U.S. Senate Debate

Iowa Press | Special
Oct 6, 2022 | 59 min

Candidates retired Navy admiral Mike Franken (D – Sioux City) and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R – New Hartford) answer questions from reporters and discuss their platforms, concerns and future plans.


The race for Senator features Iowa's longest serving Senator and a retired Navy Admiral. We'll question Chuck Grassley and Mike Franken on this live Iowa Press Debate.


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For decades Iowa Press has brought you political leaders and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Live from Iowa PBS Studios in Johnston, this is a special Iowa Press Debate featuring candidates for U.S. Senate. Here is Moderator Kay Henderson.


Henderson: For the next hour, we will explore the views of the two men running to represent Iowans in the United States Senate for the next six years. Let's meet the candidates. Democrat Mike Franken is from Sioux City. He is a retired Navy Admiral seeking his first elected office. Republican Chuck Grassley of New Hartford was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1980. He is seeking an 8th term. Welcome to you both.

Grassley: Thank you.

Franken: Very pleased.

Henderson: Reporters joining me in the questioning are Erin Murphy, Des Moines Bureau Chief of the Gazette in Cedar Rapids and Brianne Pfannenstiel, Chief Political Reporter for the Des Moines Register.

Pfannenstiel: Chuck Grassley, for years you have garnered significant bipartisan support from across the state as you have run for re-election. The Des Moines Register polling suggests that that may no longer be the case. Why should democrats and independents vote for you this November?

Grassley: Well, first of all, before I answer that question I want to thank Iowa Public Broadcasting for hosting this as a very important part of the people making a choice for election. I want to thank my opponent for his service, military service, a long period of time that he served the people of Iowa. And I would also like to say that I'm running for re-election because I love Iowa, I love the people of Iowa and I want to continue to work for the people of Iowa. And if I'm re-elected to the United States Senate, so this is answering your question, if I'm re-elected to the United States Senate I will be number one in the United States Senate, Iowa will be number one on my agenda whether you're republican, democrat or independent. And my opponent will be number 100. And I want to be able to serve Iowans and running for re-election another way to serve the people, republican, democrat and independents according to your question would be to simply say that I'm going to go to Washington again and hopefully be in the majority to undo these awful policies of this administration. And my opponent has said that Biden is doing a fabulous job. The people of Iowa, republican, democrat, independent, they come to my 99 county meetings, they think inflation and energy and the border are out of control.

Pfannenstiel: Mike Franken, registered republicans now outnumber active democrats in this state. Why should republicans vote for you as well?

Franken: Well, I think a lot of republicans have the same essence of why this election is so important as I do. Certainly on January 6th of last year there was an attack on democracy. And going back in my lifetime, Senator Grassley's lifetime, his parents going back to the Civil War, never have we had a situation where over a half of a political party has voted to violate the results of an election. Think about this, the basic premise for democracy, one person one vote, toss it out, it no longer matters. If they were a football team they would never have to go on the field but yet they would win every game. This is the concept of the republicans today. They don't like the election so they're going to change it and they're now normalizing that behavior. Now, Senator Grassley has had an opportunity to refute that, to use that leadership that he has that he talks about to good use and to quell this nonsense that is causing this divisiveness in this nation. Do remember that back in January of '02 when this country was completely coalesced together coming off of 9/11, the people that have been in leadership positions since that time have also led us astray. The nation is doing the splits. And the thing that drives rural Iowa apart, troubles so many communities, is this terrible divisiveness. And Chuck Grassley could do way more than that and he doesn't, he refuses. He is part of the Bessemer furnace to fan the flames of this in this crave and desire to stay in office. I will be like the young draft pick, that person that is going to bring the team up and I've got the vivaciousness and the intellect, the ideas, a life full of experiences living across the world, across the globe and I'll bring the best of breed coming back to the state of Iowa to be your best senator ever.

Grassley: I can understand why my opponent wants to talk about January 6th. By the way, I'm going to be voting for a bill that will change a lot of things in the 1886 law that makes what happened when the democrats did it in 2001, democrats did it in 2004, democrats did it in 2017, republicans did it in 2020 because it's so easy to challenge. And the question of whether or not the Vice President should have stepped in and stopped things is ridiculous even under the Constitution. And so we're going to make clear that the Vice President's role is counting votes, nothing more. And then we're going to make sure that not just one person in the House or one person in the Senate can challenge these electoral votes. It's going to have to be at least 20% of each house to do that.

