By Michael Schaffer - Managing editor
Iowa U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley was in Centerville Tuesday morning to answers constituents' questions during a town meeting in the Appanoose County Courthouse boardroom.
Topics raised by the more than 50 who packed the boardroom ranged from the budget, deficit, border security, illegal immigration, gun rights, mental health, health care expansion, foreign aid, Environmental Protection Agency regulations, jobs, federal grants, wind energy, filibuster bill, mandatory budget cuts or sequester, Farm Bill, FSA office closings, CRP, minimum wage, economic development, Sen. Tom Harkins retirement announcement, Keystone Pipeline, presidential executive orders, NATO forces in the United States, gas prices, power bills, Senate work schedule, nuclear power and who got us in this mess?
"I would have to say both political parties are responsible," Grassley said.
One audience member asked Grassley how long can Washington continue to spend more than they tax?
"The simple answer is, is as long as the credit rating of the United States stays high," Grassley said. "Now, we've already been harmed by a reduction in rating. So, to me, it's much more serious now than it was five years ago."
One audience member asked Grassley what can be done to reign in the EPA?
Grassley said he fought the EPA on farmer's fugitive dust.
"So I hope I got good credentials for bringing the EPA under control," Grassley said.
Grassley talked about several ways to reign in the EPA, some more effective than others. The two most effective, Grassley said, would be to use the Congressional veto or attach riders to appropriation bills stipulating the money given to EPA cannot be used to implement certain policies.
"The mistake is delegating too much authority to the executive branch of government to write regulations in the first place," Grassley said.
On border security, Grassley said 650 miles of fence are in place as are more border patrol officers and National Guard. Grassley said one thing that needs to be addressed is who gets to decide when the southern border is secure because until then illegal immigration cannot be addressed.
"I take the position only Congress can determine if the border is secure and not delegated to anyone else like the president," Grassley said, noting there are many in Congress who don't care if the southern border is secure or not.
On the deficit, Grassley said right now it stands at $16 trillion. In 10 years, the federal deficit is expected be $26 trillion.
How doable is cutting one-half of 1 percent, or $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years given the fact the federal government is expected to spend $47 trillion the next 10 years, Grassley asked.
"Now, you're going to sit there and legitimately say to me and everybody else in Congress, you mean you can't find a way to cut one half of one percent," Grassley said. "Of course you can."
Grassley said come March 1 we'll see how seriously Washington takes the deficit when automatic, across the board spending cuts kick in.
"I'm one of 100 senators," Grassley said. "There's going to be attempts to stop the $1.2 trillion in cuts I've already talked about. I'm for letting that go into effect."
Grassley said he would consider other ways to get to the $1.2 trillion in cuts but wouldn't move off the number.
In an email, Grassley had this to say about the March 1 sequestration where $120 billion in cuts will be made this year and $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over the next 10 years.
“It’s discouraging to see the President complain about fiscal responsibility after the record of the last four years, including having done nothing to avert the approaching sequester which the White House proposed and worked to enact in August 2011. The House of Representatives passed alternatives twice last year while the White House and Senate leadership did nothing. Regular order has been almost totally lacking under Democratic leadership of the Senate, especially on budgetary issues. What’s more, the sequester pales in comparison to the fiscal impact that looms from spending commitments to entitlement programs, including the new entitlement program created by the President’s 2010 health care law. There has been no leadership from the White House and Senate majority to pursue structural reforms to those programs, either, despite the importance of saving Medicare and Medicaid for future generations.”
On jobs, one audience member said the federal government should get out of the way because they tend to hinder job creation. He also said minimum wage jobs are meant for youngsters and not adults and when it is raised it increases prices on almost everything and can harm the country.
"I guess I don't have to say much more than I say I agree with you," Grassley said, noting most who earn minimum wage are in families living above the poverty line. "So the president's statement about nobody should be below the poverty line and we should raise minimum wage so nobody is above the poverty line wouldn't apply to just a small percentage of the families that are in poverty that have minimum wage income because most of it of the minimum wage income is supplement in areas where people are not below the poverty guidelines."
Grassley's agenda Tuesday included stops in Corydon, Leon, Mount Ayr High School, Afton and Osceola. For the week, Grassley held meetings in 16 Iowa counties.
Grassley took advantage of President's Day as the Senate was not meeting in Washington this week.
Grassley since 1980 has held at least one meeting with Iowans in every one of the state’s 99 counties since he was first elected to serve in the U.S. Senate. Grassley said town meetings are a way to dialogue with his constituents.