Friday, June 11, 2021
Grassley, Tester, Rounds Unveil Bill to Combat Anti-Competitive Practices in Meat Processing Industry that Threaten Nation’s Food Supply
Meat Packing Special Investigator Act will create new dedicated office within the Department of Agriculture’s Packers and Stockyards Division
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) today joined Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) to announce new, bipartisan legislation to address anticompetitive practices in the meat and poultry industries that threaten the nation’s food supply and national security following last week’s ransomware attack on JBS, the country’s largest meat supplier.
“Increased consolidation is driving concerns about competitive market access for Iowa livestock producers,” Grassley said. “The recent cyberattack added to existing vulnerabilities in our food supply chain, underscoring the importance of protecting the livelihoods of our family farmers. Food security is national security. This bill provides USDA with the necessary tools to beef up enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act, increase coordination with DOJ, FTC, and DHS and to foster a fair and functional marketplace for farmers and consumers alike.”
“For years, unfair, anti-competitive practices in the meatpacking industry have hit Montana ranchers where it hurts the most—in the wallet—and put our rural communities and family agriculture way of life at risk.” Tester said. “On top of that, corporate consolidation is a direct threat to our national security, because a single cyber attack that threatens the very food we eat is proof that something must be done, and fast. That’s why this bill is so important—it devotes the needed tools to USDA to shore up our national security and address anticompetitive practices in the industry that threaten Montana ranchers and consumers.”
“Congress knew in 1921 what we know today – anticompetitive behavior in the meatpacking industry hurts both consumers and producers,” Rounds said. “Unfortunately, packer concentration in the beef industry is more consolidated today than it was when the Packers and Stockyards Act was first signed into law 100 years ago. South Dakota cattle producers are going broke, while consumers are paying an over-inflated premium for beef at the grocery store. It’s long past time to address this problem. Our legislation strengthens USDA’s ability to investigate harmful anticompetitive behavior to apply the Packers and Stockyards Act as intended.”
The Senators’ bill, the Meat Packing Special Investigator Act, would create the “Office of the Special Investigator for Competition Matters” within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Packers and Stockyards Division.
The new USDA special investigator will have a team of investigators, with subpoena power, dedicated to preventing and addressing anticompetitive practices in the meat and poultry industries and enforcing our nation’s antitrust laws. They will coordinate and act in consultation with the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission and create a new bridge between the USDA and the Department of Homeland Security to protect the continuation of the food supply and increase our national security. With a team of dedicated staff, the USDA will now have the ability to investigate the tough issues facing producers and hold bad actors accountable.
Tester and Grassley, both farmers, and Rounds, a rancher, have led efforts to combat corporate consolidation and protect the livelihood of family farmers and ranchers. All three recently joined a bipartisan group of colleagues in demanding the Department of Justice investigate whether the control large meatpackers have over the beef processing market violates U.S. antitrust laws and principles of fair competition.
Tuesday, April 18, 2021
Prepared Floor Remarks by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa On the Nomination of Kristen Clarke
I will not be voting to discharge the nominee Kristen Clarke to run the Civil Rights Division. I want to explain why.
While Ms. Clarke may be a good attorney, she continues the trend of politicized nominees to the Justice Department under President Biden. While I disagree with her strongly on some of her views, especially when it comes to defunding the police, my issues with Ms. Clarke go beyond that.
The Department of Justice, and especially the Civil Rights Division, needs to be committed to impartial and equal justice. In the wrong hands, the Civil Rights Division can be used to target the President’s political opponents. It can threaten law enforcement, school-choice advocates, religious schools, red states and pro-lifers.
This isn’t hypothetical. Under Vanita Gupta, the Civil Rights Division defended an effort to take over Louisiana’s school choice program. Luckily a group of African American mothers stopped them in the Fifth Circuit.
The fact is that our civil rights laws are broad and the mere threat of their enforcement can chill legitimate political opposition. Because of that I think that the head of the Civil Rights Division needs to be above reproach when it comes to partisanship.
Unfortunately, Ms. Clarke is a liberal partisan. She opposed the enforcement of the law against Ike Brown, a Mississippi vote suppressor, either because of the color of his skin or because he was a Democrat. Neither answer is acceptable.
She has disparaged religious freedom groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom.
She has opposed important Supreme Court decisions protecting religious liberty, individual Supreme Court Justices and even some of my colleagues. She has held Republican nominees to standards she doesn’t want applied to herself.
Ms. Clarke has run away from her record. I asked her at her hearing whether Mumia Abu Jamal, the country’s most notorious cop killer, was a political prisoner like someone said at a conference she helped organize. She wouldn’t answer, telling me that she was unfamiliar with his case. Given her youthful activism, I find that very hard to believe.
Last summer she wrote an article in Newsweek advocating for defunding the police but she insists the words on the page aren’t what she meant. I’m sorry, but if it’s not what she meant, then she shouldn’t have said it.
I don’t think she’s the right person for this job at this time. A nominee to lead the Civil Rights Division should be nonpartisan, independent and up-front about her beliefs. Unfortunately, I think Ms. Clarke misses on all three marks.
As I’ve said, I don’t want a return to the Eric Holder days so I’m a no.
