Grassley Marks Policy, Oversight Accomplishments in 114th Congress
WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa marked a series of policy and oversight accomplishments in the 114th Congress, continuing his tradition of grassroots engagement with Iowans and breaking the record for the longest period of service in the United States Senate without missing a vote. Grassley will retain his committee seats in the new Congress and is expected to serve another term as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
“It’s an honor to be entrusted with the responsibility and privilege of representing Iowans in the United States Senate,” Grassley said. “As one of Iowa’s senators and as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I have worked to bring commonsense Iowa values to the job through bipartisan legislating and thorough oversight work to hold the federal government accountable.”
Grassley holds at least one meeting in each of Iowa’s 99 counties every year to hear concerns and answer questions on any subject in a free-flowing dialogue with constituents. In 2016, Grassley completed these annual county meetings for the 36th year in a row in September. Grassley holds these meetings in a variety of formats to ensure that a broad cross-section of Iowans can participate, including offices, schools, churches, town halls, factory floors and other places of business. In Polk County alone, Grassley held more than 30 of these constituent meetings in 2016.
Outside of these annual county meetings, Grassley also attended or convened a variety of events and forums, including: an anti-human trafficking discussion, a foster youth roundtable, a taxpayer advocacy forum, an avian influenza roundtable with farmers and producers, a tax roundtable discussion with tax professionals and small business owners, a Judiciary Committee field hearing on the threat of methamphetamine and meeting with Iowans at the state fair. When the Senate is in session, Grassley sets aside eight 15-minute meetings every Monday through Thursday to meet with Iowans in Washington, D.C., including advocacy groups, associations, chambers of commerce and local business leaders, students and families. This Congress, Grassley held meetings with nearly 1,500 groups of Iowans visiting the nation’s capital and discussed a variety of policy issues affecting Iowans such as Cedar Rapids flood protection funding, anti-opioid addiction legislation, the farm bill, infrastructure, juvenile justice and sentencing reform, expiring tax provisions, the Affordable Care Act and tax reform. In the 114th Congress, Grassley also held 19 telephone town hall meetings, and joined 20 Iowa school groups for Q&As via video conferencing, including six college classes, eleven groups of high school students, two middle school classes and one elementary school class.
Chairman Grassley’s Judiciary Committee held 99 hearings in the 114th Congress. The committee reported 30 bills, 24 of which were passed by the Senate and 17 of which became law. Major bipartisan legislation such as the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, the Defend Trade Secrets Act, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, the PATENT Act, the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, the FOIA Improvement Act and the Adam Walsh Reauthorization Act, which included Grassley's Survivors’ Bill of Rights, cleared the committee.
The Senate Judiciary Committee released a report detailing the increased productivity and bipartisanship under Grassley’s leadership.
Highlights of Grassley’s legislative and oversight work follow here:
Accountability for sexual assaults. After hearing whistleblower accounts of inadequate procedures to assist victims of abuse at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Grassley helped craft key provisions of a bill that would improve responses to sexual misconduct at NOAA and prevent future instances of abuse. The bill cleared the Senate Commerce Committee.
Grassley is leading an effort calling on federal agencies to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for employees who contribute to the demand for human trafficking by purchasing sex. He is also continuing to investigate sexual harassment claims from over 15 whistleblowers at the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.
Earlier this year, Grassley brought national and state anti-human trafficking experts together for an Iowa-based forum in Des Moines on ending human trafficking and modern slavery. The discussion served as a guide for medical professionals, first responders and the public at large in recognizing and combating trafficking.
Grassley joined a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers and survivors of sexual assault urging the Senate to pass the Campus Accountability and Safety Act. This bipartisan legislation would protect students, professionalize the response to and reporting of sexual assault cases, and provide colleges and universities with incentives to solve the problem of sexual assault on their campuses.
President Obama signed into law Grassley-led legislation securing new rights for survivors of sexual assault. The Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act was championed by Amanda Nguyen, a survivor and founder of RISE, which advocates on behalf of victims of sexual violence. Grassley added the legislative provisions to the Adam Walsh Reauthorization Act, which passed the Senate in May 2016. The Adam Walsh Act would reauthorize key programs to help keep communities informed about the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders, and must be considered again next Congress.
In a resolution authored by Grassley, the Senate voiced its continued support for survivors of domestic violence, victim advocates, domestic violence victim service providers and first responders. The resolution, which passed by unanimous consent, also acknowledged October as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
The Senate passed a bipartisan resolution introduced by Grassley commemorating April as National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.
Agriculture. Avian flu hit Iowa extremely hard and Grassley used his experience as a farmer and lawmaker to bring this devastating disease to the attention of the federal government. Based on conversations with Iowa poultry growers and a hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee, he advocated for changes to procedures in dealing with the disease at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He also worked to educate colleagues on the extreme nature of the disease should another outbreak occur.
Grassley introduced the Family Farmer Bankruptcy Clarification Act to reverse a Supreme Court ruling (Hall v. United States) that makes it harder for family farmers to reorganize their finances after declaring bankruptcy.
Grassley and Senator Joni Ernst sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack asking for information on the administration of the Conservation Reserve Program. In their letter, they asked if a competitive analysis is conducted before enrolling acres in CRP and whether there is an emphasis on signing up entire farms versus just the marginal acres of a farm. Grassley and Ernst cited concerns raised by farmers about entire farms, composed of productive farmland being enrolled in CRP at rental rates many farmers cannot compete with. As landowners decide to enroll more acres in CRP, farmers have lost opportunities to farm some highly productive land. This has hit some young and beginning farmers especially hard.
Grassley introduced legislation to ban packer ownership of livestock after seeing continued consolidation within the livestock industry.
Grassley introduced the Farm Payment Loophole Elimination Act to close the farm subsidy loophole that was intentionally included in the 2014 Farm Bill. The current law allows non-farming family members to receive farm subsidies at the expense of young farmers and the American taxpayers.
Grassley has been conducting oversight of mergers to ensure that increased consolidation does not adversely impact small businesses and rural America. Grassley led a hearing to provide transparency to the many mergers and acquisitions taking place in the agrochemical and seed industries. Grassley also sent a letter to Ren Jianxin, Chairman of ChemChina, asking him to respond to outstanding questions for the record that Syngenta was not able to answer about the merger of the two companies. Grassley is pressing the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission to consult with the Department of Agriculture and not scrutinize the proposed seed and agrochemical deals in a vacuum to ensure the full impact of the potentially numerous mergers and acquisitions in the industry is understood.
Grassley also introduced the Security American Food Equity (SAFE) Act to permanently add the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) review process and clarify that agricultural assets are considered critical national security infrastructure that CFIUS must consider before it approves the sale of any major U.S. food and agriculture companies. The bill came after Grassley saw more and more foreign investors buying into the U.S. agriculture assets and the need to think strategically about who will control the U.S. food supply in the future.
Grassley worked to help clear legislation to end the piecemeal labeling laws in individual states that have the potential to restrict commerce and discourage investments.
Bureau of Prisons. After taking heat from Grassley for a decision to remove pork from the menu in federal prisons for alleged cost considerations and prisoner dislike, the Bureau of Prisons promptly reversed its decision after revealing that prisoners actually liked pork and the costs for serving pork were not prohibitive.
Grassley wrote to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) about its religious service contractor hiring procedures after learning that not only did the bureau hire an Islamic chaplain who made incendiary comments against individuals who spoke negatively about Islam but the bureau also, in error, allowed the chaplain access to federal facilities prior to the completion of a government background check. As a result of his inquiry, the bureau has performed an agency-wide audit of prison facilities to ensure compliance with federal background check procedure and is now searching social media as part of the background check process.
Grassley also wrote to the BOP regarding inspector general reports that indicate contract waste is occurring in private prison facilities because of a failure of BOP personnel to properly oversee costs. In addition, Grassley has performed oversight of private prisons regarding allegations that they and the BOP are not appropriately managing how beds are allocated between private prisons, which are more expensive, and BOP prisons, which are less expensive.
Grassley responded to whistleblower allegations that a Miami Bureau of Prisons facility was not issuing bug repellent to employees despite operating in a CDC-designated high risk Zika area. Shortly after Grassley’s inquiry, Bureau of Prisons decided to change its policy regarding the Federal Correctional Institution in Miami and began issuing the Zika-preventing repellent.
Defense oversight. As a long-time watchdog of Defense Department spending, including fixing the broken accounting system within the agency, Grassley emphasized the need to fix the accounting system to identify waste, fraud and abuse at the Pentagon. The Defense Department inspector general withdrew a much-heralded clean opinion on the Marine Corps audit. Grassley praised the decision, which came about after his aggressive oversight.
