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Floor Statement
FY2010 Budget Resolution Conference Agreement
April 29, 2009

Any time you talk about money, whether it's at home, at work, or here in the U.S. Senate, it raises a lot of concern and difficulty. And I know this has been a difficult process to work through. And, of course, I have a major disagreement with the budget that I want to concentrate a little bit on, because I'm not only on the Budget Committee, I'm also on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which is a big bite of the apple, especially since the President's placed so much emphasis on health care reform and education reform this year. And I also happen to be on the Finance Committee, so the three committees have to interact on -- on those issues, particularly the health care as health care reform. Probably because it involves 100 percent of the American people. Seldom do we have a bill that involves that. This also involves every single business in the United States and every single health care provider, and all of them are nervous and probably ought to be nervous as long as we're in session. So I will speak in opposition because of a particular part of the budget resolution conference agreement that I'm really disappointed in.

As I review the agreement before the Senate, it once again reminds me of the old adage that I referred to before, "You can pay me now or you can pay me later," and this budget conference agreement leaves the bills for later. It taxes too much, it spends too much, and it borrows too much. And I ask my colleagues if this is the legacy that we want to leave our children and our grandchildren and actually we're going to paying for it within our lifetime. It isn't just going to be the next generation. We ought to know better.

Yesterday we were having a hearing in the HELP committee where we were talking to several states that have done something significant in the area of health care, and I really liked the round table approach. That's where you bring in people that have done something and they explain how they did it why they did it what the results were, what they'd do again. It's not like a regular hearing where one side invites in some of the witnesses and the other side invites one of the witnesses and everybody shows up to beat up on the witnesses. This is to get information, and it was fascinating because we had Massachusetts, we had California, we had Vermont, we had Utah -- four states that have tried or done something in the area of health care. And yesterday California explained their health care reform and had to mention that it failed. I asked why. They said it was primarily because they had a $14 billion deficit that they were trying to figure out how to cover and health care costs money. Now, I did have to point out that our deficit is significantly bigger than $14 billion each and every year. And even proportionately it's significantly bigger. So that will raise some difficulties, and this budget resolution conference agreement doesn't get near to solving that problem. Not even in the long run. So we're not considering a conference report that will confront any of the tough financial priority choices that face our country. As I've said repeatedly, we cannot sustain the current level of spending without inflicting grave danger on the fiscal health of our country.

And recently I noticed that England tried to sell some bonds, and they had difficulty selling them. They didn't sell them. And everyone will recall that China has been asking what additional guarantees we would give on our bonds. What does that say? It says that we've maxed out our credit cards. Now, every individual in America that's ever had a maxed-out credit card knows what that means. It means you can't get more credit. We've run out of credit, particularly if we run deficits.

So one of the most offensive and dangerous parts of this conference agreement is the use of budget reconciliation. It's a procedural tool, and it's a backdoor method to bypass a fair and full legislative process. The Senate was designed include the minority views, and there aren't issues that it's more important to do this than with health care reform and education reform. I'm hoping that on either of those, in order for the American people to have confidence in what we're doing, that we will put together a bill that will have 75 or 80 votes. We need to have that kind of agreement here in order to have a plan that will work. And Lord help the party that designs one that does not work or that stops the process of getting one to work. Both sides have a tremendous responsibility in the health care and the education debate. And either one can end their party with either of those bills.

Reconciliation's intended use is for meaningful deficit reduction on budgetary issues. If you attack those problems purely from a budgetary issue, you cannot get to the core of the problem, and you cannot resolve it. I just came from a Senate Finance Committee meeting where we're talking about the Senate Finance Committee piece of health care. That's separate from the health, education, labor and pensions portion of health care, and both have to work together along with the Budget Committee in order to come up with a plan. Now, today we were going through roughly one-third of the problem. We were going to go through the delivery system part and how do we deliver health care -- quality health care. We have a little eight-page document here, the first page is just a cover page. The second page is just a summary. The third page is where we spent the last two hours. Now, there are five more pages to go. And the other five pages are more difficult than the first page. And after we finish all of this and reach some resolution, which we're hoping to do before the middle of may, then we have to look at coverage, what kind of coverage people are going to be given, if they're under health care, and we want to get everyone under health care. And then the final piece want to do is thousand pay for it. So you can see -- how to pay for it so you can see it is a very complicated process. And this reconciliation is intended for the use of meaningful deficit reduction on budgetary issues.