Wednesday, April 20, 2021
Grassley Discusses National Security Implications of the Southern Border Crisis
Prepared Floor Remarks by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Today, I want to talk about the crisis at the southern border. During the past several months, the American people have watched as a full-blown crisis has developed. It’s reached a catastrophic phase and it’s not getting any better.
And let me re-emphasize that whatever the Biden Administration wants to call it, it’s a crisis.
Simply put, the Biden administration’s in denial. And that denial has caused a humanitarian and national security crisis.
For example, border crossings are at the highest levels we’ve seen in at least the last fifteen years. Last month, Customs and Border Protection encountered more than 170,000 people attempting to cross at the southern border.
That number included almost 19,000 unaccompanied children, which is the highest number ever recorded in a single month.
The surge has overwhelmed personnel and prompted the Biden Administration to put out emergency calls for volunteers from across the federal government.
According to news reports based on recent Biden administration emails, the administration is recruiting NASA employees to sit with children at border facilities.
The border crisis is so bad the Biden administration is trying to pull people from NASA and place them at the border.
Folks, this situation is out of control. This is a humanitarian and national security crisis.
Terrorists, smugglers, and other criminals have seen this as their golden opportunity, and are taking full advantage of it. This can’t continue.
I’ve written to the Biden administration. I’ve visited the border in person. I’ve seen our overwhelmed facilities and heard the calls of cartel members and human traffickers, yelling insults from across the Rio Grande.
Senator Cornyn and I have written to the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee strongly urging him to hold border security hearings.
During the Trump Administration, while I served as Chairman of the full Committee and Senator Cornyn served as Subcommittee Chairman, we held no less than 15 hearings on oversight of DHS and various aspects of immigration policy. As Chairman of the Committee during the first two years of the Trump Administration, I held hearings on immigration topics of bipartisan interest to all Committee members, including Democratic Committee members.
Those hearings included oversight of family reunification efforts and the Trump Administration’s decision to end the DACA program.
In the same way, I was hopeful that Chairman Durbin would be willing to hold hearings on matters of great importance to me and committee members on both sides of the aisle.
I’m ready to work with him to put together hearings that address these problems productively
During the Easter Recess, I instructed my oversight and investigations staff to get a classified briefing from the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That briefing provided important and time-sensitive information that further solidifies my belief that the Biden administration’s border crisis is a national security problem.
Moreover, the Biden administration’s denial that there’s a border crisis is itself a national security problem.
You can’t solve a problem if you refuse to admit one exists. This head-in-the-sand attitude will cost lives. That’s what’s so sad about this situation. It’s not making anyone’s life better. It’s putting lives at risk – American lives and Immigrant lives. Yet, the administration refuses to act to solve the problem.
Earlier this month, I requested that the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement brief the full Judiciary Committee, Republicans and Democrats, on a member level.
Members need to fully understand the national security problems at the border with respect to terrorists, narco-terrorists, human smugglers and their criminal counterparts. We must also be fully read-in to the methods and means that they use to
Wednesday, April 15, 2021
Prepared Floor Remarks by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
On Discharging the Nomination of Vanita Gupta to be Associate Attorney General
I’m opposed to this effort to discharge Vanita Gupta from the Judiciary Committee. In fact, it’s not properly in order.
In theory, we’re moving this nomination because it failed in Committee by an even vote. But that vote should never have been called and it was improper when it was.
Under our Committee Rules, members have a right to unlimited debate. This can only be stopped either by a bipartisan vote to end debate under the Rules or by a vote of the majority of the Committee to set a time-certain to vote under Precedent.
Because Republicans at Ms. Gupta’s markup wanted to talk there couldn’t have been a bipartisan vote to end debate. In fact, some, like my colleague from North Carolina didn’t have a chance to speak and were still waiting their turn. And because the Democrats don’t have a majority of the Committee, they couldn’t have set a time-certain.
Under the Rules and Precedent of the Committee, then, they had to let Republicans talk. And if it took more than one markup, so be it. The Democrats did this when I was Chairman. During our second markup of 2017, in order to delay Senator Sessions’ nomination to be Attorney General, Democrats filibustered. When it happened, I didn’t interrupt anybody or break any rules. I simply continued the markup the next day checking to see who would want to be recognized and for how long.
The fact is that the Democrats frequently used these filibuster tactics against us over the past four years. We simply dealt with them from a position of confidence in the Rules and Precedents of the Committee. Sometimes being Chairman and moving nominees takes hard work, but we did the job we needed to do.
That’s not what happened here. Instead, my colleague from Arkansas was interrupted and the roll was called while he was still speaking.
This was not the power of the majority being used, it was the power of the Chairman. What’s the point of having rules if you can just ignore them when you find yourself dealing with an unfamiliar situation?
So I don’t think the “even vote” in Committee ever properly happened. As far as I’m concerned, Senator Cotton had the Floor. That roll-call vote was illegitimate under Committee Rules, and so this one is, too.
And why did the Chairman scrap the Committee Rules for this nominee? This isn’t a Supreme Court nomination. The nominee’s a subcabinet official at the Justice Department.
I think it’s because the Democrats know how powerful she will be in the Justice Department. As Judge Garland told us during his hearing, he didn’t pick Ms. Gupta. He only got to know her after they were both picked. That’s quite the position for a subordinate to be in.
The late Congressman Dingell famously said – and I’ll clean it up – “you let me write the procedure, and I’ll [beat] you every time.” The Judiciary Committee has done him one better: now there is no procedure. But it’s the Senate that loses every time.