In May 2015, the Defense Department inspector general released an audit showing a number of Pentagon employees used their government charge cards at casinos and strip clubs. The audit came about because of Grassley’s bill enacted in 2012 requiring federal agencies to beef up the oversight of purchases on government-issued credit cards. In December 2015, the Senate passed legislation Grassley co-authored to further crack down on agency abuse of charge cards.
Grassley worked with the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) to expose wasteful spending in Afghanistan and obstruction from the Pentagon toward the inspector general. An example is an investigation of a compressed natural gas filling station in Afghanistan that cost $43 million, many times more than it should have. Following continued reports of wasteful spending, Grassley called for a formal audit of the Defense Department’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations.
Grassley and Ernst introduced the bipartisan Arsenal Installation Reutilization Authority Act to reauthorize the leasing authority at Department of Defense arsenals for unused office space to outside tenants. This legislation would allow the Rock Island Arsenal to resume its leasing authority, which expired in 2012, and would authorize the Arsenal to approve 25 year leases until September of 2019 – generating jobs and income for the Arsenal until 2044.
The Senate passed Grassley-supported provisions of the Senate National Defense Authorization Act that strengthen protections for military whistleblowers, including sexual assault survivors, and reform the military correction boards to ensure that service members who experience reprisal are provided relief. The Military Whistleblower Protection Act provides protections against retaliation for service members who report instances of waste, fraud, abuse and illegal activity.
Education. A tax package given final approval in December 2015 includes Grassley’s provisions to improve the already successful Section 529 college savings program. Grassley’s provisions allow 529 funds to purchase a computer on the same tax-favorable basis as other required materials; cut outdated, unnecessary rules that increase paperwork and costs on plan administrators; and provide tax and penalty relief in instances where a student may have to withdraw from school for illness or other reasons.
The education bill given final approval in December 2015 includes the bipartisan bill from Grassley and co-sponsors that makes certain the needs of high ability students are included in federal education policy. The bipartisan proposal is the TALENT Act, or the To Aid Gifted and High-Ability Learners by Empowering the Nation's Teachers Act. Earlier versions of the bill contained a grant program for developing innovative civics education programs. The provision Grassley negotiated in the final bill makes sure that a focus of the grant program is to support proven civics education programs that teach the history and principles of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Grassley authored the Need-based Educational Act, which extends an antitrust exemption that allows certain colleges and universities, like Grinnell College, to collaborate on issues of need-based financial aid. The bill was signed into law in August.
Grassley helped lead a bipartisan, bicameral group in urging the IRS and Treasury Department to lift barriers preventing nonprofit student lenders from offering refinancing options for student debt amid the growing student debt problem. Currently, a handful of for-profit lenders offer refinancing of student loans to qualified borrowers. Clarifying that nonprofit lenders can use tax-exempt bonds to refinance student loans will expand the pool of lenders offering refinancing of student loans. The members praised prior agency action in clarifying that such options are available and sought removal of remaining specific barriers to make even more students and their families potentially eligible for refinancing student debt at lower interest rates via tax-exempt bonds.
Grassley invited the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to join him at Bettendorf High School in Iowa with Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds and the school’s principal and STEM leader. They led a discussion with students about the importance of studying the STEM fields and related career opportunities.
Energy, including renewables. In December 2015, the Senate gave final approval to Grassley priorities including the five-year extension of the wind energy production tax credit. The extension is meant to lead to a phase-down of the industry-specific tax credit. The Senate also gave final approval of an extension of the existing biodiesel fuel blenders credit, the small agri-biodiesel producer credit, the tax credit for cellulosic biofuels producers, the alternative fuel vehicle refueling tax credit and bonus depreciation for cellulosic biofuel facilities. Grassley authored the initial version of many of the alternative fuels provisions when Finance Committee chairman. In 2016, the Senate passed a bipartisan amendment offered by Grassley to restore wind energy research funding for fiscal year 2017 to the level provided for the current fiscal year. The measure allocates an additional $15.4 million to wind energy research from within existing research programs at the Department of Energy, so it does not increase overall spending. Continued funding for the provision will be taken up in April 2017. As of 2016, wind power supplies more than 35 percent of electricity in Iowa. The state is the first in the country to generate more than one-third of its electricity from wind energy. Wind energy supports up to 7,000 jobs in Iowa.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced its final Renewable Fuel Standard renewable volume obligations for 2017 and biomass-based diesel volume for 2018. In a significant achievement, the EPA reached the 15 billion gallon level required by statute for conventional biofuels, a victory for corn ethanol producers in Iowa. For biodiesel, the agency continues to set levels below the potential of the biodiesel and renewable diesel industries. Grassley fought efforts by the EPA, Big Oil and Big Food to reduce the RFS. Earlier this year, Grassley led a bipartisan coalition of 39 senators to urge the EPA to abide by the congressionally-passed Renewable Fuel Standard for traditional ethanol. Grassley also led a bipartisan coalition of 40 senators urging the EPA to increase biodiesel levels.
Exports. Grassley was part of a request to the United States International Trade Commission that it consider specially outlined factors in a trade case involving steel producers, including SSAB Iowa Inc. with a facility in Montpelier in Muscatine County. The senators wrote to express their concern about unfairly dumped and subsidized carbon and alloy steel cut-to-length plate imports that are harming U.S. producers.
FBI. As a watchdog of the federal bureaucracy, Grassley continued efforts to protect whistleblowers with introduction of the FBI Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. The bipartisan bill brings the FBI’s whistleblower disclosure protocols in line with all other federal law enforcement and civil service agencies. A modified version of the bill, which passed the Senate and was signed into law by the President, protects from reprisal FBI whistleblowers who disclose wrongdoing to their direct supervisors. Previously, FBI employees were not protected when they disclosed wrongdoing to their supervisors. Instead, Justice Department regulations required disclosures to be made to a limited group of senior officials even though FBI policy encourages employees to report to supervisors. As a result, FBI whistleblowers often make their initial disclosure to a supervisor, but previously had no legal protection in the event of retaliation.
Grassley began investigating instances of alleged retaliation against FBI whistleblowers, including the use of so-called “loss of effectiveness” orders. Grassley asked the FBI to provide details of the legal framework governing its largely secretive aerial surveillance operations to ensure Americans’ privacy rights are protected.
Federal judiciary. The Senate Judiciary Committee provides oversight of the federal judiciary. Even before becoming Chairman, Grassley launched several initiatives to bring more transparency to the federal courts. His long-standing efforts to bring cameras into the federal courts continued with the introduction of his bill to improve public access to the federal judiciary by granting judges the ability to allow cameras in federal courtrooms.
Grassley authored the Judicial Transparency and Ethics Enhancement Act, which would establish the Office of Inspector General for the Judicial Branch, an independent office to investigate claims of fraud, waste and misconduct, and ensure that the judiciary is carrying out its duties free from corruption, bias and hypocrisy. The bill creates whistleblower protections for individuals within the judicial branch.
Grassley is working to curb frivolous lawsuits that are clogging up the court system. He’s the author of the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act, which would impose mandatory sanctions for lawyers who file meritless suits in federal court.
Foster youth, adoption, missing children. As a founder and co-chair of the bipartisan Caucus on Foster Youth, Grassley examined kinship care and how to support relatives who serve as foster care providers; the homelessness of youth and the housing challenges they face, especially as thousands of foster youth age out of the system, many times at age 18; and the mental health needs of foster youth, including the need to better train caseworkers and foster families about the trauma that many foster youth face on a daily basis.
The education bill given final approval in December 2015 includes the bipartisan Educational Stability of Foster Youth Act, which Grassley co-authored, that supports students in the foster care system by strengthening connections between child welfare agencies and state and local education institutions. Often, schools may be the only familiar place for a child in foster care, and the measure helps make sure that those kids can go to school in a safe, stable environment.
Grassley led through the Judiciary Committee legislation to help families facing challenges with international adoptions. The bill was signed into law in October after families encountered numerous delays by other countries, often as simple as the issuance of an exit visa by the foreign government.
Grassley joined a bipartisan group of colleagues to urge the Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to improve access to Medicaid coverage for eligible former foster youth. Under the Affordable Care Act, young people who emancipated from foster care are eligible for Medicaid coverage up to age 26 – parity for former foster youth and other young adults who are eligible for coverage on their parents’ health plans until the same age. Unfortunately, many former foster youth are either unaware that they qualify for Medicaid coverage under this provision, or are unable to easily access this coverage.
Grassley took part in a roundtable discussion on foster care prevention and child welfare with foster youth, parents and services providers in Cedar Rapids.
The Senate passed a resolution from Grassley recognizing May as National Foster Care Month.
