Grassley, again, on pulling the plug on grandma

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-New Hartford, Iowa) was a guest on this morning's edition of "Face the Nation" on CBS.  Host Bob Schieffer pressed Grassley on the statements Grassley made in Winterset earlier this month in which Grassley said Americans have "every right to fear" provisions in a House health care reform bill which some argue would pull the plug on grandma.

"You're not saying that this legislation would pull the plug on grandma, you're just saying there are a lot of people out there who think that it would. Do you want to say this morning that that is not true, that it won't do that?" Schieffer asked Grassley.  

"Well, it won't do that," Grassley said in response.

A few moments before that exchange, Grassley told Schieffer the public's fears were justified (as he argued in Winterset, Iowa) because the bills under development seek to reduce Medicare costs and end of life care is a big cost for the program — and the public assumes end of life care is a priority area for cost-cutting.

"The Pelosi bill doesn't intend to do that, but that's where it leads people to," Grassley said.

Latham & the “death panels”

Congressman Tom Latham (R-Ames, Iowa) held a town hall meeting in Indianola earlier this afternoon.  A man in the audience brought up the subject that's sparked such debate recently.

"I've read through the advanced care consultation section of that bill a number ot times," the man told Latham.  "I can't find anything that looks like a death panel."

Latham replied:  "Well, there isn't."

The man who had raised the subject said: "Well, thank you."

Latham continued:  "There is reimbursement for physicians where they currently are not reimbursed for consultation."

A woman in the audience said: "It's mandatory."

Latham replied: "No, it's voluntary."

The woman shot back.  The audio is not clear, but it appears she told Latham she's read a bill on-line where it was mandatory.

Latham said: "Maybe another version of the bill does, but under 3200 it's voluntary."

After the 71 minute town hall meeting concluded, Latham spoke with three reporter who were on the scene, including me.  I asked him about the death panels.

"There's no such thing in the bill," Latham replied.  "It's voluntary, there's consultation. No, it's been misrepresented. Obviously, we want to be very, very careful about intrusion. There's an incentive now for doctors to talk to their patients more about the different options that they have medically and I think that's where people get concerned, is maybe they're going to give some advice that's maybe beyond the scope of where the medicine would be."

Latham, a Republican who is the senior member of Iowa's House delegation, represents a district which has a Democratic voter registration edge of 12,000.  Latham carried each county in the district in 2008 and won reelection with about 61 percent of the vote.

You may read more about and listen to Latham's town hall meeting in Indianola here.

Grassley: was he for it before he was against it?

President Obama on Saturday suggested some Republicans — like U.S.Senator Chuck Grassley (R-New Hartford, Iowa) — have waged a "dishonest" debate about end-of-life care provisions in the health care reform packages moving through congress.  Duringa  town hall meeting in Colorado, Obama seemed to suggest Grassley and other Republicans are a bit like John Kerry circa 2004 – they voted for it before they voted against it.  Watch the president's remarks here.

Here's the text: "…Because there's no perfect solution, we can have legitimate debates about the public option that we just had.  That was a good, serious debate, and you can make a plausible argument as to why we shouldn't have a public option.  Now, I believe that we should on balance.  It's not perfect.  It's not going to solve every problem, but I think it actually would keep the insurance companies more honest.  You can have a honest disagreement with me on that.

"What you can't do — or you can, but you shouldn't do — is start saying things like, we want to set up death panels to pull the plug on grandma.  I mean, come on.  (Applause.)  I mean, I just — first of all, when you make a comment like that — I just lost my grandmother last year.  I know what it's like to watch somebody you love, who's aging, deteriorate, and have to struggle with that.  So the notion that somehow I ran for public office, or members of Congress are in this so that they can go around pulling the plug on grandma?  I mean, when you start making arguments like that, that's simply dishonest, especially when I hear the arguments coming from members of Congress in the other party who, turns out, sponsored similar provisions.

"Here's what this was about.  Here was the genesis of this little piece of information.  We had a provision in the House bill that would give the option — the option — of somebody getting counseling on end-of-life care or hospice care, and have it reimbursed by Medicare; the option — voluntary — so you'd have more information about how to deal with these situations.

"Turns out the biggest proponent of this was a Republican congressman who is now a senator and a colleague of Mr. Udall and Mr. Bennet.  Turns out in Medicare Part D, which was passed by a Republican Congress, they had the exact same provision.

"So when I have people who just a couple of years ago thought this was a good idea now getting on television suggesting that it's a plot against grandma or to sneak euthanasia into our health care system, that feels dishonest to me.  And we've got enough stuff to deal with without having these kinds of arguments.  (Applause.)

Grassley's staff sent out a response:


TO:     Reporters and Editors
RE:     End-of-life care/counseling in health care legislation
DA:     Sunday, August 16, 2009

        Senator Chuck Grassley, Ranking Member of the Committee on Finance, issued the comment immediately below regarding remarks made last night by the President during a town meeting he held in Grand Junction, Colorado.