I urge my colleagues to vote no and protect the traditions of this body.
Monday, April 12, 2021
Our Constituents Expect Us to Work in a Bipartisan Way
Over the Easter break, I held Q&As in 24 counties to hear what’s on the minds of Iowans.
It’s my constituent’s agenda, not my agenda that we discuss.
From my cattle market transparency bill to the second amendment, COVID-19 vaccines and the crisis at our southern border, Iowans are always up-to-date on the issues most important to them.
One prominent question: “why can’t you guys get along?”
In other words, why is there not more bipartisanship?
Iowans want Congress to work in a bipartisan way to enhance our nation’s infrastructure through increased funding for roads, bridges, highways, waterways and rural broadband.
Unfortunately, what I’ve heard so far about President Biden’s plan is that it’s everything but the kitchen sink and not enough focus on infrastructure.
Iowans expect us to work in a bipartisan way and I hope Democrats will agree to work together this time, unlike the passage of the last 1.9 trillion dollar bill.
Monday, April 12, 2021
On Big Tech Interfering with Free Speech
I recently spoke on the Senate floor about the importance of free speech. Today I’d like to speak on the power of Big Tech to censor free speech.
It has been 25 years since Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was signed into law. This law grants wide-sweeping immunity to interactive computer services that host third-party content.
The goal of Section 230 was laudable. The internet was in its infancy and content being posted to message boards by third parties was leading to litigation that threatened the spread of free speech and expression. Section 230 was enacted to encourage free speech while giving companies the ability to remove illegal or obscene materials. Section 230 and the legal shield it offers helped to enable the internet to grow into what we have today.
However, interactive computer services are no longer struggling companies but some of the largest corporations in the world today. When Section 230 was signed into law, Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube did not exist. Today they’re dominant tech giants.
Many argue that these private companies have their own terms of service and are able to enforce them as they wish. That they’re not covered under the first amendment. Yet these platforms are now the new public square where it’s important that all voices and viewpoints are able to be heard. With the immunities that these companies have and the importance of dialogue on their platforms, arguably they are in effect state actors and therefore first amendment protections should apply to user-generated content.
The size and power of these companies also contribute to their ability to censor speech and undermine the first amendment. Google controls 87 percent of search, Facebook has 2.8 billion monthly active users, 500 million tweets are sent on Twitter each day and over 1 billion hours of videos are watched on YouTube every day.
When a company has monopoly power, it no longer is constrained by normal market forces. If these platforms had competitors, consumers could choose alternatives when they disagree with terms of service or moderation policies. Right now the only choice consumers have is to take it or leave it.
Section 230 appears to compound this problem. Big tech has no competitors and is immune from liability. These companies are unaccountable to their customers, the courts and the government. If not for their monopoly power and Section 230 immunity, these companies might not be involved in the actions and censorship we see today.
These platforms are where people communicate online and there are no real alternatives. This innovation has democratized our political system, yet there are people who don’t like that every person is able to get their views out there and they want to interfere with and censor that. We cannot stand for this cancel culture and the interference with free speech.
Entrepreneurs want to challenge these big tech companies. Unfortunately, the system is rigged against the little guy startup. These companies can remove your website from the internet, delete your app from the app store or permanently ban you from their platform. They can remove competitors or those they disagree with, largely with no recourse.
Millions of small business owners use tech platforms to operate their business. Many have been censored, banned and demonetized. This can be done without warning, no explanation and many times without any meaningful due process.
Our antitrust regulators need to take a harder look at the actions of Big Tech. I recently introduced legislation with Senator Klobuchar to increase resources for FTC and DOJ antitrust enforcement. This legislation would provide an immediate boost to their effective competition responsibilities.
Right now there are essentially five companies within the United States that determine what can and cannot be viewed by the American public. It’s becoming increasingly clear that these companies are more beholden to cancel culture and not to the free speech principles that this country was founded upon. As Justice Brandeis famously wrote, “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”
It’s time that we examine the need for Section 230 immunity and to what extent these tech companies are abusing their monopoly power. It’s time that these companies stop arbitrarily deciding what speech is acceptable for the country.
Friday, March 26, 2021
Q&A: USDA Pandemic Relief Re-Opens
Q: When will the USDA open the next round of pandemic relief assistance for producers?
A: Just as planting season gets into full swing, Farm Service Agencies across the country will open the application process for the third round of pandemic relief assistance starting April 5, 2021 for at least 60 days. The USDA announced it will distribute producer payments under existing CFAP rules from last year that Congress approved to address catastrophic hardship and disruptions to the food supply caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the USDA announced it will expand assistance for specialty crops and target pandemic assistance for farmers most in need, particularly small and medium-sized producers. This third phase of pandemic relief funding will add an additional $500 million through existing programs, including the Local Agricultural Marketing Program; Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach; Specialty Crop Block Grant Program; Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to support farm stress assistance programs. The USDA will dedicate $6 billion in unspent pandemic relief dollars and money Congress included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act passed in December to provide additional assistance to producers who qualify for help with their operations, including dairy; euthanized livestock and poultry herds; specialty crops; beginning farmers; organic farms; biofuels; and, conservation practices. In addition, USDA will evaluate applications for assistance providing personal protective equipment (PPE) for food and farm workers, processors and distributors; improving the resilience of the food supply chain (many Iowans will recall consumers faced empty meat cases at local grocery stores last year due to supply chain disruptions); and improving food donations and distribution systems for perishable food to help reduce food waste and curb hunger.
