U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley R-Iowa speaks during a town meeting held Wednesday, at the Carroll County Courthouse.  Daily Times Herald photo by Jeff Storjohann.
U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley R-Iowa speaks during a town meeting held Wednesday, at the Carroll County Courthouse.  Daily Times Herald photo by Jeff Storjohann.
Thursday, August 23, 2012

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, fielded concerns about the economy and responded to impassioned pleas for bipartisan action Wednesday morning at a tightly packed town-hall meeting in Carroll, the final stop in his 99-county tour of Iowa before he headed home to his farm in New Hartford.

“With most social change in America, it’s always headed by bipartisan support,” Grassley said to more than 100 farmers, retirees and other residents who filed into the Carroll County Courthouse.

It was the largest turnout Grassley met in his three-day sweep of southwest Iowa that brought him through nine counties this week — Cass, Taylor and Page counties on Monday; Fremont, Mills, Harrison, Shelby and Audubon counties on Tuesday; Carroll County on Wednesday.

His stop in Carroll marked the end of the senator’s annual visit to every Iowa County, a task he’s completed for 32 consecutive years.

Concern about the nation’s $15 trillion deficit, health-care reform and the future of farm legislation dominated the conversation in Carroll. But residents posed a number of questions that ran the gamut from immigration to foreign policy.

When addressing the budget, Grassley pointed to more than a dozen high school students in attendance. Deficit spending “is going to carry over into their lifetime,” he said.

Grassley lauded bipartisan efforts to fix that problem and explicitly mentioned the Simpson-Bowles commission as a model to do so. The Simpson-Bowles commission was 19-person bipartisan team appointed by President Barack Obama in 2010 to examine government spending and propose strategic cuts. It included members from both major parties – six from the House and six from the Senate – but its recommendations, which dealt with both spending and revenue, failed to pass a Senate vote.

“It’s a process that got started and then came to a halt that I think was good starting point,” Grassley said. “I think we need to go back and pick up on the Simpson-Bowles commission as a way of starting the process. Does that mean I agree with everything in Simpson Bowls commission? No. But it’s a process that gets it going.”

He echoed similar sentiments about health-care reform and referenced his own work on the Finance Committee with U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., on bipartisan success, something Grassley said “starts with the individual.”

Instead of rejecting the Affordable Care Act — often termed Obamacare — as a whole, Grassley said he supported some of its tenants – most notably ones the veteran legislator said he helped write.

“And I emphasize to folks that might think that every word in the Obamacare bill, the health-care reform bill would be bad,” he said. “For some of it, it’s is just common-sense consensus things that were put in it that even if you didn’t have health-care reform would be law now anyway.”

If presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney were elected and repealed the health-care reform, Grassley said, he would advocate for additional elements like selling insurance across state lines and medical-malpractice reform.

But Grassley said certain parts of the existing law should remain intact such as its emphasis on wellness, pay based on quality not quantity, accountable care organizations, coverage for young adults on parents’ plans, and protection for pre-existing conditions.

Agriculture and industry concerns also emerged as major themes during Grassley’s hour-long question-and-answer session, in which the senator occasionally paused to scribble notes on a legal pad under the heading “Carroll.”

To the farmers seeking relief from the worst drought in half a century, Grassley forecast the fate of the 2012 U.S. Farm Bill – known as the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 – which currently waits for approval from the House. It must be passed before the Farm Bill of 2008 expires on Oct. 1, or else a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill will likely pass, Grassley said.

Grassley said he voted in favor of the new law, which would continue agriculture subsidies and keep crop insurance, but cut the federal deficit by $35 billion by stopping direct payments and consolidating some other programs, he said.

He also defended wind-energy subsidies – legislation he originally authored – that give a tax incentive to producers and helped create about 4,000 manufacturing jobs in Iowa, which has more wind-energy jobs than any other state in the nation.

Grassley said Romney is not opposed to wind energy itself but his reluctance over the subsidies could stem from his ideology about the role of government – although Grassley said he has never explicitly discussed the topic with the Romney.

“He feels, like a lot of people in this country, that the government ought to not pick winners and losers,” Grassley said.

Scattered between the hot-button topics were some outcries from the crowd for more teamwork in Washington. One woman, a retired substitute teacher, said that Congress could benefit from a lesson she teaches kids in school: “how to solve problems without digging in your heels and not coming to an agreement.”

 And a man, a doctor, posed a simple question to the senator, “How can we cooperate more? How can we get along better for the common good?

Others just wanted to know about the 78-year-old senator’s health.

“I stayed at the Super 8 (in Carroll), got up at 5:30 a.m., and ran two miles this morning,” Grassley said.