Mr. President, I have been working to reform our Nation’s broken health care system since I entered the Senate more than 12 years ago. I had high hopes that this would be the year Democrat and Republican members of the Senate would work together to provide health insurance to every American.
I urged my colleagues to start with a blank piece of paper and develop a bipartisan bill that up to 80 members of the Senate could support. Unfortunately, the Majority leadership had other ambitions, because the bill being debated today is a testament to a partisan, ideological vision.
It appears that the drafters of this bill took to heart the sentiments expressed by the Speaker of House, who earlier this year said “we won the election, we write the bills.” And for a number of weeks, the Majority Leader closed his door and wrote this bill on his own terms without any input from his colleagues on this side of the aisle.
This is a deeply flawed bill that fails to address the real needs of the American people. Americans overwhelmingly want reforms that will help lower their health care costs. Instead this bill will spend $2.4 trillion when it is fully implemented and contains numerous provisions that will actually drive up the costs that millions of Americans pay for their health care.
It is important to understand how we got here. At the beginning of this process, the majority staff at the HELP Committee decided that they were going to draft a partisan bill based on the reforms that had recently been adopted in Massachusetts. Republicans were shut out of the process of drafting of the HELP Committee bill.
Rather than working to resolve difficult issues, the drafters of the bill included over 200 separate instances where the bill gave the Secretary of HHS the authority to make important decisions about the types of health plan millions of Americans can receive. Rather than confronting and debating these important policies, the majority empowered unelected government bureaucrats to make decisions that will affect the health care of every single American.
As a result of this partisan process, we were forced to file hundreds of amendments. The Chairman and other Democratic members of the Committee have repeatedly commented on the numerous amendments that were accepted by the majority during the mark up.
At the same time, they ignore the reality that most of these amendments were merely technical corrections, which were necessary because the underlying bill was hastily written and filled with numerous drafting errors. Unfortunately nearly all of the accepted Republican amendments merely tinkered around the edges.
Almost all of the substantive, alternative idea amendments suffered the failing fate of a party line vote. In 12 days of markup at HELP, we had 45 roll call votes on Republican-sponsored amendments, and only 2 prevailed.
After the mark up, the majority refused to release a final bill for over a month, denying the American people the chance to see what they had done. Once we finally got a copy of the bill, we learned that majority staff had unilaterally made numerous changes to the bill, in some cases undoing agreements that had been worked out by Members on issues like prevention and wellness.
While this was happening, there were also ongoing bipartisan negotiations, led by Senator Max Baucus. These so- called Gang of Six discussions were an honest attempt to try to develop a bipartisan health care bill that would offer real solutions to the problems that face our health care system.
Ultimately these negotiations failed to produce a bipartisan bill. I do not believe the failure was due to a lack of effort on the part of any of the participants, but rather we were unsuccessful because the Democratic Leadership chose to impose arbitrary and unrealistic deadlines on the process. The decision was made that it was more important to move fast than get it right, and that decision ultimately doomed our efforts.
This in turn led to another partisan mark-up, where the Finance Committee rejected most GOP health reform ideas. Proposals like medical liability reform were rejected on jurisdictional grounds, while the Chairman unilaterally included Democratic provisions that were clearly within the jurisdiction of other Committees. Republican amendments were voted on, and then unilaterally changed at the 11th hour by amendments offered by the Chairman.
The two bills were then merged in secret, with no input from the many Republicans who want to enact a bipartisan health bill. We now have a two thousand and seventy four page bill that reflects many of the worst provisions from both the HELP and Finance Committee bills.
We did not need to end up here today, with Republicans opposing a partisan health care reform bill. This is not how the Senate should develop legislation that will impact one sixth of our nation’s economy and affect the health care of every American.
The former Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, once provided the following perspective on how the Senate should consider major policy changes. He said “never pass major legislation that affects most Americans without real bipartisan support. It opens the door to all kinds of political trouble.”
Chairman Moynihan noted that absent such bipartisan support, the party that didn’t vote for it would feel free to take shots at the resulting program whenever things go wrong, and a large segment of the public would never accept it unless it is an overwhelming success.
Chairman Moynihan understood that a partisan legislative process guarantees that any glitches that occur in implementing the bill would provide ammunition for future attacks, thereby further undermining public support for the new policies. There will unfortunately be plenty of such glitches, if this bill is ever enacted.
The Reid bill will impose $493 billion in new taxes, and many of them will go into effect immediately. At the same time, most Americans will not see any of the insurance reforms or other potential benefits from this bill until at least 2014.
The Reid bill will kill jobs and cuts wages. The Congressional Budget Office has told us that the employer mandates in this bill will likely result in lower wages and higher unemployment. These job and wage cuts would hit low-income workers, women and minorities hardest. It’s hard to believe that with unemployment at a generational high, Democrats would even consider putting more jobs on the chopping block.
The Reid bill mandates that Washington bureaucrats ration care. The bill lays the groundwork for a government takeover of health care, giving Washington bureaucrats the power to prevent patients from seeing the doctor they choose and obtaining new and innovative medical therapies.
The Reid bill spends billions of taxpayer dollars on new pork barrel spending. The bill would build new sidewalks, jungle gyms and farmers’ markets, and creates a $15 billion slush fund for additional pork barrel projects.
This bill also fails to achieve the common sense goals that Republicans and Democrats share. This bill even breaks many of the promises that President Obama has made about health care reform.
President Obama repeatedly called for a health care bill that will reduce costs. This bill will actually drive up health care costs for millions of Americans as a result of new mandates and taxes.
President Obama has also said that if Americans like the insurance they have, they can keep it. Under this bill, millions of Americans will lose their employer provided health insurance.
President Obama promised to not to raise taxes on individuals earning less than $250,000 per year. The bill would impose several new taxes on people who make considerably less than $250,000.
President Obama said that health reform would not increase the deficit. This bill won’t increase the deficit, only if you believe certain things. This bill will not increase the deficit if you believe that Medicare payments to physicians will be cut by 40 percent over the next decade. No one believes that.
The bill will reduce the deficit only if you believe that Medicare payments to other providers will be slashed to levels that will endanger patients’ ability to get the care they need. No one believes that. The bill will only reduce the deficit if you believe that Congress will allow a massive new tax to be imposed on middle class taxpayers. No one believes that.
If you don’t believe that Congress will allow all of those things to happen, then you can’t really believe that this bill will reduce the deficits.
President Obama, in his remarks to the AMA this summer, acknowledged the need to address out of control medical liability. Rather than addressing this issue, this partisan bill preserves our costly, dangerous medical malpractice system.
President Obama finally said that no federal dollars will go to pay for abortion. According to both National-Right-To-Life and the Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Reid bill fails this requirement as well.
Despite all of these failures, this is still not the worst health care bill in Congress. The Wall Street Journal got it right when they described the House passed bill as the worst bill in America. Even if the Senate were to pass the bill before us today, it would still have to go to conference with the House bill, and any final bill would have to move towards several of the provisions in the House bill. And, poll after poll suggest that the American people are opposed to this bill.
Mr. President, if we can defeat this partisan bill, we can get back to work for all the American people and write a bill that garners the support of both parties. I passionately want to reform our health care system to improve quality, reduce costs and increase access.
I think that this legislation fails to meaningfully address these goals, and sticks the American people with a bill that we cannot afford. I believe that we can do better, and we owe it to the American people to try to do so.