Q: What do producers need to know about formula payments under existing CFAP laws?
A: In the December Consolidated Appropriations Act Congress ensured certainty by requiring the USDA to continue CFAP payments already approved under law. The USDA announced it will expedite those payments starting in April. That includes an increase in CFAP 1 payments for cattle producers with previously approved applications. The USDA estimates more than 410,000 cattle producers will receive additional payments from their approved applications. FSA will automatically issue payments for producers of eligible crops under CFAP 2 for alfalfa, corn, soybeans, hemp, sorghum, among other crops. For a list of eligible row-crop acres included in the CFAP 2 payments, go to farmers.gov/cfap.
Q: What do producers need to know about formula payments under existing CFAP laws?
A: Economic fall-out from the pandemic hit transportation fuel providers especially hard, as hundreds of millions of Americans stopped flying, driving and commuting to and from work and school. Leisure and business travel effectively came to a complete halt, drying up demand at the pump. The decrease in fuel consumption forced more than 100 ethanol facilities last year to idle production or shut down entirely. Their closures and unprecedented challenges impacted farm income, particularly prices for corn and soybeans, and affected the vitality of the rural economy that’s closely linked to the health of the renewable fuel industry in communities across the Midwest. As longtime champions for renewable biofuels, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and I urged USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to unleash the money Congress approved in December to get immediate help to biofuel producers. We identified $13 billion in unspent funds that would provide a critical financial lifeline for ethanol producers and biodiesel plants. In fact, we introduced a bill last May to ensure biofuels producers weren’t left behind and secured language in the spending law Congress passed in December that specifies renewable fuel producers are eligible to receive pandemic relief money. In early March, I worked with Sen. Klobuchar in leading a letter to Secretary Vilsack to ensure biofuel producers received assistance. Keeping the renewable fuel industry afloat to come out stronger than ever in the economic recovery is important for jobs, farm income, the rural economy and the environment.
Thursday, March 18, 2021
Prepared Floor Remarks by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
On Democrats Spreading Disinformation to Protect President Biden
Thursday, March 18, 2021
On March 16, 2021, the Intelligence Community issued its Intelligence Community Assessment on Foreign Threats to the 2020 U.S. Federal Elections.
Based on that report, some in the liberal media have falsely claimed that my and Senator Johnson’s Hunter Biden-related oversight activities last Congress were based on Russian disinformation.
Even Peter Strzok felt the need to chime in on Twitter to say we received Russian disinformation.
Such claims are false and misleading.
To be precise, Senator Johnson and I didn’t receive, solicit or rely upon any information from Andriy Derkach and we’ve publicly said so many times.
It seems like Strzok pays just about as careful attention to these facts as he did the Crossfire Hurricane FISA applications.
Of course, Twitter lets disinformation about the Steele Dossier run wild on their platform yet shuts down still-unrefuted reporting on Hunter Biden before the 2020 presidential election.
Talk about a double standard.
Now, regarding Russian disinformation, it wasn’t us that dealt in it.
It was the Democrats. Here’s one quick example. If you want more, read Section 10 of our September 23, 2020, report.
On July 13, 2020, then-Minority Leader Schumer, Senator Warner, Speaker Pelosi, and Representative Schiff sent a letter, with a classified attachment, to the FBI to express a purported belief that Congress was the subject of a foreign disinformation campaign.
The classified attachment included unclassified elements that attempted – and failed – to tie our work to Derkach.
Those unclassified elements were then leaked to the press to support a false campaign accusing us of using Russian disinformation.
Then, during the course of our investigation, we ran a transcribed interview of George Kent.
Before that interview, the Democrats acquired Derkach’s materials.
During that interview, they asked the witness about it. He stated, “What you’re asking me to interpret is a master chart of disinformation and malign influence.”
At that interview, the Democrats introduced known disinformation into the investigative record as an exhibit.
More precisely, the Democrats relied upon and disseminated known disinformation from a foreign source whom the Intelligence Community warned was actively seeking to influence U.S. politics.
Yet they accused me and Senator Johnson of doing that very thing.
Let that sink in.
It’s clear that the Democrats hoped that their self-created disinformation campaign would drown-out our report and its findings to protect candidate Biden from the facts.
Now that President Biden is in office, the facts aren’t going anywhere.
As President Biden gears up for his first press conference, he ought to answer for the fact that his family was – and possibly still is – financially connected to Chinese nationals with links to the communist party and the People’s Liberation Army.
Indeed, Hunter Biden reportedly admitted that he was well aware that some of his business associates were connected to the communist Chinese government’s intelligence services.
Where is the media in asking serious questions about that?
It’s also been reported that emails show Joe Biden and his brother were “office mates” with the very same Chinese nationals with links to the communist regime and it’s military.
Where is the media in asking serious questions about that?
Tony Bobulinski publicly stated that Joe Biden was aware of and possibly involved in Hunter Biden’s business deals.
Where is the media in asking serious questions about that?
The Biden family transactions and associations in our September 2020 report raise criminal, counterintelligence, and extortion concerns.
