Douglas Burns
Douglas Burns

December 19, 2017

U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley asked me to stay with him on a media conference call last Wednesday to talk after question time with other reporters around the state expired.

I expected Grassley to torch me for a recent column criticizing his defense of the Republican tax bill. Grassley says the massive tax overhaul keeps money in the hands of job creators, people who can rev America’s economic engines. But it’s not the substance of the argument — which is consistent with his long service — that got the senator into trouble.

“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies,” Grassley said on a previous call with the media, an observation that had the senior senator from Iowa on something of a national social media blast for several days.

The Taking Note column I wrote after that call was strong in challenging Grassley on a number of fronts related to that comment.

Grassley, as it turns out, agreed with my column, and acknowledged the mistake — something in politics that is as rare as a solar eclipse.

“Doug Burns, I had a chance to read the article about what you wrote about what I said about women and booze and stuff like that, and I’d have to say you are 100 percent right,” Grassley said.

Grassley said he should have left his answers to the principles of taxation and what he believes will boost the economy, leaving out the spontaneous and provocative examples that the senator said don’t reflect who he is.

“The principles are that if you work hard and save, when you die, that shouldn’t be an incident of taxation,” Grassley said. “And when it is, it’s not taxation, it’s confiscation, particularly if there’s inflation involved. And the other principle is that you should tax income once, whatever it takes to run the government, and not tax anymore. I don’t know why I got into the big, long thing of trying to explain about two people.”

Grassley stressed that he was not seeking to downplay the importance of working men and women.

“You know me well enough that I do care about them,” Grassley said, adding that he “messed up” his explanation in the controversial conference call.

When I asked if he understood how the comment about “women” and “booze” could be interpreted as objectifying women, a suggestion that they are something to be bought or accessories to a man’s alcohol-fueled night, Grassley said, “That’s why I said your article was good. That OK with you? Leave it there?”

In a word, yes.