Grassley Marks Policy, Oversight Accomplishments in 2020
Dec 30, 2020
WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) today marked a series of policy and oversight accomplishments of 2020.
“While this past year has been challenging for us all, serving the people of Iowa is my first priority and it’s an honor that I take seriously. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and through my extensive oversight efforts, my work focuses on making the government more transparent, efficient and accountable to Iowans and all Americans,” Grassley said.
Grassley holds at least one question-and-answer session in each of Iowa’s 99 counties every year to hear concerns and answer questions on any subject from Iowans. In 2020, Grassley completed his annual county meetings for the 40th year in a row. Grassley holds meetings in a variety of settings to ensure that a broad cross-section of Iowans can participate, including businesses, schools, town hall meetings, hospitals and factory floors. While the COVID-19 pandemic may have made some of Grassley’s meetings look a little different this year, the format remained the same: Iowans set the agenda. Grassley moved forward with his meetings in a safe and responsible way while following public health guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the state of Iowa.
In addition to his annual meetings, Grassley attended or convened a variety of events and forums, including:
In 2020, Grassley continued his annual social media series called #CornWatch and #SoybeanWatch. These give followers an inside look at farming operations and to track the progression of corn and soybean crops grown on the Grassley family farm in New Hartford, Iowa, from planting through harvest.
When the Senate is in session, Grassley sets aside at least 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. While there were limitations this year due to the pandemic, Grassley was able to meet with Iowans virtually. Throughout 2020, Grassley met with more than 800 groups of Iowans and discussed a variety of policy issues such as trade, tax reform, prescription drug pricing as well as the many issues that have arisen during the pandemic. Grassley also joined Iowa schools for Q&As via video conferencing and, as an avid fan of Iowa universities, cheered on dozens of student-athletes at sporting events.
This year, Grassley became the 10th longest-serving U.S. Senator in history and continued his constitutional duty serving as the Senate president pro tempore, a position historically bestowed upon the most senior member of the majority party in the upper chamber of Congress. Upon his swearing in, Grassley became third in the line of presidential succession following the vice president and the speaker of the House of Representatives. An Iowan has not held this position since Senator Albert B. Cummins in 1919. In his capacity as president pro tempore, Grassley aided in the selection process of the new Architect of the Capitol and nominated an Iowan to the U.S. Senate Curatorial Advisory board. He also played a role in many historic events this year including welcoming President Donald Trump into the chamber of the House of Representatives for the 68th annual State of the Union address and signing the United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.
Highlights of Grassley’s legislative and oversight work follow here:
This year was particularly tough on the farming industry due to commodity prices taking a hit from the novel coronavirus, drought across West Central Iowa and an intense windstorm known as a derecho that caused widespread damage across central Iowa. However, through it all, farmers continued to plow ahead and support their communities. As the senior senator of one of the top agricultural states in the country and a family farmer, Grassley has been an outspoken advocate for farmers and Rural America.
Throughout the various spending negotiations in Congress, Grassley was a staunch defender of family farms. He led the Iowa Congressional delegation in urging Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to ensure funds for the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) were replenished in the next government funding bill. He exposed Democrats for blocking crucial coronavirus relief, which included billions of dollars in assistance for farmers and agribusiness employees.
When COVID-19 began affecting our meat supply chain, Grassley immediately raised concerns with his colleagues. Grassley has long focused on consolidation in the meatpacking industry and pressed USDA to protect independent producers. In May, Grassley introduced bipartisan legislation that would foster efficient markets and improve competition and transparency among packers that purchase cattle. Grassley first introduced this bill in 2002. The bill will require a minimum of 50 percent of a packer's weekly volume of beef slaughter to come as a result of purchases made on the open or spot market.
While many around the country noticed higher prices at the grocery store due to these market disruptions, many cattle producers across the country could not get a bid on their animals. Grassley was one of the first lawmakers to seek an investigation to bring more transparency to the cattle industry. He called on the Departments of Justice and Agriculture to investigate potential market manipulation and other illegal activity by large meat packing companies in the cattle industry. President Trump echoed this call for an investigation into possible anticompetitive behavior in the beef industry.
In June, Grassley sent a letter to USDA Secretary Perdue relaying the frustration of farmers about the lack of enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act, and called for the report on the Holcomb, Kansas, fire to be released by August 9, 2020, or he would seek an audit of the USDA’s enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Division. USDA took this issue seriously and released its report echoing the need for more transparency in the industry. Additionally, he partnered with Sen. Tester in sending a letter to Secretary Perdue recommending the department clarify an ambiguous proposed rule regarding the undue and reasonable preferences provision of the Packers and Stockyards Act.
This year, Grassley also joined Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and a bipartisan group of colleagues to introduce the Securing All Livestock Equitably (SALE) Act. Quick turnaround between the purchase and resale of cattle by a dealer often leaves the rancher who originally owned the cattle with little recourse if a dealer defaults on a purchase because the livestock has often already been resold. The SALE Act would establish dealer statutory trusts, mimicking existing packer statutory trusts, for the purpose of ensuring that cattle sellers receive payment should a livestock dealer become insolvent.
Pork producers around the country faced significant challenges this year due to pork processing plant closures. Grassley joined his colleagues Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) in introducing the Responding to Epidemic Losses and Investing in the Economic Future (RELIEF) for Producers Act of 2020, legislation that would provide relief to livestock and poultry producers amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Grassley joined 30 members of Congress on a bipartisan, bicameral letter urging USDA Secretary Perdue to take immediate action to assist pork producers and maintain the pork food supply chain. As the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, Grassley led his colleagues in sending an additional letter to USDA to recommend additional funding for farmers being forced to depopulate their livestock herds. Farmers faced an animal welfare crisis due to overcrowding and the challenge of providing enough feed and water available to each animal. Grassley also joined Iowa leaders, Sen. Joni Ernst, Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig in sending a letter to Vice President Mike Pence and requested additional support from the Administration for the state’s pork producers.
In addition to livestock farmers, Grassley urged his colleagues to support dairy farmers around the country. Additionally, he joined Sen. Ernst, Gov. Reynolds, and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Naig in requesting the USDA to include egg producers and turkey producers in the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). In the second round of CFAP payments, both egg and turkey producers were eligible.
To make sure tax dollars are spent as intended to benefit the farmers who actually work the land instead of managers or corporations, Grassley has been a longtime advocate for farm payment limitations. This year, USDA initially announced a final rule on the implementation of payment limitations and the definition of “actively engaged” in farming as part of the 2018 Farm Bill, which would have required additional family members to provide either 25 percent of the total management hours required by the operation on an annual basis or perform at least 500 hours of management annually. Unfortunately, USDA recently reversed this rule. Prior to this reversal, Grassley requested an additional GAO review of the program. The GAO report concluded that while USDA has improved its completion of eligibility compliance review, additional oversight is needed. Grassley will continue his fight to close loopholes that have allowed some operations to exploit federal farm payments at taxpayer expense.
Grassley joined the only other farmer in the U.S. Senate, Jon Tester (D-Montana), to address farmer mental health. Grassley and Tester authored the Seeding Rural Resilience Act which aims to curb growing rates of suicide in Rural America by implementing a voluntary stress management training program, creating a public service announcement campaign to raise awareness and directing the Secretary of Agriculture to work with state and local groups to identify best practices when responding to farm mental stress. This bill was successfully voted out of the Senate this summer and later became law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.
Diseases like African swine fever have the potential to devastate entire sectors of U.S. agriculture. With that in mind, Grassley cosponsored the Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act of 2019 to address the shortage of agricultural inspectors who protect the nation’s food supply and agricultural industries at the border. This legislation was signed into law by President Trump earlier this year.
This year, the Trump administration kept its promise and successfully rolled back the harmful Obama-era “Waters of the United States” or “WOTUS” rule and replaced it with a workable rule that clearly defines what waters fall under federal jurisdiction. Grassley was a steadfast opponent of the original rule, which would have regulated 97 percent of Iowa farmland as a navigable waterway. This regulatory certainty will continue to help spur economic growth in Iowa and around the country while also ensuring individual property rights are protected.
Enhancing water quality is critical to meeting the goals of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy and making improvements to Iowa’s river and stream health. With that in mind, Grassley joined Sen. Ernst and a bipartisan group of senators to urge the USDA to make several changes to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to maximize the program’s ability for producers to use the program to enhance both soil health and water quality.
Grassley also celebrated Thanksgiving this year by praising an Iowa family whose turkeys were chosen for the National Thanksgiving Turkey Pardoning Ceremony at the White House.
Grassley joined Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) to introduce the Standard Merger and Acquisition Reviews Through Equal Rules (SMARTER) Act. This bill would require the Federal Trade Commission to go through the same procedures that the Department of Justice (DOJ) must go through when enforcing antitrust law, and would require the Federal Communications Commission to issue merger review decisions expeditiously.
Grassley also partnered with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in introducing the Criminal Antitrust Anti-Retaliation Act which extends whistleblower protections for employees who provide information to DOJ related to criminal antitrust violations. The Senate unanimously passed a similar version of the legislation in 2013, 2015 and 2017. This year, the legislation passed in both the House and Senate and was signed into law by President Trump in December.
In February, when the world was just learning about COVID-19, oversight and investigations staff for Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), received a classified briefing from the HHS Office of National Security (ONS) regarding the coronavirus threat and the status of U.S. government efforts to combat the spread of the deadly virus.
In the early stages of the pandemic, Grassley urged further information sharing between federal health and intelligence agencies to strengthen the governmental response to the COVID-19 public health crisis and future health concerns. In April, he also joined colleagues in urging the executive branch to make relief assistance to long-term care facilities a top priority.
