Grassley resumes finance chair
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley plans to push for greater equity in Medicare reimbursements and prescription drug benefits for senior citizens when he resumes the chairmanship of the Senate’s powerful Finance Committee. Other priorities include extending the reforms made to the nation’s welfare laws in the mid-’90s, limiting corporate tax shelters and giving workers more control over their pensions. Grassley also wants to make permanent President George Bush’s $1.35 trillion tax cut that was passed last year but is scheduled to expire in 2010.
“There aren’t more than 10 votes against any of these bills,” Grassley said in an interview with the Business Record. “That tells me we’ve got the right policy.”
For 120 days last year, Grassley was chair of the Senate’s Committee on Finance, which handles taxation, Social Security and some elements of international trade.
He lost the chairmanship when Vermont’s Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party and become an independent, an act that handed Senate control to Democrats. Following the Republicans’ victory earlier this month, Grassley will once more hold the Finance Committee’s reins.
Grassley said the Republican win surprised him. “I didn’t think I’d be running this committee,” he said.
Grassley will formally take control of the committee when Republican Jim Talent of Missouri is sworn in as a senator, an act that is expected to occur sometime after Nov. 22, according to Grassley spokesman Dustin Vande Hoef.
Grassley succeeds Montana Democrat Max Baucus, whose most significant accomplishment was the Trade Act of 2002. That law, which cleared the Senate in August, gives the president so-called fast-track trade authority, which allows Bush to negotiate trade agreements that cannot be altered by Congress. Lawmakers can only ratify or reject the trade agreements.
Grassley said his most important accomplishment as chairman was ushering through last year’s tax cut. He plans to work with Sen. Baucus and other members of the opposition party to win approval for his bills, he said.
“Nothing gets done in the Senate if it’s not bipartisan,” he said.
The 21-member Finance Committee is currently made up of 11 Democrats and 10 Republicans. Subcommittees include health care; international trade; long-term growth and debt reduction; social security and family policy; and taxation and IRS oversight.
Congress will likely pass legislation the Department of Homeland Security sometime this year or next. However, Grassley said he doesn’t think there will be any action taken to reform Social Security this year, despite recent victories of Republicans who campaigned on the issue, including North Carolina’s Elizabeth Dole.
“The issue of personal accounts within Social Security tends to be demagogued so easily,” said Grassley, who is currently serving his fourth Senate term. “The president needs to promote it.”
Grassley calls his bill for prescription drugs “tripartisan,” because it has been drafted over the past two years by himself and fellow Republicans Olympia Snowe of Maine and Orrin Hatch of Utah, Democrat John Breaux of Louisiana and Jeffords. The bill is largely considered to be a starting point for any discussion on the issue.
Under the plan, the government would use subsidies to get insurers to offer drug coverage for a monthly premium of about $24 and an annual deductible of $250, The New York Times reported.
Fifty percent of drug costs would be covered up to $3,450 a year. The government would cover 90 percent of drug costs for people who spend mover $3,700 a year, the newspaper said.
The bill is expected to cost $370 billion over the next decade, less than half the amount that Democrats want to spend. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the nation’s elderly spend about $1.2 billion a year on prescription drugs.