REPUBLICAN PERSPECTIVE ON 110TH CONGRESS -- (House of Representatives - January 23, 2007)
Mrs. BLACKBURN. I thank the gentlemen for yielding their time back and doing it in the spirit of bipartisanship.
Mr. Speaker, I hope that now that the 100 hours is out of the way and we are to the point of having the State of the Union, that we will see this body return to a format of regular order and regular process and rules that we have had in place and have respected and this body has abided by through the course of this great Nation. That would, indeed, be welcomed.
In the 100-hour agenda we have seen the majority party take action on some of the issues that they had chosen to address. Their 100-hour agenda has included legislation on student loans that really is not going to do anything to make loans more accessible and available to those students that are trying to get into college. It is not going to reduce the cost of college while it is there. And it will take effect after a person has graduated and then is working and is looking at consolidating those loans and paying them back.
So that one was a little bit of a head-scratcher for a lot of our constituents because we have worked tirelessly to make college more affordable, to raise the caps on what could be loaned for students to get those Stafford loans, Pell Grants and increasing the funding for those, things that actually would make a difference, and that is an accomplishment of the Republican majority over the past decade.
Minimum wage. One of our colleagues had just mentioned minimum wage. And I will point out, Mr. Speaker, to the Members of this body that the actions that were taken on minimum wage, we heard from our small business community. Certainly small business employers that are in my district were very concerned about this. We have heard estimates of 5 to 7 to as much as $17 billion in costs that this would be to our small businesses. That is of tremendous concern. That is a cost that is going to get passed on.
That is a cost that is going to get passed on. And of course in the minimum wage bill, we had the unfortunate error of Tunagate that was crept into that bill somehow in one of the sessions as the bill was being drafted, and there again, not going through regular order in making its way to the House. And we hope that we will see that situation addressed.
And the tuna producers that American Samoa were exempted from that, American Samoa was exempted from that minimum wage. That is not fair to the rest of the tuna producers in this country. It is not fair to the rest of the companies that sell tuna and tuna products, and we do hope that there will be attention placed to that and that issue will be addressed, because it was a northern California, San Francisco, company that produced the tuna that is harvested in American Samoa. We do have concerns about favoritism that was shown there.
The Medicare bill that was passed in the first 100 hours will indeed yield additional costs to the VA. We have had some numbers there that are of quite concern, as much as three-quarters of a billion dollars that this would end up costing, be an additional cost to the veterans health care system, to our veterans for their pharmaceuticals.
And what we have heard from our seniors is that they are pleased with Medicare part D. They are pleased to have access to affordable health care. They are very pleased that prescriptions and pharmaceuticals and therapies that at one point they did not have, that they now have access to that.
It was a little bit of a head-scratcher, Mr. Speaker, that a program that has been so well received by our seniors, that the new majority would come along and say, well, we are going to change it. We are going to tweak it. It does not matter if it is working well.
And it leads us to question: Is it just they want programs that only they design and only they grow, or do they want programs that are going to be of service to the American people?
Another of the bills that came through was the 9/11 Commission implementation, not exactly what had been promised in campaign promises. But, you know, the new majority did take the bill up and did take action. And we have heard from a lot of our businesses that are in logistics and transportation with great concerns, great concerns about the cost.
Mr. Speaker, when you pass additional fees and additional mandates, and additional costs on to business, guess what? Ronald Reagan was right. It is the people that end up paying those costs. It is not businesses that are bearing those costs and absorbing them. They get passed on to you, to me, and to other consumers, the taxpayers, who see their costs go up because the business that they are doing business with is having to meet the mandates of who? Guess what? The mandates of the Federal Government.
So, yes, this has been a very expensive first 100 hours. And it has been troublesome in that regular order was not abided by, the bills were not going through committees and having hearings and having the due diligence process that we as Members of Congress are bound to do. And then they were just coming to the floor without those hearings.
I just had another of our colleagues mention something on health care. Of course, this is an issue that we know the President is going to speak a little bit about this evening. Before we move on to a couple of other points, I do want to make a couple of observations about health care and some of the discussion that was taking place on the issue of health care.
We know the President is going to talk about health care tonight. Now, the Republicans, the conservatives, have an approach that they think is a right approach. We think that it is appropriate for small businesses to be able to band together and come together under an umbrella and purchase health care, health coverage, health insurance for their employees.