Grassley also was named to the bipartisan task force focused on safely re-opening America following the public health crisis. The task force includes Democrat and Republican members of both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
Grassley was an original proponent of an emergency supplemental appropriations bill providing funding to combat the spread of COVID-19. The funding package amounts to an $8.3 billion surge in resources to combat COVID-19 and provides comprehensive funding for efforts on the local, state, national and international levels.
In March, Governor Reynolds declared a State of Public Health Emergency as confirmed COVID-19 cases rose. Grassley sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking that he promptly grant the Governor’s request for an expedited review of the major disaster declaration for the State of Iowa as a result of multiple cases of COVID-19 detected in the state.
As Senate Finance Committee chairman, Grassley authored several provisions that would eventually be included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This bill passed out of the Senate 96-0 and provided direct economic relief to American families, workers, employers and health care providers coping with the coronavirus pandemic.
Along with direct payments to individuals and families, the CARES Act expanded unemployment insurance benefit benefits for jobless workers, and lending programs for businesses of all sizes. The bipartisan package developed targeted, temporary tax relief to help businesses and hospitals continue operations. One-size-fits-all is not the way the U.S. economy operates, and yet nearly every sector is bearing the burden of social distancing and stay-at-home orders across the country.
Small businesses across the country were hit particularly hard by associated COVID-19 restrictions. To address this, Congress created the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) in the CARES Act to help keep workers on the payroll by providing small businesses forgivable loans to cover payroll expenses. As the pandemic worsened, Grassley worked with his colleagues to provide additional funding to this program. While the Senate Democrats originally tried to block it, the additional funding later successfully went through. Grassley also worked with the Department of Treasury and the Small Business Administration on clarifying terms and eligibility of the program for Iowa businesses and bankers.
For example, Grassley partnered with Finance Committee Ranking Member, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) urging the Department of Treasury to allow small businesses to deduct expenses associated with PPP loans that are ultimately forgiven. Ultimately, Grassley and many of his colleagues disagreed with Treasury’s final guidance.
Grassley worked with his colleagues to ensure the rural economy reaped the benefits of the CARES Act including additional funding for rural health centers, providers, programs, telehealth services and related infrastructure. Grassley also worked to secure relief for American agriculture. He worked to include $23.5 billion in the CARES Act to send emergency temporary relief to farm country to help survive the fall-out caused by the pandemic. Specifically, it set aside $9.5 billion for the USDA to directly support farmers and ranchers. The CARES Act also replenishes the Commodity Credit Corporation with $14 billion. Grassley called upon USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to use some of these additional funds to help support the biofuels industry, including resources for higher blends infrastructure at filling stations and to leverage the purchasing power of the federal government to buy excess farm commodities and replenish food pantries and nutrition programs across the nation. He then introduced legislation with Sen. Amy Klobuchar to make this a requirement.
Overall, the CARES Act provided much-needed relief to help Americans, including workers, seniors and student borrowers.
On December 21, the Senate passed an additional large legislative package including COVID-19 relief and economic stimulus, tax and health care policy extensions and government funding. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley championed several provisions including expanding unemployment insurance benefits, additional economic impact payments for individuals and families and extension of certain expiring provisions for families as well as small- and medium-sized businesses around the country. Additionally, under the Senate Finance Committee’s jurisdiction, this package extends a number of important Medicare, Medicaid and other health policies, including boosting payments to doctors in Iowa and other rural areas. It also provides permanent coverage for mental health telehealth visits, which are helpful during the pandemic and will remain critical for many Americans afterward. And, it extends the period over which state and local governments can use money from the Coronavirus Relief Fund provided under the CARES Act by one year, giving more flexibility to state and local governments as they face spending challenges caused by the pandemic. It also provides additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program. Grassley’s full statement on the legislative package and further details on what is included can be found HERE.
Grassley joined Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) to introduce the bipartisan State and Local Coronavirus Relief Fund Extension Act to extend the year-end deadline for states to use federal CARES Act assistance, as well as any future funding to state and local governments, through 2021. The goal of this bill is to provide flexibility in uses of Coronavirus Relief Fund resources by allowing spending by states, localities, territories, and tribes on coronavirus responses to be covered over a longer period of time.
Following implementation of the CARES Act, Grassley worked with his colleagues to craft an additional targeted relief package known as the HEALS Act. Unfortunately, both Senate and House Democrats refused to move forward with this legislation. Senate Democrats voted twice to block the legislation in the Senate. The HEALS Act would have provided relief measures supported on a bipartisan basis, such as providing additional funds for unemployment benefits, the Paycheck Protection Program, education, voting, state and local governments, recovery checks, and hiring and employee retention incentives.
Throughout the funding negotiations, Grassley worked to ensure the COVID-19 relief funds would go to those who actually needed it. With that in mind, Grassley introduced the COVID-19 Funding Accountability Act. This legislation would impose strict congressional oversight over the implementation of various funding in the CARES Act as well as create bipartisan oversight boards.
Grassley criticized his Democratic colleagues when they wanted to impose a quarter of a trillion dollar retroactive tax increase on businesses in need of cash to restart their operations as states began to lift shut-down orders.
Grassley also worked with Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) in introducing a bill to protect recovery payments provided in the recent CARES Act pandemic response legislation from garnishment by private debt collectors.
Grassley has been a longtime watchdog of waste, fraud and abuse. Unfortunately, throughout this pandemic, fraudsters have taken advantage of the American public through a variety of scams. Grassley wrote to the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) encouraging the IRS watchdog to engage in a public awareness and education campaign informing Americans of scams and frauds related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the federal government’s response.
Grassley also partnered with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to call on DOJ to take vigorous action to protect consumers from price gouging during the coronavirus pandemic and help prevent the hoarding of essential medical supplies.
As COVID-19 affected areas of the country in different ways and at different times, Grassley applauded Gov. Reynolds’ work to combat the virus. As hardship hit more Iowans and events were canceled, he urged Iowans to stay at home and do their part to slow the spread.
Although Grassley took all of the appropriate and recommended precautions, the senator tested positive for COVID-19 after learning of an earlier exposure. Grassley quarantined per CDC and local public health guidelines and at the recommendation of his doctors. Due to his quarantine, Grassley was unable to cast votes on the Senate floor for the first time in 27 years. Grassley has cast 8,927 consecutive votes and continues to hold the record for longest length of time without missing a vote in the history of the Senate. Ultimately, Grassley was asymptomatic throughout his quarantine and was cleared to return to work by his doctors.
Crime and Criminal Justice:
All Americans have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including inmates in the state and federal prison system. Grassley and Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the lead authors of the bipartisan First Step Act (FSA), led 12 of their colleagues in a bipartisan letter pressing DOJ and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to take necessary steps to protect the health and wellbeing of federal prison staff and inmates in Federal custody. They urged the release or transfer of the most vulnerable inmates to home confinement as permitted under the FSA. The senators called on BOP and DOJ to review and expedite current cases where the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program would allow for an early transfer – where appropriate – of terminally ill and eligible elderly inmates to home confinement. In April, Grassley and Durbin sent a follow up letter to the DOJ Inspector General’s (IG) regarding its decision to assess whether facilities housing BOP inmates are complying with available guidance and best practices regarding preventing, managing, and containing potential COVID-19 outbreaks and asked them to expand the probe.
As a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley also participated in a hearing titled, “Examining Best Practices for Incarceration and Detention During COVID-19,” where he pressed DOJ and BOP officials on the use of home confinement and adherence to CDC guidelines on social distancing, use of personal protective equipment, and other risk mitigation efforts in correctional facilities.
Also, in an effort to protect the most vulnerable inmates in our society, Grassley and Durbin introduced the COVID-19 Safer Detention Act. This bill expands eligibility for and provides judicial review of the Elderly Home Detention Pilot Program, and also provides for the compassionate release of federal prisoners based on COVID-19 vulnerability and shortens the waiting period of judicial review during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Senator Grassley also led a letter to the Justice Department about its handling of COVID-19 in juvenile detention facilities. Along with Sens. Whitehouse and Ernst, Grassley urged the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to equip the juvenile justice system with consistent, reliable, and transparent information to help mitigate the impact of the virus on vulnerable youth.
Grassley continued his work to protect children from predators online through his co-sponsorship of the EARN IT Act. This bill creates incentives for the tech industry to address online child sexual exploitation, by removing blanket immunity in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. It also establishes a National Commission on Online Child Sexual Exploitation Prevention that will be responsible for developing voluntary best practices.
Lastly, Grassley reintroduced the Deterring Undue Enforcement by Protecting Rights of Citizens from Excessive Searches and Seizures Act of 2020, or the DUE PROCESS Act. This bipartisan bill seeks to protect property owners whose assets are seized by the federal government by increasing transparency and accountability in asset forfeiture proceedings.
Grassley’s extensive oversight work throughout his career has included a dogged pursuit for answers from the Pentagon over decades of wasteful spending and its inability to produce a clean financial audit.
Grassley has conducted oversight to hold the DoD accountable for over four decades. He continued to press the Department on the new Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) program, alleged conflicts of interest pertaining to those charged with creating its bid and reported disputes between bidders and the Department. This comes after the Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) completed a review and provided recommendations in response to Grassley and members of Congress raising concerns about the JEDI program. Last year, Grassley sent a letter to then Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, seeking information on Department policies intended to mitigate conflicts of interest and prevent the tailoring of procurement requests to match a specific vendor, as alleged in the JEDI program procurement process.
