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Grassley speaks in Spirit Lake

Ryan McGaughey/Daily Globe U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, speaks Thursday during a Spirit Lake Kiwanis Club meeting.

SPIRIT LAKE, Iowa -- After beginning his presentation with a short statement, Sen. Chuck Grassley turned over his Thursday afternoon town meeting at Wesley Place to the approximately 75 people in attendance. Grassley, first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1980, was in Dickinson County as part of his annual jaunt across all of Iowa's 99 counties.

Grassley had appeared Tuesday at town meetings in O'Brien and Lyon counties, and also taken a tour at Osceola Community Hospital in Sibley. On Thursday, he spoke before Spirit Lake's Kiwanis club and several guests, and opened his program by saying he hoped to make one thing clearer than anything else.

"The biggest thing coming out of the election, and I say this in case you don't remember anything else I said, is this: After three months, I can say there is a recognition that the budget deficit has to be intervened in immediately," Grassley said. "Things that have never been done before have to be done."

Grassley explained House Speaker John Boehner "thought he was doing great things" when he introduced a budget plan that slashed $37 billion from federal spending, but many in his caucus wouldn't support it because cuts weren't deep enough.

"I think we're headed down the road that shows people an election can make a difference, particularly on the spending," he said.

Grassley added that it was important to note that "both caucuses are saying today, 'no earmarks,'" and said he read a Thursday USA Today report that indicated $4.8 billion of earmarks remain in House GOP spending bills.

The six-term senator then allowed about 30 minutes for questions on any subject. The first inquiry pertained to medical malpractice awards, with the questioner asking Grassley if his support for such awards meant he didn't have faith in the American jury system.

"I believe in the jury system; I just believe there should be a limit on punitive damages," Grassley said, noting that he thought such limits "would cut down very dramatically in the practice of defensive medicine."

Added Grassley: "Juries see insurance companies as bottomless pits, and when you see insurance companies as bottomless pits, it's a way of driving up premiums and driving up the cost of medicine."

Another question addressed the potential for a decrease in federal funding for Community Services Block Grants, which offer services to more than 350,000 individuals in counties throughout Iowa. Grassley said the funding has been eliminated in the House, and President Barack Obama has suggested trimming money for the grants by 50 percent.

"I believe it (funding) will be preserved, but probably closer to the level the president has proposed rather than what's in the House bill," Grassley said.

The senator expressed the hope that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi would leave his country, and noted officials are currently working to find "an easy way out" for the dictator.

One individual in attendance, reminding Grassley of the one-year anniversary of "Obamacare" -- Obama's controversial health care reform plan -- asked Grassley what he thought its positives and negatives were. Grassley said "the bad outweighed the good," noting he voted against Obamacare in the Senate as well as for its repeal.

While Grassley did have praise for some segments of the president's health care reform, he has constitutional questions about one key provision.

"Something that ought to come out ... is the mandatory purchase of health insurance," he said. "It's the first time the federal government has said you had to buy anything. If courts say that's not unconstitutional, there'll be no limit under the Commerce Clause."

Grassley was also asked if he felt a federal income tax would be part of the budget reduction program.

"It could be, but I would be leery of it," he responded, recalling a budget plan he voted on during President Ronald Reagan's administration. "It was supposed to be for every $1 we were raising taxes, there was to be a $3 reduction in expenditures. ... But, every year, appropriations get reviewed and get increased ... and pretty soon you aren't getting those $3 in reductions."

Grassley also said he supports increased U.S. oil drilling, noting that current policy "sends billions of dollars to people who don't like us." He also explained to one questioner why the U.S. has contributed as much as $1.03 billion a year, he said to Egypt, noting factors include a maintenance of peace between Egypt and Israel that would -- hopefully -- extend to other nations, as well as keeping a relationship with Egyptian intelligence on potential terrorist activity,

"Hopefully, after this (government) transition takes place, their government will still be willing to work with our government," Grassley said.

Ryan McGaughey

I first joined the Daily Globe in April 2001 as sports editor. I later became the news editor in November 2002, and the managing editor in August 2006. I'm originally from New York State, and am married with two children.

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