The Senate unanimously passed legislation written by Grassley and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York to help families locate missing loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease, autism and related conditions. Kevin and Avonte’s Law is named in honor of two boys with autism, one from Iowa and one from New York, who died after wandering from safety. The law would not only reauthorize the expired Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Alert Program, but it also would make changes to the program to support people with autism and other developmental disabilities. Specifically, the bill would allow Justice Department grants to be used for state and local education and training programs to help prevent wandering and reunite caregivers with missing family members who have a condition that’s linked to wandering.
Fraud fighting. In addition to his work to protect specific agency whistleblowers who come forward, Grassley launched the Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus. The caucus helps raise awareness about the positive impact made by whistleblowers and helps foster discussion about legislative action needed to ensure whistleblowers are protected.
Grassley is the author of reforms to the False Claims Act to encourage whistleblowers to come forward with information involving fraud against the government. Since the reforms were enacted, the government has recouped more than $53.1 billion that otherwise would have been lost to fraud. Many of the recoveries were initiated by whistleblowers who took advantage of Grassley’s provisions allowing them to bring their own case on the government’s behalf. The False Claims Act is the government’s most successful tool in rooting out fraud, especially health care fraud in recent years. In fiscal 2016 alone, $4.7 billion was recovered.
The Senate unanimously passed a resolution introduced by Grassley acknowledging the contributions of whistleblowers to shed light on fraud, waste and abuse in the United States. It designated July 30, 2016, as National Whistleblower Appreciation Day. The resolution was cosponsored by the Whistleblower Protection Caucus.
Good government (paid leave, State Department). In 2015, Grassley released a report from his oversight and investigative staff analyzing 18 federal agencies’ responses to his inquiries on paid administrative leave and endorsed the report’s recommendations for reining in this largely unproductive, expensive practice. Grassley then sponsored bipartisan legislation, the Administrative Leave Act, to reform federal paid leave and put a cap on the practice, which was later passed by the Senate and is expected to become law.
In June 2015, the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General noted that it is now posting certain investigative summaries on its website. These summaries relate to misconduct by senior agency employees or high profile cases. Grassley had urged more disclosure and worked to impose it government-wide.
In June 2013, Grassley began seeking answers from the State Department on its use of the Special Government Employee designation. His questions came after revelations that a top aide, Huma Abedin, used the special status to work at the State Department and private sector entities at the same time. His inquiry continued during this Congress. For example, Grassley extended his probe of the SGE designation government-wide and asked the Government Accountability Office to study the SGE designation to see whether it works as intended to serve taxpayers. The GAO report was released in August 2016 and showed that government agencies were having trouble determining who should qualify for the SGE designation and what is needed to properly process the designation once a person qualifies. The SGE designation is only supposed to last 130 days, and Grassley found that in the case of Ms. Abedin she served well beyond that without any repercussions. Grassley also found that the violation of the 130 day limit is government-wide and the executive branch has wrongly interpreted the law to allow extension of the designation beyond 130 days. He is looking into legislation to make clear that the SGE is a temporary designation and the 130 day deadline is the law.
Health care. Grassley continued his oversight of healthcare with the Gilead report, investigations into Mylan, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Department of Justice regarding the EpiPen pricing, nursing home social media abuse, advocacy for sunshine law and many other issues through committee participation.
Grassley also introduced the ACE Kids Act; the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Areas Enhancement Act; the Rural Hospital Access Act; the Medicare Residential Care Coordination Act; the HELLPP Act covering podiatrists as physicians in Medicaid; the Medicare Formulary Improvement Act; the Accelerating the End of Breast Cancer Act; a bill to Improve Standards for Orthotics and Prosthetics in Medicare; the Transition to Independence Act for Medicaid; the Rural Emergency Acute Care Hospital Act; a bill to permit review of certain Medicare payment determinations for disproportionate share hospitals; and a bill to require the use of electronic visit verification systems for home health services.
Grassley pressed the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on easing the transition of patients in the failed health care co-op serving Iowa and Nebraska as well as whether the agency withheld funding, leading to the co-op’s collapse.
Grassley introduced an updated version of bipartisan legislation allowing small businesses to resume helping their employees buy individual health insurance. A new version of the Small Business Health Care Relief Act makes improvements to ensure the bill will work as intended. Further, in order to address any cost concerns, the bill imposes a still-generous limit on the amount an employer may provide to their employee to purchase individual insurance or pay for other medical expenses. This limit is set at $4,950 for individuals $10,000 for a family and is indexed for inflation going forward. The IRS has interpreted the Affordable Care Act as barring small businesses from reimbursing their employees for the cost of buying health insurance on the individual market. This has disrupted a practice that small business owners and their employees used for years, leading to expressions of concern from small business owners and employees to Congress. The provision became law as part of the 21st Century Cures (CURES) Act.
Grassley pressed CMS on how much federal money it has given to each state health care exchange, how much money it has identified as misused, what it can do to recover money for unallowable activities, and how much money for unallowable activities it has recovered.
Grassley supported the CURES Act, citing the benefits of finding safe and innovative medical treatments, particularly for those diseases that currently have few options, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The legislation also included his measures to help rural “tweener” hospitals and to restore the ability of small businesses to help their employees with health insurance premiums. The Cures Act includes Grassley’s bipartisan legislation to strip an Obamacare penalty against small businesses that provided assistance to their employees to help with insurance premiums and health care expenses. Thanks to Grassley’s work, the Cures Act does not include provisions to water down his Physician Payments Sunshine Act shedding light on drug and medical device company payments to doctors. Grassley fought the provisions, and bill sponsors removed them to secure his support. The legislation was signed into law by President Obama.
Grassley introduced the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2016, which would make certain types of hearing aids available over the counter and remove unnecessary and burdensome requirements that would pose barriers for consumers who could benefit from hearing aids. Grassley also applauded a U.S. Food and Drug Administration announcement that it will take steps to improve consumer access to hearing aids, including by not enforcing the requirement for a medical evaluation or waiver in order to acquire hearing aids.
Grassley is a co-sponsor of bipartisan legislation that would help preserve Medicare beneficiary access to necessary medical equipment such as oxygen, blood glucose monitors, and sleep apnea machines in rural areas.
Following Grassley’s bipartisan letter to the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the inspector general released preliminary results of an ongoing review concerning the costs to Medicare due to recalled or defective medical devices. The OIG reviewed medical records for beneficiaries who received certain types of recalled or failed devices and found costs of around $1.5 billion in Medicare payments and $140 million in beneficiary copayments and deductibles for device replacements and other procedures associated with fixing just seven faulty cardiac implants.
While Zika funding was being debated in the Senate, Grassley pressed the Obama Administration on why it appeared that billions of dollars in unobligated funds weren’t being directed to a Zika response. Grassley noted that the Administration had been slow to distribute $589 million left from the Ebola threat toward fighting Zika.
Grassley introduced bipartisan legislation, the Ensuring Access to General Surgery Act of 2016, that would produce high quality data on where general surgeons are in short supply around the country. The need for general surgeons is especially high in rural or other under-served communities.
Recognizing the tremendous physical, emotional and financial cost of Alzheimer’s disease, Grassley co-sponsored the bipartisan Ensuring Useful Research Expenditures is Key for Alzheimer’s Act or the EUREKA Act which would offer a financial award for a successful cure. EUREKA was signed into law in the CURES Act.
Grassley, along with Senator Ed Markey, started the Bipartisan Senate Cystic Fibrosis Caucus and authored a bipartisan resolution designating May 2016 as Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month. Grassley, as co-founder and co-chair of the new Senate Caucus on Cystic Fibrosis, welcomed advocates at a panel discussion in June. Attending the event were Iowans who encouraged Grassley to form the caucus: Jaclyn Strube of Waukee and Chaney Kurtz of Clive, who both have children with cystic fibrosis. Melodee Pomerantz, executive director of the Iowa Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, also attended.
In September, Grassley organized a briefing for the community to discuss issues related to patient wandering, including patients with Alzheimer's and autism. The event was well-attended and held at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
Housing. Grassley continued his oversight of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and local housing authorities to be sure that the billions of dollars meant for safe, affordable housing for those in need are spent properly.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved language championed by Grassley to ensure transparency and promote accountability in public housing authorities’ use of more than $350 million in federal tax dollars. The Grassley language, which was incorporated into a committee report that accompanies an annual spending bill, will ensure that federal funds transferred to housing authorities will retain their federal designation and be subject to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development oversight.
Under pressure from Grassley, the Department of Housing and Urban Development released updated salary data for the top executives at public housing authorities nationwide. The state and local housing authority executives are prohibited from exceeding a congressionally imposed cap on the amount of federal money that can be used for salaries. HUD announced it is seeking reimbursement from six housing authorities that exceeded the 2014 federal salary cap.
Grassley pressed the Treasury Department for better oversight of a $9.6 billion program meant to help homeowners who suffered during the housing crisis. Grassley outlined a low rate of help for homeowners through the program, which has provided assistance to only 256,361 of the 601,838 homeowners in the states where the program is available who applied for assistance. Spending on administrative expenses has been a concern since the program began.
