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Sen. Chuck Grassley not giving up on police, prescription drug reforms

U.S. Sen Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, talks during an April 2013 interview on Fox Business Network in the Russell Senate Offi
U.S. Sen Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, talks during an April 2013 interview on Fox Business Network in the Russell Senate Office Building rotunda in Washington, D.C. (Stephen Mally/Freelance)

Although he’s disappointed by what he sees as a lack of cooperation from Senate Democrats on bipartisan prescription drug and police reforms, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said he hasn’t given up on either legislative effort.

He doesn’t think Senate Democrats will continue to block police reform efforts unless they want to make it a campaign issue to use against Republicans this fall.

“I don’t think they can get away with that,” Grassley said about the issue that has broad public support in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Black man, while in police custody.

Republicans backed a proposal to encourage state and local police departments to change their tactics by penalizing departments that do not require the use of body cameras and limit the use of chokeholds.

However, Senate Democrats blocked debate on the bill that its chief sponsor said was 75 percent the same as the package of reforms House Democrats approved.

“So I’m assuming we could still have police reform,” Grassley said.

And Thursday, Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, reintroduced bipartisan legislation he co-wrote with U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the committee. All provisions of this updated legislation have bipartisan support. Fellow Iowa Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst is a co-sponsor.

Their Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2020 originally passed out of the committee on a 19-9 vote, with the support of all the committee’s Democrats.

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However, Democrats walked away from the negotiations at the direction of their party leadership, Grassley said. They refused to join in the reintroduction of the bipartisan legislation they co-wrote for fear of helping Republicans and removing a line of partisan political attack for the November elections, he said.

“Democrats’ election year political games aren’t going to get in the way of our moving forward on behalf of the American people to lower prescription drug prices this Congress,” Grassley said. “The coronavirus pandemic makes our bipartisan work all the more urgent and necessary. There’s no better time to address health care affordability than in a public health crisis.”

The bill would cap out-of-pocket costs for Medicare recipients at $3,100 a year and allow payments to be spread over a year. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Grassley said the plan would save seniors and Americans with disabilities $72 billion in out-of-pocket costs, reduce premiums by $1 billion and save taxpayers nearly $100 billion over 10 years. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the plan’s spillover effects would save money for Americans in the commercial health market.

Also, after a White House meeting Wednesday, Grassley said he thought there would be good news on help for rural hospitals and health care.

There’s still talk that Congress and the president can agree on an infrastructure package, but if that happens, “I can only see things for roads and bridges,” Grassley said.

“I hope in the end, that some of this stuff can be done because we have to work for Americans and not play politics,” Grassley said.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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