That is very good. Our Nation has 40 million uninsured, and to be able to have groups come together, small businesses, let us say all of your florists, or all of your auto supply companies, or all of your plumbing companies, or companies that are a part of the Chamber of Commerce or other small business organizations, or women-owned businesses, businesses of like groups can come together and make that purchase of insurance.
It is called small business health plans or association health plans, very good idea for helping our Nation's 40 million uninsured, and the right type, the right type step because it helps make health care insurance affordable.
Mr. Speaker, that is positive. That is a free-market way to address the situation. It is a pro-small-business way to address the situation. It is the right step.
Another good step is allowing a tax deduction, $5,000, $7,500, for small business that buy insurance. That is the great step. That is the way it should be. You know, when you start looking at the end of the year and filling out your taxes, that is money that you have earned, and being able to take that deduction because you have done something that is right, way to go.
It should be incentivized. There should be deductions for that. And it is appropriate that that take place. Now, those are private sector, free market responses to addressing the health care situation. They work very well with the health savings accounts that were passed as part of the Medicare modernization when that bill came forward in 2003.
Health savings accounts have been tremendously popular. We now know that we have about 15 million Americans that are insured through health savings accounts. The number is growing. By 2010 we know that there will be over 20 million American families that are there and insured through health savings accounts, having the opportunity to take responsibility for their health care from dollar one.
And continuing to incentivize health savings accounts, tax deductions there. There again, it is a private sector, free-enterprise solution to the health care situation, more market-driven, allowing people to have control of access, to take control of their health care decisions, and to participate in those, have choice over who their physician is. Those are the right things to do.
Now, one of my colleagues just made a statement about the haves and the have-nots in health care, and made a statement that health care could be provided and, I think I am quoting this correctly, said: We could do it without any additional cost to the system.
Oh, Mr. Speaker, let me tell you, when I hear things like that, without any additional cost to the system, it certainly causes me to pay a little bit closer attention, because one of the things that we have realized, Mr. Speaker, is you know what? Nothing is free. There is nothing free. Nothing. There is no free lunch. There is nothing free in health care. Somebody is paying the bill.
What we see take place many times is cost shifting, and you will see costs shift within a system. Now, in my wonderful State of Tennessee, we have had an interesting situation take place. We have had a program that went into place in January 1, 1995. It is called TENNCARE, and it was basically a template for HILLARY CLINTON's health care plan. And one of the talking points on it was: There will be no additional costs. We will just spread out the risk. We will allow those who are uninsured, up to so many percent of poverty, 400 percent of poverty, to come in and to access health care, and we will spread the risk. We will do it through managed care organizations. And managed care organizations can compete for the opportunity to provide this insurance.
Well, it has been a program that has had quite a bit of turmoil. We now see that nearly 30 percent of the individuals in our State are on the program, and it is eating up about 36 percent of our State's budget.
The reason for that, Mr. Speaker, is because whenever you are trying to give things for free, someone else is paying. In the case of TENNCARE, it has been the citizens of our State, the taxpayers of our State. And there is no way to ever keep up with the exponential growth of that program. So I would encourage all of my colleagues to be very, very thoughtful as we move forward on the health care debate.
There is no such thing as being free. There is no way to do this with no additional cost, because, as you try to make more things free, what happens is your access is restricted. What happens is you have fewer physicians who are available for those individuals that need those services. What have you when things are free is people flood into that State trying to get that for a reduced fee, and your own citizens of the State who need the program many times are not able to access it.
So I would step very cautiously as our colleagues on the other side of the aisle talk about health care that is going to be free, and universal health care and HILLARY CLINTON's health care plan. There are some pitfalls that are there, and they deserve to be recognized by the body of this House.
As we talk about health care, I would love to yield to the gentleman from Georgia, Dr. PRICE, a distinguished Member of this body who is an expert on health care, for some of his thoughts on the issues of the day.
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Mrs. BLACKBURN. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding. Before I yield back to him for some further comments, I just want to highlight one of the things that he brought up as a physician, and someone who deals with this.
When you have a government-run program, what you are doing is putting bureaucrats in charge of your health care decisions, and you are removing that doctor-patient relationship many times. You are putting a barrier there between the individual and that doctor. Someone else that is removed from the process is making that decision; thereby it removes the patient many times from that decision process.
That is something that we do not want to see this Nation run toward. Our seniors, our families want to be able to participate in making those health care decisions for themselves. We are so pleased to know that the President will talk about, as I said earlier, the private sector free market-based approach to solving our health care problem.
