Members of Congress are considering proposals to deal with gun violence in the United States, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said in Clarinda Thursday, Aug. 15.
The issue has risen to the forefront of public concern in the wake of recent mass shootings in Texas, Ohio and California.
Among measures receiving support are enhanced background checks for purchasers of firearms, and the implementation of so-called “red flag” laws, through which weapons can be taken from individuals deemed to pose a potential danger to themselves or others.
“Right now there is a bipartisan group, with Senator [Lindsay] Graham from the Republicans and Senator [Richard] Blumenthal from the Democrats who are working with the White House to try to put together a bipartisan package that can be passed and brought out of the Senate,” Grassley said during a public meeting at the Page County Courthouse.
He said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “wants to make this the first issue after we get back after Labor Day.”
Grassley said any seizure of guns resulting from a “red flag” law “would only be done under due process, before a judge. That’s to protect your Second Amendment Constitutional rights.”
Commenting on an issue vital to Iowa’s agricultural sector, Grassley acknowledged that tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump on China have adversely affected the export market for grain produced in the state, especially soybeans.
“I don’t like tariffs,” he said. “I’m a free trader. The freeing up of world trade has caused people’s incomes to rise.”
He noted that tariffs have had devastating consequences in the past, such as the Smoot-Hawley tariff in the early 1930s that intensified the effects of the Great Depression. After World War II, the United States began lowering tariffs to boost the economies of countries recovering from that conflict.
Grassley said he voted several years ago to admit China to the World Trade Organization because he thought that with “the second largest economy in the world living by the international rules of trade, we’re all better off, because you need predictability.”
But, he added, “we’ve seem them cheat in the 20 years they’ve been in the WTO.” China, among other things, has been accused of stealing intellectual property from American companies and imposing strict conditions for U.S. firms operating in that country.
President Trump is attempting to reach a new trade agreement between the nations, and Grassley said current negotiations would not be underway if Trump hadn’t ordered tariffs on Chinese products. China has responded with tariffs of its own, however, along with curtailing purchases of American soybeans.
“Sometimes you lose a market, and it’s too bad,” he said. “That’s our biggest buyer.”
He said he recently spoke with former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, now U.S. ambassador to China, who “said he thought we would win them back.”
Regarding the topic of immigration, Grassley said comprehensive reform of the current system cannot occur unless the country’s borders are secured.
“Obviously that doesn’t include a 2,000-mile wall,” he said. “But it could include some wall, more border patrols, interior enforcement and doing away with ‘catch and release.’”
In addition, a more effective exit-entry system is required at the nation’s airports, Grassley said.
“When somebody comes over here to visit and they have a 90-day pass, we need to know when they leave,” he said. “Half the people who are violating our laws on immigration are people who came here through our airports and overstayed their visas.”
On the subject of prescription drug costs, Grassley said he supports a bill that would limit year-to-year price increases for certain drugs to no more than the annual rise in the cost of living.
The bill would also eliminate the “doughnut hole” in Medicare Part D coverage and do away with what Grassley termed “perverse incentives” that encourage the use of higher priced drugs.
Through the bill’s provisions, insurance plans and drug companies would pick up a greater share of costs. Procedures would be initiated to put generic drugs on the market sooner, and a cap would be placed on a patient’s yearly out-of-pocket expenses as well.
“The trouble is,” Grassley said, “we’re up against ‘Big Pharma,’ and they don’t get challenged very often.They’re going to fight this real hard.”
A bill has been introduced in the Senate that would authorize imports of less-expensive medications from other countries to the United States. Grassley said his support of the bill was contingent upon the stipulation that the drugs meet the same quality and safety standards established and enforced by the Federal Drug Administration.
On related health care issues, Grassley said it was important that the critical care access program for rural hospitals be retained so these facilities can receive adequate reimbursement for providing treatment.
He also noted that proposals have been made to allow rural hospitals to relinquish in-patient, resident beds while still providing other health services, such as emergency room and trauma treatment, in addition to procedures at out-patient clinics.
To address the issue of “surprise bills” that patients often get after receiving health care services, Grassley said he supported legislation requiring disputes over “excess costs” to be settled by arbitration involving providers and insurance carriers.
“You need to know what is being charged to you if you go out of network [for] services,” he said. “This is a bill that I hope before the end of the year I can tell you was passed.”
Grassley was asked why McConnell has not allowed the Senate to consider a House-adopted measure dealing with the integrity and security of elections in the country, in view of concerns that Russia and possibly other countries are attempting to interfere with voting procedures.
He said opponents believe that the House bill would shift voter registration and other election-related processes from state responsibility to federal control.