Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa)

 

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)

Friday, April 19, 2019

With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Grassley: Mueller Report Provides Needed Reality Check after Years of Innuendo
 Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, released the following statement regarding Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report of investigation.
“I’m encouraged by the level of transparency that we saw today. Attorney General Barr went above and beyond what was required to give the American people answers, and after having reviewed the report, President Trump didn’t assert executive privilege over any of the material, allowing for maximum transparency under the law.
“Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report makes clear now more than ever that the peaceful transfer of power – a hallmark of our American democracy – was targeted by foreign adversaries ahead of the 2016 election. We know Russia sought to sow discord in our political dialogue. And we know that no American, including President Trump, colluded with Russia.
“Unfortunately, for more than two years, many critics of the constitutionally-elected president perpetuated the baseless Russian collusion hysteria to the detriment of our democracy and to the delight of the Kremlin. Now that President Trump has been cleared of collusion and obstruction of justice, those critics ought to focus their energy on preventing future exploitation of our government and our democratic processes.
“We must take a hard look at how we got here and at the relevant issues that the Mueller report did not address. Were our premiere law enforcement and intelligence agencies co-opted by candidate Trump’s political opponents in an attempt to take him down? Did political bias or unverified claims taint decisions by senior agency officials? How did the media allow unsubstantiated innuendo and speculation to fester at max volume for so long? And how did many opponents of President Trump allow themselves to be turned into tools of Putin to divide our nation? Attorney General Barr is right to review the Justice Department’s actions in the Russia saga and the Inspector General is doing the same. These are issues that all Americans, especially those running for president, should want examined.”

Thursday, April 18, 2019

With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Taxpayer First Act is a bipartisan achievement that deserves more attention

By U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Congressman Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania

 Today’s political environment rarely lends itself to bipartisanship and cooperation. So when congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle come together to deliver a legislative victory for Americans, it needs to be reported fairly and honestly. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. Sadly, this week’s reporting on the Taxpayer First Act is one example.

The bill, which passed the House of Representatives unanimously on April 9, will be the first reform of the agency since 1998 if it’s enacted. We’ve spent years working on this legislation, which passed the House three times before this year and nearly passed the Senate last year but for year-end politics, to achieve a worthwhile goal: making the IRS a service-first agency working on behalf of taxpayers. In other words, to make the agency a resource, not an adversary.

At the 11th hour, rumors about a so-called ban on the IRS offering free tax filing to Americans began to surface. The misinformation could be found in a story published by ProPublica, titled “Congress Is About to Ban the Government From Offering Free Online Tax Filing. Thank TurboTax.”

Many Americans pay nothing to file their federal tax returns. That’s because of what’s known as the Free File program, which allows anyone who makes under $66,000 per year to file their taxes with the help of private online software and without having to pay for it. Private companies that offer this service to assist Americans with filing their tax returns each year don’t charge them for the help. The Taxpayer First Act would simply require the IRS to maintain this existing 16-year-old program, which is available to 70 percent of American taxpayers.

ProPublica reported that this bill bans the IRS from creating its own online filing system. That is flat out wrong. The bill simply requires the agency to continue the Free File program, which it originally started without congressional direction.

The truth is that the Taxpayer First Act would require the IRS to maintain the Free File program as it has generally been run since 2002. This means the agreement the IRS entered into with tax-return-preparation companies would continue. That agreement does say the IRS agrees not to compete with these companies in offering free tax-return-preparation software, which the IRS doesn’t have the ability to do anyway.

But what the ProPublica article failed to report is that the Free File program already allows the IRS to later offer such service as long as the private companies are given notice and can get out of the deal. Furthermore, the most recent agreement made between the IRS and tax-return-preparation companies in 2018 maintains this condition. Simply put, the Taxpayer First Act doesn’t prohibit the IRS from doing anything it can’t already do other than cancel the entire Free File program outright.

The Taxpayer First Act is designed with taxpayers in mind. It will create an independent appeals board to oversee disputes between filers and the IRS, so taxpayers receive fair hearings. It will rein in the IRS and require it to respect taxpayers’ rights during investigations, preventing the seizure of property without due process. It will hold the agency accountable for taxpayer dollars used to upgrade cybersecurity measures and increase agency tools to combat identity theft. It will protect lower-income taxpayers by extending the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Matching Grant Program (VITA), which provides them with another option for free tax-preparation assistance and ensures that the IRS can make referrals to those needing assistance to lower-income taxpayer clinics.

The Taxpayer First Act is a bipartisan victory for Americans but the fast-and-loose reporting of what it does or doesn’t do has diminished what should’ve been a clear celebration of cooperative government.

