Sen. Charles Grassley (R)
Elected: 1980, term expires 2010, 5th term.
Born: Sept. 17, 1933, New Hartford .
Home: New Hartford.
Education: U. of N. IA, B.A. 1955, M.A. 1956, U. of IA, 1957-58.
Family: Married (Barbara); 5 children.
Elected office: IA House of Reps., 1958–74; U.S. House of Reps., 1974–80.
Professional Career: Farmer.
Charles Grassley, the senior senator from Iowa, was first elected to the House in 1974 and to the Senate in 1980. He grew up on a farm in Butler County near Waterloo. His parents switched to the Republican Party when Franklin Roosevelt ran for a third term in 1940. Grassley received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa, and while in graduate school, he ran for the state House in 1956, losing by only 70-some votes. Two years later, he ran again and was elected, at age 25. While he was in the state Legislature, he worked as a sheet metal shearer and on an assembly line. He won an open U.S. House seat in 1974, the hugely successful post-Watergate year for the Democrats, and six years later, he won his Senate seat by beating incumbent Democratic Sen. John Culver, the father of Gov. Chet Culver. Sen. Culver was an uncompromising liberal who came under fire from religious conservatives in 1980. Grassley was a conservative who had built up strong loyalty in his north central Iowa House district, which gave him nearly half his statewide lead over Culver. In his other career, as a part-time farmer, Grassley inherited an 80-acre farm in 1960 and has added to it over the years. It’s now a 710-acre concern that produces corn and soybeans. Grassley’s son manages the farm, but the senator likes to go back to help out in the fields on weekends, sometimes conducting congressional business on the cellphone that he keeps tucked under his cap. He stays in touch with his state in other ways, too. He has held meetings in each of the state’s 99 counties every year that he has served in the Senate.
|Charles Grassley (R)||1,038,175||(70%)||($6,403,445)|
|Arthur Small (D)||412,365||(28%)||($135,503)|
|Charles Grassley (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 1998 (68%), 1992 (70%), 1986 (66%), 1980 (54%), 1978 House (75%), 1976 House (57%), 1974 House (51%)
Though he’s a steady conservative on social issues—he opposes abortion rights and most gun control initiatives—Grassley is also a populist in the American agrarian tradition. He has distinguished himself in Congress as a defender of government whistle-blowers and other underdogs, and he has made oversight of bloated, indifferent or corrupt government agencies a focal point of his Senate career. To the chagrin of his party, Grassley also takes on well-heeled political contributors when they raise his ire, as many a pharmaceutical executive can attest. Throughout the George W. Bush era, Grassley repeatedly went after Food and Drug Administration officials who he thought were too cozy with the industries they were supposed to regulate. In 2006, he tried unsuccessfully to hold up the confirmation of FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach after accusing the agency of withholding key information about the antibiotic Ketek during a congressional investigation into whether the FDA based its approval of the drug on fraudulent clinical safety data. Back in the mid-1980s, Grassley’s first major legislative achievement was passage of the Federal False Claims Act, which authorized lawsuits for fraud on behalf of the government; he says it has since brought the taxpayers more than $17 billion.
Over the years, Grassley has conducted intensive oversight of the FBI, the Homeland Security Department, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the FDA. One of his recent targets was Smithsonian Institution Chairman Lawrence Small, who was audited by Grassley’s committee and found to have charged the government over $1 million for a mansion that was rarely used in an official capacity and for first-class travel around the globe for himself and his wife. Grassley lambasted Small for his “champagne lifestyle,” and the once-powerful museums chief resigned. In 2007 and early 2008, Grassley went after televangelists, though they too are typically pro-Republican. To determine whether six preachers who espouse a “prosperity gospel” were abiding by the rules of their tax-exempt status, he demanded that they hand over information about their expenses, compensation, and amenities. Grassley has long advocated that Congress follow the same laws it imposes on citizens, and he was the chief Senate sponsor of the sweeping Congressional Accountability Act of 1995.
As a farmer, Grassley supported both the Republicans’ 1996 Freedom to Farm law that attempted to phase out government subsidies and the subsequent disaster payments to farmers when they suffered financially under the law. He opposed the 2002 farm bill, drafted by Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, on the grounds that it allowed a higher limit on subsidies than the $275,000 that Grassley had persuaded the Senate to vote for. “A number of folks have been saying this is a good bill, and I’d say those folks are part right. It’s a good bill if you’re a cotton and rice producer. The problem is, we don’t grow those commodities in my state of Iowa.” He has consistently argued that high payments to individual farmers put the whole program in political jeopardy. A July 2007 Government Accountability Office report that Grassley requested revealed that the Agriculture Department had given more than $1 billion to deceased farmers from 1999 to 2005. Grassley pushed an amendment to the 2008 budget to cap payments to farmers at $250,000. He also attacked the 2007 farm bill for lacking a ban on meatpackers’ owning livestock, which he has long supported.
