November 03,2004

Grassley on Senate Outlook, Committee Priorities for Next Year


To: Reporters and Editors
Re: Finance Committee priorities in the new Congress
Da: Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2004

Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Committee on Finance, is expected to resume the chairmanship when the new Congress convenes next year. He made the following comment on items expected to come before the committee in the coming months.

“I’m grateful for the continued opportunity to serve. The Finance Committee was veryactive in the 108th Congress, and our work carried on the committee’s bipartisan tradition. Thebipartisan tradition will continue. Senator Baucus and I have worked together many times to movelegislation forward, and I believe we’ll do that many more times. Even with the Republican gainof Senate seats, bipartisanship will still be the grease that keeps the legislative engine moving.Policy is stronger when more people contribute to the process.

“Generally I hope the committee will look to extend our tax relief legacy in 2005, whiledeveloping new proposals aimed at improving the quality of health care, helping individuals dealwith rising health care costs, and increasing retirement savings.

“We should look for as much permanence of previously enacted tax relief measures aspossible. Taxpayers should see no lapse in tax relief. Continued economic growth depends on that.We likely will act to extend key tax breaks set to expire at the end of 2005, such as the collegetuition deductibility and the low-income savers’ credit.

“This year, we enacted the most comprehensive tax abuse loophole closers package in ageneration. I plan to continue working to close loopholes that allow individuals, companies, andcharities to abuse the tax code.

“Long-term, the committee will work with the President as he seeks to simplify andrestructure the tax code. The President plans to appoint a bipartisan advisory committee on taxreform to consider changes. I’ve said it’ll take a national consensus on how to proceed on major taxreform. It might be that President Bush’s re-election will produce that consensus.

“On the pension front, we need to adopt a permanent interest rate to be used for calculatingpension liabilities. The temporary corporate bond rate that we enacted earlier this year will expireat the end of 2005, and it’s critical that we find a permanent replacement as soon as possible. I hopewe can continue to build on the positive pension reforms that I worked to have included in the 2001tax cut bill. I also hope we can enact the Enron-inspired participant protections included in my bill,known by the acronym ‘NESTEG.’ These participant protections are too important to be allowedto languish any longer.

“On the health care front, I expect the committee to continue to oversee implementation ofthe historic Medicare Modernization Act. It’s also very important to address the numbers ofuninsured Americans. The 44 million people who are uninsured represent a cross-section ofAmerica. There’s not a one--fits-all solution to this growing problem. The Senate Republicans’approach reflects that. We need to continue to work together to find solutions that lower health costsand improve access. Last year we took a big step forward in helping people retake control of theirown health care by expanding the former Medical Savings Accounts into new, innovative HealthSavings Accounts. These accounts can be very useful, and we need to make sure they work well.

“We also need to make sure Flexible Spending Accounts work as efficiently as possible.Today, FSAs are hampered by the so-called ‘use it or lose it’ rule that requires employees to forfeitamounts set aside in an FSA that are not used by the end of the year. I’ve asked Secretary Snow tohave the Treasury Department take a look at re-writing this rule in a more common-sense way thatcould, for example, allow employees to carry over a modest amount into the next year.

“The bottom line is, we need to examine the costs and quality of the care provided in ourhealth care system and have a thoughtful and careful debate on health care policy next year.

“Developing a plan to protect and improve Social Security will be a complex and challengingtask. It’ll require the support of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Now that PresidentBush has been re-elected, I’m hopeful that under his leadership we can build the bipartisanconsensus we need to succeed.

“Welfare reform legislation is well overdue, held up by the Democratic leaders. I hope we’llbe able to move forward with an updated welfare system that makes more sense for people tryingto move from welfare to work.

“On the trade front, we have to work out how to advance the Central American Free TradeAgreement, against some opposition from unions and sugar producers who oppose increased sugarimports. Early next year, we expect to review a likely request by President Bush for the renewal ofTrade Promotion Authority. It’s set to expire next year and will be renewed automatically if thePresident requests it, unless Congress votes to disapprove it. I’m pleased with the trade agreementsthe President and Congress have advanced under Trade Promotion Authority. I look forward tocontinuing that success. I also hope we’ll be able to open up world services and agricultural marketsto U.S. exports through World Trade Organization negotiations. So far, we’ve taken full advantageof trade opportunities, and I’m confident we won’t let them wither on the vine.”

“One of the important responsibilities the Constitution granted to the Congress is to conductvigorous oversight of executive branch operations. During the 109th Congress, the Committee willcontinue to investigate and conduct oversight hearings over many of the important and timely issuesfacing the nation. I believe oversight is critically important in helping to make government moretransparent, more accountable, and more effective for the taxpayers, program participants, andbeneficiaries. Government truly is the people’s business, and the people who finance it have a rightto know what their government is doing and how it is spending their money. One of the best waysto achieve transparency in government operations is through consistent, comprehensivecongressional oversight. This level of attention will help ensure a high degree of ethics and honestyby public servants.”