Mr. Speaker, that is what it is going to require, innovation, thinking outside of the box and being certain of something we know: access, affordability, and preserving that doctor-patient relationship.
In my case, preserving health care for Tennesseeans. In the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Price), preserving health care for Georgians. That is where our focus will be as we move forward on this discussion. We do not want a government-run, government-directed program that is going to place barriers between patients and the individuals that are making those decisions with their health care professionals.
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Mrs. BLACKBURN. I thank the gentleman for bringing that forward. The unintended consequences are many times what is so difficult to deal with. In theory to bureaucrats sitting in buildings, that sounded like a great deal: let's have everybody sign the forms.
In practice what happened for physicians, it was additional paperwork, additional staff, and removing the patient from the process, making it longer before they get a definitive diagnosis and know how to begin a protocol and treatment that will restore their health, things that impede a quality of life that our constituents desire.
So those unintended consequences many times get in the way. We are just very hopeful that we will continue the focus and that the Democrats will join us in wanting a private sector, free-market solution to health care and not a government-run bureaucracy.
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rs. BLACKBURN. It does indeed. I thank the gentleman for yielding back.
Having this process that gets more and more convoluted every single day is of such concern to our constituents who just want to be able to go to the doctor, have a relationship with the doctor and know a little bit about what to expect.
As I said earlier, not knowing what to expect has been one of the interesting points that we have dealt with in this first 100 hours. I think that we all have been a little bit concerned about a bill that was brought forward on Friday. I know my constituents asked about it as they heard about it over the weekend. We talked about it on the floor some this morning, and this is allowing
the Delegates voting rights.
I have had constituents say, well now, wouldn't that require an amendment to the Constitution? They remember when this debate took place at different times through history back in the 1970s and again in the early 1990s when there were those that wanted to give voting rights to our territories. They are very, very concerned about this, and rightfully so.
This morning on the floor earlier I quoted a comment that was made by the Democrat Speaker of the House in 1970, Tom Foley, who said: ``It is very clear that a constitutional amendment would be required to give Delegates a vote in the Committee of the Whole or in the full House.' That was taken from a New York Times editorial.
Now, this is something that we have to realize, we hold our Constitution and the orderly process and the rule of law that is laid forth in that Constitution, we hold that to be meaningful. We recognize the necessity, Mr. Speaker, to respect the Constitution of this great land. We respect that it is built on one man, one vote and equal representation under the law.
So when we hear about giving the residents of our territories a vote, it is of concern to us and it does raise several succinct points that we have discussed on the floor today. It is a point worthy of discussion because it appears that since this has not gone through regular order and through the committee process, we haven't held hearings, this is nothing more than an unconstitutional power grab in order to try to move the new majority's agenda. It is of tremendous concern.
I yield to the gentleman from Georgia for some comments on the issue.
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Mrs. BLACKBURN. Mr. Speaker, repeating again from the Constitution that the representatives of this body are popularly elected from the several States, and that is so important, and I want to talk for just a moment about the size of our districts.
Mine is right around 700,000 people. We have some that I think are as low as 640,000, 650,000. They are going to vary just a little bit. But that is the size of them.
We do appreciate so much the guidance that is given by the Delegates from the territories. They are a valuable participation and a valuable addition and a wonderful and treasured resource of this body. We need their opinion and their input. But the Constitution does not allow for their having a vote.
I think in Guam we have about 155,000 people, and in American Samoa there are about 57,000 people.
So we look at one man, one vote and the equal representation, and then we have to say, my goodness, that is just really a far smaller number. That is the size of many of our towns or our counties that we represent when you have a district like mine. So I think that it is important for us to realize that.
And it is important for us also to realize that these are Delegates that will be able to vote to raise your taxes, but they are not paying those Federal income taxes, and that is of tremendous concern to our constituents.
Mr. Speaker, we have dubbed this time and again the ``hold on to your wallet Congress' because it seems as if they are looking for ways to increase the cost of government and increase the size of that bureaucracy. And our concern is that this is another of those ways that would make it easier to raise your taxes.
And I yield back to the gentleman from Georgia.
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Mrs. BLACKBURN. I thank the gentleman.
And one of the things that we have our focus on as we prepare for the State of the Union tonight and for the work that is before us for the rest of this Congress is certainly making certain that we are successful in our efforts in Iraq and making certain that we are successful in the war on terror.