The IRS should be a tax administrator, not merely an enforcement arm. That difference is more than semantic. Americans should be able to pick up the phone, go on the internet, or visit an IRS office and receive the service they deserve. The Taxpayer First Act is a huge step toward that goal, and we should be celebrating this bipartisanship win.

At a time when political partisanship seems to be at an all-time high, it’s important to highlight shared victories that benefit the American people, and it should be done without bias or agenda. The Taxpayer First Act is a significant, bipartisan achievement. It’s our hope that moving forward, it is reported with honesty and objectivity.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Q&A: Rooting Out Robocalls

With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Q: What is the TRACED Act?

A: The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act would update federal telemarketing laws to widen the enforcement net for unsolicited phone calls. The bipartisan bill takes aim at malicious telemarketers, commonly known as robocallers, who prey on consumers at all hours of the day. One industry estimate says robocallers contacted American consumers up to 26 billion times in 2018. Remarkably, one forecast predicts half of all calls in the United States could be telemarketing scams by the end of this year. With phones ringing off the hook from unwanted and unwelcome callers, it’s no wonder so many Americans are demanding reforms. My gut tells me these industry estimates may actually underestimate the volume of calls directed towards land lines and wireless devices. The growing volume of mail and constituent calls to my Senate office tells me Iowans are fed up with the incessant, unsolicited intrusions. On this issue, there’s no ideological or partisan divide. Iowans of all ages are calling for an end to the steady stream of robocalls disrupting their daily lives. Like many Iowans, I don’t like to waste time or money. Choosing not to answer calls at home or work just to avoid robocalls leads people to miss legitimate phone calls. This puts a burden on consumers and employees to return phone calls and they may risk missing a time-sensitive call from a client, doctor’s office, airline, or a child’s school teacher.

Keep in mind the fraudulent robocall industry is getting more sophisticated to trick people into answering. For example, bad actors will manipulate phone numbers on caller ID systems to closely match the phone number they are dialing. This telemarketing tactic is known as spoofing. It’s more than just a nuisance. Scam artists are using robocalls to steal money and personal information. Congress is taking action with bipartisan, bicameral reforms to help stop fraudulent and illegal robocalls from preying on American consumers. I’m co-sponsoring the TRACED Act that recently passed out of the Senate Commerce Committee. The federal watchdogs tasked with enforcing telecommunications laws report an upswing in the volume of robocalls, particularly during tax filing season. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) manage consumer complaints and investigate fraud with law enforcement partners in various jurisdictions to stop wrongdoers who violate federal communications laws. Their work includes stopping robocalls. In fact, the FCC says unwanted robocalls are the number one complaint from American consumers. The FTC reports imposters may use robocalls to pose as a utility, a government agency or even a foreign consulate. Our bipartisan legislation would sharpen law enforcement tools and empower consumers and telecom providers to send a crystal clear message to unwanted, automated robocallers. Our legislative reforms would allow the FCC to levy civil fines up to $10,000 per illegal call and extend the statute of limitations from one year to three years. Our bill also would require providers to adopt authentication tools to enable phone carriers to disclose and verify the origin of an incoming call. That information would allow consumers to make an informed decision if they want to answer a call originating from China or India, for example. The TRACED Act would strengthen the ability for federal regulators to rigorously pursue violators and hold bad actors accountable.

Q: What can consumers do to shield themselves from bad actors?

A:  The FTC operates the Do Not Call registry created in 2003 by Congress. The online registry allows consumers to request phone numbers be removed from telemarketing call lists. Technology has changed dramatically since then and the laws need to stay ahead of telemarketing scammers. In a letter of support for legislative reforms from the 50 state attorneys general, they wrote that a bad actor can send millions of illegal robocalls with an internet connection, a computer and inexpensive software. The FTC has issued guidelines to help consumers protect themselves from becoming victims of illegal robocall scams. First, hang up if the person or the recording is trying to sell you something. If a consumer hasn’t granted written permission to receive a call from a company selling a product or service, that call is considered illegal. Second, consider using technology to screen or block robocalls. Telecom providers may provide call-blocking tools, as well. To learn more, go to ftc.gov/calls. Finally, report the call. Complaints can be filed online at ftc.gov/complaint. Consumers who have received an illegal call or text also may file a complaint with the FCC here.

Charles E. Grassley, Chairman, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Des Moines Office, 721 Federal Building, 210 Walnut Street, Des Moines, IA 50309, Phone: 515-288-1145; Fax: 515-288-5097

Friday, March 22, 2019

Q&A: 2019 Floods

With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Q: What’s the forecast for flood damages and recovery in Iowa?