Murphy: And we're going to get to that topic later so we appreciate you talking about that. I wanted to ask now the Senate majority, as you mentioned Senator Grassley, is in the balance in this election across the country. Mike Franken, we'll start with you here, if democrats should keep that majority what is the first thing that the Senate should do with its agenda setting?

Franken: I think we ought to address health care in America and part of that health care is women's reproductive freedoms. The next issue is immigration. We must fix immigration at the border, provide the necessary workforce for the jobs. Every business in Iowa needs workers. This has been the political football for way too long. I would attack this and get a comprehensive immigration plan passed. Next, we need more responsible gun ownership in America. Now, no one is going to gunsplain me on this issue and Senator Grassley touts his number one in the nation, number one of 100 Senators to be the most pro-gun industry, lobbying and NRA of all the Senators. This doesn't help the high violence that we have with guns in America. I am looking for responsible gun ownership and I'll be the leader in that engagement because I'm I think well schooled in this area.

Murphy: Chuck Grassley, same question for you. If republicans should reclaim a majority in the Senate what is the first thing they should do?

Grassley: The Grassley Wyden Bill to reduce prescription drug prices by making sure that one year over another year you can't have more than an increase in drug prices of CPI. The second thing is I hope to get it passed yet this year, but if we don't get it passed our cattle feeders in the Midwest do not have a fair market because the four biggest meatpackers almost a monopoly control the market with the cozy relationship between the Texas and Kansas feedlots. So an independent producer in Iowa doesn’t get a chance to market their product. The other thing is Klobuchar Grassley, a bipartisan bill, we're taking on Amazon and Google and other platforms that are cheating the small businesses that use those platforms so that they, by prioritizing their own product. So that is economic discrimination that we have to put a stop to. And those are the things that I would prioritize that I'm involved in. But things that I'm involved in as a group, I think we have a responsibility to make sure that Social Security and Medicare are alive and well for our grandchildren and children and it's easier to do that yesterday than it is tomorrow. And that has got to be of immediate importance. And then something that I've advocated for a long time that I think is the only thing that is going to bring fiscal responsibility to the federal government is to have a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget, just like most of our states have and Iowa has that same thing.

Henderson: Thank you. Mike Franken, you have said that the Senate should codify Roe v. Wade. How should the bill define viability, which was part of that ruling?

Franken: Well, the short of it is during these most private times, personal times in a woman's life we shouldn't have the government stepping in to determine when viability exists, etcetera. The doctor knows this, the woman knows this. This is not something for government to step in and make those determinations.

Henderson: Senator Grassley, after the Dobbs ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court you have said that the abortion issue is now to be decided by elected officials in the states. However, some of your republican colleagues in the Senate have been talking about a nationwide abortion ban. If it is brought up on the Senate floor will you vote no?

Grassley: I think everybody knows that throughout my life I've been pro-life, pro-mother, pro-family. I think the Supreme Court decision was the right decision. Now, for 50 years because the Supreme Court decision was the law of the land I accepted it. The Supreme Court has overturned that back to the states so elected representatives of the people of the United States get a chance to voice their opinion through their elected representatives and that surely is better in a democracy than unelected judges of the courts to make that decision. And that is where I stand and if you look at what my opponent wants to do he has the most extreme position on abortion you can have. He wants abortion to be available to the last minute birth. He wants taxpayers to pay for that abortion. And he doesn't want parents to have a voice in the abortion of a minor. I think that is a very extreme position.

Henderson: Mike Franken?

Franken: Some of those are a surprise to me. But let me say this, that Chuck Grassley has made a career since first announced this in 1972 to go after a woman's right to choose. Now, I have a long career supporting people's rights, our way of life internationally and domestically in the United States military. And it's very interesting that I come back here now having to defend rights of a woman to choose what is best for her. And this last little bit that he mentioned in a woman's pregnancy, this is the most personal time of all. The name has been chosen of that child, the room has been painted, the cradle has been bought, gifts have been made, cards have been sent out and a malady happens. A woman's life is in danger. Chuck Grassley's world is let health just rule the day, no exceptions, no bans when in fact this doesn't happen in reality. This is a private time where a tough decision has to be made where a lawyer being in the room is not part of the equation nor is an intrusive government and a Supreme Court that is idealized after Senator Grassley.

Henderson: Senator Grassley --

Grassley: I think my opponent ought to be ashamed of himself because he has put up a TV ad that says that I'm not for any exceptions for abortions and I pointed out, you folks in the news media would have gotten our press release, multiple times where I am exception for life of the mother, rape and incest and yet he is still running that ad. I think that what I've said on abortion is where I stand because I'm pro-life, pro-mother, pro-family and everybody knows where I stand.