Grassley and several of his colleagues sent a letter to GAO in July 2018 requesting the agency conduct an independent review of the reasons behind the DoD’s failure to acquire modern financial information technology systems capable of generating reliable information and supporting credible financial statements. The report was released in September and reaffirmed Grassley’s longtime concerns about financial mismanagement and waste at the DoD. The Department is working towards a clean audit and updating its financial management systems. However, it’s clear from this report the Pentagon has a long way to go.
Grassley, along with the other requestors of the GAO report and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), also sent a letter earlier this year to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, urging them to include in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2021 certain provisions that would make progress towards a clean audit, including more detailed reporting to Congress on DoD financial management systems. Both of the provisions were ultimately included in the final version of the NDAA.
Earlier this year, Grassley renewed inquiries into potential wasteful and inappropriate travel spending at the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), specifically seeking full and complete answers to prior questions about multiple trips to Hawaii.
Grassley joined Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to reintroduce the Military Justice Improvement Act in response to reports of mishandling military sexual assaults.
Grassley and Gillibrand also introduced bipartisan legislation to require the military to establish a “Safe to Report” policy. According to a Department of Defense report, in fiscal year 2018, only 30% of sexual assaults in the military were reported. Studies show more survivors are empowered to come forward without the threat of retaliation, and the Safe to Report Act empowers survivors of sexual violence to report these incidents without fear of collateral misconduct charges for minor offenses. This legislation was included in the final version of the NDAA.
Also included in the NDAA was a provision that Grassley championed along with other members of the Iowa and Illinois delegation that seeks to improve Army real-estate management. The provision establishes a pilot program to create an online real-estate management system at several Army installations, with the goal of helping the military and federal government use existing resources more efficiently.
Additionally, Grassley expanded his probe into the Department’s Office of Net Assessment’s (ONA) contract compliance after reviewing troubling documents related to contracts awarded to Professor Stefan Halper. Those documents call into question ONA’s stewardship of taxpayer dollars as well as its contract management and internal controls. In early 2019, Grassley requested the DoD Inspector General (IG) review allegations of mismanagement by ONA contracts for political, improper or wasteful activities. Grassley later sought information about ONA contracting processes following a DoD IG audit of the program, which found ONA could not provide sufficient documentation that Halper conducted all of his work in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. The Pentagon issued a corrective action plan for ONA in August.
On January 23, 2020, Grassley sought an inspector general investigation into the manufacturing practices of Lockheed Martin’s C-130J aircraft after whistleblower reports alleged a lack of oversight by the DoD has resulted in significant health and safety concerns. On October 8, 2020, Grassley sought additional information from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regarding the manufacturing practices of Lockheed Martin’s C-130J after learning of discrepancies in the initial investigation.
From year to year, natural disasters take place across the country. In August, many Iowans experienced a historic derecho. Immediately after the storm hit, Grassley visited Cedar Rapids to survey damage, meet with residents affected by the storm and visit a local nonprofit assisting in relief efforts. Grassley and Ernst also participated in a roundtable discussion with 20 nonprofit leaders and the Cedar Rapids Community Foundation. The local nonprofits assisted with housing, case management, mental health, volunteer coordination, food access and legal assistance.
Grassley and Ernst worked with Gov. Reynolds to ensure Iowans would be eligible for federal support including a major disaster declaration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Individual Assistance Program.
Iowa’s agricultural community faced significant damage and new challenges resulting from the storm. Grassley led the Iowa congressional delegation in sending a letter to USDA Secretary Perdue urging a prompt approval of Gov. Reynolds Secretarial Disaster Designation request for 57 Iowa counties that suffered losses as a result of the derecho. Following this request, Grassley and Ernst sent an additional letter to USDA requesting it provide additional support for Iowa farmers impacted by the derecho and severe drought. They also sent a letter requesting additional funding for Iowa agricultural cooperatives.
In addition to tens of millions of acres of damaged crops, grain bins across the state were destroyed. Grassley and Ernst requested the U.S. Department of Commerce lift Section 232 tariffs on steel that will be used in Iowa’s derecho recovery, especially on steel used for rebuilding grain bins and machine sheds.
Grassley worked with Ernst to file legislation to provide tax relief to Iowans affected by the derecho. The legislation would provide certain employers a tax credit for retaining employees, enhance the tax deduction for disaster-related personal casualty losses, and facilitate enhanced access to tax-exempt retirement plans, among other benefits.
Additionally, Grassley and Ernst worked to ensure Iowans affected by the derecho weren’t victims of fraud. They sent a letter to the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate price-gouging scams.
Grassley and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) continued their investigation into the fatal shooting of Bijan Ghaisar by U.S. Park Police in 2017. Grassley first contacted the FBI in December 2018 about its investigation into the shooting, and the FBI responded in March with little information, prompting a follow-up letter from Grassley. Since then the senators also have pressed the Department of Justice (DOJ) to provide details on specific reforms being implemented to avoid a repeat of its drawn-out and opaque investigation of U.S. Park Police’s fatal shooting of Bijan Ghaisar.
This legislative session, Grassley and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee, persistently contacted U.S. Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray to investigate the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation, code-named Crossfire Hurricane, to bring transparency to FBI mismanagement. Grassley has long been skeptical of the FBI’s justification to spy on Carter Page, including its reliance on the debunked anti-Trump dossier, which was compiled by a former British spy, sub-sourced to Russian officials and paid for by then-candidate Trump’s Democrat political opponents. The DOJ inspector general determined the dossier to be central and essential to the FBI’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant application. The inspector general also determined the FBI’s applications included at least 17 errors and omissions and over 50 errors and omissions in the Woods File. After further reviewing the DOJ OIG report on Crossfire Hurricane, Grassley and Johnson sent Barr a follow up letter requesting the declassification of four footnotes in the report on FISA abuses in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. Those footnotes were later declassified and showed how Russian disinformation infected the Steele Dossier.
On April 25, 2019, Grassley and Johnson wrote to the DOJ regarding the FBI and how it may have used a counterintelligence briefing to conduct surveillance on the Trump transition team during Crossfire Hurricane.
In April, Grassley and Johnson requested additional Crossfire Hurricane records after the declassified footnotes revealed the Steele Dossier contained reported Russian disinformation.
On May 12, 2020, Grassley and Johnson requested a list of Obama-era officials that unmasked Lt. Gen. Flynn. In response, the Intelligence Community provided a list that included then-Vice President Biden as one of the Obama-era officials that requested to unmask Flynn.
In November, Grassley and Johnson also sent a letter to Barr requesting the full declassification of briefing notes for then-Director James Comey summarizing the FBI’s investigative efforts regarding Crossfire Hurricane.
On October 13, 2020, Grassley and Johnson also sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray warning the bureau’s recent production of limited text messages from former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was unacceptable and the FBI must produce all records in compliance with previous requests.
On October 15, 2020, Grassley and Johnson sent another letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe seeking an unredacted version of a spreadsheet created to attempt to corroborate allegations made in the discredited Steele Dossier.
Grassley and Johnson also released a majority staff report detailing how the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Office secretly sought and received access to the private records of Donald J. Trump’s presidential transition team, Trump for America, Inc., despite an agreement between the Trump transition team and the General Services Administration that those records were the transition team’s private property that would not be retained at the conclusion of the transition. Grassley also pressed DOJ for details on steps taken to recover material deleted from mobile devices assigned to Mueller’s team, and investigate potential violations of federal record keeping laws. Many of those deletions occurred after the agency watchdog discovered anti-Trump texts on then-FBI agent Peter Strzok’s government-issued phone, and after the DOJ IG began reviewing the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.
On December 1, 2020, news broke that Barr had appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham to be special counsel in his ongoing review of the origins of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation. Grassley praised this decision.
On December 3, 2020, Grassley and Johnson released over 400 pages of records acquired from the DOJ, FBI and State Department during their investigation into the FBI’s mishandling of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. The production includes recently declassified material that illustrate the flawed decision-making process by federal officials during Crossfire Hurricane.
As part of Grassley’s ongoing FARA oversight, he called on the Justice Department to evaluate whether Hunter and James Biden should have registered as foreign agents for their business arrangements with the Chinese government-back energy company CEFC, in compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The company was actively seeking to build influence in the United States when it partnered with the Bidens.
Grassley has long raised concerns about lack of transparency in the pharmaceutical industry and the prescription drug supply chain. This year, he also highlighted high prescription drug prices and the concerning trend that the price of many medications are increasing faster than inflation.
One of Grassley’s top priorities has been to address the rising costs of prescription drugs. Last year, with Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.) he introduced the bipartisan Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act (PDPRA). According to an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, PDPRA would save taxpayers $95 billion, reduce out-of-pocket spending by $72 billion and reduce premiums by $1 billion. It would also provide peace of mind to millions of seniors and make common, everyday prescriptions, like insulin, more affordable. Unfortunately, Democrats changed their minds and walked away from the negotiating table. Grassley moved forward with his efforts and introduced an updated bill that had growing support from many Republicans including Ernst. President Trump also highlighted this legislation at the annual State of the Union Address and has supported efforts to address prescription drug pricing.
The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the urgency for prescription drug pricing reform. As new treatments and therapies enter the marketplace, the American people will want the best medical cures at prices they can afford to pay. PDPRA would help reduce drug prices and secure scientific innovation in a post-pandemic world for generations to come.
As the Senate crafted COVID-19 relief funding, Grassley again urged his colleagues to address prescription drug pricing and include PDPRA in any future relief legislation.