And the budget resolution that passed this chamber in March, the Senate version was silent on reconciliation. Reconciliation is included in the House budget resolution and was therefore an item to be resolved during the conference process. The conference agreement provides reconciliation instructions to the finance committee and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on both health care reform and higher education. I serve on both of these committees, as I've mentioned, and as the rank republican on the HELP Committee -- and I do have expertise on the issues at the heart of the debate. I also have a track record of legislative accomplishments and getting bills across the finish line. It doesn't do any good to just debate them if they don't get finished, it never helps anybody. I work on getting them across the finish line. The way to do that is to focus on the 80 percent rule. That means focusing on the issues where there's general agreement 80 percent of the time, rather than the 20 percent of the issues where consensus isn't likely. And on that 80 percent, you have to pick out the 80 percent of the issue that everybody can agree on and find another way, a new way of doing that other 20 percent. Then you can reach the goal. But if you're divided at the beginning, you won't get the 80 percent, let alone the other 20 percent. And it takes time. It takes time to keep everybody calm and focused and listening. And it takes time to reach solutions, particularly on the 20 percent where you're trying to come up with a new way, where neither side loses face, and get a result.

So what we have is a situation where the House of Representatives is dictating the Senate process. Now, how did reconciliation instructions make it into the conference report after so many powerful Senate democrats -- the Senate Budget committee chairman, the Senate Finance committee chairman, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee chairman -- that's all of the committees that are involved in this -- they all opposed using reconciliation and said they would fight to keep it out of the budget. How did that important number of people get rolled on this thing? How did that happen? They said they opposed it but it winds up in there. The House Rules Committee can allow large comprehensive bills to be cleared in a single afternoon. They don't need t they can do it irrespective whether the bill is designated as reconciliation legislation. However, in the Senate, without privileged designation, it could take a week or more to consider the same legislation. It does take longer over here. That's because we want to get it right.

Using the reconciliation process does not allow for a full and open debate in the Senate. It does not allow a thorough vetting and amendment process. Its fast-track nature shuts out members particularly from the minority party, so it is a declaration that republican ideas and centrist democrat ideas are going to be left out of the mix.

Let's counter the successful way that legislation is typically considered on the HELP Committee. We often work in a bipartisan way that results in much of of our legislation worked out with strong support from both sides of the aisle. Laws like the Pension Protection Act and the head start reauthorization were hundreds of pages in length and they passed the Senate with little debate. And by huge margins. I'm deeply disappointed that the final budget resolution paves the way for a partisan process, particularly on these issues that are important on education and health. And I got to say, the most radical on both sides will favor this. The most radical will favor it. Now, the far left democrats see this as a way to do it their way, and the far right republicans see a way to delay it so it doesn't get done because they'll be able to cause confusion with the amount of time that's involved in it and that will be bad for both sides. It won't work for either side. It won't work for the American people. That's why it won't work for either side. That's why we've got to be Centrist on this thing. That will take time. That will take time in committee, and if we do the proper amount in committee, it will take less time on the floor. We've proven that with past things. But to just throw out this little bomb that says, “We're going to do this in a very short period of time really affects the ability to work closely together.”

One truly difficult challenge this congress has to address is how to get control of it America's exploding health care costs. Simply throwing more money at the problem is not a solution. Real health care reform has to be bipartisan, and it has to have a full and open debate. If we enact the wrong health care fix, we'll worsen our budget crisis. And enacting reforms without increasing costs represents an unsustainable promise that the American people will long regret. It's taking its time to do these roundtables and hearings. Yesterday Massachusetts, Vermont, California, Utah talked about their experiences. And we learned a lot. Both sides learned a lot. They have learned a lot. The states are really laboratories for the federal government. What works at the state level might have some transformation in the federal level. On the other hand, if we take it all at the federal level and do a one-size-fits-all, we can damage efforts that can be done at the local level and the local level is where people live.

Health care reform is too big of an issue to advance with procedural shortcuts. There never has been a bill with as many moving parts that affects as many people as health care reform will. To get a workable solution, it will require the effort of everybody in the senate, and I think we can bring them together and do that. If we can't come up with a plan that will earn the support of at least 75 or 80 senators, this institution will is not gain the confidence of the American people and without that confidence, the plan will fail. We'll never overcome the objections that will be raised. Misusing the reconciliation process to get a health care bill or higher education reforms is not the right approach. And it conflicts with the new bipartisan spirit that the president has promised. This is a disappointing day in the senate. Moving health care reform bill through reconciliation rehashes what we've been suffering from -- the Pelosi war cry, “We won the election, we get to write the bills.” It's not right. This kind of partisanship disenfranchises millions of Americans, not just senators -- millions of Americans, and it's wrong. They're looking for commonsense solutions, not party messages. The American people deserve a good bipartisan bill that will work. Using reconciliation will make that impossible.

While I expect that Chairman Conrad has the votes to pass this conference agreement, I'm going to urge my colleagues to stop the resolution and on the basis of needing to have good health care reform done the right way with everybody working on it and that's exactly how it has to be. It can't be just one side and anybody who opposes health care reform, unless it’s because it was rushed through with just one party listening, will suffer, too. So if we get everybody together, we can come up with a plan that will work and I just regret that that ever made it into the budget and still can't believe that that could be a part of it. A House that doesn't need it, imposing it on a Senate that knows better. I yield the floor and reserve the balance of time.