 A:  Throughout my years representing Iowans, natural disasters have tested the grit and resilience of people across our great state. It’s never easy and it’s always heart-breaking, especially when lives are lost. Following an especially harsh winter season, the spring thaw is unleashing widespread flooding throughout the state. Breached levees and overflowing tributaries have swallowed up tens of thousands of acres of farmland, gushed across railways and roadways, swamping entire communities in Southwest Iowa and elsewhere. The breadth of the devastation and catastrophic financial losses from severe weather that began in mid-March won’t be known for some time. We do know it’s going to get even worse. According to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, historic flooding may continue through May and pose unprecedented reach across the United States, putting more than 200 million people at risk for flooding. Here in Iowa, more than half of the state’s 99 counties are included in Governor Reynold’s request for federal disaster assistance. The governor’s request for federal disaster declaration estimates $1.6 billion in flood damages across the state. I’ve called upon President Trump to expedite the request. A presidential disaster declaration will trigger federal emergency relief to flood victims, including FEMA, IRS, USDA, the Small Business Administration and other federal programs. I’ll also push for the IRS to extend relief to taxpayers affected by the disaster, including extensions for tax-filing deadlines and quarterly estimated tax payments and abatements from incurring penalties and late fees. The massive recovery will be prolonged and come with a hefty price tag. Damages from the 1993 flood neared $15 billion and killed 50 people, according to federal data. In addition to my conversations so far with the heads of FEMA and the U.S. Department of Transportation, I will work closely with Midwestern lawmakers to deliver a unified message from America’s heartland and get federal assistance flowing into affected communities. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I’ve introduced legislation to provide tax relief measures to help affected flood victims, farmers, homeowners, and small businesses recover, which I will work to expand to the most recent disasters in Iowa. I’ll also push ahead with reforms to Chapter 12 bankruptcy protection for family farmers that I have been developing as former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Constituent specialists in my six state offices are available to help cut red tape for individual Iowans and we are working closely with local emergency coordinators, city leaders and state officials to expedite emergency relief to help individuals and communities get back on their feet.

Q: What concerns do you have with the Army Corps of Engineers?

 A: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a federal agency within the Department of Defense. Since the nation’s founding, the Corps of Engineers helped pave the development of the frontier by surveying roads and constructing canals and coastal fortifications. Throughout the 20th century, the Corps became the lead flood control agency, constructing locks, dams and levees and serving as a public works resource for the military and civil construction. The mission of the Corps is to “deliver vital public and military engineering services; partnering in peace and war to strengthen our nation’s security, energize the economy and reduce risks from disasters.” As with any federal agency, I conduct congressional oversight to hold the bureaucracy accountable. Since 2004, when the Master Manual of the Missouri River was changed in response to lawsuits and other government actions, we have seen repeated flooding events in Iowa and throughout the region.

 For many years, several of my colleagues and I have urged the Corps to make flood control the number one priority on the Missouri River. Protection of life and personal property should take precedence over recreation and experiments that may or may not help endangered species and the other four functions identified in the Master Manual. In fact, last year a federal claims judge ruled in a mass action lawsuit of 372 plaintiffs from Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas that the Corps’ changes to the river “had the effect of raising the Missouri River surface elevations in periods of high flows.” The court found that since 2007, the flooding has been among the worst in the history of the river and that the Corps’ changes in the management of the river caused or contributed to the flooding. I will continue to press the Corps to do everything it can to enhance flood warnings and reduce the possibility of flooding while I work with lawmakers in Congress to enact changes. It seems to me that misguided decisions and misplaced priorities have eclipsed common sense. A little more Midwestern common sense might have protected local communities, millions of bushels of grain and tens of thousands of acres of farmland. The number one priority needs to be flood protection.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Grassley Supports Reynolds Request for Federal Disaster Assistance for 57 Iowa Counties

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa today asked President Donald Trump to promptly grant the request made by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds for an expedited review of the major disaster declaration request for 57 Iowa counties in response to severe storms and flooding which began March 12, 2019.

Grassley spoke with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Acting Administrator Pete Gaynor urging expeditious approval of this much-needed federal disaster declaration. Grassley spoke with Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao on Wednesday regarding Iowa road conditions and damage.

In his request letter, Grassley wrote that Reynolds “determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments, and supplementary federal assistance is necessary to save lives and to protect property, public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a disaster.”

Severe storms and flooding caused significant damage to public infrastructure and private property. The 57 counties included in this request for the Public Assistance Program are Adair, Allamakee, Audubon, Black Hawk, Boone, Bremer, Buena Vista, Butler, Calhoun, Carroll, Cass, Cherokee, Clay, Crawford, Dallas, Decatur, Dickinson, Emmet, Fayette, Franklin, Fremont, Greene, Guthrie, Hamilton, Hancock, Hardin, Harrison, Howard, Humboldt, Ida, Iowa, Jasper, Kossuth, Lyon, Madison, Mahaska, Marshall, Mills, Monona, Montgomery, O’Brien, Osceola, Page, Plymouth, Pocahontas, Polk, Pottawattamie, Sac, Shelby, Sioux, Tama, Union, Webster, Winnebago, Winneshiek, Woodbury, and Wright.  Governor Reynold’s also requested the Individual Assistance Program for Crawford, Fremont, Harrison, Ida, Mills, Monona, Montgomery, Page, Plymouth, Pottawattamie, Shelby, and Woodbury counties. A presidential declaration of a major disaster is necessary to trigger release of federal funds for assistance.