As researchers around the world are racing to find a vaccine to combat COVID-19, Grassley welcomed news from Pfizer and Operation Warp Speed accelerating the response to end the pandemic.
As Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley and Wyden also partnered on a bipartisan investigation into insulin prices. They sent letters to leading insulin manufacturers, seeking information regarding recent price increases of up to 500% or more for insulin, a treatment available for diabetes for nearly 100 years. This year, they expanded that investigation and warned those companies that were not cooperating.
Grassley also joined several of his colleagues in introducing the PRICE Transparency Act. This legislation would codify the two health care price transparency rules that came out of President Trump’s Improving Price and Quality Transparency in American Healthcare Executive Order which requires hospitals and insurers to reveal their low, discounted cash prices and negotiated rates to consumers before they receive medical care.
President Trump made prescription drug affordability one of his top priorities. He announced executive orders encouraging domestic manufacturing of drugs and other medical goods critical to public health. Additionally, President Trump worked to address the rising costs of insulin and announced a new Medicare Part D initiative to lower out of pocket insulin expenses for seniors.
On June 2, 2020, Grassley chaired a hearing titled, “COVID-19 and Beyond: Oversight of the FDA’s Foreign Drug Manufacturing Inspection Process.” The hearing was based on Grassley’s oversight work on the FDA’s foreign drug manufacturing facility inspection process and highlighted the risks associated with drugs manufactured in foreign countries, especially China, and imported to the United States. At the hearing, Grassley introduced into the Committee record thousands of pages of records that he acquired during his FDA investigation relating to China- and India-based drug manufacturing facilities.
Over the years, Grassley has called on pharmaceutical companies to list prices of their prescription drugs in direct-to-consumer advertisements. In 2019, HHS made good on the promise and finalized a rule requiring price disclosure on TV ads for prescription drugs. However, that rule was challenged by pharmaceutical companies in court and recently overturned. Grassley will continue working to increase transparency from pharmaceutical companies.
Grassley continued to confront the issue of academic freedom this year. In 2019, he sent letters to the presidents of Duke University, Harvard University, Sarah Lawrence College and Villanova University, seeking information on the current culture of academic freedom on campus. This fall, Grassley followed up on that issue by sending a letter to his colleagues discussing the responses of those colleges and universities. In that letter, he stated the mission of colleges and universities should be to develop the character of young adults by challenging them with new ideas rather than making them feel “safe.” Grassley concluded his letter by stating, “[O]ur colleges and universities must ensure that their professors can freely teach their students and that students are free to learn, without retribution.”
Grassley also continued his oversight work relating to Confucius Institutes and urged colleges and universities around the country to request an FBI briefing to fully understand the academic research and national security threats posed by the Chinese government-backed organizations operating on campus. In addition to this letter, Grassley supported the Concerns Over Nations Funding University Campus Institutes in the United States (CONFUCIUS) Act which passed the Senate in July. Grassley has long warned that China leverages its presence in American colleges and universities to spread pro-China propaganda and steal intellectual property.
While working in Washington, Grassley highlighted Iowa’s academic excellence for his colleagues. He praised the state’s highest four-year graduation rate in Iowa’s history, at 91.6 percent. He also applauded the University of Iowa’s independent newspaper, The Daily Iowan, which was named the Best All-Around Daily Student Newspaper by the Society of Professional Journalists.
With another presidential election in 2020, the spotlight was once again on Iowa and the first in the nation caucuses. The Iowa caucuses are an example of grassroots democracy. While not every part of the caucus went according to plan this year, Grassley joined Ernst and Gov. Reynolds in supporting the integrity of the process and demonstrated the seriousness Iowans take in their civic duty.
The COVID-19 pandemic presented many unique challenges in 2020. However, election officials around the country worked diligently to ensure a safe and secure election this November. In Iowa, Secretary of State Paul Pate mailed an absentee ballot request form to every registered Iowa voter for the November election and the state saw a record turnout.
Grassley urged his colleagues not to play political games with election security. He also commended the Treasury Department’s announced sanctions on Russian-aligned actors seeking to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
Congress in March unanimously approved a $10 billion loan for the U.S. Postal Service to respond to pandemic-related uncertainties. However, the USPS assured lawmakers that it had enough cash on hand to maintain operations through next year even without that loan. In fact, the USPS reported a record amount of cash on hand due to the increase in package deliveries during the pandemic. Even with this additional bipartisan funding, many Democrats continued to undermine faith in the electoral process. Grassley strongly condemned such statements on the Senate floor.
As a champion of renewable fuels and an all-of-the-above American energy policy, Grassley continued his extensive work to enact responsible energy policies throughout 2020. Grassley was a leader in the effort to allow the sale of year-round E15.
Grassley has continued to lead the fight to maintain a strong Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). He led efforts to pressure the EPA to stop issuing “hardship waivers” to obligated refiners as well as make the waiver process more transparent and highlighted the importance of the RFS to President Trump. Grassley joined Ernst in voting against Mark Menezes, nominated to be Deputy Secretary of Energy due to lack of transparency among the agencies.
Much of Grassley’s energy agenda focused on the RFS. Grassley worked extensively with Senate colleagues, President Trump and the EPA to expand renewable energy and fulfill congressional intent on the RFS. This year, Grassley slammed the proposed Zero-Emission Vehicles Act which would require 50 percent of sales for new passenger vehicles to be all electric by 2025 and mandate 100 percent of new sales for the U.S. passenger transportation fleet by 2035.
Grassley also joined his colleagues in sending a letter to urge the EPA to modernize its rulemaking for biogenic carbon emissions.
Grassley joined his partner in the Senate, Ernst, in sending a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requesting clarification on its temporary policy for the manufacture of alcohol-based hand sanitizer products during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than wait for the economy to rebound, biofuel producers across Iowa shifted production to manufacture hand sanitizer to help meet the needs of their communities across the state.
Last year, Grassley and Ernst fought hard to include the biodiesel tax credit in the year-end funding package. In February, the two Iowa senators called on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to promptly process 2018-2019 biodiesel tax credit claims.
In addition to ethanol and biodiesel, Grassley highlighted the importance of wind energy in Iowa and around the country.
Grassley also worked to hold Big Oil accountable this year. He joined Sen. Udall (D-N.M.) in introducing the Fair Returns for Public Lands Act of 2020 to modernize the country’s antiquated public lands royalty system and increase return to federal and state taxpayers by $200 million in the next decade.
As a former chairman and senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley rigorously vetted and reviewed judicial nominations to ensure our federal judges will interpret and apply the law as written, not legislate from the bench based on policy preferences.
President Trump has made an effort to nominate constitutionalist and textualist judges who understand the role of the judiciary in our constitutional system. Under Grassley’s leadership, the Judiciary Committee oversaw the confirmation of a record 30 circuit court judges, which is the most circuit court confirmations in the first two years of any presidency in history, and in 2020, the Senate has confirmed a record number of circuit court nominees. These confirmations will have an important impact on our country for decades to come.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away in September, leaving behind a historic legacy that will live on for generations. With an opening on the highest court in the land, Grassley supported Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in moving forward to fill the vacancy. In 2016, citing a divided government, then-Judiciary Committee Chairman Grassley and his committee colleagues exercised their constitutional authority to withhold consent on any nominee prior to the completion of the election. The circumstances were different in 2020, where the American people elected a Republican President and Senate in 2016 and expanded the Republican Senate majority in 2018.
Later that month, President Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court. Grassley met with Judge Barrett and vetted her credentials. Grassley strongly supported Judge Barrett in the hearings and urged his colleagues to support her in the final vote before the full senate. In late October, the Senate approved Judge Barrett’s nomination by a vote of 52-48. As Senate President pro tempore, Grassley presided over the vote.
Throughout Justice Barrett’s confirmation process, he admonished Democrats who were threatening to pack the courts with partisan judges.
Throughout the pandemic, the Supreme Court allowed live audio streams of oral arguments conducted via teleconference following pandemic-induced lockdowns. The unprecedented live audio feed broadened access to real-time proceedings far beyond the Court’s limited seating capacity even in normal times. The move sparked widespread praise from transparency advocates and the general public. Grassley and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) renewed their push to allow live video coverage of court proceedings even after the pandemic restrictions are lifted.
Foster youth, adoption, families and elder care:
Throughout his congressional career, Grassley has advocated for children and families. He continued his work on these issues in 2020 by developing policies aimed at protecting special needs children, preventing elder abuse, encouraging elder independence and promoting funding for programs to improve family health.
Grassley has long been a leader in the effort to protect older Americans, especially those living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Grassley has helped lead congressional oversight of nursing homes and their response to the deadly pandemic.
In April, Grassley wrote to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and CMS Administrator Seema Verma regarding several issues related to the outbreak of COVID-19 at long-term care facilities such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the country. Grassley expressed concerns about testing capacity, inconsistencies in data tracking, a lack of PPE and transparency in federal spending. Following Grassley’s call on CMS to require nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to report all cases of COVID-19 to the federal government, the agency took such steps to ensure transparency and usable data.
In July, Grassley and Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) introduced the Emergency Support for Nursing Homes and Elder Justice Reform Act of 2020, which would improve existing programs to protect older Americans and provide help to nursing homes and their staff providing care for vulnerable residents. The legislation includes several provisions to help nursing homes manage COVID-19 outbreaks, including the establishment of specialty regional “strike teams” and extends COVID-19 related reporting requirements through the end of 2020. The bill calls on states receiving federal relief assistance to devote some funding to tele-visitation programs so nursing home residents aren’t isolated from family throughout the pandemic. It also renews and reauthorizes funding for several programs enacted in the Elder Justice Act of 2009 and boosts transparency and accountability measures for underperforming nursing homes.
