West Des Moines–In a series of tough town hall meetings on Wednesday, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley defended his work drafting a controversial health care bill, but also seemed to distance himself from the legislation.
“I weren’t doing that the last four or five months I could sit around with my feet up on my desk,” he told a packed meeting in Winterset, Iowa. “You hire me to keep on top of things and I guess I’m a person that believes you are going to be on top of things if you are in the room instead of outside the room.”
Grassley, one of a handful of Republicans working with Democrats to draft a health care proposal, stressed that he would oppose any bill with a government-run plan in it, describing the government as a “predator.”
“Maybe you think well Chuck Grassley is up with that too,” he said. “so let me tell you right out I would not vote for the Kennedy bill [and] I would not vote for the Pelosi bill.”
Later in the afternoon, Grassley highlighted votes against government funds for the auto companies, the nearly $800 billion stimulus bill, and the budget.
“I’d sure hate to be holding these town meetings if I hadn’t voted that way,” he told a crowd gathered in an Afton, Iowa church.
Although Grassley’s meetings were tame compared to the outrage faced by some of his colleagues like Pennsylvania Democrat Arlen Specter, the moderate Republican faced some sharp opposition to the health care proposals.
“I’m a dumb Southern Iowan redneck,” said Patricia Nicolas. “I see nowhere in the Constitution where health care is a right.”
The shouts of the crowd quickly quieted down after someone in the audience shouted “Be polite!”
Grassley attributed the civil tone to Iowans' familiarity with town hall meetings. He’s held 2,846 town hall meetings since coming to Congress in 1981, but he noted that the four he held on Wednesday drew unusually large crowds – particularly for a day when temperatures soared well into the 90s.
“There’s three times as many people coming to my town hall meetings than came in the last ten years on average,” said Grassley.
“Wait until 2010,” shouted a member of the audience.
A later afternoon meeting in Adel, Iowa had to be moved outside to accommodate a crowd of roughly 500 voters.
Unlike some other prominent Republicans, Grassley refused to refute claims that the legislation includes a provision allowing the government to determine when older Americans end their lives. The rumor, often mentioned in town halls across the country, gained momentum after former Alaska GOP Gov. Sarah Palin warned the Democratic plan would create bureaucratic "death panels."
“There are some people who think it is a terrible problem that grandma is laying in a bed with tubes in her, and that the government should intervene,” he said. “I think that’s a family or religious thing that needs to be dealt with.”
Cheri Heiland, a questioner at a town hall in Panora, Iowa asked Grassley to "denounce the tactics that are getting thrown at the Democrats."
"You know there is nothing in the House bill that will require any elderly person to stand before a committee and decide whether or not they are going to live or die," she chided, as the roughly 200-person crowded booed.
Grassley's answer sidestepped the issue, adding fire to already raging rumors.
"With all the other fears people have and what they do in England then you get the idea that somebody is going to decide grandma lived too long," said Grassley. "You understand why you get it."