Grassley is providing Iowans with flood information and access to resources on his website at www.grassley.senate.gov/flooding.

The letter is available here and below.

March 21, 2019

The Honorable Donald J. Trump

President of the United States of America

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I respectfully ask that you promptly grant the request made by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds for an expedited review of the major disaster declaration for the State of Iowa as a result of severe storms and flooding which began March 12, 2019. This weather caused significant damage to public infrastructure and private property. The 57 counties included in the request are Adair, Allamakee, Audubon, Black Hawk, Boone, Bremer, Buena Vista, Butler, Calhoun, Carroll, Cass, Cherokee, Clay, Crawford, Dallas, Decatur, Dickinson, Emmet, Fayette, Franklin, Fremont, Greene, Guthrie, Hamilton, Hancock, Hardin, Harrison, Howard, Humboldt, Ida, Iowa, Jasper, Kossuth, Lyon, Madison, Mahaska, Marshall, Mills, Monona, Montgomery, O’Brien, Osceola, Page, Plymouth, Pocahontas, Polk, Pottawattamie, Sac, Shelby, Sioux, Tama, Union, Webster, Winnebago, Winneshiek, Woodbury, and Wright.

The Governor determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments, and supplementary federal assistance is necessary to save lives and to protect property, public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a disaster.

Thank you for your prompt consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Grassley

United States Senator

 

Friday, March 22, 2019

Grassley Welcomes Further IRS Penalty Relief for First Filing Season Since Tax Reform

U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa today issued the following statement welcoming further steps from IRS to provide penalty relief during the first tax-filing season since the historic passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

 “I appreciate Commissioner Rettig’s consideration of bipartisan congressional feedback urging IRS to provide additional penalty relief to taxpayers for this tax-filing season. IRS has done a laudable job updating withholding tables to reflect the changes in tax law. But no withholding table will be 100 percent accurate for all taxpayers. Over the past year, the IRS implemented a campaign reminding Americans to check their withholding to ensure they’re paying the correct amount of tax throughout the year. This further relief for taxpayers is welcome news for taxpayers who weren’t fully prepared and may have been inadvertently under-withheld due to the significant changes made to the tax code following legislative reforms in the last Congress. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was the biggest change to the federal tax code in a generation. This is a reasonable approach in the first year after major reforms to allow taxpayers some flexibility to avoid paying unexpected penalties.”

Charles E. Grassley, Chairman, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Des Moines Office, 721 Federal Building, 210 Walnut Street, Des Moines, IA 50309, Phone: 515-288-1145; Fax: 515-288-5097

Monday, February 4, 2019

Grassley, Wyden Invite 7 Major Pharmaceutical Companies to Drug Pricing Hearing

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ranking Member Ron Wyden of Oregon today invited seven major pharmaceutical companies to testify before a committee hearing on February 26, 2019, on drug pricing in the United States, the second in a series of hearings examining prescription drug costs.

The companies invited include AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co., Pfizer and Sanofi.

“Pharmaceutical companies receive billions of dollars a year from federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid,” Grassley and Wyden said. “This is an opportunity for companies that produce life-saving treatments to explain how they price these treatments and whether the status quo is acceptable. Patients and taxpayers deserve to hear from leaders in the industry about what’s behind this unsustainable trend and what can be done to lower costs.”

The Finance Committee held its first hearing on drug pricing on January 29. At that hearing, Grassley noted that several of the companies re-invited today initially declined the committee’s request to testify. At the hearing, Grassley said, “The companies that declined said they would discuss their ideas in private, but not in public…That is not what I mean when I talk about transparency. So, we will extend the opportunity again in the future, but we will be more insistent the next time.” Wyden echoed Grassley in his remarks at the hearing, “The Finance Committee invited the heads of several of the largest drug companies to testify today. They weren’t willing to come answer our questions about why their products cost so much. Even if it means using our power to compel the drug company CEOs to show up, they will come before this committee.”

Links to the letters inviting the companies to testify can be found below.

AbbVie

AstraZeneca

Bristol-Myers Squibb

Johnson & Johnson

Merck & Co.

