Grassley Opens Up on Obama Lunch
By Shailagh Murray
Usually White House meetings yield only a trickle of details. But today Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) provided a colorful play-by-play of his hour-long lunch with President Obama.
The 75-year-old Republican, who is the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, twittered this after his lunch today with Obama, Vice President Biden, and Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.): "Just had a hamburger w obama at WH. Hour lunch discussing health care reform and four Ag/EPA issues."
Later, in a lengthy interview with Radio Iowa, Grassley set the scene: "We were in a small room that presumably is where . . . three or four people meet to have lunch," he said. "No staff was present."
Grassley said the meeting's primary focus was more procedure, rather than policy, primarily about the challenges of moving a health care bill this summer. He said he urged Obama to add his own voice and leverage. "The president needs to be in the center of this thing to move things along," Grassley said he urged Obama.
Grassley said Obama assured him that the White House was sincere about not wanting to resort to a special budget rule known as reconciliation to push health-care reform through the Senate. The rule would protect the legislation from a Senate filibuster, and has been used many times over the years by both parties to ease the path of complex and controversial bills.
But GOP senators, including Grassley, view reconciliation as the death knell for the bipartisan efforts now underway.
"I got a great deal of confidence that the White House prefers a bipartisan agreement," Grassley told Radio Iowa. "It's the difference between passing a bill by 51 or 52 votes versus 78 or 80 votes."
The senator said the prospect of a "public option" for health coverage was raised, as an alternative to private insurance, but remarked that when he called it a "major problem" for him and many of his GOP colleagues, "there was no indication of any line being drawn in the sand."
Grassley used his face time with Obama to raise a few agriculture issues related to the Environmental Protection Agency that had surfaced with his Iowa constituents. He also said the impending Supreme Court vacancy was discussed.
"The implication was that there's not going to be some -- so I want to make sure that this is an implication in my words and not in somebody else's words -- that it's not going to be somebody that's a bomb-thrower," said Grassley, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee.
But Grassley did hold back on one subject. Although he revealed his menu choice, he told Iowa Radio, "I'm not going to tell you what other people had . . . except they're more conscious of eating right than I am."
May 6, 2009; 5:33 PM ET
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