Yet, the liberal media has ignored all of it and has failed to ask any legitimate questions. Don’t you think “We the People” have a right to know the answers? The media certainly seemed to think so during the last administration.
If this story was about Trump, I guarantee you it would be all over the news.
It’s perfectly legitimate and reasonable for Congress and the news media to question the Biden administration about these global financial transactions and associations.
It’s perfectly legitimate to ask how they could impact the Biden administration’s foreign policy.
That’s especially true as it relates to China given the extensive links between the Biden family and that country.
Let’s see if anyone dares to ask serious questions at the president’s first news conference.
Monday, March 8, 2021
Senators Seek Inspector General Review of Biden Admin Decision to Put Intelligence Leader on Leave
U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) are seeking an expanded investigation of the circumstances leading to the placement of National Security Agency General Counsel Michael Ellis on administrative leave, following public reports that raise concerns of political pressure from the new administration.
Ellis began the process of assuming his new duties on January 19, after an exhaustive and apolitical selection process for career officials and a decade-long career with a security clearance. The very next day, after a new administration was sworn in, Ellis was informed without explanation that a security inquiry was opened. These circumstances suggest the security inquiry may have been initiated based on political pressure from the new administration rather than any legitimate security concern.
“Placing qualified individuals on administrative leave and subjecting clearance holders to security inquiries is an extraordinarily serious matter that can create a life-long negative impact on a person’s career and therefore can only be done on the surest foundation. The publicly reported fact pattern raises serious questions about whether the Defense Department and NSA properly followed all laws, rules and regulations with respect to the administrative actions against Ellis,” the senators wrote.
In their letter to Department of Defense Acting Inspector General Sean O’Donnell, the senators are requesting that the watchdog office expand the scope of any ongoing review to include the circumstances behind the NSA placing Ellis on administrative leave and opening a security inquiry.
Full text of the senators’ letter follows or can be found HERE.
Dear Acting Inspector General O’Donnell:
We write to express our concern regarding the January 20, 2021 decision by the National Security Agency (NSA) to place its career General Counsel, Michael Ellis, on administrative leave. The Biden administration’s decision to place Ellis on leave appears to be politically motivated and we request that you begin a review of the facts, circumstances and process that the administration used to justify their decision to place him on administrative leave.
Publicly available information indicates that Mr. Ellis was selected for his career position through a lengthy, rigorous, and fair process. The General Counsel position was advertised publicly in January 2020, a career panel of lawyers found Ellis to be qualified for the position before any political appointee was involved in the process, and he was interviewed by a panel that included a career intelligence lawyer. Moreover, his service as a political appointee does not disqualify him from the NSA General Counsel position. The two prior General Counsels of NSA served as political appointees before their service at the Agency. Mr. Raj De, General Counsel from 2012 to 2015, had served as Staff Secretary under President Obama, and Mr. Glenn Gerstell, General Counsel from 2015 to 2020, was appointed by President Obama as a member of the National Infrastructure Advisory Commission. Unlike Ellis, neither had significant experience working with the Intelligence Community before their appointment at NSA.
Public reports also suggest that NSA may have attempted to subvert the merit system principles by refusing to appoint Ellis after his selection. Ellis was selected for the position in November 2020, and reportedly successfully completed his NSA’s polygraph examination, psychological screening, and background investigation in early December 2020, yet NSA did not move forward with his appointment. Even after the Office of Personnel Management determined that it did not have the authority to review NSA appointments—a conclusion that should have been clear from prior NSA General Counsels who held politically appointed positions—NSA reportedly did not move forward with Ellis’s appointment. According to public reports, unlike for prior Obama-era General Counsel appointments, NSA demanded additional written approvals before appointing Ellis. Reports also indicate that NSA refused to abide by the selecting authority’s decision until ordered to do so by the then-Acting Secretary of Defense, a step that may have constituted “a violation of merit system principles and processes” by NSA leadership.
NSA may also have unlawfully retaliated against Ellis by initiating a security inquiry of Ellis. According to public reports, Ellis has held a security clearance for more than a decade without incident, serving in senior intelligence roles in Congress and at the White House. On January 19, 2021, as part of his new employee in-processing, NSA granted Ellis a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) security clearance. At that time, NSA had in its possession all relevant facts regarding Ellis’s handling of classified information. Yet merely one day later, in the afternoon of January 20, 2021, NSA informed Ellis for the first time and without any explanation that there was a security inquiry with respect to his handling of classified information. This highly unusual sequence of events suggests that NSA initiated its security inquiry on the basis of political pressure from the newly installed Biden administration, not any legitimate security concern.
Placing qualified individuals on administrative leave and subjecting clearance holders to security inquiries is an extraordinarily serious matter that can create a life-long negative impact on a person’s career and therefore can only be done on the surest foundation. The publicly reported fact pattern raises serious questions about whether the Defense Department and NSA properly followed all laws, rules and regulations with respect to the administrative actions against Ellis.
We understand that the Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Defense may be reviewing the Department’s process of selecting and hiring Ellis. Accordingly, we request that the scope of the ongoing review be expanded to include the facts, circumstances and process by which NSA decided to place Ellis on administrative leave and open a security inquiry. We further request rolling updates from you on the status of such review or other inquiry into the selection and hiring of Ellis, including if any evaluation or other inquiry has concluded.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.
