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Grassley Will Step into Tax Storm, Finance Gavel in Hand

Iowa Republican was a key player on big-ticket measures during his previous tenure as Finance chairman

Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, conducts a Senate Judiciary Committee markup in October. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, conducts a Senate Judiciary Committee markup in October. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Charles E. Grassley is expected to be the next chairman of the Finance Committee, putting the Iowa Republican at the center of the storm in the 116th Congress on what could be divisive debates over tax, trade and health care policy.

Grassley cited a sense of “optimism” fueled by the “pro-growth” policies of a Republican president and Congress. “Looking ahead. … I want to continue to work to make sure that as many Americans as possible get to experience this good economy for themselves,” he said in a statement released Friday. “That means working to provide Americans with additional tax relief and tax fairness so they can spend more of their hard-earned money on what’s important to them.”

The announcement that he’ll grab the Finance gavel despite being eligible to serve two more years as Judiciary chairman sets the stage for Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a rival-turned-ally of President Donald Trump, to take that post based on seniority.

Grassley added that he wants to work on “expanding market opportunities for farmers, manufacturers and service providers,” and on “improving the affordability, quality and accessibility of health care, including in rural America.”

The Finance chairmanship is open since Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah did not seek re-election.

Grassley previously held the Finance gavel during the early part of 2001, before then-Sen. James Jeffords left the GOP and handed the Senate majority to the Democrats, and again from 2003 through 2006 when Republicans were in the majority. He was also ranking member until Hatch took over in 2011, when the two Republicans switched places at Finance and Judiciary.

Under Senate Republican rules, Grassley still has two more years at Finance, in part because his brief 2001 stint as chairman won’t count.

Bush-era accomplishments

Grassley was a key player on a number of big-ticket measures during his previous tenure as Finance chairman, including the 2001 and 2003 Bush-era tax cuts; enactment of the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit in 2003; and passage of several free trade accords including with the Dominican Republic and five Central American nations, as well as with Singapore, Chile, Australia, Morocco, Bahrain, Oman and Jordan.

During his time as ranking member, Grassley worked for months on a bipartisan health care overhaul measure with then-Finance Chairman Max Baucus, before the two parties gave up in frustration and the Democratic leadership and Obama administration pursued an ultimately successful strategy to pass the measure with only Democratic votes.

Grassley will have his hands full next year as lawmakers try to navigate a divided government and tackle issues like implementing legislation for the revised North American free trade pact negotiated by the Trump administration; clarifications to the 2017 tax code overhaul sought by retailers, multinationals and others; and the ongoing drama over health care costs and stability of the insurance exchanges set up under the 2010 health care law.

President Donald Trump also wants Congress to enact a 10 percent tax cut for middle class — and he’s expressed openness to funding it with higher taxes on wealthy households and corporations.

First on the slate, unless it is passed during the lame-duck session, will be a technical corrections package to fix issues with the tax code law. House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady said earlier this week that a technical corrections bill was forthcoming and that it would correct between 70 and 80 problems with the tax code overhaul. Lawmakers also need to figure out what to do with about 26 expired tax breaks that are important to various groups ranging from homeowners to biodiesel producers.

And lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed interest in providing additional incentives both for individuals to save for retirement and for employers to make it easier for workers to do so. Another topic on next year’s agenda that will require Finance Committee involvement is a possible infrastructure spending package.

“There’s always more that can be done to help make life better for and empower every individual and family,” Grassley said. “I look forward to working with other senators, both Republican and Democratic, to get the job done.”

Grassley’s fellow Finance Republicans still need to formally elect him to the chairmanship in January, and their decision would then be subject to ratification by the full Senate Republican Conference.

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