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Sen. Grassley On Obama's Comments

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And we're going to hear a Republican take on what the president just did - and not just any Republican, but Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa. Welcome, Senator Grassley.

Senator CHARLES GRASSLEY (Republican, Iowa): I am, of course, glad to be with you. Thank you very much for having me.

SIEGEL: President makes the case that his budget is - his words - inseparable from the recovery. If it's worth recovering from the mess we've been in, we've got to recover in a way that stresses education and health care reform and energy reform. What do you make of that connection?

Sen. GRASSLEY: Well, it may have something to do with the recovery, but it's going to limit growth once we start recovering because of the massive debt that he is incurring in this process. I do agree with the president, what he said about everybody sacrificing. But really, the recovery is more related to getting the private sector going. And what is being done through programs already appropriated, plus what the fed does, has more to do with recovery than what's in the budget. In fact, I think you could make a case (unintelligible) -go ahead, I'm sorry.

SIEGEL: No, that wasn't me. That was our director, I think, whom you heard from.

Sen. GRASSLEY: Okay.

SIEGEL: But let me ask, you're a ranking minority member. You're the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. President Obama defended the proposal that he'd made earlier to cap the degree to which you can deduct charitable contributions and mortgage interest for higher income people - or the amount that you can deduct. Are you on board with that? Is that a reasonable sacrifice Americans should be called to make?

Sen. GRASSLEY: Oh, heavens no. All you have to do is think about the major role that charities play in American society. They probably do more good than the programs that we have for those below poverty through government. And don't take my word for it. And, obviously, I'm saying you shouldn't take the president's word for it. Take the word of the charities.

SIEGEL: Yeah, but the president...

Sen. GRASSLEY: They feel that this is going to be devastating to charitable giving.

SIEGEL: President and his budget director insist that it's not the tax break that motivates giving.

Sen. GRASSLEY: I believe that you have to have more than just a tax break to get people to give, absolutely. But charities are uniformly in there saying that this is going to harm charitable giving. So, to some extent, and I can't measure it, but to some extent tax deduction makes a big difference. Now, that gets me to another point that I would challenge the president on. And he says we've got to make very difficult decisions, and then he gets to this tax issue that you brought up. Well, listen. It's not a tough decision when you're going to tax just the top five percent of the people in this country. That's the easiest decision you can make because those five percent aren't going to have any ability to hurt you as a political leader as the 95 percent...

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

Sen. GRASSLEY: ...that's not being touched. And so, obviously, I don't believe that taxing five percent of the wealthiest people in this country is a difficult decision from the political standpoint.

SIEGEL: Or increasing.

Sen. GRASSLEY: But it does have economic consequences.

SIEGEL: Well, Senator Grassley, thanks a lot for talking with us once again.

Sen. GRASSLEY: Okay. Good-bye.

SIEGEL: Charles Grassley of Iowa, who is the ranking minority member of the Senate Finance Committee and obviously disagrees with President Obama about where to go with taxes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.