Pfizer

Sanofi

Charles E. Grassley, Chairman, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Des Moines Office, 721 Federal Building, 210 Walnut Street, Des Moines, IA 50309, Phone: 515-288-1145; Fax: 515-288-5097

Friday, February 1, 2019

Q&A: Shut Down Government Shutdowns

With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Q: What’s your position on government shutdowns?

A: One of the most fundamental constitutional responsibilities afforded to Congress is the power of the purse. That means lawmakers have the authority to raise and spend revenue to operate the government. The founders’ decision to assign this power closest to the people makes sense. That’s because the power of the ballot box holds lawmakers accountable to the people. Voters can hold elected representatives directly accountable for tax and spending decisions that impact their household budgets and pocketbooks. As a fiscal conservative and taxpayer watchdog, I work to ensure government serves the people as effectively and efficiently as possible. Through oversight, I work to wring out waste, fraud and abuse so that health, defense and education dollars are spent as intended, for example. Holding the purse strings, Congress writes laws to fund the government. The president keeps check on Congress by signing spending bills into law. The lion’s share of the federal budget is funded through 12 annual appropriations bills. Emergency spending, such as for natural disasters, is handled on an as-needed basis. The fiscal year starts Oct. 1. So if any of the dozen spending bills aren’t signed into law by Sept. 30, lawmakers and the president must agree on a temporary spending resolution to keep the government open for business. If that fails, the unfunded parts of government shut down. Throughout my years of public service, I’ve learned not to ignore history. No matter the subject, history teaches valuable lessons. Consider the 1996 government shutdown. Until recently, that 21-day government shutdown during the Clinton administration was the longest in history. It is arguably a teachable moment. Americans get fed up when government isn’t open for business. I certainly learned that lawmakers, federal workers, taxpayers and even the economy pay the price. Federal workers are put in a tough financial situation through no fault of their own. It costs taxpayers money to shut down the government and even more to re-open it. The bottom line is clear. Government serves the people. It can’t serve the people if it’s not open. More than two decades after the 1996 shutdown, Congress found itself having a “Groundhog Day” moment. Only this time, we surpassed the longest-ever government shutdown by two weeks. For 35 days, Americans woke up to a partial government shutdown that negatively impacted the services Americans expect from the IRS, USDA, National Parks, and more. Keep in mind that President Trump offered several proposals to negotiate in good-faith. He recognized the cardinal rule of bipartisan policymaking: each side gives and takes to build consensus and reach an agreement. That requires engagement at the table. Unfortunately, reaching an agreement won’t happen if one side remains close-minded. The refusal by Democrats to put an offer on the table that both sides could accept puts us back to square one. The American people, especially those who depend on the federal government for paychecks and public services, deserve better. It’s time to end government shutdowns forever.

Q: Why are you co-sponsoring the End Government Shutdowns Act?

A: Shutting down government is bad policy and bad politics. In case anyone forgets or chooses to ignore history, I’m working to cure the amnesia by putting an end to government shutdowns once and for all. That’s why I’ve joined Senator Rob Portman to introduce the End Government Shutdowns Act. It’s time to put government shutdowns in the rear view mirror. Our bill would create an automatic continuing resolution (CR) for any spending bill not completed by Sept. 30. Enactment of this legislation would keep the federal government open for business while budget negotiations continue. It would prevent policy stalemates and political interests from putting a chokehold on essential government services, wasting tax dollars and eroding the public trust. Not only would our bill trigger a continuing resolution, it also would create an incentive for lawmakers to negotiate and reach a consensus on unfinished spending bills. That’s because after 120 days, the CR funding would be reduced by one percent, followed by an additional one percent every 90 days thereafter, until Congress does its job and completes the annual appropriations work. Other legislative proposals that have been introduced to end government shutdowns would pilot the federal government on an automatic spending spree. That puts another fundamental constitutional responsibility – congressional oversight — at risk. Don’t forget, the annual appropriations process empowers lawmakers to conduct oversight by going through federal ledgers every 12 months with a fine-toothed comb. Considering the size of the national debt and the scope of wasteful federal spending, I’m not willing to abdicate that responsibility. Passage of our End Government Shutdowns Act would take government shutdowns off the table, bring more certainty to the annual appropriations process and help restore the public trust in government.

Charles E. Grassley, Chairman, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Des Moines Office, 721 Federal Building, 210 Walnut Street, Des Moines, IA 50309, Phone: 515-288-1145; Fax: 515-288-5097

 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Grassley, Wyden Release Bill to Crack Down on Big Pharma Games

 After EpiPen-Maker Overcharged Taxpayers Hundreds of Millions of Dollars, Finance Leaders Offer

Bipartisan Bill to Close the Door on Misclassification Loophole

WASHINGTON – Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden of Oregon today reintroduced the Right Rebate Act, which would close a loophole in Medicaid that has allowed pharmaceutical manufacturers to misclassify their drugs and overcharge taxpayers by billions of dollars and provide HHS with additional authorities to ensure drugs are properly classified.