Henderson: Just a quick follow up. You said elected representatives should make the decision. Does that mean elected representatives at the federal level?

Grassley: Well, obviously it could be at the federal level but we've been waiting for a long period of time to get this back to the states and that's where it should be and that's where I want it to be.

Murphy: If Senator Graham's bill came up on a nationwide ban how would you vote? Yes or no?

Grassley: I would vote no but usually that question comes another way because I did support a bill before and I supported a bill before because then before the Supreme Court decision it was a federal issue. Now it's a state issue.

Pfannenstiel: Let's move onto another topic that is in the news today. President Biden announced that he will pardon thousands of Americans who were convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law and review how the drug is scheduled. Chuck Grassley, given your work on sentencing reform, do you think this is a good idea?

Grassley: There's no doubt about it that the President of the United States has the constitutional authority to do what he did. We haven't had a lot of time to reflect on it. But one of the things that comes to my mind is very few people on marijuana charges are in federal prison. Most of them, 90% of them are in state prisons, 10% well that's kind of the ratio between federal and state prison populations. Anyway, when something like that gets to the state, gets to trial it is usually something that is very, very much bigger than just selling or using marijuana or dealing in marijuana. And sometimes these are reduced to maybe just a marijuana charge by plea bargaining. And if that is part, that's something you've got to take into consideration. Another thing I think is my work with Durbin and Biden, or Durbin and me on the First Step Act, prison justice reform, the first reform in 30 years gives anybody that had an unreal sentence given to them that they could in turn under the First Step Act go back to the judge and get their thing reduced. I think that takes everything into consideration that the President's act doesn't. But I can't find any fault with the President's action because it is constitutional. Whether it is exactly right I haven't made that determination yet.

Pfannenstiel: Mike Franken, you have said you support legalizing recreational marijuana. Should that be regulated individually at the state level? Or would you support a federal law?

Franken: No I think the best thing to do, this is step one to decriminalize it across the nation. And I haven't read the intricacies of this bill but if you decriminalize it at the federal level where transactions and business associated with marijuana growing and distribution in the states that have legalized it, it becomes legal nationally, this will compel states to all get on board because this is a drug, recreational or otherwise, which will decrease the cost of some pharmaceuticals, provide people alternatives. It's a known quantity to be net value from a medical perspective. And I anticipate that the reduction in criminality associated with keeping it as a category 1 will have great impact in terms of reducing the amount of crime let alone how this has been rather unsettled in terms of its application to minorities. Certainly there is a lack of leveling as to who it applies to and the number of people in prison associated with marijuana usage is far out of proportion to the races.

Grassley: Most of this -- I'm sorry --

Franken: That's okay, please go ahead.

Grassley: Most of these marijuana comes across the border, an open border. It seems like my opponent believes in an open border because he said the wall was an idiotic thing. And we've got to control the border, not just for marijuana but for fentanyl that killed 200 Iowans, 70,000 Americans and with an open border this stuff is just coming into the country and just a little bit, below an ounce, I don't measure, but just a little bit and a lot less will kill one person. So there's enough fentanyl coming into this country to kill our population seven times over and we've got to control the border. And I wish my opponent believed in controlling the border.

Franken: So I do have a history in the military I think for more years than any other Iowan. So open borders and a military service really doesn't jive. And I'm a law and order type of individual and I believe civil authority reigns supreme in a free and open society. So let that just hang there. Regarding the fentanyl coming across the border, a vast amount of it is shipped in via packages via DHL and the mail and the like. That is well known in the authorities. That which is brought across the border isn't being humped back by illegal people crossing, by undocumented individuals crossing the border. It has come across in traffic, merchandising and trucks, etcetera. Let's be honest about this. And yes, it has to be controlled, it has to be fixed and this is a great way to begin working on that.

Grassley: I wish my opponent wouldn't take sovereignty, he was in the Navy for so long defending the sovereignty of the United States but when you have an open border we are no longer a sovereign nation.

Murphy: We do have immigration on the agenda. Hopefully we'll get to that in a little bit. We want to move on for now. Mike Franken, right now Iowans are seeing you in a campaign ad in which you say Senators "have no role whatsoever in bringing down inflation". Should we take this to mean that if elected to the Senate you and the Senate see no role for yourselves in addressing inflation?