        "I've said for a long time and repeated last week that we all ought to consider how we want to be treated if we are struck by an incapacitating illness, and that advanced care planning is a good thing to do.  As far as legislation goes, it's not the case that provisions in the Pelosi health care reform bill this year are just like provisions Congress passed in the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003.  I've never called the Pelosi provisions a 'death panel.'  The issue is whether end-of-life provisions should be part of legislation that's about controlling health care spending, and which also creates a government-run health care program, as the Pelosi bill does.  Doing so escalates concerns about the rationing of health care, since government-run plans in other countries ration to control spending.  Putting end-of-life consultations alongside cost containment and government-run health care causes legitimate concern.  This context and the details of this year's proposal are different than the 2003 legislation, which covers advice from specialized physicians outside of any larger effort to control spending on health care.  It's not fair to Americans who are asking questions to gloss over those facts and, in fact, end-of-life provisions haven't been part of ongoing Senate Finance Committee discussions as a result of those realities and the possibility of unintended consequences.  On this subject and others, it's important that the debate is fair-minded and based on an accurate representation of the issues involved."

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Grassley, Specter in “Tweet” tizzy; Braley points to Grassley ’03 vote

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-New Hartford, Iowa) has just sent a Tweet directed at former Republican U.S. Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. 

Specter sent two Tweets via Twitter about 2 hours ago: Called Senator Grassley to tell him to stop speading myths about health care reform and imaginary "death panels."

Followed by: Had to leave a message – for now. I will talk to him soon.

About 90 minutes later, Grassley Tweeted: Specter got it all wrong that I ever used words "death boards". Even liberal press never accused me of that. So change ur last Tweet Arlen

(How often do you think Specter's gotten a "Change ur last Tweet Arlen" message?)

UPDATE:  Specter sent three more Tweets this afternoon at about 5 p.m. eastern; Grassley hasn't replied.  Here's what Specter thumbed: Senator Grassley is not available on the phone today, but I will talk to him as soon as possible to clarify his position on living wills…I believe it is appropriate to counsel people on their choices, but no one should tell…anyone else what to do about health care near the end of their lives.

Meanwhile Congressman Bruce Braley (D-Waterloo, Iowa) sent out a statement on the whole "end of life" matter.  Read it below.

Braley Statement on Grassley’s End-of-Life Care Doublespeak

Washington, DC – Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) issued the following statement today in response to media reports that Senator Charles Grassley and other Republican leaders supported a 2003 Medicare bill that included optional coverage for end-of-life care consultations between patients and their doctors.

“Senator Grassley continues to repeat the ridiculous claim that paying doctors to discuss end-of-life care with their patients is somehow 'pulling the plug on grandma,’ yet in 2003 he voted for a bill with a nearly identical provision allowing Medicare to reimburse doctors for end-of-life care consultations.  It’s doublespeak like this that makes people cynical about Washington politicians.  Senator Grassley needs to stop the fear tactics and stick to the facts about healthcare reform.  We need a rational discussion so we can achieve much-needed reform in this country,” said Braley.

Late last night, Time reported that Senator Grassley had supported a 2003 Medicare bill including coverage for end-of-life care consultations.  LINK:

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More Grassley and the “end of life” proposal

More developments on Senator Chuck Grassley's assertion that Americans "have every right to fear" a portion of a House health care reform bill..

First, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about Grassley's assertion today.  Below is the transcript of the exchange between Gibs and the White House press corps (note the questioner goes unnamed, while the quotations one would attribute to Mr. Gibbs are identified by a "MR. GIBBS").

Q Speaking of the Finance Committee, Chuck Grassley was at a town hall yesterday and brought up the issue of living wills. Has the White House reached out to him and —

MR. GIBBS: Not that — I don't —

Q — asked him why he chose to do this? Is this — does his comments at all jeopardize — in your mind jeopardize the bipartisanship that is — you're trying to —

MR. GIBBS: No, again, I — well —

Q Did you see his comments?

MR. GIBBS: I watched your newscast.

Q And what is your reaction to those comments?

MR. GIBBS: I would have him talk to Senator Murkowski, who said, just in case you didn't — I didn't see it; it wasn't on your newscast — but "It does us no good to incite fear in people by saying that there is these end-of-life provisions, these death panels. Quite honestly, I'm so offended at that terminology because it absolutely isn't in the bill. There's no reason to gin up fear in the American public by saying things that are not included in the bill." That I think would be my — I'd paraphrase that response.