“Drug manufacturers that make millions from government programs like Medicaid owe it to taxpayers to treat their hard-earned dollars with respect,” Grassley said. “Gaming the system by intentionally misclassifying drugs to reduce rebate obligations is nothing short of stealing taxpayer dollars and it’s inexcusable. This bipartisan bill fixes that problem and sends a clear signal to drugmakers that cheating taxpayers doesn’t pay and won’t be tolerated.”

“Every day, working families struggle to afford medicines like EpiPen while drug manufacturers work the system to profiteer off taxpayers,” Wyden said. “This bipartisan legislation will crack down on drug makers that deliberately try and rip off Medicaid and taxpayers by misclassifying their drugs. It marks an important first step in the work that lies ahead to lower prescription drug prices for families and hold drug makers accountable.”

First introduced by Grassley and Wyden at the end of last Congress, the Right Rebate Act would give the secretary of Health and Human Services more authorities and tools to monitor drug manufacturers who participate in the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program (MDRP) and would allow the secretary to require drug manufacturers to reclassify their drugs and impose civil monetary penalties when drugs are knowingly misclassified. The bill was included in the IMPROVE Act last year, which cleared the House of Representatives 400-11.

Grassley is a longtime advocate for lower prescription drug prices and has been a vocal critic of EpiPen’s exorbitantly high cost.

Iowans regularly contact Grassley by phone, email and at his annual 99 county meetings about the difficulties they faced paying for the anti-allergy EpiPen device. After conducting oversight of the issue in 2016 and 2017, Grassley learned that Mylan, EpiPen’s distributor, classified its popular anti-allergy medicine as a generic instead of as a brand name product in the MDRP. That incorrect classification allowed Mylan to pay smaller rebates to States and government programs, such as the MDRP. Grassley’s investigation also found that HHS and the HHS Inspector General did not have adequate authorities to properly oversee the MDRP and ensure drugs were properly classified. The costly practices were confirmed by the HHS Inspector General when it found – at Grassley’s request – that taxpayers may have overpaid for the EpiPen by as much as $1.27 billion over 10 years.  The Inspector General also found that additional drugs could be misclassified.

Grassley continually pressed for the accurate classification of prescription drugs under the MDRP. He sought answers from CMS on whether it sought to recoup tax dollars overpaid for EpiPens from Mylan. He sent a follow-up letter after receiving no response from CMS, reiterating his initial request for information.

Grassley continued pressing for answers when news broke that EpiPen maker Mylan was in discussions with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to settle a False Claims Act case and repay the taxpayers for over-charging for EpiPen. Grassley sent a letter to then-President-elect Trump urging appropriate classification under the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program. That letter is available here. Grassley also sent a letter to the outgoing administration on the issue, which is available here. His Oct. 3 letter to the prior administration on the EpiPen misclassification is available here. When the DOJ and EpiPen-maker Mylan settled its case over the drug’s misclassification, Grassley issued a statement of disappointment, saying it shortchanged taxpayers.

On behalf of Iowans, Grassley also wrote to Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller seeking clarification regarding his office’s ability to determine the value of reimbursement to the state necessary to make Iowa whole from EpiPen’s apparent misclassification. A few months later, Grassley followed up with another letter seeking additional details and accompanying documentation regarding the state’s receiving $1.5 million as part of a DOJ settlement with Mylan.

In August of 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first generic version of the EpiPen. Grassley praised the move, saying that it was “great news for millions of Americans who depend on life-saving, anti-allergy devices.” Grassley believes getting more generics approved is one of the most important market-based strategies for lowering drug prices overall.

A one page summary of the bill can be found here. A section-by-section summary can be found here. The full legislative text of the bill can be found here.

Charles E. Grassley, Chairman, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Des Moines Office, 721 Federal Building, 210 Walnut Street, Des Moines, IA 50309, Phone: 515-288-1145; Fax: 515-288-5097

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Q&A: New Medicare Cards and Medicare Fraud

With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Q: Why are Iowans receiving new Medicare cards?

A:  Congress passed legislation requiring the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to remove Social Security Numbers from all Medicare cards. This common sense step will help thwart wrongdoers from bilking Medicare with medical identity fraud and protect against the devastating personal harm of identity theft. The new Medicare cards replace the current health insurance claim number with a unique alpha-numeric code assigned to each individual. This new 11-digit number, the Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI), will close the door on stolen Social Security Numbers that are misused to defraud Medicare benefits and other fraudulent activities. CMS started mailing out new cards last year. Iowans who became eligible for Medicare after April 2018 automatically were issued a new Medicare number in compliance with the law. Patients and providers will use the MBI for billing, claims, eligibility and all other interactions regarding Medicare services. CMS finished its roll-out a few months ahead of schedule. After Dec. 31, 2019, all Medicare recipients must use the updated MBI number to access health care services.