Grassley has served two stints as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, in the first half of 2001 and from 2003 to 2007. With Democrats in control of the Senate, Grassley is now the ranking Republican on the committee. Over the years, he has had close relations and weekly meetings with his Democratic counterpart, Max Baucus of Montana, often to the dismay of conservative Republicans who think Grassley is too accommodating of Baucus. But the working relationship between the two was crucial to many of the GOP initiatives during the George W. Bush era. Grassley and Baucus rounded up bipartisan support for the massive tax cuts early in Bush’s first term. And Grassley was one of the leaders in passage of the prescription drug benefit under Medicare in 2003. Throughout the process he was careful to look after the interests of rural health care providers and to seek changes in the Medicare reimbursement formula that gave Iowa less reimbursement per beneficiary than any other state. After the bill passed, he defended it against continuing Democratic attacks and also monitored its implementation. In 2007, Grassley helped stop Democratic efforts to pass a measure that Republicans had expressly kept out of the earlier bill: to allow the government to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. The industry balked at the greatly enhanced powers the bill would give the government in setting prices, and Grassley threatened to filibuster any such bill that came to the floor. Also in 2007, Grassley worked with Baucus to secure Senate support to expand the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program, though House Republicans then sustained a presidential veto. After pleading with Bush to sign the bill, Grassley accused the White House of “throwing cold water in my face.”
Grassley argued in 2006 that major changes in Social Security could not happen even if Republicans had retained their majorities. “If you’re going to change our entitlement programs or have a simplified tax system, it has to be an issue of national debate, and that can only happen in a presidential election.” Instead, he worked for incremental changes. With his populist bent, he has for years pursued “fairness” in the tax code. He sought a charitable deduction for non-itemizers and tighter rules for foundations, with tougher penalties. He led the committee to tighten the rules on partial gifts of art, which allowed donors to retain possession while receiving tax deductions. “Call it what it is, a subsidy for millionaires to buy art. Where I come from, the word ‘giving’ doesn’t mean ‘keeping.’ ” He sent a letter to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City demanding to know the number of partial gifts and staff salaries. A headline in the The New York Times in 2006 called him “The Man Museums Love to Hate.”
In 2007, Grassley joined Baucus in backing a bill to repeal the alternative minimum tax, which has been ensnaring an increasing number of middle-income taxpayers in addition to the wealthy itemizers it was designed to catch. But Grassley also said it would be unfair to raise other taxes to repeal the AMT. That year, he also questioned the tax exemption for college and university athletic activities, suggesting that donations to coaches’ salaries amounted to a taxpayer subsidy. He scored a notable success in 2007 when several major universities with huge endowments agreed to spend a larger amount each year on student financial aid. “For the first time in years, we’re hearing good news about tuition and affordability,” he said.
Corn-based ethanol is an important product of Iowa’s agribusiness, and Grassley has used his influence on the committee to win advantageous tax treatment of ethanol. He has also sought tax incentives for biodiesel, made with soybean oil or recycled cooking oil. The United States is a major exporter of agricultural products, and Grassley has been a supporter of free trade, with one major exception. He backed the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993 and strongly supported normal trade relations with China and the Central American Free Trade Agreement in the 1990s. But he proposed an amendment to the Caribbean Basin Initiative to limit imports of duty-free ethanol. His goal was to avoid giving entry to Brazil’s sugar-based ethanol, which would compete with Iowa’s ethanol.
Grassley also serves on the Judiciary Committee, where for years he was the chief sponsor of the bankruptcy law overhaul bill that finally passed and was signed into law in 2005. He took special care to see that Chapter 12, which applies to farmers, would allow them to reorganize their debt without creditors’ consent.
For more than two decades, Grassley has been the most popular politician in Iowa. “I commune with Iowans on a regular basis, and I think they know that. They appreciate it, and they don’t feel like Washington has gone to my head. I suppose if I don’t get smug and overconfident, I’ll be re-elected,” he said in 2004, shortly before he was returned to the Senate by a vote of 70%-28%. He regularly hosts dozens of foreign ambassadors at the Iowa State Fair to introduce them to agribusiness. In 1986, he became the first Iowa senator to win re-election in 20 years, with a record 66% of the vote. In 1992, he won 70%-27%, carrying all 99 counties. In 1998, against a Democrat who campaigned by taking trips down Iowa’s rivers, he won 68%-30%, again carrying every single county. Grassley plans to run for re-election in 2010 and has now served Iowa in the Senate longer than anyone but William B. Allison, whose record he will beat if he stays until June 2016, three months before he turns 83. “With my seniority,” Grassley says, “I am worth more to my employer, the people of Iowa, than I was before.”