Franken: On the contrary, there is no instantaneous thing you can do as a Senator that is going to suddenly reduce inflation. Now, my opponent has seen these wafting moments of inflation come and go through his career. As a matter of fact, when he entered the Senate I remember this because I bought my first house with a mortgage rate of 14.7% during the Reagan era when the republicans owned the Senate and the White House and it stayed there for a very high time, for a long time and then it became the Farm Crisis followed by the savings and loan debacle of the '80s. Bad management. While the '80s was going on of course the national debt went up and the tax rate for the uber wealthy went down. This is nirvana for the republicans. Yes, there's many things you can do. Number one, during his career they have exported manufacturing. Then during the Trump years they put a stop on immigration. So goods coming in, services, future employment both got stopped. During his time he should have seen this, he's seen it happen before. He should know better frankly. There's many things we can do. The other thing we can do is cut the cost of say health care. He had the opportunity to cut the costs of insulin, $35 for Medicare patients and he steps aside by a procedural manner. He has an opportunity to reduce the cost of pharmaceuticals. The last time he introduced a bill on this as I recall the Des Moines Register called it worse than nothing. You know, we can do a lot as a Senator, but it takes longstanding altruism and intellect to make it happen and not be a stooge for big corporations.

Murphy: Chuck Grassley, and we're also going to address prescription drug costs later, but on inflation you have criticized President Biden's spending. What else, specifically what legislation have you proposed or would you support that would help address inflation?

Grassley: I've got to answer this issue about in 2006 was the last time that I put in a bill dealing with pharmaceuticals. Don't forget that that's when the bill that I got passed Part D of Medicare because Medicare never had anything to help seniors with pharmaceuticals between 1966 and 2003 and I led the battle as Chairman of the Finance Committee to get that done. So I don't think he's in a position to tell me that I haven't done something on this issue. Anyway, inflation is number one on the issues that I hear from my constituents. And what would you expect when Larry Summers, former Secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton administration, an outstanding economist, said in January before this new administration took place that don't spend anymore money or you're going to feed the fires of inflation. Remember, inflation was 1.4% when this President went in and you can't blame the war in Ukraine like Biden wants to do because it was still 6% at the start of that war. And so consequently within 60 days after they were sworn in with a democratic majority they spent another $2 trillion, then in August of this year another $714 trillion and then forgive student debt and another $567 billion. So just feeding the fires of inflation, not listening to their own is what has made this inflation. And it is transitory. So the answer to your question for me is when you're in a hole you quit digging but the democrats are not quitting digging. And my opponent says when he was asked about how do you grade Biden, well he's doing a fabulous job. So it's quite certain that if he were in the United States Senate he would be a rubber stamp for the continuation of these policies.

Pfannenstiel: Chuck Grassley, let's talk about President Biden's student loan forgiveness program, which you have opposed. Large corporations get major tax breaks every year. Farmers benefit from subsidies. So why shouldn't low and middle income Americans benefit from this targeted relief?

Grassley: Because the signed promise to repay their debt and that's the reason for it. But it could be a slippery slope. Is somebody going to say they need some help on their car loans, on their house mortgage? It just starts out there. But first of all, very basic to the Constitution. The President himself said for 18 months he didn't have the authority to do it. Pelosi said several times on television only Congress can do it. So if he doesn't have the authority to do it how could he do it? He said that. But the main thing is the total unfairness of it. People at John Deere that never went to college, paid for student loans, people that paid off their loans, the unfairness of that. Just stop to think where does this end if you start down this road? So I want people to know where I stand. I don't think he has the authority to do it. I'm a co-sponsor of a bill by Senator Thune to make sure it can't happen again and maybe the courts will step in, I hope they step in and say he doesn't have the authority to do it just like stepping in a lot of times in this administration saying you've overstepped your authority.

Pfannenstiel: Mike Franken, you told us on a debate stage here actually that you had a lot of concerns about forgiving student loan debt. But when President Biden unveiled his plan you called it a "welcome first step". Has your stance on this issue changed? And if so, why?

Franken: Well, to address the Senator's last comment is all fearful of the bailouts. We bailed out banks in America, we bailed out car companies, we bailed out a lot of industries through the years. I'm not a big fan of bailout of student debt. I want to fix the problem, something the could have done any time between now and 63 years going back because it progressively got worse. When I was in school you could work seven weeks or so at the slaughter house, two and a half months maybe max and pay for an entire year of school because the wage scale was such that we could do that. Since that time republican governors have detracted from what states help out for school, we keep charging students for interest rates that are exorbitantly high, there's lots of fixes that we can do. He has offered none. So I'm happy that the next generation wants to get educated. I'm not a big fan of bailouts either when oftentimes the education doesn't justify the cost. And I also don't want people who have got a professional education that they paid a lot for but they can earn a lot. So there needs to be a balance in here and we should need thought provoking individuals to make those decisions.