Grassley asked the Government Accountability Office to review whether the Department of Housing and Urban Development is taking effective steps to comply with the federal law making wanted fugitive felon status grounds for termination from living in public housing. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 makes fugitive felon status grounds for the termination of tenancy in federal housing assistance programs. In addition, the law directs these programs to provide law enforcement officers with information about program recipients for whom there are outstanding warrants to assist in their apprehension. Media reports and Grassley’s inquiries indicate that neither HUD nor the HUD Office of Inspector General properly tracks the number of wanted fugitive felons living in public housing or takes effective steps to help law enforcement locate and apprehend these individuals.
Illicit drugs, cannabidiol. Grassley was among several senators who successfully urged the Drug Enforcement Administration to re-instate its take-back program for unused prescription medicines. The program was popular in Iowa and helpful for ridding medicine cabinets of pain relievers that could be abused by teen-agers.
The Senate passed and the president signed into law Grassley’s Transnational Drug Trafficking Act, which will help combat transnational drug trafficking. The law helps the Department of Justice combat the international trafficking of methamphetamine, which is increasingly being trafficked from Mexico into the United States.
The Obama Administration announced that it will make it easier for scientists to access marijuana for research, while leaving the scheduling of marijuana unchanged. In addition, Grassley and Sen. Dianne Feinstein helped persuade federal agencies to conduct a scientific and medical analysis of cannabidiol, a component of marijuana under consideration to treat severe epilepsy and other conditions, to see if there is a scientific basis to change its schedule. Grassley and Feinstein introduced the Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act to support research initiatives on the potential benefits of substances such as cannabidiol. Grassley also authorized a Judiciary subcommittee hearing that was held on the potential medical benefits and risks of marijuana.
Grassley convened a hearing to explore whether the Justice Department is effectively gathering data to evaluate how state recreational marijuana legalization is impacting its federal enforcement priorities, including protecting minors from harm and preventing other adverse public health consequences.
In addition to the Judiciary Committee field hearing in Des Moines on the threat of methamphetamine, Grassley as Chairman of the Caucus on International Narcotics Control convened a hearing on drug trafficking across the Southwest border and oversight of U.S. counter-drug assistance to Mexico.
Grassley sought details on Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) payments to a confidential source who was reportedly engaged in a personal relationship with a DEA supervisor. According to media reports, an Atlanta-based DEA supervisor engaged in sexual relationships with two confidential sources, one of whom was paid $212,000. Other agents reportedly falsified agency documents to give the payments the appearance of legitimacy.
Grassley and several of his colleagues wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry regarding the problems of dangerous synthetic drugs and counterfeit goods entering the United States due to weaknesses in international mail security standards. Grassley also led a bipartisan group of senators in introducing legislation aimed at controlling dangerous synthetic substances marketed as alternatives to illicit drugs. The Dangerous Synthetic Drug Control Act bans 22 synthetic chemicals including 11 used to create synthetic marijuana, often marketed as “K2” or “Spice,” as well as three derivatives of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid estimated to be 100 times more powerful than morphine that has been associated with numerous overdose outbreaks. Grassley also held a Judiciary Committee hearing on the dangers of synthetic drugs in June.
The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), a sweeping addiction recovery bill aimed at addressing the nation’s growing heroin and opioid addiction epidemic led through the Senate by Grassley was signed into law. More than 250 addiction, recovery and law enforcement organizations, including a dozen in Iowa, called this bill “the critical response we need.” The law authorizes nearly $900 million over five years to enhance prevention, education, treatment, recovery and law enforcement efforts. As funding for this crisis continues to rise, CARA will serve as the blueprint for how to attack the scourge of addiction. Grassley worked to include several provisions to meet the unique needs of communities like many in Iowa in their battle against opioid and meth addiction. Specifically, Grassley worked to reserve a fixed portion of resources to improve first responders’ access to overdose-reversal medication in rural areas, like much of Iowa, where emergency services can be limited. Grassley also secured eligibility for new grants created by the bill for areas like Iowa that are suffering from local drug crises related to methamphetamine, in addition to opioids. CARA also includes Grassley’s Kingpin Designation Improvement Act, which boosts law enforcement’s ability to freeze the assets of international drug cartels that are often the source of heroin and meth in the United States.
Immigration. Grassley led the effort on many immigration reform initiatives and has conducted thorough oversight of the executive branch’s policies. He has focused attention on making sure Americans are given the first opportunity at high skilled jobs in the United States. He has worked to ensure that criminal immigrants are returned to their home countries and that drunk drivers, gang members and murderers are not released into communities across America. He has authored legislation to close loopholes in U.S. visa programs and ensure that refugees are properly screened before entering.
Grassley and Ernst introduced Sarah’s Law, legislation to honor Sarah Root, an Iowan who was killed earlier this year by a drunk driver in the country illegally. Sarah’s Law would require U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to take custody of an individual who is in the country illegally and is charged with a crime resulting in the death or serious bodily injury of another person.
Grassley secured $1 billion for the biometric exit tracking system, part of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which would collect a record of departure for every person departing the United States, including land, air or sea ports of entry.
In 2015, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing on “Immigration Reforms Needed to Protect Skilled American Workers,” receiving testimony from witnesses about the H-1B visa program which allows employers to import so-called “specialty” workers from abroad. The committee heard about fraud and abuse, how some U.S. workers were forced to train their replacements who were in the country on a work visa and about how federal agencies needed to keep pace with the schemes that some employers use to bypass worker protections. Grassley and Senator Dick Durbin co-sponsored the H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act of 2015, an updated version of the bill introduced several times over the last decade, and strengthened with several provisions addressing new or previously unknown abuses of the program. The bill would reform the H-1B visa program by returning it back to its original intent and ensuring that qualified American workers are given the first crack at high-skilled job opportunities.
Grassley fought against sanctuary city policies that allow criminal immigrants to stay in communities because of state or local policies that expressly prohibit law enforcement from working with federal immigration officials. Grassley pressed the Department of Homeland Security on a number of cases involving crimes committed by individuals who were allowed to remain in the country despite entering illegally and previous criminal convictions.
Grassley held a hearing where victims’ families shared their stories and called for reforms to improve enforcement of immigration laws and prevent future crimes.
He continues to investigate concerns with the influx and placement of unaccompanied alien children who have traveled from Central and South America and crossed into the United States in increasing numbers since the border surge of 2014.
Grassley raised concerns about the insufficient vetting process to ensure terrorists posing as refugees are not granted access to the United States. ISIS has stated it will use the U.S. refugee program to infiltrate the country. Grassley has called for a halt on accepting refugees from Syria until U.S. intelligence officials are satisfied with the vetting process.
Grassley is leading a bipartisan and bicameral effort to implement national security and anti-fraud safeguards in the EB-5 program following concerns of abuse raised by whistleblowers, independent watchdogs and agency leaders. The bill he introduced, the American Job Creation and Investment Promotion Reform Act, reforms the EB-5 Regional Center program to address the widespread fraud and abuse of the program.
Grassley condemned efforts by the Obama Administration to circumvent constitutional checks and balances by abusing its limited immigration parole authority to effectively create a new visa program without congressional approval. A Department of Homeland Security proposal would expand its limited authority by applying it to an entire class of foreign nationals, ignoring Congress’ constitutional role in setting the nation’s immigration policy and repeating many of the failures of the EB-5 immigrant investor visa program.
Grassley and House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte called on the Obama Administration to declassify its plan to admit into the United States potentially over 2,400 refugees whom Australia has refused to admit. Their call followed concern that the administration's secret negotiations with Australia left Americans in the dark about the full scope of its resettlement plans, and requested a briefing to review the classified agreement. It is unprecedented to classify an agreement to usher in refugees to the United States and the Chairmen’s review of the agreement further confirms that it should never have been classified in the first place.
Throughout the 114th Congress, Grassley and Goodlatte have requested the immigration and criminal histories of numerous illegal immigrants who have allegedly committed serious crimes including murder and rape in order to gain a greater understanding of the enforcement priorities of the Obama administration.
Grassley is seeking the immigration and criminal history of the man who launched an attack on Ohio State University’s campus, leaving 11 people injured. Abdul Razak Ali Artan, the student at the university who crashed his vehicle into a crowd before getting out and slashing people with a knife, is believed to be a refugee originally from Somalia. According to reports, federal investigators believe Artan was inspired by ISIS and the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, and are treating the incident as an act of terrorism. An ISIS propaganda website also called Artan a “soldier.”
