I've only got 15 percent use of my heart, and I'm going

to go to Bangkok because FDA hadn't approved this therapy here.

And so he was injected with stem cell -- his own stem cells in

Bangkok. And he -- the last time I saw him, he was up to 70 or 80

percent functioning of his heart or however they measure it. At

least, compared to the 15, you quantify that it's quite an

improvement. And he couldn't have -- maybe some day he will be able

to do that here when FDA gets around to it.

But he's -- he's alive today because of adult stem cell. And so

with so many therapies being available, it seems to me that the

economic factor pushes in. You've got limited money, put it into

adult stem cell research where you've got proven results already and

can have, probably, more advanced results faster than you can with the

embryonic stem cells.

QUESTION: Do you think there's going to be any movement in the

Senate to reverse or change this decision by the president? And do

you see any success for that?

GRASSLEY: I think that there will be an attempt to do it. But I

imagine, in the Senate, it will get about 40 votes at best. And I

base that on the fact that there's been a couple things that the

president's reversed Bush regulations that we've already had votes on,

most often on this bill that just passed the Senate, this

appropriation bill.

So I expect that we'll have it on this as well.

QUESTION: OK. Thank you.

GRASSLEY: Let's see. I should go back to -- oh, no. I've

called everybody. Anybody have follow-ups or anybody I left out?

OK. Thank you all very much.

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