Grassley: There may be an implication that I don't know what it is to go to college and pay for it. I want everybody to know that I went to the University of Northern Iowa after I got out of New Hartford High School, worked from 3 until 11:30 five nights a week at the packing company in Waterloo to get a BA and MA degree. There's a lot of people this very day, I just had somebody today tell me that their son was working his way through college, another son was borrowing money and you don't want to forget there's more than one way of going to college other than just borrowing money.

Henderson: Candidates, we have a lot of questions here, let's get to the next one. It's about Ukraine. Chuck Grassley, some of your fellow republicans have said if republicans take control of Congress they should cut off aid to Ukraine. Do you agree?

Grassley: Not now, not now and maybe never. But that never is connected to Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization being triggered in so that we would have to then defend wherever Putin went into Europe into NATO nations and I hope that the American people will be patient to understand that helping Ukraine now will save us a lot of money later on if Putin is stopped right now. I believe that our President has done a reasonably good job in this area as Commander in Chief, maybe six months a little bit late. But I think my opponent has said that we should put, if there is a nuclear attack on the part of Putin that we should put American troops in Ukraine. I don't believe American troops should go to Ukraine.

Henderson: Mike Franken, Vladimir Putin has threatened nuclear warfare involved in this conflict. What happens next for America if that were to occur?

Franken: Sure, so Vladimir Putin, Vlad the Impaler, whose flag is prominently displayed on republican leadership logos, whose lap dog Orban is where the republican leadership goes for meetings. He is the guy that the previous President definitely kowtowed to for some interesting reasons. What you get with me is a clear eyed long view of the world. And Vlad is not finished in Ukraine. Now yes, I agree with the Senator, we were late to need in Ukraine. I didn't think he was going to do this, this invasion. Other people were more right than me on this issue. But two months out was a little too late to provide the necessary capabilities for the Ukrainians to defend their border. Now that the war is in a hot war situation we need to realize that anything short of pushing the Russian soldiers across that border will involve yet another chapter of Russia extending the great white Russia into the neighboring countries. We need to be very careful here. And regarding putting American troops in a combat zone, no one knows more about this than perhaps me, having spent more years in a combat theater in command than I think all of the republicans in the U.S. Senate combined. So I said aid workers to help with the terrible burn victims as a result of a nuclear weapon, American workers, yes the international workers, like-minded countries because this will be a declaration of readiness that this country has not seen since the '60s.

Henderson: Soldiers? Military?

Franken: Well, some will be soldiers but it doesn't mean they have to be armed. This is their expertise, they are called CBR soldiers, this is what they do. You can't really do it without soldiers because they've got the kit to do the necessary work.

Grassley: I think it would be very dangerous to send soldiers in without weapons so that they could protect themselves.

Franken: If you're going to be a broad shouldered nation in the world, if you want to be a leadership nation then you've got to take those risks. That is why we joined the military. We take the military, we swear the oath I will support and defend the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. He has given this oath as well I'd say a dozen times. So have I. I take it seriously. I'm not so sure he does.

Henderson: Brianne?

Pfannenstiel: Chuck Grassley, we were talking at the start of this debate about your support for the Electoral Count Act, changes to update that act. What more needs to be done to protect the peaceful transfer of presidential power?

Grassley: I think since it happened because of the 1886 law and I think a misreading of the 1886 law that changing this law and making it more difficult to challenge the electoral votes it counts I think is a big step forward. And I'm not saying that nothing else should be done but that's it. Now, there's some things that are talked about being done that I don't think should be done. The House of Representatives twice has passed a voting bill that would federalize all elections and do away with the 50 state elections and I think that would be a wrong move because if there's fraud in Chicago under a federal law it would dilute the votes of Iowans whereas when we do it through state law what happens in Chicago isn't going to dilute the vote of Iowans.

Pfannenstiel: Let's keep talking about January 6th. On that day last year you were serving as Senate President Pro Tem, so there was a chance that you could have presided over the counting of electoral votes in place of Vice President Mike Pence. If you had done that, would you have approved the count and certified Joe Biden as President as Mike Pence did?

Grassley: Yeah, you are reading something that was misreported and that misreporting was corrected a long, long time ago, within just a few weeks after it put up. And what I was talking about that was misquoted was if something comes back from the joint session to the Senate to debate whether or not there should be some challenge to those electors from a specific state, then usually always when the Vice President doesn't preside, I preside and that is what I was talking about and it was misreported and it was corrected.

Pfannenstiel: And just to clarify for voters at home who maybe don't now the ins and outs, would you have approved Joe Biden and announced him as the winner of that election the way Mike Pence did?

