Government overspending is not healthy for the nation, said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, at a town hall meeting on Wednesday morning in Williams.
While the U.S. Congress is in recess, Grassley returns to Iowa to visit with constituents at town hall meetings.
"Washington, D.C. is an island surrounded by reality," joked Grassley, who visits each of Iowa's 99 counties every year. "It is a way to encourage dialogue."
On Wednesday morning, Sen. Charles Grassley was given a tour of the Case Company Titan Machinery facility by General Manager Dale Stockdale. Following the tour, Sen. Grassley held a town hall meeting at the Williams business.
The early morning Williams visit, which was hosted by Titan Machinery and General Manager Dale Stockdale, was attended by about 40 people.
After a brief introduction, Iowa's senior senator opened the floor for questions.
Asked about government spending, Grassley noted that while spending appears to be uncontrolled, there are some trends which have successfully slowed that down.
While the national debt rose to $5 trillion after President Obama's first two years in office and is now at $17 trillion, the Congress was able to slow spending down through sequestration, explained Grassley. Those spending limits will remain the stable through 2014-2015, he added.
Yet Grassley noted that the U.S. debt is now 79 percent of the gross national product. He
would prefer to reduce the debt/GNP ratio to a more conservative 35 percent.
Behaving in a fiscally, careless manner is "not very responsible," but it will continue until Congress passes a constitutional balanced budget amendment, he said.
As to the tone of business in Washington, Grassley said that while the media reports on partisan bickering, most of his colleagues are respectful and are working together on legislation.
"It's not as bad as you think," he said.
In two examples, Grassley cited his efforts with Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D- Mich.) on parts of the Farm Bill and with Sen. Max Baucus on the Senate Agriculture committee.
"It was bipartisan," he noted.
Twenty years ago, people heard their news from only three networks, explained Grassley. The difference is that today, every point of view has a news outlet, so any discussion or disagreement is publicized. And these differences of opinion are being blown out of proportion, he said.
Grassley assured the audience that members of opposing political parties do work together.
"It can be done," said Grassley. "The trouble is, there just is not enough of it."
While Grassley complimented his colleagues for cooperating, he was critical of President Barack Obama.
"It is not a healthy attitude for a Constitutional government when the president says, 'If Congress won't act, I will,'" said Grassley.
Citing what he felt was the "lawlessness of executive orders," Grassley noted that some members of Congress have legally challenged the president's recess appointments. While those cases make their way through the lower courts, he expects that the US Supreme Court will overturn President Obama's appointees.
Recent regulations by the president are designed to put the coal industry out of business and those executive orders are being challenged in the courts, said Grassley.
"Checks and balances are a good thing but you have to wait two and half years for the courts to decide," he said.
"The president has an agenda," said Grassley who feels the chief executive has proven that he will do anything he wishes, regardless of his authority.
Asked why impeachment proceedings haven't been brought against the president, Grassley noted that while the House of Representatives could begin impeachment proceedings, it would take two-thirds of the Senate to act. With Democrats holding a Senate majority, impeachment would never
In reference to the 2014 mid-term elections, Grassley noted that if the GOP were to pick up a majority of Senate and House seats in that election, Congress could tackle spending and repair some of the damage that the president's executive orders have caused.
But, in the final analysis, the president still holds the veto pen, said Grassley.
"We have to get a new president," he said.
While he was disappointed in the final Farm Bill, Grassley applauded the retention of crop insurance as a safety net for agriculture.
Primarily, the Farm Bill should be called the "Food Stamp Bill" because 80 percent of the allocated funds were for the food stamp program, said Grassley.
Secondly, the legislative process stripped the definition of "farmer" from the bill which allows non-farmers to receive subsidies which Grassley opposes.
Finally, he opposed the Farm Bill because it did not include a hard cap on subsidies to large farming operations.
"I have no problem with big farmers getting bigger, I just don't think we need to subsidize them," said the native of New Hartford. He noted that 10 percent of the ag sector receives 70 percent of the government subsidies.
Relating to the ag industry, Grassley cited that the newly appointed EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy, has called for a reduction of ethanol levels from 14.4 billion gallons to 13.01 billion gallons in an effort to move to E-15 fuel.
"Here in the Midwest, we felt this was destructive to our rural America, our environment and our employment," said Grassley.
Meeting with the EPA, legislators argued that keeping ethanol at the 14.4 billion gallon level is necessary while building the E-15 infrastructure.
"I felt we made an impression," said Grassley, who admits ethanol's future is still uncertain.
"This is a big victory for Big Oil because they haven't been able to control the ethanol industry," said Grassley.
Addressing a question about farm labor, immigration and unemployment, Grassley noted that most agriculture labor questions don't originate in Iowa. He referred to "stoop labor" associated with California produce crops.
But the senator noted that the Congress is working on an immigration bill which would allow undocumented workers be employed in those segments of agriculture.
As for unemployment compensation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is expected to introduce a bill in the next session which will meet with strong Republican resistance unless it is paid for, said Grassley.
Asked about spiraling costs in health care, Grassley noted that health care costs are stabilizing at two percent above the rate of inflation.
"Costs are leveling off but we are unsure why," he said, noting that some analysts point to the recession while others cite the increase in deductible contributions.
The issue of health care has introduced the concept of rationing into American medical decisions which will adversely affect a large segment of the American population, said Grassley.
"Rationing hurts older people because they have less value to society than younger ones," he said. "We won't see a change (in that policy) by this president."
Grassley said he receives his health insurance through the Washington, D.C. exchange and like most Americans, he is confused by the new health care coverage.
The "convoluted" regulations of Obamacare have made a "big mess" of the health insurance industry and the president's exemptions have muddied the waters even further, said Grassley.
Like many customers, Grassley saw his health insurance premiums increase from $400 to $800 per month.
"And that is only the part I pay," he said. The government picks up the rest of his 80/20 plan.
Questioned about Common Core education standards, Grassley said he does not oppose local school districts or state legislatures setting academic standards. He opposes attaching federal funding to those standards. As it happened, when local school districts and state legislatures adopted the federally promoted standards, no funds were available.
"Forty six of 50 states got sucked into it without federal funds available," said Grassley, who noted there is an effort in the Iowa legislature to remove Common Core from the state's academic standards.
"It's not a question of whether it is good or bad," said Grassley. "It was a federal push of curriculum."
Asked about unrest in Venezuela, Egypt and the Ukraine, Grassley said the United States has little choice but to offer moral authority and pressure Europe to aid people suffering from the uprisings.
Grassley predicted that Congress would take up debate on an increase of the minimum wage next week when it reconvenes. Grassley said that an increase would have a substantial impact on small businesses and could increase unemployment.
"We would have to have offsets for the Mom and Pop businesses," he said.
Looking ahead to the 2014 mid-term elections, it is possible that Iowa may elect another Republican senator to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, he said.
The GOP candidates include Sam Clovis, State Senator Joni Ernst, Matt Whitaker, Scott Schaben and Paul Lunde.
"I know three of the five candidates," said Grassley, who vowed to work for the party's candidate once he or she is nominated.
After stopping to share family news with members of the audience, Grassley was out the door and on his way to town hall meetings in Fort Dodge, Hampton, Osage and Mason City.