After repeated calls from Grassley to pressure nations to cooperate with U.S. immigration authorities, the Obama Administration began suspending the issuance of certain categories of visas in Gambia because of the country’s refusal to repatriate its citizens who have been ordered to be deported from the United States. The action is a modest step by the administration to push so-called “recalcitrant nations” to cooperate with U.S. deportation efforts. Grassley has long urged the Obama Administration to use its visa sanction authority to compel cooperation on repatriation of foreign nationals with removal orders, as Congress intended.
Grassley called on the Obama Administration to explain its management of the U visa program following significant findings of fraud and a new administrative policy that appears to violate the law. The U visa program was designed to allow foreign nationals who fall victim to crime in the United States to remain here to assist in the investigation and prosecution of their perpetrator. However, falsified U visa applications and Obama Administration policies that ignore congressional limits have allowed the program to be distorted beyond its original intent.
Grassley questioned the Obama administration’s oversight of flight schools and their training of foreign nationals. Grassley reiterated concerns after a Jordanian national, who was reportedly in the United States on a student visa, in October 2016 crashed a small plane during a training exercise at the entrance to the Pratt & Whitney factory in East Hartford, Conn. According to local law enforcement, the Pratt & Whitney plant is classified as a “critical infrastructure” facility by the U.S. government. Grassley introduced legislation in 2014 to reform the student visa program. The bill would help root out fraud and abuse in the student visa system, including ending a flight school’s participation in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program if the training program is not certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Inspectors general. Grassley raised concerns about Justice Department efforts to block inspectors general from accessing records for its investigations, despite laws allowing such access. He held a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee to listen to both the inspector general community and the Justice Department, and to reiterate that when Congress says that inspectors general should have access to all records, Congress means all records.
Grassley introduced legislation to again restate Congress’ intent to allow IGs to access such records and overturn a recent Justice Department legal opinion that other agencies have already relied on to deny their inspectors general access to agency records. The Senate passed and the president signed into law the Inspector General Empowerment Act, which restores Congress’ intent to guarantee inspectors general access to “all records” of the agencies they oversee, overturning a 2015 Obama administration legal memo roundly criticized by both Republicans and Democrats.
Grassley released a joint majority staff report between the Judiciary and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committees, “Empowering Inspectors General: Supporting the IG Community Could Save Billions for American Taxpayers.” The report was a result of information solicited from inspectors general across the federal government. The report identified $87 billion in potential cost savings for the American taxpayer and detailed circumstances of agencies obstructing IG access to critical information.
Intellectual property. Grassley led through the Judiciary Committee bipartisan legislation to shield American innovators against growing instances of intellectual property theft involving valuable proprietary information. The Defend Trade Secrets Act creates a new avenue for companies to pursue civil claims against trade secret thieves in federal court and protect against dissemination of valuable intellectual property. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and was signed into law.
At Grassley’s request, the U.S. Copyright Office performed and released an analysis of how copyright law applies to software-enabled consumer products, which are becoming increasingly prevalent in the lives of American consumers. While technological innovation presents new opportunities, it also poses important questions about privacy, consumer protection, public safety, cybersecurity, competition, and the development of the digital economy. To help the Judiciary Committee understand a critical component of these issues, Grassley asked the Copyright Office for a study of how copyright laws are implicated by the prevalence of software enabled devices.
Legislation introduced by Grassley to help ensure that historically significant films and sound recordings are preserved for the benefit of generations of Iowans was signed into law. Several Iowa libraries and organizations have taken advantage of these grants to preserve films and recordings depicting events or issues that are important to the state’s history.
Grassley, co-chair of the Congressional Trademark Caucus, led the Senate in passing a resolution designating July as National Anti-Counterfeiting Consumer Education and Awareness Month. He also led a Judiciary Committee hearing on counterfeiting in July.
IRS. Grassley drafted the 2006 provisions that improved the IRS whistleblower office to stop tax fraud. A report from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office shows the IRS whistleblower office has collected more than $3 billion since 2007 that otherwise would have been lost to fraud. The report describes several major barriers that might discourage whistleblowers from coming forward. Grassley worked throughout the year to improve the whistleblower office.
Congress re-instated private firms to collect tax debt for the IRS, something Grassley has long supported to collect billions of dollars in taxes that the IRS isn’t attempting to collect.
Congress approved several provisions from Grassley’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights Enhancement Act of 2015, introduced amid gross mismanagement and inappropriate actions by IRS employees that have shaken what little confidence taxpayers may have had in the agency. The provisions include: codifying the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, such as quality service; prohibiting IRS employees from using personal email accounts for official business; improving the ability of 501(c)(4) and other exempt organizations to seek review in federal court when the IRS fails to act on an application in a timely manner or makes a negative determination as to their tax-exempt status; and the termination of employment of Internal Revenue Service employees for taking official actions for political purposes. The provisions became law as part of an omnibus tax package in December 2015.
Even before the IRS experienced a computer hack, victimizing innocent taxpayers, Grassley was urging the IRS to improve computer security to protect taxpayers. He followed up with the IRS after its breach to make sure it was doing everything possible to help affected taxpayers.
Grassley introduced legislation to combat return theft by perpetrators who steal the identities of innocent Americans. The Tax Return Identity Theft Protection Act of 2016 strengthens penalties for identity thieves, establishes enhanced sentences for crimes against vulnerable and frequently targeted groups, and clarifies the state of mind proof requirement that has created an obstacle to holding some identity thieves accountable.
Jobs and the economy. Abusive patent litigation practices are undermining the patent system that has made the United States one of the most dynamic and innovative countries in the world. In an effort to curb these abuses, Grassley co-authored the PATENT Act, which aims to cut down on the frivolous lawsuits that burden the economy and cost small businesses millions of dollars every year. Grassley led the bill through the Judiciary Committee
Grassley led a hearing on the need for a balanced budget amendment to help address America’s fiscal crisis. At the hearing, Grassley said that balancing the budget will increase private investment and grow the economy, will help consumers by keeping interest rates low, and will reduce interest payments on the debt, freeing up valuable resources for important priorities, rather than wasting them on interest payments.
Several Grassley-supported provisions were included in the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, which includes the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2016, which passed the Senate and was signed into law by President Obama. The law addresses the civil works program of the Army Corps of Engineers and drinking water and wastewater funding programs through the Environmental Protection Agency. It highlights the flood protection needs in Cedar Rapids and authorizes studies of flood protection in Dubuque and the levees along the upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. The Committee on Environment and Public Works will also be sending a letter to the Government Accountability Office requesting a study of the Corps’ methods used to calculate benefit-cost ratios of interest to Iowa communities including Des Moines.
Grassley and Ernst pressed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to explain the flawed policy that leads to the downgrading of flood control projects in Iowa cities for funding prioritization. Grassley and Ernst cited Cedar Rapids and Des Moines as losing priority under the broken formula. Earlier, Ernst and Grassley demanded answers from the Corps on why the Cedar Rapids flood control project hasn’t been completed. Grassley gave a speech on the Senate floor expressing frustration with the Corps’ bureaucracy.
Following Grassley’s letter to President Obama asking him to grant Governor Terry Branstad’s request to declare Iowa a major disaster area as a result of severe weather that produced heavy rains, flash flooding and riverine flooding on August 23-27, 2016, the Obama Administration issued a major disaster declaration for Iowa, triggering the release of FEMA funds.
Grassley urged the U.S. Department of Labor to help as much as possible if the state of Iowa seeks federal assistance for the 175 employees at Terex Cranes in Waverly who were told that the plant is ceasing operations. He similarly urged the department to provide any relevant help to the people of Lansing in light of the closure of the Blumenthal Lansing Company, a longtime button-maker.
Law enforcement. Grassley guided through the Judiciary Committee legislation that was signed into law to help law enforcement agencies apprehend criminals who have injured or killed police officers. The bill creates a voluntary nationwide system, known as a Blue Alert, that states may use to notify law enforcement agencies when a credible threat is made against a member of the law enforcement community, or when an officer has been killed or seriously injured. Since its passage, Grassley called on the Justice Department to swiftly bring online the national law enforcement threat alert system that was established in law more than a year ago but has since been mired in department bureaucracy. Under Grassley’s leadership, the committee also passed the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program Reauthorization Act of 2015.
Grassley pressed several federal law enforcement agencies on their use of technology that can sweep up cell phone locations of innocent Americans. Following Grassley’s inquiries, the Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security, and other federal law enforcement components adopted, for the first time, public guidelines requiring a search warrant in most cases before deploying the technology.
Grassley has made an effort to make sure that allegations of excessive use of force by law enforcement are being pursued, including in the case of Iowan Brandon Ellingson, who drowned while in Missouri Highway Patrol custody in May 2014.
Grassley sought information regarding the death of a Virginia man after the local police stonewalled the family on details of the shooting for more than a year. Grassley’s efforts led to the public disclosure of information about the shooting and the creation of a board made up of community members who suggested improvements to long-standing issues regarding the police department. Subsequently, an officer who was involved in the case was indicted on a charge of second-degree murder.