Following the Trump administration’s announcement that it would require weekly testing of nursing home staffers and the disbursement of an additional $5 billion in funding to these facilities, Grassley praised the action as a big step in the right direction, which will help further protect the lives and health of both the residents of nursing facilities and the dedicated staff who care for them.
As Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley continued his oversight work and released a comprehensive report on care in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in the United States during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The report, titled “COVID-19 and Nursing Homes: What Went Wrong and Next Steps,” reviews U.S. nursing home performance during the first eight months of the pandemic.
He also sent a letter to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at HHS requesting the OIG initiate an investigation into whether or not five states – California, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania – violated federal guidance in pressuring nursing home facilities to accept patients who tested positive for COVID-19.
This year, Grassley also joined a bipartisan resolution designating May 15, 2020 as “National Senior Fraud Awareness Day,” to draw attention to the issues of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. He also authored a resolution recognizing National Foster Care Month, to boost awareness of challenges faced by children in the foster care system. Both passed the Senate unanimously.
Grassley also celebrated National Adoption Month in 2020 and highlighted the unique challenges families have faced throughout the pandemic.
Grassley partnered with Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), to protect seniors with dementia from harm and exploitation. The Promoting Alzheimer's Awareness to Prevent Elder Abuse Act successfully passed out of the Senate and would ensure the Department of Justice’s elder abuse training materials take into account individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
Grassley has spent decades advocating on behalf of older Americans and families of children with special needs and complex medical conditions and authored key provisions in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that was enacted 30 years ago.
Grassley, in his capacity as Senate Finance Committee Chairman, convened a bipartisan working group to address federal paid family leave policies. The working group considered ideas and principles relating to the issue of paid family leave and reviewed existing legislation introduced by several senators on and off the committee and from both parties.
In the year-end COVID-19 economic relief and funding legislative package, Grassley advocated for additional support for the elder community. This legislation included $100 million to support elder justice initiatives, including 50 million for state adult protective service agencies as they cope with unique challenges of serving vulnerable populations during the pandemic.
Good Government and Transparency:
Grassley has been a longtime advocate for inspectors general and government oversight regardless of political party and administration. On April 8, 2020, Grassley led a bipartisan group of lawmakers in calling on President Trump to provide a detailed written explanation for his decision to remove an inspector general. In the letter, the lawmakers underscore the important role inspectors general play in holding agencies accountable and outline the removal procedures, which are designed to prevent political interference. This comes after two inspectors generals were terminated this spring.
On April 14, 2020, Grassley and Wyden wrote to Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, in his role as chair of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), regarding CIGIE’s role in the inspector general nominating process. They inquired about the CIGIE recommendation process, the consistency of its advice to the White House, the rate at which its advice is taken by the White House and how often CIGIE has expressed concerns about IG vacancies.
Following complaints from dozens of whistleblowers, Grassley and his colleagues also continued their investigation into whistleblower allegations of low morale and low productivity at the Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General.
Additionally, Grassley led a bipartisan group of senators in introducing legislation to boost oversight of trillions in taxpayer funded pandemic relief by helping the special watchdog quickly onboard critical oversight staff. The Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery Expedited Hiring Authority Act allows the office to bypass the lengthy government hiring process so it can quickly ramp up oversight operations. On December 15, Grassley called on his colleagues to get down to business and pass this bill.
On October 6, 2020, Grassley led a bipartisan letter to the House and Senate Armed Services Committee Conference urging the protection of the work of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). The Senate-passed version of the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included language that would have limited SIGAR’s jurisdiction to just six reconstruction funds and severely restricted SIGAR’s oversight of reconstruction spending, to exclude oversight authority over internationally monitored trust funds like the World-Bank-administered Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, military construction, human rights and anti-corruption assistance, and certain counternarcotics programs. This section was removed from the House and Senate Conference NDAA, preserving SIGAR’s oversight authority over crucial overseas funds.
Grassley joined his colleagues, Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.), and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) to change the authority of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to conduct a thorough and rigorous review of independent agencies’ regulations. Currently, independent agencies are not required to undergo a review by OIRA. They wrote, in part, “Although these agencies have been created with certain protections designed to insulate them from the political process, they are not a fourth branch of government that is exempt from Congressional and Executive oversight.”
On February 5, 2020 Grassley and Johnson sought records of Hunter Biden’s travel while he was under U.S. Secret Service protection as part of their investigation into potential conflicts of interest among the Biden family when Joe Biden was Vice President.
Grassley and Johnson faced unhelpful challenges from their Democratic colleagues regarding their oversight work. In February they rebuked their colleagues who attempted to undermine legitimate oversight by selectively leaking information from their Biden investigation. In August, they urged their colleagues to stop falsely claiming the Ukraine/Biden investigation was subject to Russian disinformation.
On September 23, 2020, Grassley and Johnson released a report that revealed millions of dollars in questionable financial transactions between Hunter Biden and his associates and foreign individuals, including individuals with ties to the Chinese Communist Party. They later released a supplemental report with new information which confirmed connections between the Biden family and the communist Chinese government, as well as the links between Hunter Biden’s business associates and the Russian government.
In October, news broke referencing an alleged Hunter Biden laptop with additional pertinent information relating to Grassley and Johnson’s investigation. They immediately sent a letter to United States Secret Service Director James Murray highlighting references to Hunter Biden’s travel from recently published emails that appear to align with Secret Service records previously produced to the committees. The chairmen also requested records to verify whether the Secret Service traveled with Hunter Biden after he apparently discontinued his protective detail.
Grassley joined Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) in introducing bipartisan legislation to strengthen federal financial management by updating the Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act of 1990. The CFO Act created a new foundation for federal financial management and established a fiscal management reporting and leadership structure.
Additionally, Grassley partnered with Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) to introduce bipartisan legislation to increase transparency and accountability within the federal government. The Oversight.gov Authorization Act would formally authorize the establishment and maintenance of a website to help the public more easily access reports that have been generated by the independent work of Inspectors General.
Grassley, and Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) requested information about the federal government’s ability to timely respond to public records requests in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a letter to the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy (OIP), the senators, all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, noted reports of decreased capability to process Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and other concerning developments, including the FBI’s decision to stop accepting electronic requests altogether. The senators also released the findings of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report titled “Freedom of Information Act: Federal Agencies’ Recent Implementation Efforts.”
Grassley continued his work to ensure Social Security remains strong for generations to come. Along with House Ways and Means Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-Texas), Grassley wrote to the Chief Actuary of Social Security regarding the use of his office for political purposes and pushed for public clarifications to recently published analysis that has allowed for partisan misinformation to be spread by Democrats. As the leading Republican tax writers, Grassley and Brady argued that Social Security’s actuaries should not be used for political purposes. The Chief Actuary of Social Security promptly responded with a letter and affirmed that he was “not aware that anyone has proposed” legislation like Senate Democrats outlined in a recent request, which they subsequently used to spread false and misleading partisan messaging. Grassley took to the Senate floor to set the record straight and urged his Democratic colleagues to stop spreading misinformation to scare Social Security beneficiaries.
In October, Grassley and Brady again reached out to request more information on how the Office of the Chief Actuary functions, particularly in responding to requests from outside groups, using taxpayer dollars. “Given the finite resources available and the important services the SSA provides to Americans, it is essential that the agency’s budget is used wisely. For that reason, we are seeking additional information regarding practices of the Office of the Chief Actuary for information, analysis, and/or technical assistance requested by non-government individuals and organizations,” the members wrote.
In December, Grassley and Brady requested that the Chief Actuary of Social Security explain misleading testimony that the actuary presented before a congressional committee in July. In that testimony, the Chief Actuary appeared to have been attempting to provide justification for lack of prior action on an important issue in Social Security by Congress. As the letter from Grassley and Brady to the Chief Actuary identified: “It is not the job of anyone at the Social Security Administration to justify decisions made by Congress and we are concerned by your recent attempt to do so.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, families faced unique challenges accessing health care services. Recognizing this, Grassley introduced the bipartisan Accelerating Kids’ Access to Care Act to help families access life-saving care for children with complex medical conditions. The legislation aims to facilitate access to care while retaining program safeguards and reducing regulatory burdens on providers. This legislation builds off the Grassley-sponsored Advancing Care for Exceptional (ACE) Kids Act, which was signed into law in 2019, which makes it easier for the many providers who treat children with complex conditions to coordinate care and improve outcomes.
In September, Grassley fought to include the Medicare Part B Premium Adjustment provision in the Senate appropriations bill. This will protect Medicare beneficiaries from an expected spike in the Part B premium for 2021 caused by economic conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Grassley also authored a provision to address concerns with the Medicare Accelerated and Advance Payment Program. This provision delays the date on which hospitals and other providers must start to repay Medicare Accelerated and Advance payment loans and makes other changes to relax repayment terms, while protecting the Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund.
The Senate voted by unanimous consent to pass the Emergency Aid for Returning Americans Affected by Coronavirus Act authored by Grassley and Wyden. This bill would ensure adequate funding be available to help Americans recently brought back to U.S. because of COVID-19.
Throughout the pandemic, Grassley worked with the Trump administration on a variety of health care policies. He praised the Administration’s reforms to the Medicaid program which will allow more flexibility for states while they continue to care for and protect individual Americans and communities at most risk.