Grassley: That's not even a legitimate question because we are taking care of that issue right now by making sure in this legislation that I hope passes in November, December when we get back that the Vice President it at no discretion whatsoever. His job is strictly ministerial, just count the votes, nothing more.

Pfannenstiel: Mike Franken, what policies do you believe need to be enacted to preserve the peaceful transfer of power and prevent the kinds of confrontations we saw on January 6th?

Franken: Well, so Senator Grassley mentioned the previous objections the democrats made. Just so you know, the majority vote of Americans in every one of those presidential elections, every one, was democrat. So the majority of Americans voted for a democratic president and we ended up with a republican president. And there wasn't any violence. Do recall, no violence. The country sat without a president for weeks as we counted votes in Florida. The democrats did the honorable thing, they waited for the process to work and they saluted smartly and went about their business. That is the democrat way of believing in democracy. The republican way is to kill people and assaulting the Capitol, to erect a gallows. Really? And then to have opportunities in the state of Iowa where someone stands up and says, Senator Grassley, what are you going to do to get those people, those patriots out of Gulag-like situations because the conspiring FBI and Capitol Police through them in the hoosegow. And he says, well we've got to work on the judiciary, that's right, next question. Really? That's leadership? That's not the steel jaw we need to preserve leadership. This country has never had this before. But when a party goes off the rail because of lack of leadership and this crave and desire to stay in office, to stay in power, then we've got problems and we probably already will until we get different people in office.

Grassley: You understand that he wants to talk about January 6th because he doesn't want to talk about the things that are on Iowans' minds. At my 99 county meetings that is pretty generally inflation, energy and the border.

Henderson: We're going to get to those.

Grassley: And he thinks the President is doing -- I wish you wouldn't interrupt me. I wanted time limits, you folks didn't want time limits. You wanted it free flowing so I'm free flowing with you. Anyway, the bottom line of it is that he has said so many times that Biden has done a fabulous job, he said that he wants to make Iowa more progressive than California and he says the wall is idiotic. And if he goes back to the Senate, if he's in the Senate he'd be a rubber stamp for all of those things that my people in my 99 county meetings feel are bad.

Murphy: Another topic we wanted to talk about, you mentioned earlier Chuck Grassley, is Social Security. But Mike Franken, we'll start with you here. People who look at the projected solvency of programs like Social Security and Medicare have concerns. What policies do you propose to extend the life of those programs to ensure that those benefits continue to be --

Franken: Well, let the record show that my opponent would like to privatize Social Security, he would like to privatize Medicare and Medicaid. He would like to up the ages. He would like to place more restrictions. And he actually wrote the law to ensure Medicare cannot work with big pharma to reduce the price. He literally wrote the law. Okay. Easy, erase the $147K cap to who puts into Social Security. And let's not do this little hocus pocus that people in Congress are talking about to leave this gap between $147,000 and $400,000 of income. Who works in that gap? Well, Senator Grassley's income is in that gap so he can pay to $147,000 and then all that extra money he makes with his extra sidebar activity, doesn't pay tax on it, and then at $400,000 okay we reluctantly let people now start paying into Social Security. Let's do that. As a matter of fact, let's move the opportunities for Social Security to people who are, well there's a series of things that we can do, I'll leave it at that.

Murphy: But would that be enough to keep the programs healthy and ensure the benefits --

Franken: Indeed, those programs would be solvent for perpetuity, or nearly so. And in the end I would expect the fact that all of those uber wealthy people, those people who could care less about having to pay tax on Social Security -- how much do you charge tax, what is the wrong amount of tax to pay for someone who just made their second $200 million that year?

Henderson: We've got a tax question later and we'll go onto Erin's follow-up.

Grassley: Don't I  get a chance --

Murphy: Yes and I have a question for you on this topic. A fellow republican --

Grassley: You don't want me to answer the question you asked him?

Murphy: Well, you can do that too. But I also have a question --

Grassley: Wait, let me answer that and then you answer the question.

Murphy: Fair enough.

Grassley: First of all, my principles are not what he said that I want to privatize Social Security because that means if you privatize Social Security it wouldn't be a government program anymore. Social Security as far as Chuck Grassley is concerned is part of the social fabric of America and it has been that way since 1936 and it's going to be preserved and it needs to be worked on right now. Will it be worked on right now? That is up to a bipartisan group of people getting together to do it like Reagan and Tip O'Neill did the last time it was in trouble and they fixed it and it's fixed until right now but it's getting in trouble now, getting a surplus that we've built up of two and seven-tenths trillion dollars working down. So anyway, it's got to be preserved for our children and grandchildren. And then after you preserve it for your children and grandchildren, you've got to make sure that while you're doing that whatever Congress does you can't make any changes for people that are in retirement or near retirement. Those are basic principles. But in order to get this solved it's going to have to be like Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill did, they got together and they said, we may not agree on anything else but we've got to save Social Security and they worked to save Social Security, it's going to take the same process again to get it done.

