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Grassley visits Sibley-Ocheyedan High School

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks Wednesday afternoon during a question-and-answer event with Sibley-Ocheyedan High School students at the high school in Sibley, Iowa. (RYAN McGAUGHEY/DAILY GLOBE)2 / 3
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks to students at Sibley-Ocheyedan High School during a Wednesday afternoon event in the school's auditorium. (RYAN McGAUGHEY/DAILY GLOBE)3 / 3

SIBLEY, Iowa -- For 33 years, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley has been visiting each of his state's 99 counties on an annual basis in an effort to connect with his constituents.

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On Wednesday, Grassley made an Osceola County stop, engaging Sibley-Ocheyedan High School students in a question-and-answer session of approximately 50 minutes. Students asked the longtime Republican senator an array of inquiries related to both domestic and world affairs -- queries that Grassley said demonstrate that high school students are in touch with important issues of the day.

"I hear all of these types of questions at all my other meetings," Grassley said afterward.

The 79-year-old lawmaker, who grew up in the Iowa community of New Harftord and began his career as a federal lawmaker with election to the House of Representatives in 1975, showed early on that his age hasn't deterred him from being engaged with social media. When a student asked Grassley why he doesn't like the History Channel, the senator replied, "You've been reading my tweets, haven't you?"

Grassley added: "I don't like the History Channel because they don't have enough history on it. ... 'Pawn Shops? (He was quickly corrected by a student; the program's name is 'Pawn Stars.') I don't need to be watching that."

The questions Grassley grew considerably more government-based after that. After speaking of how he likely has "more meetings with the president when there is a Republican president than with a Democratic president," a student posed a question as to the senator's position on American intervention in Syria.

"My answer will be reserved for this reason -- the president is making some decisions now, and he's our commander in chief, and I will wait and see what the commander in chief has to say," Grassley said. "I am dubious about too much involvement there."

Grassley added that in Syria, "they don't appear to be training terrorists," and said he was wary of giving aid to a faction that would be connected with al-Qaida.

"On the other hand, when you do have a treaty banning chemical weapons ... you have to make sure you respect international law," he stated.

The senator then pivoted to the topic of gas prices, stressing his belief that the U.S. needs to do everything it can to increase supply. In addition to harvesting its own fossil fuels, Grassley said renewables must continue to be critical.

"I was the author of the wind energy tax credit. ... I got that passed 21 years ago, and when I got that done I didn't know it would be the big thing that it is," he said, noting that Iowa ranks second in the nation in wind energy production. "I'm also a supporter of biofuels, and I also think it's legitimate to conserve as much as we can. I also think we need to promote nuclear energy."

Grassley added that he is "very much in favor" of the Keystone Pipeline project.

"It's common sense that we ought to be using as much North American energy as we can," he said. "Canada has made the decision, it's either going to send their oil to the U.S., or build a pipeline to British Columbia and then send it to China. ... If the president doesn't approve the Keystone Pipeline pretty soon, I think it's an issue that's going to come before Congress, and I will vote to build the pipeline (through the U.S.)."

In a question on immigration policy, Grassley emphasized the need for further border security, saying he believes a new bill coming out of the U.S. House will include measures in addressing such concerns. He also spoke of attempting to find ways of curbing soaring tuition costs at U.S. colleges and universities, noting that President Barack Obama has been speaking recently of the need to require colleges to be transparent about both tuition costs and how the quality of education that follows translates into employment after graduation.

"I also think when we increase Pell grants and increase the ability to get a student loan ... it says (to colleges), 'We can increase tuition costs," Grassley added. "You get a kind of bubble created."

When talking about business and the economy, the senator suggested that Washington and government in general get out of the way as much as possible.

"I believe that government consumes wealth, it doesn't create wealth," he said. "We have to leave the money in the grassroots of America. ... I'm convinced you can't raise taxes high enough to satisfy the appetite in Congress to spend money."

Grassley briefly addressed questions pertaining to gay marriage and religion in schools, noting in the latter area that faith is too often unnecessarily pre-empted.

"You can have a fear of being sued over such things as having a prayer before the football game -- that's a personal right (within) the First Amendment," he said. "You have a lot of anti-religion as a result."

The final question of the afternoon for Grassley -- who also paid visits to Lyon County (Rock Rapids) and Dickinson County (Spirit Lake) on Wednesday -- had to do with Social Security.

"This is probably the most important question a young person can ask," the senator said. "From 1936, when it started, until now, except for maybe a couple of years in the 1980s, there has always been more money coming in than going out in benefits. Starting about now, or a couple of years from now, it's going to be taking in less money from the payroll taxes than will be going out for benefits."

It's estimated that by 2033, Social Security will run dry.

"We have to make dramatic changes very soon," Grassley said. "It's an extremely politically sensitive issue, and it's very difficult to find a consensus."

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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