Grassley also followed up with the FDA this year to ensure Americans can access over-the-counter hearing aids without delay. Grassley’s Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act, which was signed into law in 2017 to remove outdated regulations blocking consumer access to affordable hearing aids, required the FDA to issue these proposed regulations no later than August 18, 2020, but the FDA has yet to do so.
Grassley partnered with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) to introduce a bipartisan resolution designating the week of October 5 through October 9 2020, as “Malnutrition Awareness Week.” The resolution recognizes the impact the pandemic has had on vulnerable populations and supports emergency funding for federal nutrition programs to combat malnutrition. Grassley also highlighted mental health awareness month and the services available to Iowans during this difficult time.
Over the years, Congress has considered a number of initiatives aimed at addressing maternal health. Grassley and Ranking Member Wyden asked stakeholders to submit data and findings on factors contributing to poor maternal health outcomes in the United States. The Senate Finance Committee leaders also requested specific, evidence-based solutions to address those factors and improve maternal health. In addition, in June 2020, Grassley wrote a letter to every member of the Senate Finance Committee soliciting ideas for how to address racial and ethnic health disparities.
Grassley also continued his oversight work into the nation’s organ donation and procurement system. In October, he sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). This probe comes after numerous inspector general audits and news reports raised questions about the adequacy of patient safety standards, suggested thousands of available organs are not being used and highlighted questionable financial practices of some organ procurement organizations (OPOs). This letter is part of the ongoing investigation into the conduct of the nation’s organ procurement organizations, and the oversight gaps present in the U.S. organ donation and procurement system. In February, Grassley and Wyden jointly initiated this bipartisan investigation with Senators Young and Cardin when they sent an expansive request for information and data to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), which was contracted by Congress nearly four decades ago to oversee the U.S. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN). This investigation is ongoing.
In April 2019, Grassley and Wyden jointly began investigations of organizations in their home states that provide services to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). This December, they released two investigative reports regarding the performance and efficacy of providers REM Iowa and MENTOR Oregon, which receive significant federal funding through Medicaid to provide care for individuals with I/DD. Grassley’s review of REM Iowa found that the company has had and continues to face problems, including failures to report abuse or neglect, failures to follow an individual’s particular care plan and failures to adhere to clients’ medication schedules. Grassley’s report makes three specific recommendations to REM Iowa: improve training practices for employees, improve access to data and establish a process to track and monitor critical incidents using electronic databases. Grassley’s report also recommends that the federal and state governments improve oversight, outreach and support for facilities facing systemic issues.
On December 2, 2020, Grassley wrote a letter to every member of the Senate Finance and Judiciary Committees about the need for new attention to the tax laws governing non-profit hospitals. In late 2019, Grassley announced he was renewing his probe of non-profit, tax-exempt hospitals. “It’s time for Americans to have more financial information available to them when going to the hospital and working with their insurance companies. It’s time for Congress to empower Americans to shop for healthcare in a competitive, functional market so as to reduce the costs of care and coverage, and save individuals and businesses hundreds of billions of dollars,” Grassley wrote.
Grassley joined a bipartisan group of senators to introduce legislation to protect property owners whose assets are seized by the federal government. An earlier version of the bill was introduced in 2016, following a Judiciary Committee hearing that examined several concerns associated with law enforcement asset seizure policies and practices. The hearing identified gaps in procedural protections for property owners whose assets were seized despite the absence of criminal charges or convictions. Additionally, many individuals whose assets are seized don’t know their rights and don’t know how to proceed to challenge the seizure.
Illegal, illicit drugs, and opioids:
In 2020, Grassley continued his longtime work addressing illegal and illicit drug manufacturing and addiction in the U.S. He joined Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in introducing the Methamphetamine Response Act, a bill declaring methamphetamine an emerging drug threat which would require the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to develop, implement and make public a national plan to prevent methamphetamine addiction and overdoses from becoming a crisis. This bill passed the Senate on November 16, 2020 but wasn’t considered for final passage in the House of Representatives.
Grassley also cosponsored the Temporary Reauthorization and Study of the Emergency Scheduling of Fentanyl Analogues Act. President Trump signed this bill into law in February, which extends a Drug Enforcement Administration temporary scheduling order to proactively control deadly fentanyl analogues. Fentanyl-related overdose deaths continue to rise and sophisticated drug trafficking organizations manipulate dangerous substances to skirt the law, so this critical law placed fentanyl substances in Schedule I so that they can be better detected and criminals can be held accountable for their actions. This Grassley supported law sunsets in May of 2021.
He also joined Feinstein in authoring a resolution designating October as “National Substance Abuse Prevention Month,” to help raise awareness about substance use and misuse in the United States.
Grassley and Ernst once again urged Iowans to participate in National Drug Take-Back Day. Unused, unneeded and expired prescription medicines present risk for misuse and theft. Responsible disposal can help prevent accidental poisoning, addiction and overdose deaths.
As Chairman of the Senate Finance Finance Committee, Grassley initiated a bipartisan investigation with Ranking Member Ron Wyden, and sent letters to 10 tax-exempt organizations requesting information about their financial relationship with opioid manufacturers. This is a continuation of the investigation Grassley started in 2012, when he was Ranking Member of Judiciary. This investigation requested payment data, IRS Form 990s, and copies of comments and written materials that the tax-exempt organization sent to Federal task forces, committees, and other advisory groups from 2012 to the present. The purpose of this request was to discover whether these tax-exempt advocacy groups echoed or amplified the messages of pharmaceutical donors to sway public and Federal opinion about opioid prescribing practices. Grassley and Wyden expect to release the findings of their investigation before the end of the year.
Immigration and Visas:
Grassley has been a longtime supporter of the E-verify program and reintroduced the Accountability Through Electronic Verification Act this Congress, which would permanently authorize and require employers to use the E-Verify program. E-Verify is an internet-based system that assists employers in determining the eligibility of employees to work in the United States.
Grassley and a bipartisan group of Senators renewed calls for significant regulatory or legislative reforms to the H-2B visa program before increasing the annual visa cap. They raised concerns that the flawed non-agriculture guest worker visa program displaces American workers and can incentivize the exploitation of both foreign and American workers.
Additionally, Grassley sent a letter to Social Security Administration (SSA) Commissioner Andrew Saul and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Chad Wolf seeking information on why SSA was not providing the statutorily required information to DHS regarding noncitizens working on and reporting wage earnings to non-work Social Security Numbers (SSNs). Grassley’s letter follows a concerning SSA Inspector General report that discussed the issue last year. The use of non-work SSNs to obtain employment and work illegally is not an insignificant problem. The OIG report stated that approximately 364,000 people with non-work SSNs reported billions of dollars in wages over a 3-year tax period from 2014-2016.
Grassley joined a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers to introduce legislation to reform and close loopholes in the H-1B and L-1 visa programs. The H-1B and L-1 Visa Reform Act would prioritize American workers and restore fairness in visa programs for skilled foreign workers. The legislation reinstates Congress’ original intent in the H-1B and L-1 visa programs by increasing enforcement, modifying wage requirements and securing protections for both American workers and visa holders. Grassley also praised the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security this year as they worked to address abuses in the high-skilled guest worker program that has been used to displace American workers with low-paid foreign labor.
Grassley sought information on a number of cases in which a crime was carried out by someone who was in the United States illegally. Grassley and Ernst requested answers regarding a suspected al Qaeda leader wanted for murdering two Iraqi police officers who was able to receive refugee status in the United States and later become a U.S. citizen. He also joined a group of Republican senators to investigate how a Mexican national illegally in the country was never removed despite having a history of violent and illegal behavior that culminated in the deaths of four law enforcement motorcycle club members. Ivan Robles Navejas is charged with causing a head-on collision with members of the Thin Blue Line Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club in July, killing four riders and injuring several others. He was allegedly intoxicated at the time of the collision, and had previously faced assault, drunk driving and resisting arrest charges dating back to 2013.
In the past, Grassley has raised concerns about visa mills that masquerade as educational institutions but actually function as de facto employment agencies that help aliens fraudulently enter the United States under F-1 student visas. Grassley continued his oversight of F-1 visa fraud in 2020 by pressing DHS about the steps it is taking to crack down on fraudulent companies providing fake employment offers to foreign students seeking to extend their F-1 visas and remain in the U.S. after graduation.
At the beginning of the year, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced she would transmit articles of impeachment to the United States Senate. As president pro tempore of the Senate, Grassley presided over the opening of the impeachment trial of President Trump. Throughout the trial, Grassley fulfilled his duty to thoughtfully consider all the facts.
Following the proceedings, he criticized the House’s flawed process and evolving arguments, and expressed the importance of respecting precedent. Removing a president for legal actions based on a flawed and partisan process, especially in the midst of an election year, would set a dangerous standard for future impeachments. He ultimately rejected the articles of impeachment on constitutional, legal and prudential grounds.
Grassley continued to address the increased need for rural broadband in 2020. Grassley has a long history of working to close the digital divide in Iowa. He is a strong advocate for rural broadband deployment and providing the tools necessary to make sure rural America is not left behind. Grassley supported the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act that requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to issue new rules to require the collection and dissemination of granular broadband availability data and to establish a process to verify the accuracy of such data. President Trump signed this bill into law in March. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 fully funds the Broadband DATA Act.
He also highlighted the Federal Highway Administration’s proposed new rule to advance broadband technology in rural America. The proposed rule would help improve coordination and utilize construction projects for installation of broadband infrastructure.