Grassley co-authored legislation with Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina that would incentivize the collection of better data on police shootings of civilians.
The Senate unanimously passed legislation authored by Senators Chuck Grassley and Kirsten Gillibrand to reduce the backlog of families awaiting approval of survivor benefits of public safety officers killed in the line of duty. The Senate’s action on the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act came one month after two central Iowa police officers were ambushed and killed while on patrol. To address the backlog, the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvement Act expands public oversight of the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits program by permanently increasing the level of transparency regarding wait times for benefits applications. The bill also requires the Justice Department to demonstrate clear and convincing evidence that an officer was negligent or engaged in misconduct at the time of his or her death or injury before denying a claim on those grounds. In April 2016, Grassley convened a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to shed light on the length of time the Justice Department takes to consider death benefit claims from the families of fallen public safety officers. At the hearing, Jay Langenbau of Northwood, Iowa, testified that his family had yet to receive benefits following the death of his wife, Shelly, in 2013. Two days following Langenbau’s public testimony, the Justice Department finally approved his benefits application.
The Protecting Our Lives by Initiating COPS Expansion (POLICE) Act, which Grassley led out the Judiciary Committee in May and President Obama signed into law in July, allows law enforcement and medical personnel across the country to use existing federal grant funds for active shooter response training. Under the bill, the grant funds can also be used for training civilians on the appropriate response when confronted with an active shooter.
Inappropriate hiring practices and the misuse of funds at the U.S. Marshals Service prompted more than 85 whistleblowers to come forward to Grassley to raise other concerns of misconduct. Since Grassley’s investigation, the agency’s director and two assistant directors have stepped down, and another assistant director has been removed from federal service. Grassley issued a report on the findings of the committee’s investigation into allegations of misconduct at the U.S. Marshals Service, including ethics violations, quid pro quos and mistreatment of whistleblowers. The majority staff report recommends that the Justice Department improves oversight of the Marshals Service’s hiring practices, and calls on the Marshals Service to adopt a stronger merit-based culture. Grassley’s investigation into remaining allegations of misuse of funds and wasteful spending continues.
Grassley introduced the Criminal Antitrust Anti-retaliation Act to extend whistleblower protection for employees who provide information to the Department of Justice related to criminal antitrust violations. The bill cleared both the Judiciary Committee and the Senate.
The Senate passed a resolution offered by Grassley supporting America’s brave law enforcement officers, designating May 15-21 as “National Police Week.”
National security. Grassley’s efforts in preventing new attacks on the homeland have focused on balancing the federal government’s core responsibility to ensure Americans’ security with the fundamental privacy rights guaranteed in the Constitution.
Grassley’s bill to strengthen the United States’ national security laws by ensuring that the government can successfully investigate and prosecute nuclear terrorists passed the Judiciary Committee, and most of it was incorporate into separate legislation that passed the Congress and was signed into law.
Grassley has also been asking questions about the limited number of instances when National Security Agency employees are alleged to have abused surveillance authorities. He pressed the Justice Department for details on its handling of a small number of alleged intentional and willful surveillance abuses by National Security Agency employees, in some cases, to spy on spouses or significant others.
Given the increasing role that encryption has had in facilitating terrorism and other crime, Grassley held a hearing in the Judiciary Committee that began a conversation in the Senate on the balance between public safety and privacy established by the current use of this technology. He has continued to press the Obama administration about its efforts to find a solution to the problem that is hindering law enforcement efforts to obtain important information to help stop future terrorist attacks.
Grassley has been dogged in finding more information about the detainees released from Guantanamo By. Grassley joined colleagues in requesting more information about three former Guantanamo Bay detainees who were released following court orders and who reportedly re-engaged in terrorist activities. He has questioned the administration’s authority, and asked for the legal advice that supposedly authorized the release of five detainees housed at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. The transfer occurred without notification of Congress, which is required by law.
Grassley urged the Obama Administration to allow for more transparency regarding unclassified documents involving the Iran hostage payments and warned of the danger of allowing agencies to improperly use the Office of Senate Security to keep information secret even when it is unclassified.
Grassley pressed FBI Director James Comey to explain the agency’s policies surrounding ISIS kill lists of American citizens. The questions come after a news report indicated that many Americans weren’t even notified that they were on an ISIS kill list.
Grassley asked the State Department and Justice Department for details on how a known terrorist involved in an attack on American officials, Ali Awni al Harzie, was able to remain outside the reach of U.S. authorities. The terrorist continued to recruit for and plot future attacks, despite assurances from the State Department that he was being monitored by a foreign government.
Prescription Drug Costs. Grassley co-authored legislation to help combat rising drug prices for Iowans by deterring brand-name pharmaceutical companies from blocking the ability of generic drug manufacturers to develop more affordable generic alternatives. The Creating and Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples Act addresses certain anticompetitive behaviors by giving generic companies an opportunity to obtain relief in a timely fashion rather than through lengthy antitrust litigation.
In a separate effort to address anti-competitive practices among prescription drug makers, Grassley co-authored the Preserve Access to Affordable Generics Act. The bill would increase drug competition by helping put an end to agreements between brand and generic drug manufacturers to delay entry of lower cost generics in the market.
Grassley asked the top administrator of Medicare for insight into an alarming increase in spending under the Medicare catastrophic prescription drug program, including whether drug companies might be exploiting the benefit. Grassley is concerned that the spending might become unsustainable. Grassley has a strong record of examining high prescription drug costs, especially when marketplace constraints work against consumers on pricing.
Grassley and Senator Sherrod Brown urged the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to maintain current policy requiring that Medicare prescription drug plans carry six categories of prescription drugs offered to participating beneficiaries. Grassley and Brown are the sponsors of legislation requiring the maintenance of the “six protected classes.” The agency earlier tried to limit the categories by regulation, then dropped its plans after public outcry.
Grassley was the lead Republican on a bipartisan investigative report that gives rare insight into how a company prices a landmark prescription drug. In this case, the company, Gilead, anticipated it would face public outcry over a high price for a Hepatitis C drug, Sovaldi, but went forward anyway.
Grassley asked the manufacturer of the EpiPen, used for emergency treatment for life-threatening allergic reactions, to explain a steep price increase in the product in recent years. Grassley cited concerns expressed to him from Iowans, including a father in Iowa who said he had to pay more than $500 for one EpiPen for his daughter. Iowans also wrote to Grassley that since the pens expire after about a year, the cost is recurring. Grassley also led a letter from five senators to the Food and Drug Administration, seeking details on whether alternatives to the EpiPen are in the works. The EpiPen maker, Mylan, announced that it will expand patient assistance programs for the product. The company also announced that it will make a generic version of the product available. Grassley asked the Iowa attorney general to review whether Iowa taxpayers have overpaid for EpiPens under Medicaid. Grassley also asked the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services to examine the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ oversight of the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program. After the letter, Grassley continued to push for OIG involvement. Grassley learned that CMS knew in 2009 that EpiPens and two other drugs were misclassified under the program, leading to taxpayer overpayments by hundreds of millions of dollars or more. The OIG confirmed that it will conduct three new reviews of the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program with a focus on the process CMS employs to make sure drugs are properly classified and pay the correct Medicaid rebate percentage. Following a call for the Justice Department to investigate Mylan’s Medicaid rebates to states, the Justice Department reportedly reached a settlement agreement for $465 million. In addition, Grassley wrote the Securities and Exchange Commission asking whether they are investigating Mylan for misleading investors when it announced the settlement and purported to disclose terms that may not have been entirely accurate. Grassley pressed the Justice Department for details regarding the settlement, and scheduled a hearing on the matter. Mylan, the Department of Justice and CMS all declined to testify voluntarily. Grassley postponed a hearing on the potential settlement agreement between EpiPen maker Mylan and the Obama Administration and is considering other avenues to ensure government and company witnesses participate.
Regulations. In an effort to rein in an overabundance of regulations that stifle innovation and job creation, Grassley is a cosponsor of the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, which would require congressional approval before enacting regulatory proposals that carry an annual economic impact of $100 million or more.
Grassley is the author of the Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act of 2015, which would shine a light on sue-and-settle litigation and help to restore the transparency, public participation and judicial review protections of the rulemaking process.
As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Grassley convened a hearing on the federal regulatory system where he shined a light on the EPA’s attempt to push its own agenda and drive support for the WOTUS rule, all while belittling the concerns of the public. Grassley, along with other members of the Iowa delegation, sent President-elect Donald J. Trump a letter urging him to scrap the Environmental Protection Agency’s Waters of the United States rule in the first few days of his presidency.
To illustrate the need to rein in regulations and executive overreach, the independent investigative arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office, said that the EPA used “covert propaganda” to illegally promote its sweeping Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule that would declare most of Iowa a regulated waterway and therefore regulate what can be done with that land.