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Democrats draw Grassley grandson into “death panel” debate

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-New Hartford, Iowa) made a statement earlier today that has drawn fire.  Now, Democrats in the state legislature are firing at Grassley.  They're using a vote cast by Grassley's grandson, State Representative Pat Grassley, as ammunition.  Read the Democrats' news release below:

Grassley endorses false “death panel” hysteria, abandons Iowa common sense and embraces dishonest Washington politics

Grassley’s grandson VOTED for similar “living will” legislation in the Iowa Legislature in 2008 

Statement by Iowa State Senator Joe Bolkcom, chair of the Iowa Senate Ways and Means Committee and former member of the Iowa Health Care Reform Commission

“U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley today disappointed the vast majority of Iowans when he engaged in the lowest form of political mudslinging by repeating the vicious slur that health reform may ‘pull the plug on grandma.’

“Here are the facts.  The provisions in the health reform bill approved by the U.S. House of Representatives which extremists have mischaracterized as “death panels” refer to helping patients, families and their doctors develop living wills.  As anyone honestly dealing with health care issues knows, living wills are a wise way for patients to manage their end-of-life care and make sure their dignity and wishes are respected.

“Senator Grassley should understand the value of this legislation.  If he has sincere concerns, he could ask his grandson about the issue.  Pat Grassley, who now holds Senator Grassley’s former seat in the Iowa House of Representatives, voted in 2008 for the same legislation that Senator Grassley now calls pulling the plug on grandma.

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Braley rebukes Grassley for “fear” comment

Congressman Bruce Braley (D-Waterloo, Iowa) is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of three House committees which have passed a health care reform bill.  Late today Braley issued a statement in response to something Senator Chuck Grassley (R-New Hartford, Iowa) said this morning.

Read the news release from Braley's staff below.

Braley Statement Reacting to Grassley Claim on End-of-Life Care in Healthcare Reform Bill

Washington, DC – Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) released the following statement in reaction to comments made by Iowa Senator Charles Grassley at a town hall in Winterset, Iowa, today regarding provisions on end-of-life care in healthcare reform proposals being considered by Congress:

"I'm shocked that Senator Grassley would reinforce the ridiculous claim that paying doctors to discuss end-of-life care with their patients is somehow 'pulling the plug on grandma.'  This comment is demeaning to seniors who want the choice of consulting with their doctor about important end-of-life healthcare decisions.  Now is the time for a rational discussion of healthcare concerns, not a time to spread fear among seniors," said Braley.

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Grassley & the “death panels”

"You have every right to fear," U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on August 12, 2009.

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley's town hall meeting this morning in Winterset ended with a question from a women who fears the government will start making end of life decisions for the elderly.  Grassley told her she had every right to be fearful. (Neither used the exact phrase "death panels.")  Listen to the exchange.

Here is the transcript of Grassley's response: "I won’t name people in congress, people in Washington, but there’s some people that think it’s a terrible problem that grandma’s laying in the hospital bed with tubes in her and think that there ought to be some government policy that enters into that. I’m just on the opposite. I think that that’s a family and a religious and/or ethical thing that needs to be dealt with and there’s some fear because in the house bill there’s counseling for end of life and from that standpoint, you have every right to fear.  You shouldn't have counseling at the end of life.  You ought to have it done 20 years before you're going to die.  You ought to plan these things out. I don't have any problem with things like living wills, but they ought to be done within the family. We should not have a government program that determines you're going to pull the plug on grandma."

Grassley’s “town hall” in Winterset

Over 300 people stood in a Winterset park this morning, surrounding Senator Chuck Grassley (R-New Hartford, Iowa) who stood up on the steps of a monument to take questions from the crowd that had gathered for his town hall meeting. LISTEN: 60 min  I'll be back with details.

Grassley's staff, perhaps not expecting the size of the crowd, did not provide a microphone and amplification system.  If you listen to the audio, you'll hear members of the audience repeatedly saying, 'We can't hear you."  About 20 minutes into the hour-long event, three unidentified people who'd been scurrying around showed up with a "Mr. Microphone" type system and it worked fairly well. 

Grassley opened by telling the crowd their fears were justified.  At the end, a woman in the back of the crowd told Grassley she was concerned that health care reform plans would give the government authority to make end of life decisions for elderly Americans.  While neither used the phrase "death panels" — Grassley said the fears were justified.

"You shouldn't have counseling at the end of life.  You ought to have it done 20 years before you're going to die.  You ought to plan these things out," Grassley said.  "I don't have any problem with things like living wills, but they ought to be done within the family. We should not have a government program that determines you're going to pull the plug on grandma."

Grassley, as you may know, has been lambasted by fellow Republicans for participating in the closed-door negotiations featuring six members of the Senate Finance Committee (Democrats & Republicans) who've been meeting for months to try to develop a compromise on health care reform.  Before opening the event up to questions, Grassley offered a defense of his work.

"You know the old saying, if you aren't at the table, you're the menu," Grassley said.  Some in the crowd chuckled.  "Well, I feel I'd rather be something than just the menu."

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