In 2019, Iowa faced devastating and historic flooding across the state. Grassley and Ernst held a hearing in Southwest Iowa that focused on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) management of the Missouri River. They closely monitored the situation along the western border and sent a letter urging the USACE to provide additional funding for projects to improve safety and navigation on the lower Missouri River. Grassley praised the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) for helping fund critical projects to help with flood recovery, including the announcement awarding a $7.9 million grant to the city of Hamburg, Iowa, to make critical infrastructure improvements needed to protect businesses along the Missouri River from flooding. This EDA grant, to be matched with $1.9 million in local investment, is expected to create or retain 349 jobs.
Grassley also joined Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) to introduce new legislation to overhaul the USACE process for managing water resource projects along the lower Missouri River system. The Lower Missouri River Flood Prevention Program Act would require the USACE to implement a new system-wide approach to water development projects to reduce flood risk and improve flood protection along the lower Missouri River.
On the other side of the state, Grassley praised the Corps’ decision to approve three Port Statistical Areas (PSAs) on the Mississippi River. This federal recognition as a multi-modal port region will be leveraged by local governments and businesses for marketing and economic development that will improve regional, national and global competitiveness.
Grassley praised the passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (WRDA) which was included in the year-end funding bill. WRDA addresses the civil works program of the Army Corps of Engineers. Grassley advocated for a number of provisions that were incorporated in the final bill including the Inland Waterway Trust Fund Cost Share Program. This provision modifies the cost share for construction or major rehabilitation of a project on the inland waterways to 65 percent from the general fund of the Treasury and 35 percent from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.
Grassley also worked to include a provision that would make temporary flood control structures permanent. This provision creates a new authority for the Corps to review whether temporary flood control structures it has constructed should be made permanent, and allows the local cost-share for making them permanent to be waived for communities that are small, financially disadvantaged or at risk of recurring flooding.
Additionally, Grassley was vocal to include a provision to update the Des Moines Birdland Levee. The Water Resources Development Act of 2007 authorized the Des Moines and Raccoon River project which was completed in 2012. However, due to design deficiencies by the Corps, approximately 1.7 miles of this levee does not meet the Corps’ design criteria for under-seepage. This additional authorized funding will bring the deficient portion of the levee up to Corps standards.
The final bill also contains important provisions for Iowans including expanding work on a Lower Missouri River Basin Flood Risk Resiliency Plan, expedited completion of maintenance and repair activities for federally operated and maintained levees systems in the Lower Missouri River basin, expedited processing of permits and approvals of repairs of flood control infrastructure caused by flood in 2019, changes to the PL 84-99 non-federal levee program to enhance flood protections, further prohibitions of Interception-Rearing Complex’s (IRc’s), continuation of work on the Upper Mississippi River Comprehensive Plan along with several other provisions critical to flood control and navigation.
Grassley partnered with Ernst and went to bat for Iowa Minor League Baseball this year. They joined a bipartisan resolution and urged support for preserving Minor League Baseball clubs across the country, including those in Davenport, Burlington and Clinton, in response to Major League Baseball’s (MLB) proposal to eliminate 42 teams nationwide. The Des Moines Iowa Cubs, Cedar Rapids Kernels, and the Quad Cities River Bandits are all retaining affiliation with MLB teams in the region. The Clinton LumberKings and Burlington Bees will have opportunities to join other leagues.
To honor the service and sacrifice made by the men and women in law enforcement, Grassley supported a resolution designating the week of May 11 through May 17, 2020, as "National Police Week."
During Police Week, a bipartisan package of law enforcement bills championed by Grassley sailed through the Senate, including the Confidentiality Opportunities for Peer Support (COPS) Counseling Act. Senator Grassley is the lead Republican on this bill, which provides mental health support to law enforcement by encouraging the adoption of peer counselling programs, while protecting the privacy of federal officers who participate.
The Judiciary Committee also advanced the Grassley supported Law Enforcement Suicide Data Collection Act, which requires the FBI to collect voluntarily submitted, anonymous data on police suicides and attempted suicides from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Collecting this data will help inform policy solutions to promote prevention of law enforcement suicides.
Grassley also supported legislation to help the nation’s first responders. Without skipping a beat, first responders adapted to the ever-changing demands of the pandemic. Grassley and a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation to ensure families of public safety officers lost to COVID-19 can quickly access survivor benefits. The Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act (SAFR) clarifies the certification requirements for survivor benefits under the Public Safety Officers Benefits Program to account for the unique challenges presented by the pandemic. In August, President Trump signed this bill into law.
These three bills - along with the resolution commemorating National Police Week - won unanimous approval in the Senate.
This year, many Americans called for Congress to enact police reforms. Grassley supported Sen. Tim Scott’s (R-S.C.) proposal. The JUSTICE Act included bipartisan provisions to improve accountability and transparency in policing. It also designated lynching as a federal hate crime and penalized states for allowing police to use chokeholds. However, this legislation did not move forward on the Senate floor because Senate Democrats refused to even debate the legislation or work with Scott or other senators on police reform legislation.
This year, President Trump made a historic breakthrough for peace in the Middle East with the signing of the Abraham Accords. This is the first tangible progress in a quarter century. Grassley met Anwar Sadat at the time of the Camp David Accords in 1978 and witnessed the handshake between Rabin and Arafat in 1993.
An Iowan, Mr. Christopher Miller, was nominated to be Director of the National Counterterrorism Center at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Grassley had the honor to introduce him at his confirmation hearing. Christopher Miller is currently serving as the Acting Secretary of Defense.
Grassley joined 42 Senate colleagues in supporting a resolution honoring the members of the military and intelligence community who carried out the successful mission that killed Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and a designated terrorist.
Grassley also joined his Senate colleagues in commemorating the 22nd anniversary of the bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on August 7, 1998. The senators called on the Trump administration and Congress “to deliver justice to the victims and their families and appropriately and equitably address terrorism-related claims against Sudan.”
On June 5, 2020, Grassley chaired a hearing on foreign threats to taxpayer-funded research titled, “Foreign Threats to Taxpayer-Funded Research: Oversight Opportunities and Policy Solutions.” That same day, Grassley held a classified member-level briefing on the same subject. Grassley is a leading voice in the effort to protect the integrity of taxpayer-funded research. In addition to his inquiries to DoD, Grassley also pressed the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Health and Human Services Inspector General, Justice Department, and Government Accountability Office on foreign threats to taxpayer-funded research.
As Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley carried out the Senate’s constitutionally mandated “advice and consent” responsibilities respecting presidential nominations to many key departments and agencies. During the 116th Congress, the Finance Committee reported 21 individual nominations to the full Senate and 19 of those have been confirmed, including: Andrew M. Saul to be Commissioner of Social Security, Brent James McIntosh to be an Under Secretary of the Treasury, and Michael J. Desmond to be Chief Counsel for the Internal Revenue Service.
Reform to Victims’ Rights Laws:
Grassley continued to stand up for victims of human trafficking. Grassley joined his colleagues in supporting a resolution observing National Trafficking, Modern Slavery Prevention Month. He was also a recipient of the 2020 Outstanding Anti-Human Trafficking Service Award from Gov. Reynolds.
In 2020, Grassley continued his work to prevent abuse of young athletes. He introduced legislation, the Stopping Abuse From Entering Sports, Promoting Oversight, Responsibility And Transparency (SAFESPORT) Act. It builds on an earlier measure Grassley cosponsored and shepherded through the Judiciary Committee in 2018, during his tenure as that committee’s chairman. His latest proposal includes funding accountability measures, anti-retaliation protections, child abuse reporting requirements, and other reforms. The Senate passed this landmark legislation in August.
Grassley also joined his colleagues in introducing several bipartisan Senate resolutions to support victims of sexual and domestic violence. One expresses support for National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month and another honors those who have worked to help crime victims during the pandemic. These measures passed the Senate by unanimous consent.
Grassley also joined a bipartisan group of colleagues in introducing the Improving Social Security’s Service to Victims of Identity Theft Act to provide more efficient help to Americans whose social security numbers have been stolen and misused.
Grassley praised the U.S. House of Representatives broad bipartisan approval of anti-lynching legislation this year. The bill is similar to bipartisan legislation Grassley led through the Judiciary Committee in 2018, and which passed unanimously in the Senate last year.
The Declaration of Independence recognizes each individual is endowed with unalienable rights. However, countries around the world still have blasphemy laws with religious persecution still taking place. In October 2018, Grassley sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressing concerns about the ongoing religious persecution of religious minorities by the communist regime in China. The State Department placed visa restrictions last fall on Chinese government and Communist Party officials who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, the detention or abuse of Uighurs, Kazakhs or other members of Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang, China. Grassley has continued to monitor this situation and hold world organizations accountable for their complicit support of China.
Grassley and his colleagues encouraged the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to continue protecting public safety while respecting the Second Amendment and federal law during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
They wrote, “As our country continues to respond to the pandemic, we are seeking additional information on the impact the coronavirus has had on your agencies and the firearm transfer process so that we have a clearer picture on where things stand and how we can better assist through the legislative and appropriations process.”
Grassley also joined a letter with Senator Braun and other colleagues to Attorney General Barr and ATF Acting Director Lombardo to share their concern about the ATF practice of relying on non-public standards in its regulation of the importation of pistol stabilizing braces. The letter requests that ATF clearly articulate its position on the regulation of pistol braces, as a “know it when you see it” approach to firearms by the ATF can quickly become a slippery slope for all legal American gun owners as well as government firearm regulation enforcement.
Grassley was instrumental in the crafting and passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which was signed into law by President Trump. Throughout 2020, taxpayers across the country saw the benefits of these important tax reforms.