Friday, January 29, 2021
Q&A: Balanced Budget Amendment
Q: Why did you re-introduce the Balanced Budget Amendment?
A: Iowans work hard for their money. As a taxpayer watchdog, I conduct congressional oversight to root out wasteful spending and as a senior member of the Senate Budget Committee, support budgetary tools to restore fiscal discipline. The federal budgeting system is broken. Big spenders in Washington have an insatiable appetite for big government programs that cost a lot of money. No matter how outsized their liberal laundry list becomes, they’re satisfied to tax, spend and borrow as much as it takes to pay for it. This reckless approach keeps adding trillions of dollars to the nation’s debt. And when moments of national emergency, such as the coronavirus pandemic, require a surge in federal spending, the long-term harm of annual deficit spending swells even more, saddling future generations with even more debt. According to the nonpartisan budget scorekeeper, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the federal deficit in fiscal year 2020 reached nearly 15 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), the largest since the end of World War II. The annual deficit is the gap between revenue and spending. The sum total of the deficit from one year to the next makes up the federal debt. The CBO projects the federal debt held by the public will exceed 100 percent of GDP in 2021. A bigger debt puts U.S. taxpayers on the hook for bigger interest payments, reaching $345 billion last year. The federal government is spending nearly $1 billion a day just on interest payments. Less borrowing costs means more dollars would be available for tax relief or to beef up public health or infrastructure spending. Even more troubling, however, rising federal debt makes the economy susceptible to rising interest rates. That’s bad news for private-sector borrowers, Main Street businesses, farmers and families. In times of national crisis, such as war, recession, natural disaster or public health emergency, the federal government must be able to respond with emergency spending. For example, since last March, pandemic-related spending has delivered a financial lifeline to unemployed individuals, families, small businesses and farmers while also providing funding for safety net programs, vaccine development and medical supplies for frontline workers and health professionals. Economic contraction from the pandemic and trillions of dollars in new federal spending piled on more federal debt. While this spending was necessary to help working families and small businesses, we would be in much better shape if this spending was the only debt we needed to repay, rather than compounding the problem and leading to even larger interest payments. Even during times of health and prosperity, Congress lacks the fiscal discipline to balance the books. In January, I reintroduced a balanced budget amendment, as I have every new Congress for years. Congress needs constitutional guardrails to put the federal government on a fiscally sustainable path with safety valves available for national emergencies.
Q: How would a Balanced Budget Amendment function?
A: It’s a tall order to get an amendment added to our founding charter. In fact, the Constitution has been amended only 27 times, including the first 10 known as the Bill of Rights. The Constitution provides that an amendment may be proposed either by the Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the state legislatures. None of the 27 amendments to the Constitution has been proposed by constitutional convention. When approved by two-thirds of the Congress, the amendment must be ratified by three-fourths of the states. A federal balanced budget amendment is not a new idea. Most recently, the closest the Senate has come to meeting the 67-vote threshold was in 1997, when it fell short by one vote. I’ll keep fighting for fiscal discipline. Our children and grandchildren don’t deserve to inherit an $85,000 tab to pay off our debts. My amendment would require Congress to spend no more than it collects during any fiscal year and limit spending to 18 percent of the gross national product, the 40-year historical average of total federal receipts. It includes a safety valve for national emergencies. Congress would be empowered to run a deficit, raise taxes or increase the debt limit if agreed to by two-thirds of both the House and Senate. Finally, the amendment would allow any member of Congress to seek judicial enforcement of the balanced budget requirement as long as the lawmaker has received approval to do so by a petition signed by one-third of either the House or the Senate. A balanced budget amendment would provide a much-needed constitutional check on out-of-control spending. Requiring lawmakers to tighten the fiscal belt would restore the nation’s fiscal health. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 49 states have requirements in place to balance their budgets. It’s entirely reasonable that Congress be required to live within its means just like Americans do, especially considering the public purse is filled with taxpayer dollars.
Grassley, Colleagues Request Meeting with President Biden Following Actions Targeting Energy Workers
Friday, January 29, 2021
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) joined Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and 24 Senate colleagues in sending a letter to President Joe Biden voicing their concerns about the new administration’s recent executive orders and regulatory actions targeting the domestic energy sector. They also highlighted the thousands of good-paying American jobs it supports and requested a meeting with the president.
“Mr. President, we all watched your inauguration and took your words about unity and putting yourself in other people’s shoes to heart,” the senators wrote. “We know you understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of Americans to live paycheck to paycheck and to be worried about how they are going to pay rent and feed their families. Unfortunately, by targeting resource development, you have put thousands of good-paying jobs at risk, which is adding to the burden that our constituents are bearing right now and has the potential to further the divide between rural and urban America. The actions you’ve taken have the very real potential to devastate these hard-working Americans and leave them and their families behind for decades to come.”
The letter is also signed by Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), John Kennedy (R-La.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).
Full text of the letter can be found HERE.
Friday, January 22, 2021
In my final hearing chairing the Senate Finance Committee, President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as the 78th U.S Treasury secretary told lawmakers we must “act big” to restore the economy capsized by COVID-19.
At her confirmation hearing held the day before the presidential inauguration, Janet Yellen sought to justify the incoming administration’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan. Championing the so-called rescue proposal, she revealed what the Biden administration has in mind for the next four years: a big government take-over of the U.S. economy, from dismantling the Trump tax cuts to imposing mandates on small businesses and restructuring the nation’s health care and energy infrastructure.