Q: What should Iowans do if they have not received a new Medicare card?

A: CMS advises three ways to troubleshoot in case you haven’t gotten a new card in the mail.  Call 1-800-MEDICARE for assistance. CMS will verify your identity, confirm your address on record and mail you a new card. If it’s more convenient to use the internet, log into your MyMedicare.gov account to obtain your new Medicare number or print your official card. According to CMS, the new Medicare number is available in your individual account, even if you didn’t receive your card in the mail. Accounts are password-protected and secure. To access or create an account, visit MyMedicare.gov. As a third option, ask your health care provider. Providers may be able to look up your new Medicare number through a secure portal at the point-of-service during your next medical visit. Of course, Iowans may contact any of my six offices in Iowa for assistance with CMS or any other federal agency. Finally, guard your card. Be wary of anyone who contacts you about your new Medicare number; CMS will not call you without your prior permission.

Q: What other measures are you pursuing to stop Medicare fraud?

A: As a taxpayer watchdog, I learned long ago that wrongdoers will try every trick in the book to milk the U.S. Treasury like a cash cow. Medicare has a giant bulls-eye painted on its underbelly – it accounted for 14 percent of the entire federal budget last year, costing $583 billion. As the returning chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I will exercise rigorous oversight of Medicare and other programs that tens of millions of Americans depend on for health care coverage. I will work to root out waste, fraud and abuse from government programs that pay for prescription drugs and health care services and uphold the integrity of federal grants that provide a vital funding stream for medical research and scientific innovation. Throughout my public service, I have followed the money trail to protect the taxpaying public and strengthen the public health. I’ve examined abusive schemes involving fake pharmacies, over-priced power wheelchairs, flawed drug rebate programs and scientific fraud enabled by a “fund-it-and-forget-it” mentality. Rest assured, I will use every oversight and investigative tool within the committee’s jurisdiction to be the most effective watchdog possible. From improper spending to inflated reimbursements and industry kick-back schemes, I leave no stone unturned to minimize waste and maximize value for Americans served by government programs and taxpayers who foot the bill.

As the author of the Grassley amendments to the False Claims Act, I keep close watch over what has become the federal government’s #1 anti-fraud tool. It has recovered nearly $60 billion to the federal treasury. As a champion for whistleblowers, I will keep those who try to muzzle truth tellers in check and empower those who come forward to report wrongdoing. As an advocate for Rural America, I comb through the thicket of federal formulas to ensure health care providers in Iowa and other rural states don’t get the short end of the stick. As an Iowa farmer, I know it takes sunshine to grow a good crop. Sunshine is also needed to grow good government. Transparency cultivates accountability. As a Midwestern fiscal conservative, I work to pinch every penny that makes its way through the federal bureaucracy. As your senator, I will ride herd to make sure taxpayer health care dollars are working as effectively and efficiently as possible for the American people. From rooting out biases and fraud in federally-funded medical research to exposing negligent care of the elderly and veterans, my oversight work helps restore trust in government and holds government accountable to the people it serves.

Charles E. Grassley, Chairman, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Des Moines Office, 721 Federal Building, 210 Walnut Street, Des Moines, IA 50309, Phone: 515-288-1145; Fax: 515-288-5097

Friday, January 11, 2019

Grassley, Senate Colleagues Introduce Bill to Permanently End Government Shutdowns 

End Government Shutdowns Act Will Keep Government Running When Budget Negotiations Falter Before Key Spending Deadlines

 WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley along with Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio; Steve Daines of Montana, Johnny Isakson of Georgia; Mike Enzi of Wyoming; John Barrasso of Wyoming; Jim Risch of Idaho; Mike Lee of Utah; and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, introduced the End Government Shutdowns Act to permanently prevent the federal government from shutting down, ensuring that essential government services aren’t disrupted and protecting taxpayers who must bear the resulting cost. The measure will create an automatic continuing resolution (CR) for any regular appropriations bill or existing CR, keeping the federal government open when budget negotiations falter before key spending deadlines.

 “It costs money to shut down the government and it costs more money to reopen it. When the government shuts down, Americans are deprived of essential services and their tax dollars are needlessly wasted. Shutdowns also erode the trust between citizens and their government. This legislation would help ensure that policy stalemates and political interests would no longer get in the way of government’s duty to serve the American people. It would also create additional certainty and confidence in the government’s ability to function on behalf of the citizens it serves,” Grassley said.