After assuming the chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee in January, 2019, Grassley worked closely with the Treasury Department as it issued regulations and other guidance related to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which provided clarity to families, farmers, cooperatives, and businesses – small to large – on changes to the business tax rules including the 20-percent deduction for pass-through businesses, the opportunity zones initiative, and international tax laws.
Following this work, Grassley raised concerns about Joe Biden’s tax proposals. Biden vowed to raise taxes immediately on U.S. businesses, undo the 2017 tax law and impose trillions of dollars in tax hikes on individuals and businesses.
As Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley convened a hearing on the 2020 tax filing season and the IRS’ handling of the challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic. Throughout this hearing, Grassley questioned how the IRS was managing its standard responsibilities during the pandemic while also implementing a number of tax measures enacted by Congress to provide relief to individuals and businesses.
During this legislative session, Grassley continued to advocate for retirement savings reform. He authored the Retirement Enhancement and Savings (RESA) Act of 2019, which formed the basis of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act of 2019 that was included in the 2019 year-end appropriations package. This legislation will help more Americans save for their retirement and allow more American businesses to invest in their employees’ future financial security by improving access to retirement savings plans through the creation of multiple employer plan retirement programs.
Grassley also joined Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) who chairs the Senate Health, Labor and Pensions Committee, in releasing a comprehensive reform package to address the financial crisis in the multiemployer pension plan system. The Multiemployer Pension Recapitalization and Reform Plan would provide targeted financial assistance to a number of large severely underfunded multiemployer plans and reform the overall system to protect workers and retirees from financial hardships resulting from the failure of their multiemployer pension plan. Since the release of the plan, Grassley has pursued bipartisan discussions to develop a consensus agreement to reform the multiemployer system for the long-term.
In August, Grassley and Ranking Member Wyden concluded their investigation into syndicated conservation-easement transactions and released a report on that investigation. The report found those transactions “to be nothing more than retail tax shelters that let taxpayers buy tax deductions at the end of any given year, ... which thousands of taxpayers used to game the tax code and deprive the federal government of billions of dollars in revenue.” It concluded that “the IRS has strong reason for taking enforcement action against syndicated conservation-easement transactions as it has to date” and called on Congress, the IRS, and the Department of the Treasury to take further action to preserve the integrity of the conservation-easement tax deduction.
To that end, Grassley joined Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) in reintroducing the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act, which would protect conservation easements from abuse, save taxpayers billions of dollars and promote conservation around the country.
Grassley also continued to advocate for clean energy tax policies in Congress. In January, he joined his colleagues in sending a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles P. Rettig requesting information to better understand how the IRS enforces the electric vehicle tax credit in light of a Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration audit report that detailed what appear to be systemic problems with the tax-credit program. And in February, he called out Senate Democrats’ on their misleading and baseless letter regarding energy tax policies that ignore recent and longer-term history on how to successfully enact bipartisan green energy policies.
Grassley worked with Wyden to support the Treasury Department’s participation in the multilateral process at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which is intended to address the tax challenges arising from the digitalization of the global economy. In letters and other communications throughout this legislative session, Grassley and Wyden expressed their strong bipartisan opposition to unilateral digital services taxes (DSTs) that target and discriminate against U.S.-based companies operating around the world. Earlier this year, Grassley and Wyden supported an agreement between the United States and France postponing the imposition of the French digital services tax in favor of reaching a multilateral agreement at the OECD. Grassley and Wyden also opposed a U.K. digital service tax that took effect in July. With additional DSTs being introduced or considered by U.S. trading partners, Grassley and Wyden voiced support for USTR’s investigation under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act of foreign DSTs. Grassley and Wyden also supported USTR’s decision to impose additional tariffs on French goods after a 180-day deferral period.
The state of trade policy took center stage in 2020. Grassley was a central figure in the debate, advocating vigorously on behalf of Iowa’s interests.
In the last three years, Grassley provided extensive support to the President’s efforts to renegotiate NAFTA. The updated trade pact reached by the President is called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) – and provides a host of new benefits for America’s farmers, workers, and manufacturers. The nonpartisan International Trade Commission estimates that USMCA will add more than $68 billion to U.S. gross domestic product and generate 176,000 jobs.
As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley worked closely with committee members and the Administration to guide USMCA through Congress. Democrats in the House of Representatives unreasonably delayed passage of USMCA last year. However, in January, USMCA finally passed with broad bipartisan support.
As part of ensuring that USMCA was passed, Grassley made clear the Administration’s national security steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico would have to be dropped – as would those countries’ retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agricultural products. All sides’ tariffs came down – and Iowa’s farmers regained access to two of their most important markets.
As President pro tempore of the Senate, Grassley led an enrollment ceremony to sign the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) Implementation Act. Grassley’s signing of the legislation was the final step before it went to the president for his signature to become law. Grassley then attended the USMCA signing ceremony at the White House.
Grassley has long recognized the World Trade Organization (WTO) can be a powerful tool to remove foreign trade barriers. However, the WTO needs significant reform – particularly in light of its failure to address China’s abusive trade practices. Grassley held a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the road ahead for the WTO.
Grassley also supported the President in confronting China on its abusive trade practices. Grassley welcomed the Phase 1 deal the President reached with China. Iowans, especially hog, corn and soybean farmers, will benefit from provisions in the deal that remove trade barriers, and commit China to increasing purchases of agricultural products. Grassley also attended the Phase 1 deal signing ceremony at the White House.
The U.S. continued to expand its market this year with ethanol in Brazil. Grassley praised the new agreement which will allow 198 million gallons of ethanol into the country duty-free with imported gallons beyond that subject to the 20 percent tariff. Brazil was the largest U.S. ethanol export market last year, purchasing 332 million gallons of U.S.-produced ethanol worth $493 million.
To address the disruptions and deficient supplies due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Grassley and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) called for an expedited investigation to identify the products that may be needed to respond to the pandemic. The lawmakers requested the Commission produce a report by April 30 detailing the tariff classifications and applicable rates of duty associated with the products to assist the Committees in their work to combat the coronavirus emergency. Following the initial report, Grassley and his colleagues again wrote to the Commission to conduct a follow-on investigation and prepare a report as there were persistent challenges in meeting supply for these critical products.
Over the summer, Grassley held a series of hearings titled, “Protecting the Reliability of the U.S. Medical Supply Chain During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Grassley highlighted the pandemic brings greater urgency to efforts to build resiliencies into our essential supply chains required to avoid shortages and protect American lives.
In 2020, Grassley continued hosting Iowa veterans to participate in the Library of Congress’s Veterans History Project. Established by Congress in 2000, the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress collects, preserves and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war. To date, more than 1,200 stories from Iowans have been recorded for the project. In November of 2018, Grassley’s office interviewed Iowa veterans at the Iowa Gold Star Museum at Camp Dodge in Des Moines to document their service to the nation. In May, he delivered 20 veterans’ recorded interviews and documents. In November of 2019, Grassley’s office interviewed Iowa veterans at Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown. In December, he delivered 11 veterans’ recorded interviews and documents. This year, Grassley’s staff interviewed Iowa veterans at the Waverly Area Veterans Post.
The Ensuring Quality Care for Our Veterans Act, authored by Sen. Ernst and cosponsored by Sens. Grassley, John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) unanimously passed the Senate in July. This bill requires that every health care provider hired by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with a revoked license must undergo a third party review of that provider’s care. If the review determines that a competent practitioner would have managed the veteran’s care differently, the veteran will be notified.
The U.S. Secretary of Interior announced at the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum in Johnston that starting on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2020, all U.S. veterans and Gold Star families will be given free entry into national parks, federal lands and wildlife refuges managed by the U.S. Department of Interior. This new, lifetime benefit provides free admission for millions of veterans and their families. Grassley praised this announcement and honored all the nation’s veterans for their dedication and sacrifice.
Additionally, Grassley urged his colleagues to join him in his decades-long effort to establish a memorial on the National Mall to those Black Revolutionary War patriots who fought for the founding of our country.
As a staunch proponent of rooting out waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government and as a founding member of the Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus, Grassley has long championed the cause of whistleblowers.
In March, Grassley introduced an amendment to the American Energy Innovation Act. This amendment addresses a critical shortcoming with the whistleblower protections currently available to the power sector employees responsible for maintaining and securing our nation’s electric grid. It also makes it clear that power sector employees who report threats to our electric grid are protected from retaliation.
Grassley also introduced the CFTC Fund Management Act. This legislation includes important updates to the Commodity Future Trading Commission’s highly successful whistleblower program, including an increase to the statutory cap for the fund used to pay whistleblower awards and new audit requirements designed to increase transparency.
The federal government recovered more than $3 billion in taxpayer dollars lost to fraud in 2019, using a law championed by Grassley. Whistleblower claims account for more than two-thirds of those recoveries. Since its enactment in 1986, the False Claims Act is responsible for more than $62 billion in recoveries, with Grassley’s whistleblower provision saving taxpayers more than $44.7 billion.
To honor the critical role played by whistleblowers in promoting good governance, Grassley introduced a resolution designating July 30, 2020, as "National Whistleblower Appreciation Day." It passed the Senate by unanimous consent.
This year, our country faced down a worldwide pandemic that produced a prolonged economic crisis. Although these are clearly divisive times, Grassley continued his work as one of the most bipartisan legislators in the Senate, working with his colleagues across the aisle to find solutions to the pressing problems we faced in 2020. Grassley looks forward to continuing that work in 2021, when he will once again assume Republican leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee even as he continues his important work on behalf of Iowans on the Finance, Budget, and Agriculture Committees.