Led by Grassley, all six members of the Iowa congressional delegation expressed alarm to the Labor Department over a regulation that could limit a retirement income tool that is popular with American families. The Administration’s new fiduciary regulation subjects fixed indexed annuities to a level of stricter regulation than other forms of fixed annuities without explaining the basis for the change, raising the prospect that some financial agents might stop offering fixed indexed annuities altogether.
Grassley cosponsored legislation to curb executive power grabs made through agencies’ broad interpretation of congressional intent. The Separation of Powers Restoration Act clarifies that the courts, not agencies, have the authority to independently interpret the law.
Second Amendment. Grassley continued his efforts to ensure the Second Amendment rights of all Americans are protected. He requested that the Justice Department explain why nearly all the names submitted to the gun ban list’s “mental defective” category belong to veterans. Grassley led 52 senators in condemning an ATF proposal limiting access to certain rifle ammunition primarily used for sporting purposes. ATF withdrew the proposal following the criticism.
Grassley continued to work to correct a Department of Veterans Affairs practice that interferes with the Second Amendment rights of former military service members. The agency is reporting veterans and dependents who need help managing their VA benefits to the National Instant Criminal Background Check system, a list of individuals who are prohibited from owning and possessing firearms. Grassley called on Senate appropriators to restrict federal funds from being used by the VA to categorize individuals as mental defective without a judicial ruling that they are a danger to themselves or others.
In addition, Grassley wrote the Social Security Administration regarding its proposed rule to report beneficiary names to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). He challenged the legal basis for the SSA do to so without first finding the beneficiary to be a danger to self or others. Grassley also challenged the SSA on why they are not providing a formal hearing for the beneficiary before reporting names to the NICS. Grassley is actively looking at legislative and regulatory fixes that will move the burden of proof off the individual and onto the government when determining whether to report a name to the NICS. He is also actively looking at ways to introduce a constitutionally grounded administrative process of review that agencies must comply with before reporting individuals to the NICS.
Securities and Exchange Commission. Grassley expressed concern to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) about the security of a public filings database after the database apparently was used for fake company takeover bids involving Avon and the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. The SEC named a Bulgarian man as being an architect behind the hoaxes that fraudulently drove up share prices. Grassley sought to make sure the SEC addressed any systemic problems that could lead to this happening again.
Sunshine. Grassley and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced legislation to apply the disclosure of drug company and medical device maker payments to nurse practitioners and physician assistants. The disclosures already apply to doctors, dentists, chiropractors, optometrists and podiatrists under the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, co-authored by Grassley and enacted in 2010. The records that apply to doctors are publicly available in the federal Open Payments database. The payments to nurse practitioners and physician assistants would be added to the database. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants write a significant number of prescriptions in Medicare and nationwide, and they were among the top prescribers for some drugs, including narcotic controlled substances.
Since 2013, the Open Payments database created by the Physician Payment Sunshine Act covers 15.71 million published records and $9.92 billion in payments. Grassley co-authored the legislation after his oversight and news stories uncovered payments from industry to doctors.
Grassley introduced legislation to require political intelligence firms and political intelligence consultants to register and list their clients as lobbyists are required to do. The Political Intelligence Transparency Act of 2016 would apply the requirements of the Lobbying Disclosure Act to political intelligence firms and political intelligence consultants. The firms and individuals would have to register with Congress and disclose their clients, as lobbyists long have been required to do.
Taxes. The 2015 year-end tax package passed by Congress includes the enhanced per-child tax credit, making it permanent.
It extends enhanced Section 179 expensing for equipment purchases, which is popular with farmers and small businesses. This allows farmers and small business owners to deduct the cost, up to a limit, of major equipment and property purchases that contribute to farm and business operations and job creation. The permanence is a major achievement because this provision has been temporary over the last several years.
Included is a bipartisan measure Grassley led to increase the alternative tax liability limitation for small property and casualty insurance companies. These small companies largely serve rural communities, which rely on this adjustment to provide additional surplus and cash flow used to pay customers’ insurance claims.
The tax package adopts Grassley-led policy to ensure that those granted deferred action under the President’s executive actions on immigration cannot retroactively get the Earned Income Tax Credit based on earnings from work performed illegally in the United States.
Grassley and 40 of his Senate colleagues wrote to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew encouraging the Treasury Department to abandon proposed regulations that would significantly increase the estate tax burden on family farms and businesses. The proposed regulations, if finalized, would contradict long-standing legal precedent and greatly discourage families from continuing to operate and grow their farms and businesses for eventual transfer to future generations.
Tax-exempt organizations. Responding to investigative reports, Grassley looked in-depth at the American Red Cross’ spending on earthquake relief in Haiti, including whether donations achieved results. The inquiry found that the Red Cross spent approximately one-fourth of the $487.6 million raised for the relief effort on program management, fund-raising and other expenses; that it tried to quash a Government Accountability Office review of its practices, successfully limiting the scope of the review; and has a poorly staffed ethics and investigations unit. The organization notified Grassley that it plans to increase its Office of Investigations, Compliance and Ethics (ICE) staff to five full-time employees from three. Grassley in July 2016 introduced legislation to give the congressional watchdog arm complete access to American Red Cross records for oversight purposes and improve the Red Cross’ internal investigative function.
Grassley asked questions of a tax-exempt hospital in Missouri that was the subject of an investigative journalism report over suing low income patients to force them to pay their hospital bills, even when those patients reportedly were eligible for financial assistance and discounted treatment under federal tax laws. As a result of Grassley’s efforts, the hospital announced a medical debt grace period and a new financial assistance policy. The debt forgiveness period resulted in approximately $16.9 million in debt, interest and legal fees forgiven for 3,342 low-income patients.
Grassley began an inquiry into the Wounded Warrior Project and asked them for a detailed account of its spending amid news reports that the organization spent money excessively on priorities other than serving veterans. Grassley will publish a final investigation summary in early 2017.
Following an investigation into the practice of fetal tissue transfers and the federal laws governing the practice, Grassley referred several Planned Parenthood affiliates and companies involved in fetal tissue transfers, as well as the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, to the FBI and the Department of Justice for investigation and possible prosecution. Grassley’s referral follows the completion of a Senate Judiciary Committee majority staff analysis of more than 20,000 pages of documents provided voluntarily by the organizations and companies involved. While the impetus for the investigation was the release of a series of videos regarding transfers of fetal tissue by the Center for Medical Progress, the committee’s analysis and findings are based strictly on the documents obtained independently from tissue procurement companies and Planned Parenthood.
Transparency. As a major champion for transparency and openness in government, Grassley has been investigating whether former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to conduct official business was designed to circumvent the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and federal records retention laws, as well as inquiring about how it jeopardized the security of highly-classified information.
Grassley cosponsored and shepherded the FOIA Improvement Act out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and President Obama signed the legislation into law, bringing about the most substantive improvements to FOIA in its fifty years. The bill requires federal agencies to operate under a “presumption of openness” when considering the release of government information under the Freedom of Information Act, and it aims to reduce the federal government’s overuse of exemptions to withhold information from the public. Grassley also held a FOIA oversight hearing to shine light on areas in need of improvement and to reiterate FOIA’s importance as a mechanism by which the public can hold the government accountable.
Two of Grassley’s long-standing initiatives, saving taxpayer money and transparency in government, came together this past year as he requested a GAO study on how much taxpayer money is spent on lawsuits stemming from the government’s attempts to withhold information in violation of the Freedom of Information Act.
Grassley introduced bipartisan legislation to shield congressional employees from retaliation when they call attention to fraud, waste or mismanagement. The bill extends whistleblower protections in place at many executive branch agencies to the legislative branch of government.
Veterans. Grassley continued to keep tabs on beefed up accountability measures to help root out employee misconduct and a culture of corruption within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) so veterans receive the benefits and services they deserve.
Congress passed a bill he cosponsored, The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, and other provisions to prioritize VA programs for caregivers, homelessness, adaptive sports and vocational benefits for veterans with severe injuries. Congress also approved reforms to the Veterans Choice Program that allow more veterans to qualify to receive health care from non-VA health care providers in their local communities.
Grassley set up a veterans fellowship program to help him reach out to Iowa veterans. Don Bailey, a Vietnam-era veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force, christened this fellowship program in Grassley’s Des Moines office.
Grassley hired a new Veterans Fellow, Dave Allen, who is working out of the Des Moines office. Allen has 12 years of military experience and leadership skills, having served in the Iowa Army National Guard out of Camp Dodge and the United States Army in Fort Hood, Texas. Allen was instrumental in helping Grassley’s office in the case of a veteran from Altoona who ended up with an expensive private hospital bill after treatment at a Department of Veterans Affairs facility. Allen spent significant time listening to the veteran on his experience. Ultimately, the hospital cleared the veteran’s debt.