 The End Government Shutdowns Act will create an automatic continuing resolution (CR) for any regular appropriations bill not completed by the October 1 deadline. After the first 120 days, CR funding will be reduced by one percent and would be reduced by one percent again every 90 days thereafter until Congress does its job and completes the annual appropriations process.

Charles E. Grassley, Chairman, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Des Moines Office, 721 Federal Building, 210 Walnut Street, Des Moines, IA 50309, Phone: 515-288-1145; Fax: 515-288-5097

Friday, January 4, 2019

Q&A Looking Ahead 2019 with  U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Q: What’s in store for the 116th Congress?

A: A new year is a good time to take stock of what’s in store for the next 12 months. Like many Iowans, I take time to count my blessings. Representing Iowans in the U.S. Senate is an honor I don’t take for granted. And when the 116th Congress opened for business on Jan. 3, I was especially grateful to receive a unanimous vote in the United States Senate to serve as the 91st Senate President pro tempore. This is one of only three constitutional offices designated by the nation’s Founders. Its primary duties include presiding over the daily business of the U.S. Senate. Other duties include upholding the rules, processes and institutional customs of the Senate, administering oaths and implementing orders jointly determined by the majority and minority leaders. Only one other senator from Iowa in history has been tapped to serve in this leadership position, Senator Albert B. Cummins, from 1919-1925. It is a big honor for me and for Iowa. It is an opportunity to deliver results and stand up for the principles that make the Senate the world’s greatest deliberative body. I will work as hard as ever for Iowans and use this platform to promote principles I strive every day to uphold, including oversight, transparency and government accountability. After four years serving as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I will move to the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, where I will hold the gavel for the next two years.

 

Q: What priorities do you have in mind from the helm of the Finance Committee?

A: Having previously chaired this committee from January to June 2001, and again for four years from January 2003 to 2007, I will hit the ground running. With broad legislative jurisdiction and oversight authority that includes taxes, health care and trade, I am ready to get to work. Specifically, I will continue working to address the high costs of prescription drugs that make it difficult for many Americans to afford the medications they need. As an advocate for rural America, I also am keenly aware of the barriers that make it difficult to attract and retain health care providers in underserved communities and to keep accessible, affordable health care close to home. With 38 years of legislative experience in the Senate under my belt, I have my sights set on improving policies and programs within the committee’s jurisdiction to help improve access to affordable health care and increase competition and innovation in the pharmaceutical industry. According to the Iowa Insurance Division, 1.6 million Iowans participate in employer-sponsored health insurance plans and 1.2 million Iowans receive health benefits from Medicare and Medicaid. Another 107,000 Iowans purchase health insurance on their own and 39,000 Iowans buy coverage through the individual market. A good rule of thumb to follow when considering reforms that impact people’s health care is simple: First, do no harm.

Trade is also high on my priority list. Iowa’s economy is export-dependent, from farming to manufacturing and financial services. I support President Trump’s efforts to seek more fair and balanced trade deals that increase market access opportunities and hold our trading partners accountable. I’ll be working with the Administration to help ensure no worker, farmer or business owner is forgotten or left out of the process and that our trade agreements create jobs, grow the economy, boost wages and raise prosperity for all Americans.

As a long-time taxpayer watchdog, I will work to build upon and make permanent the historic tax cuts enacted in 2017 to help make more American companies and workers even more competitive. The last thing the U.S. economy needs is a tax increase that would mean less take-home pay and put the brakes on investment and job creation. There are many opportunities to improve tax policy, including education benefits, renewable and alternative energy incentives, retirement security and consumer-directed health care options. I look forward to seizing these opportunities on a bipartisan basis and delivering more kitchen-table victories to families here in Iowa and at kitchen tables around the nation. I will continue pursuing non-partisan, good government oversight to ensure the nonprofit sector is living up to the purpose of its tax-exempt status and hold the IRS accountable while standing up for tax whistleblowers and exposing and shutting down tax shelters. I’ll also continue exercising robust oversight to recover squandered tax dollars, and eliminate waste, fraud and abuse in public health programs that serve older Americans, lower-income individuals and our nation’s veterans who fought to protect and preserve our freedoms and way of life.

 

Opening a new session of Congress brings new opportunities to make a difference for Iowans. As work gets underway in Congress, I look forward to keeping in touch throughout the year. I hope to meet with as many Iowans as possible during my 39th consecutive year holding meetings in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. My county meetings and your phone calls, letters and emails better inform my views and votes on your behalf. Representative government is a two-way street and I count on your dialogue to hold my work accountable to Iowa.

Charles E. Grassley, Chairman, Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Des Moines Office, 721 Federal Building, 210 Walnut Street, Des Moines, IA 50309, Phone: 515-288-1145; Fax: 515-288-5097

 

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