Mr. Speaker, our constituents know that this has been a long war. They know that the terrorists started attacking us over two decades ago, and they also know that on September 11 this Nation decided we were no longer going to respond to terrorist attacks as civil disobedience. What we were going to do was to change course, and we were going to respond to it as what it is: an act of war. And our constituents all know, especially constituents in my district, National Guard families, Reserve families, families at Fort Campbell that are in our district, they know that this is a very, very difficult time for our Nation, and it is a difficult time for our men and women in uniform. And they know that freedom is worth protecting.
And when I talk to those men and women, many who have been deployed in Afghanistan, have done two deployments in Iraq and know that they may be going back, they will say, Yes, we are going back because our job is not done. And they understand it, Mr. Speaker. And they know that we take a step forward and then we take a step or two back, and that it comes very slowly, and that progress is very slow.
We have seen, and our colleague JOHN SHADEGG had handed me an article from Real Clear Politics that pointed out some things that have been happening recently that just haven't caught the eye of the media, and I wish that they had because I would like for them to catch the eye of the American people.
First of all, there appears to be some retreating by al Qaeda from Baghdad because they know that troop levels are returning to where they were during the electoral process that took place in January of last year in Iraq. They know that the radical cleric, al Sadr, has decided to call off his boycott, and that his people are returning to participate in that newly formed Parliament, and they know that he is lowering his profile. And they also have seen Prime Minister al Maliki begin to take a change of course and to put some distance between himself and al Sadr. But this is of tremendous concern to us when we hear the naysayers talk about cutting funding and not supporting the troops.
And this morning I was on the floor speaking about our colleague SAM JOHNSON, who truly is a hero and has a wonderful piece of legislation that steps forward. It is House Resolution 511, and it really pushes forward on the idea of supporting our troops and funding these men and women who are in harm's way, making certain that they have what they need to do the job that is in front of them; sending the message to them that we stand with them and we are not going to desert them.
We know that this is difficult work. We know that it is a job, as I said, that is slow; that progress is slow. But, Mr. Speaker, as we stand here today preparing for the State of the Union, and as we expect to hear this evening from our Commander in Chief that the state of the Union is indeed strong, we also want these men and women in uniform to know that it is strong because of the work they do.
We have the ability to stand here every day and talk about freedom and defend freedom and talk about having a Nation that is so wonderful and so diverse that we all, each and every one of us, can pursue our dreams, can focus on hope and opportunity that is so important to us. We do that because men and women have put their life on the line, many times more than once, many times for days on end, to be certain that freedom remains. And we feel that it is appropriate to bring forward a resolution that says fund the troops and fund their needs.
We think that it is important that we move forward letting the men and women know that, when they are in the field, we are listening to them. We are listening to the troops. We are listening to the commanders, and we respect their judgment. That is an important message for us to send.
And I yield to the gentleman from Georgia for his comments.
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Mrs. BLACKBURN. I thank the gentleman.
I will close our hour by referencing some comments I have had from some veterans in my district. I love the fact that I have absolutely wonderful veterans who participate with me on these issues in our National Security Coalition, in our Veterans Coalition, which are advisory groups for me. And I have had great discussions with them and have sent them information about the new strategy going forward in Iraq, about some of the conversations that have been taking place here, and have sought their best judgment, men and women who have worn the uniform and have been there and who have fought and seeking their best judgment. And a couple of their comments, I think, are so incredibly significant.
One of them says: ``We have to continue our push forward and let our military make the decisions in this war. When the House and Senate changed, there was no doubt there would be a change of efforts. Our enemy knows this and will continue to strike as long as they think our country is not united.'
And another of the veterans said in this e-mail: ``What is important is that we show a unified front to the enemy and we give the new plan and the deployment a chance to work. If we win, if we defeat radical Islam, then maybe, maybe, this is all going to be worth it.'
Mr. Speaker, these men and women who have put that uniform on and have gone into battle know that this is the price that we pay. They understand that this is not going to be easy. They know, and they are watching the President's speech tonight, and they are watching our response. And I would submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that our enemy is watching our response. And I will submit to you that, while we all have different philosophies, we all come from different districts, and we are a very diverse body, I would commend to you and my colleagues that it is important that we stand with our men and women in uniform, that we show a unified front and show that we are committed to being certain that this Nation continues to stand as a great Nation and that we persevere.