Although Democrats will control the leadership reins of the first and second branches of the federal government for at least the next two years, they’d do well to lean in on a bit of Midwestern common sense that’s served me well on my family farm and in Congress: Don’t put the cart before the horse.
Using COVID-19 to masquerade a liberal policy agenda won’t get far in a narrowly divided House and Senate. It’s reckless to borrow another $2 trillion on top of $4 trillion already in the pipeline. While more pandemic relief is needed, some of the line items are a political pipe dream for progressives.
For example, mandating a $15 federal minimum wage would wipe out small businesses hanging by a thread. It would cut into already contracted business income, forcing local retailers and restaurants to stop hiring and forget about reopening or expanding a small business. At worst, many may close their doors for good. A shuttered Main Street business diminishes economic vitality and means no jobs, no paychecks and no tax revenue.
When COVID-19 slammed the brakes on the U.S. economy last year, Congress took historic action to send out stimulus checks, boost federal unemployment insurance payments, replenish the financial lifeline to small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), bolster nutrition programs and lost revenue for family farmers, assist student borrowers, enact a temporary eviction moratorium, and help health care providers on the front lines of the pandemic.
With 400,000 Americans’ lives lost and counting, there’s clear and present urgency to effectively deploy swift vaccine distribution. However, it’s also clear the Biden administration is taking a cue from the Obama administration’s modis operandi to never “let a serious crisis go to waste.”
At her confirmation hearing, I told the expected Treasury secretary she would have an instrumental opportunity to create an environment for bipartisanship and reasoned debate. Raising taxes on individuals and U.S. businesses won’t grease the wheels of an economy starting to gain traction. To the contrary, they’d slam the brakes on the rebound and unbridled spending would throw taxpayers under the bus.
For his First 100 Days, President Biden also has signaled a radical immigration agenda that would seem to cast the door wide open to amnesty and open borders. As the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, I look forward to scrutinizing the legislative details and working to ensure we have an immigration system that serves the interests of the American people. Again, let’s not put the cart before the horse. An open-borders policy would add significant risks to public health in the middle of a pandemic, exacerbate the costs and logistics of vaccine distribution, and send an alarming message to American workers who have lost their jobs or seen their paychecks and hours reduced during the pandemic.
Candidate Biden campaigned on a platform to heal America and bridge the partisan divisions tearing our country apart. I look forward to working with the Biden administration to get the pandemic behind us and grow the economy back bigger and better than ever.
One last bit of advice as our 46th president takes office. “Go big or go home” could turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophesy. Ramming through a liberal laundry list without building consensus and winning bipartisanship is more than likely a one-way ticket for a one-term presidency.
Republican Chuck Grassley represents Iowa in the United States Senate. He is co-author of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Friday, January 22, 2021
Finance Committee Advances Treasury Nominee to Full Senate
The Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), today unanimously reported for consideration to the full Senate the nomination of Dr. Janet Yellen to the secretary of the Treasury.
“I will vote yes on Dr. Yellen’s nomination given her qualifications and belief that a President is entitled to pick his own cabinet members, as long as they are qualified and reasonable. That is not to say, however, that I do not have concerns. I do not support some of what I believe will be Dr. Yellen’s political agenda, but do hope that she maintains a view that she needs to work with Members of this Committee on both sides of the aisle in developing policies,” Grassley said during today’s committee meeting.
“It should also be noted that, in considering Dr. Yellen’s nomination, we have not organized any resistance campaign, vote boycott, or personalized attacks on her character. We have not created any false claims or unfounded accusations about her. Unfortunately, I cannot say that like treatment was afforded to all nominees of the prior administration. I hope that President Biden realizes that the treatment of Dr. Yellen’s nomination in this Committee signals interest by me and my Republican colleagues in working cooperatively and in a bipartisan way. We want to work on policy issues to help all Americans, and are not interested in cancerous culture wars that serve only to divide the country,” Grassley continued.
In 2017, Senate Democrats boycotted the Finance Committee’s consideration of President Trump’s nominee to the same post.
Grassley’s full remarks at today’s meeting follow:
Prepared Statement by Senator Chuck Grassley
Chairman, Senate Finance Committee
Open Executive Session to Consider the Nomination of the Honorable Janet L. Yellen to be Secretary of the Treasury
January 22, 2021
Today, we are meeting in executive session to consider the nomination of the Honorable Janet Yellen to be Secretary of the Treasury.
I and my Republican colleagues have acted to process Dr. Yellen’s nomination in Committee expeditiously. We’ve done that in the interest of bipartisanship and to help ensure that the President’s cabinet can get up and running to help respond to the needs of the American people in the midst of a pandemic.
I will vote yes on Dr. Yellen’s nomination given her qualifications and belief that a President is entitled to pick his own cabinet members, as long as they are qualified and reasonable. That is not to say, however, that I do not have concerns. I do not support some of what I believe will be Dr. Yellen’s political agenda, but do hope that she maintains a view that she needs to work with Members of this Committee on both sides of the aisle in developing policies.
I also believe that Dr. Yellen was not entirely responsive to some of the questions we asked of her following her hearing on Tuesday. We will continue to ask questions, and I continue to expect timely and thorough responses.
