While at home in New Hartford, U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley took time out last Wednesday for his weekly public affairs inteview with statewide media.
The Daily News participated in the interview, along with news reporter Brian Fancher of KLMJ-FM of Hampton. The first question was given to Fancher, who asked about the progress of the new Farm Bill, which the Senate has already approved.
“I think there will be a bill before the Sept. 30 deadline for the end of the current Farm Bill,” he said. “I’m backing senators (Debbie) Stabenow (D-Mich.) and (Majority Leader Harry) Reid (D-Nev.) that there should be no extension beyond the current one. You just can’t justify another extension when we have high grain prices.”
Grassley said his contacts on the House Agriculture Committee have said there would be no vote on the Farm Bill until “things cool down.” The legislation is stalled in the House due to members of the Tea Party Caucus who have objected to provisions regarding SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp program.
Grassley said he expects the Farm Bill will go to a conference committee where members of both bodies will have to iron out differences in their respective bills. He’s confident he could support a conference committee Farm Bill.
In a follow-up question from the Daily News, Grassley was asked about an amendment to the Senate bill tacked on by Tea Party Caucus members that would give broader authority to states regarding the distribution of SNAP funds. He said it is a bill he would back if he was in the House.
“I have always wanted to give states more leeway with the Food Stamps program, but sometimes, you have to give up on an ideal,” he said. “Are you really in better shape if you don’t pass the bill if you’re worse off without it? ... It’s massive, and there are things I don’t like about it, but we can’t go back to the 1949 legislation. It’s not written for 21st century agriculture. That isn’t a farm program that works today.”
Grassley took additional questions on a number of topics, including:
• IRS scandal: He said he helped lead the discussions on matters such as this regarding small businesses in the 1990s, and helped to craft legislation that restructured the IRS. He said he thought “it was fixed,” but lamented the IRS has instead become more complicated, which makes it easier to intimidate citizens. He said “the issue won’t be fixed until were have a flat-rate tax” in the U.S.
• Immigration reform: He said he voted against the bill that passed out of the Senate because it did not adequately address border security. He said the 1986 legislation, referred by some as “The Amnesty Bill,” was a mistake and resulted in four times as many undocumented people living in the U.S. He said he expects the House to come up with its own version of the bill, and that a conference committee bill that he can support will come back to both bodies.
• Fast & Furious: Noting he initiated the investigation into Operation Fast & Furious with the help of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), he said the matter is now in the hands of a federal judge who must determine if the U.S. Justice Department overstepped its rights under executive privilege. If the court rules in the legislators’ favor, more than 70,000 pages of documents previously not supplied to investigators could become public. If not, he said Congress may be “stonewalled forever.”
• Longevity: With the announcement that Iowa’s junior senator, Tom Harkin, would be retiring at the end of his current term, Iowa will lose its status as the most senior delegation in the U.S. Senate. Grassley said he was surprised by the announcement, and that Harkin “served Iowa well.” He said Harkin’s announcement may be a reason for him to run for an unprecedented seventh term, but that a decision like that is sitll a ways off. Grassley’s term doesn’t expire until January of 2017.