Murphy: One of your fellow republicans, Senator Rick Scott of Florida, has proposed that Congress should vote to reauthorize those programs every five years --

Grassley: It's a stupid idea.

Murphy: You're a no on that one then I take it.

Grassley: What?

Murphy: You're a no on that one I take it?

Grassley: Yeah. Well, listen, I just got done saying we've got to preserve it. He wants -- he may have an idea that would work for most programs but not what we call programs that are entitlements where you work hard and you meet certain conditions for it. You don't have to get a special appropriation from Congress. You just draw on the system. That's what Social Security is, it brings certainty to the system and his would bring uncertainty to it. It's just wrong.

Franken: Erin, just so you know, his comment about increasing the intricacies of the program, what he's saying is that's political talk, double talk for bump up the age of eligibility, which is in layman's terms, a cut to the program.

Henderson: Grassley, do you support raising --

Grassley: You guys didn't hear me say I was going to cut the program or increase the age, did you? Go ahead, ask your question.

Henderson: Mike Franken, the Grassley campaign has pointed to allegations from one of your former campaign staffers that you gave her an unwanted kiss and have an old fashioned approach to interacting with women. What do you say to people who have concerns?

Franken: That matter was investigated and found to be unfounded. You know, I'm a husband, two kids, a girl and a boy, a wife of 33 years, a 40 year history of zero tolerance of sexual malfeasance, sexual misdeeds, of gender-related harassment. But what is particularly annoying about this issue is I also have zero tolerance for the politicization of this issue and how my opponent has taken this as -- of his age and seniority and time in the Senate to use this as a tool and what he's doing is weaponizing women's rights. This is a guy who has made it his career to ban abortion, to support unequal pay, to do nothing for paid family leave, to many times vote against the Violence Against Women Act. I don't have a problem with this issue. He has a problem with women. And we're seeing this manifest itself with the series of other bills that he is now working, that he's bringing these things to the platform like with various bills. And it is just a ploy because he's got a problem, because it is known that he has got some anti-woman activity in his career.

Henderson: Chuck Grassley?

Grassley: My colleague, you are in no position to lecture me about women. You are in no position to do that. And I would clarify for you, Kay, that the Grassley campaign did not release this. His former campaign manager filed a police report. The police report was made public by a journalist. And I knew about it when I read it in the paper.

Pfannenstiel: Chuck Grassley, you're seeking an 8th term in the U.S. Senate. If you win you’ll be 95 at the end of that term. What do you say to Iowans who wonder whether you're up to the task?

Grassley: I wish I would get this question more often than I get it and I think a lot of people are afraid to ask me and I'm glad you weren't afraid to ask me. I think the only thing I can do is tell you how I lead my life today. I go to bed at nine, get up at four, run two miles, get to the office by six, sometimes a little bit before six. The staff comes in nine to six they work because that's the way Washington works office hours. I have a full schedule when I'm in session, committee meetings and all those things. I usually go home at 6:30, quarter to seven, start over the next day. I've got the longest record of not missing a vote of any Senator in the 2000 that have served since 1789, of not missing a vote or 27 years of not missing a vote, 8,927 votes that I cast without missing until I got COVID and then I missed 10. I haven't missed any since then. And I just do my job that way. And by the way, that 27 previously was held by Bill Proxmire of Wisconsin. He went 22 years without missing a vote. And then when Congress isn't in session I think you know very much what I do while I'm here. I travel Iowa to keep in touch with Iowans. And I think that that's how I'm going to continue for the next term of office if the people will return me to the United States Senate.

Pfannenstiel: And Senator, do you intend to serve a full six-year term if you are re-elected?

Grassley: Yes.

Murphy: Chuck Grassley, this came up earlier. You opposed an amendment in the Senate that would have capped insulin prices at $35. You said at the time that that opposition was because it didn't follow procedural rules. What do you say to Iowans who don't necessarily understand the bureaucratic hurdles and just want access to reasonably priced medicines?