Grassley also hired a new Veterans Fellow, Nathan Peterson, who is working out of the Cedar Rapids office. Peterson was born and raised in Des Moines. He was in the Marine Corps for eight years. Peterson is studying at the University of Iowa and hopes to pursue a career in law. He and his family live in Iowa City. Grassley launched his veterans fellowship program in 2015 to help provide an opportunity for those with recent military service and to serve as a liaison between his office and veterans.
Grassley, along with Senator Ron Johnson, Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, wrote to the Department of Veterans Affairs asking for more information following reports that veterans at the Tomah, Wisconsin, Veterans Affairs Medical Center may have been exposed to disease from the improper cleaning of dental equipment. The letter follows news reports that 592 veterans were treated at the facility with dental instruments not compliant with VA policies, which may have exposed them to hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. The chairmen asked for information about the VA’s training procedures and equipment protocol as well as steps that the VA is taking to ensure safety.
Grassley co-sponsored the Express Appeals Act of 2016, which would establish a new, voluntary five-year pilot program to help reduce the large backlog of appeals made by veterans to the Veterans Benefits Administration. The program would establish a fast track to consider the appeals of denied claims if the appeal contains all the evidence and is fully complete and ready for review when it is submitted. There is already such a process for submitting the original claims, but not appeals.
Grassley co-sponsored the Female Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, introduced in response to the alarming increases in suicide among female veterans detailed in a recent Department of Veterans Affairs study. The bill requires the VA to include specific metrics on female veterans in its annual evaluation of mental health and suicide prevention programs and requires the agency to identify which programs are the most effective and have the highest satisfaction rates among female veterans.
Grassley asked the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct a thorough investigation into the treatment of a Johnston veteran who committed suicide. U.S. Army veteran Curtis Gearhart reportedly was told he would have to wait five to six weeks for an appointment for severe headaches, which Grassley pointed out is well beyond the VA’s goal of 30 days for medical treatment. Grassley also wrote in August 2016 to the inspector general about another Iowa veteran who committed suicide after he reportedly was denied treatment. The VA inspector general is reviewing the VA’s interactions with that veteran, Brandon Ketchum.
After pressing the VA, Grassley received a commitment from the agency to improve the Veterans Choice program, meant to streamline medical care for veterans.
Grassley joined a bipartisan coalition of senators in introducing the American Law Enforcement Heroes Act, legislation that will prioritize the U.S. Department of Justice COPS grant applications of law enforcement agencies that use that funding to hire veterans.
Grassley asked the Department of Veterans Affairs why it spent $20 million on art in recent years, despite backlogs for patient care. The VA acknowledged “poor decision-making” regarding artwork purchases; however, it is not clear that the VA is doing enough to prevent more “poor decision-making” in the future. Grassley intends to press the VA further.
Grassley introduced a bicameral resolution in support of Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans. The resolution expresses the sense of Congress that those who served in the bays, harbors, and territorial seas of the Republic of Vietnam during the period from January 9, 1962 – May 7, 1975, should be presumed to have been exposed to the toxin Agent Orange and should be eligible for all related Federal benefits associated with the Agent Orange Act of 1991.
Grassley signed on as a co-sponsor of a bipartisan bill that would create a pilot program allowing veterans to schedule their own appointments for treatment using the internet. The Faster Care for Veterans Act would test online appointment scheduling for VA medical appointments, including the Veterans Choice program. The pilot program would use a commercially available patient self-scheduling application that would be integrated with the VA’s existing scheduling software. The online scheduling option would apply both to appointments at VA facilities and with private doctors who participate in the Veterans Choice program.
Grassley hosted a Purple Heart medal ceremony at his Des Moines office for two Iowa war veterans.
Grassley wrote the Department of Veterans Affairs twice about VA retaliation against whistleblower Brandon Coleman for pointing out poor treatment of suicidal veterans where he worked in Arizona. Coleman was put on administrative leave for more than a year and prevented from running an addiction treatment program for veterans. The VA eventually settled with Coleman and he was restored to his original position.
Victims reform. As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley laid out a victims reform agenda to embrace and expand opportunities for victims of injustice through his committee.
Grassley introduced legislation to address the perverse incentives that have nudged enforcement of civil asset forfeiture laws off kilter with basic fairness. These laws are important crime-fighting tools that enable law enforcement to seize cash or property that’s considered linked to illicit activity. However, it seems this tool is increasingly being misused as a funding source for the government with thin regard for civil rights.
Grassley is looking at an area of the law to help indigent defendants who are not being provided with counsel as the Constitution requires. He held a Judiciary Committee hearing to help raise attention to the issue.
Grassley introduced the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 2015 to ensure that at-risk youth are fairly and effectively served by juvenile justice grant programs. The bipartisan legislation unanimously cleared the Judiciary Committee. The bill calls for a phase-out of the shackling of pregnant girls in detention and addresses concerns uncovered in a Grassley investigation about how the Justice Department has been mismanaging for 18 years federal grants that are supposed to support at-risk youth and those who encounter the juvenile justice program. The bill is designed to increase accountability for fraud and compliance failures by states.
Grassley co-authored legislation to help states identify and respond to the needs of children who come into contact with both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. The Childhood Outcomes Need New Efficient Community Teams (CONNECT) Act would authorize grants to improve cooperation between, and data collection by, the state agencies overseeing juvenile justice and child welfare programs.
Grassley led through the Judiciary Committee on a unanimous vote a landmark measure known as the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. The legislation was signed into law and enhances penalties for human trafficking offenses; equips law enforcement with new tools to target predators who traffic innocent young people; and makes additional resources available to support the needs of human trafficking survivors in the United States. The law contains three important Grassley provisions that clarify that federal grant resources can be used to meet the housing needs of trafficking victims and offer training on the effects of sex trafficking to those who serve runaway, homeless and at-risk youth: update the federal statute that authorizes the cyber tip line of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, to ensure that child trafficking is specifically mentioned as a form of Internet-related child exploitation; and require the Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking to identify best practices to prevent human trafficking.
Grassley shepherded through the Judiciary Committee legislation to reverse a Supreme Court decision that limited the restitution victims of child pornography could seek from any one perpetrator. The legislation passed the Senate, 98-0.
In a major accomplishment, Grassley led a bipartisan coalition of senators to introduce the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015. Grassley steered the bill through the Judiciary Committee. The bill would recalibrate prison sentences for certain drug offenders, target violent criminals, and grant judges greater discretion at sentencing for lower-level drug crimes. The package seeks to curb recidivism by helping prisoners successfully re-enter society.
Grassley supported and led through the Judiciary Committee the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act, which works to support the unique health requirements of mentally ill inmates in an effort to reduce the likelihood that they will re-offend. The bill also includes accountability measures to ensure taxpayer dollars are being used in the most effective and efficient ways possible. The bill cleared the full Senate
Congress overwhelmingly overturned President Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. Grassley is an original cosponsor of the legislation and, as chairman, led it through the Judiciary Committee and then helped it pass the full Senate unanimously. The bipartisan bill holds accountable in U.S. courts foreign sponsors of terrorism that target Americans by preventing them from invoking “sovereign immunity” in cases involving terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. It also permits civil suits to be filed against foreign entities that have aided or abetted terrorists who conduct such attacks.
Grassley introduced the State-owned entities Transparency and Accountability Reform (STAR) Act legislation. Consistent with the original purpose of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, the STAR Act would ensure that state-owned companies affecting American companies and consumers as market participants would have to respond to claims brought in American courts, just like any other foreign company that isn’t owned by a government.
Under Grassley’s leadership, the Judiciary Committee unanimously approved legislation that Grassley authored to help reduce crimes against America’s seniors through expanded education, prevention and prosecution tools. The Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act expands data collection and information sharing to better prevent and respond to all forms of elder abuse and exploitation, including financial crimes against seniors.
Grassley continues to pursue solutions to the problem of social media posts of nursing home residents by nursing home workers. The news outlet ProPublica has documented 44 incidents across the country since 2012 in which nursing home workers posted photos of nursing home residents on social media. Three of the incidents were in Iowa – in Johnston, Ames and Hubbard. Grassley wrote a letter to Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General regarding the troubling trend. Following Grassley’s call to action, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services put out a detailed memo updating nursing home safety inspectors that social media exploitation is a prohibited form of abuse.
The Senate passed a resolution introduced by Grassley, coinciding with National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, to raise awareness about the unique needs of crime victims and their families who play an important role in the judicial process.
Grassley continued working with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and fellow senators on the Military Justice Improvement Act to establish an unbiased military justice system to address the crisis of sexual assault. Grassley took part in a bipartisan press conference urging Senate passage of the legislation and gave a floor speech in June 2016 further urging the Senate to adopt the legislation.