If confirmed as Treasury Secretary, Dr. Yellen will serve as part of the Biden administration. It will be important for her to keep in mind, though, that she will be serving interests of all Americans, and not simply those with a liberal agenda.
It should also be noted that, in considering Dr. Yellen’s nomination, we have not organized any resistance campaign, vote boycott, or personalized attacks on her character. We have not created any false claims or unfounded accusations about her. Unfortunately, I cannot say that like treatment was afforded to all nominees of the prior administration. I hope that President Biden realizes that the treatment of Dr. Yellen’s nomination in this Committee signals interest by me and my Republican colleagues in working cooperatively and in a bipartisan way. We want to work on policy issues to help all Americans, and are not interested in cancerous culture wars that serve only to divide the country.
If confirmed, Dr. Yellen will be the first woman to serve as Treasury Secretary in the nation’s history, which is a welcome development. And, if confirmed, I look forward to begin working together with her for all Americans.
In closing, I congratulate Dr. Yellen on her nomination, which I intend to support.
Friday, January 15, 2021
Q&A: Big Victories for Rural Health Care
Q: Why is it important to keep health care clinics viable in small towns and rural communities?
A: In January, I started my annual 99 county meetings across Iowa. For the last four decades, I’ve traveled to every corner of the state to hold an open dialogue with my constituents. At my recent meeting in Delaware County in Manchester, I had a Q&A with workers who manufacture state-of-the-art snowplows, salt and sand spreaders and other types of equipment that help keep our roads safe during bad weather. We covered a variety of topics, including the pandemic. The deadly coronavirus underscores why local health care services are a quality of life issue no matter your zip code, from testing to patient care to vaccine distribution. Having a health care clinic in town also helps employers attract and retain employees, adds economic vitality to the community and gives peace of mind to residents who don’t have to travel an hour or more for urgent medical care, diagnostic and lab services or immunizations, for example. Manchester has a family health clinic designated as a Rural Health Clinic (RHC).
Congress passed the Rural Health Clinic Services Act in 1977 to increase access to primary care services in rural areas. Across the country, more than 4,100 clinics are designated as RHCs and receive extra Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement. Iowa has 197 rural health clinics. I made sure the pandemic-relief law enacted in December improved how Medicare pays RHCs so they can stay viable and thrive in their local communities. During the pandemic, hospitals and clinics across the country faced substantial revenue losses as patients didn’t seek care and elective surgeries were canceled or delayed while their costs increased to pay for personal protective equipment (PPP) and care for COVID-19 patients. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has legislative jurisdiction and oversight authority of federal health care programs, I’ve been a tireless advocate for rural health care providers and patients and work hard to serve as their voice at the policymaking table. As Congress negotiated pandemic-relief packages throughout 2020, I championed increased financial assistance for rural hospitals and clinics and advocated for regulatory relief to give providers extra breathing room to keep their workforce on payroll and ensure they could keep their doors open during the pandemic and beyond. With the $900 billion pandemic-relief package enacted in December, more help is on the way. As Finance chairman, I pushed for an additional $3 billion to boost funding for rural providers, as well as increased flexibility for how providers can use the relief dollars they’ve previously received. I also secured additional flexibility for patients to have more control over their health with their Flexible Spending Accounts.
Q: What additional health care provisions were included to help rural providers and patients?
A: Access to emergency and primary health care services is a basic quality of life issue for a resident of any sized community. Because our rural hospitals, clinics, and physician offices are facing increased financial strain, it’s all the more important to ensure rural communities can maintain reasonable access to emergency and other medical services as close to home as possible.
The new law extends for three years important rural health provisions that would have expired on Dec. 31, including a boost in payments to physician practices. I also worked to ensure America’s vital network of hospitals and clinics in our rural health delivery system wasn’t left hanging in the wind. Our state has 81 Critical Access Hospitals and 47 Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) providing care to Iowans. In addition to payment reforms for RHCs, the law establishes a new, voluntary Rural Emergency Hospital (REH) designation that offers financial support to struggling rural hospitals that can no longer support inpatient services. Having led the charge to create a new, voluntary REH payment model since 2014, I’m very glad to get this designation across the finish line so that our devoted rural health care providers can keep offering essential medical services in their communities. The REH offers a financial lifeline for frontier providers by allowing certain rural hospitals to right-size their health care infrastructure and provide services that better align with the specific needs of their patient populations. As I often remind my fellow lawmakers in Washington, one-size-fits-all doesn’t always fit all and in too many cases leaves rural America behind.
Other key provisions extend the rural community hospital demonstration program for an additional five years, which gives payment certainty to several participating Iowa hospitals, and allow RHCs and FQHCs to provide and bill for hospice attending physician services when RHC and FQHC patients become terminally ill and elect the hospice benefit. This means that patients may continue to receive hospice-related care from their known RHC or FQHC primary care provider.
One silver lining of the pandemic became a golden opportunity to improve access to mental health care services in remote areas. Congress eliminated Medicare restrictions that will allow beneficiaries to receive mental health services through telehealth on a permanent basis. In addition, Medicare patients now will get better benefits for certain colorectal cancer screenings; kidney transplant patients may buy Medicare coverage to get prescription drugs needed to prevent a return to dialysis; and, Medicaid enrollees now may participate in clinical trials. During the 117th Congress, I’ll continue advocating for rural health policy to get us through the pandemic and beyond.
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