Grassley: I'm in the front line of getting fairness for insulin. First of all, I support the $35 cap. I supported it in the Shaheen Collins bill. That bill also has something that the amendment you're asking me about didn't have in it, it has reform of the pharmaceutical benefit managers' role as middle man between the company and the consumer. We don't know what it does. Unless you reform that there is going to be through the opaqueness of the system it's going to be shifting things from here to there and there might not be the savings that people want. So if you don't have PBM reform at the same time you're trying to do something about insulin. But when I got to be Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee I immediately called EpiPen and the other companies that do insulin into hearing and quite frankly they didn't answer our questions. So Wyden and me, my counterpart who was then ranking member, now chairman of that committee, we started a study. And if people will go to my website, grassley.senate.gov and read that study they'll see how insulin companies are manipulating prices to the detriment of the people that have diabetes. And so nobody can say that I haven't been in the forefront of this effort. Besides, one of the 38 sections of the Grassley Wyden bill to get prescription drug prices down deals with this very same thing dealing with insulin and trying to get a fair price and a fair break for the people that have to use insulin.

Murphy: Mike Franken, as our times starts to wind down here, that insulin cap was partially implemented. So beyond expanding that cap, what else needs to be done to rein in prescription drug costs for Americans?

Franken: Well, let's ensure that we've got complete clarity as to who gets money from these big pharma. Chuck Grassley has raked it in for his campaign donations, $1.4 million or so. And these long understood problems associated with high health care have not caused him to act, to get on the stick and do something about it for all those votes he had an opportunity to get going on. We can certainly change -- here's the thing -- I've lived all over the world and in the health care system in the United States military is what everybody in America ought to have. It is clean, it is perfect, it is what families all should have. But we have one of the least efficient systems I can think of. Great care providers, great education for care providers, schools, institutions, hospitals, etcetera, but a really inefficient system that maximizes profit. How many times did he vote against the Affordable Care Act? Five times? Six times? A dozen times? With no alternative to that. He wants vapid profits for health care industry and big pharma is part of that. This is his legacy. It's indisputable.

Henderson: Chuck Grassley?

Grassley: What you just heard was he wants the government to take over all health care. What he's saying to you reminds me of the promises that were made during the Obamacare debate. If you like your health insurance you can keep it, you can't. If you like your doctor you can keep it, you can't. And all those lies because things were overpromised that couldn't be delivered and he wants the government to run the whole thing, have the government between you and your doctor. That's not what I want. I want freedom of medicine. I want individual choice. I want to put the patient first.

Henderson: Mike Franken, we have less than two minutes left. Would you vote to repeal the Trump era tax cuts?

Franken: Yes.

Henderson: Why?

Franken: It helps the uber wealthy. You know, the ones for the middle class or the upper middle class, they expired in 2021. They are slowly going out although the big ones for the uber wealthy, they're still in place. This is typical of the republicans, cause class divide, let the big wealthy people become more so and fund and keep their politicians in. Why do you think the Republican Party is getting flooded with money and yet they're running such feeble candidates? Because people need those votes so the uber wealthy can get more wealthy.

Henderson: Chuck Grassley, the final minute.

Grassley: If he did what he said or what will happen in 2025 if you do nothing you're going to have the biggest tax increase in the history of the country. And look at what happened as a result of the 2017 tax bill before the pandemic. We had the best economy we've had in 50 years. We had the lowest unemployment in 50 years. We had the lowest unemployment against minorities in 50 years. We had the most women in the workforce ever. And you can go on and on with the statistics that are a direct result of the tax reduction of 2017.

Henderson: You have said that you would want the U.S. Senate to vote to codify those tax cuts in 2023. Why do it instead of it running out in 2025?

Grassley: Well, because the rules of the Senate when you don't have 60 votes to pass a tax bill under reconciliation it can only be done for 10 years. This was done for 9 years.

Henderson: Okay, well we are done --

Franken: Did anybody talk about debt? Did you hear what he just said?

Henderson: I did and I believe all of our viewers heard it and I'm sorry, we are out of time for this edition of an Iowa Press Debate. Thanks to you both for sharing your views with our viewers.

Grassley: And thank you for having us.

Henderson: On Monday, October 17th we'll host the only debate in the Governor's race with republican incumbent Kim Reynolds and democrat Deidre DeJear and then on Tuesday, October 18th we'll question the candidates in Iowa's new 2nd Congressional District, republican incumbent Ashley Hinson and democrat Liz Mathis. Both debates will be live on air and online at iowapbs.org. If you missed part of this debate or want to watch the debate that we held here last week with the candidates in Iowa's new 1st Congressional District, again go to iowapbs.org. On behalf of all of the hardworking staff and crew here at Iowa PBS, I'm Kay Henderson. Thanks for watching.



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