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U. S. Troops Readiness, Veterans' Health, and Iraq Accountability Act, 2007--Conference Report

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

U.S. TROOP READINESS, VETERANS' HEALTH, AND IRAQ ACCOUNTABILITY ACT, 2007--CONFERENCE REPORT -- (Senate - April 26, 2007)

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, the title of this bill, ``The U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health, and Iraq Accountability Act,'' doesn't say much for the contents of this legislation because it has gone way beyond that with a lot of material that has nothing to do with the title. The Finance Committee matters definitely don't fit into this bill.

As the distinguished chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Byrd has said on so many occasions the Founding Fathers vested the great power of the purse in the Congress. Likewise, the other great power, the power to raise taxes, is vested in Congress. The power of the purse, appropriations, is our power. We are directly accountable to our constituents for our spending actions. In that vein, I deeply respect the deep traditions of the Appropriations Committee.

As former chairman and now ranking member of the Finance Committee, I also deeply respect the division of power. The power to tax is our power as a committee, and we are directly accountable to our constituents for our taxing actions. We should mix the jurisdiction of the two great money committees--Finance and Appropriations--rarely, if at all. It should only occur if at all when the senior members of the tax writing and appropriations committees agree. Mixing tax writing and appropriations jurisdiction should not occur. As a leadership power play, those kinds of actions demean the committees.

Fortunately, the leadership respected this division of jurisdiction between the tax writers and appropriators over the last 6 years. Unfortunately, early on in the tenure of this new Democratic majority and their leadership, we have seen a dramatically different course of action for purely partisan reasons.

The Democratic leadership inserted into this sensitive supplemental appropriations bill two major matters that involve Finance Committee jurisdiction. So the first lesson we have learned is that the line between the tax writing committee jurisdiction and appropriations jurisdiction will not be observed. That will only undermine each committee and break down the committee process. The second lesson is the ``I told you so.'' Shortly after the Senate acted on the minimum wage and small business tax relief bill, I said I had learned something from the Democratic leadership, as they were in the minority over the last 6 years. It was a lesson the Democrats taught us while they were in the minority. That lesson is, get a preconference agreement. Put another way, if you are in the Senate minority, as we are now, don't agree to a conference unless you secure an agreement for fair treatment in advance. That is something that worked well for the Democrats while they were in the minority, something we ought to have learned, and we have learned.

Now let me say I appreciate all the consultation and courtesy that Chairman Baucus has given me. He worked with me and I worked with him to get the minimum wage, small business tax relief bill through the committee. But the composition of the final package that is before us is heavily weighted toward an extension and modification of the work opportunity tax credit--and I support that credit--and the benefits of that policy are delayed. Small businesses need tax relief to be in sync with the time of the minimum wage kicking in. Both of these outcomes do not reflect a proportionate agreement between the House and Senate bills. The arbitrary ceiling on the amount of tax relief was not a fair balance. This agreement confirms that a preconference process--learning that from the Democratic minority of the last 4 years--is necessary to ensure that a conference agreement will reflect the priorities of both bodies. I will reiterate my point to the Republican leadership again on that. This process proves that we need a preconference agreement before agreeing to go to conference in the first place.

Now I will return to the substance of the deal, Mr. President. I am hearing from a lot of small business folks who are going to be paying the minimum wage. They want to retain their current workforces, hey have to look to the bottome line. They are very disappointed that the arbitrary $5 billion limit meant that important tax relief measures were tossed out. I am referring to a simplification of the cash method of accounting. That proposal would cut down on a lot of paperwork small businesses currently have to do. I'm also referring to faster depreciation rules for new restaurant buildings, and I am referring to faster depreciation rules for retailers and owner-financed building improvements. All of these proposals would help with the coming cash crunch that these small businesses will be facing.

I am not hearing from a lot of the big business folks who were targeted by the loophole closers and antitax shelter measures. Because of House opposition and fealty to the $5 billion number, those reasonable revenue raisers were tossed out the window.

This was a missed opportunity. It was a missed opportunity for a Congress that started with a supposed reform mission to send a message to K Street in DC and Wall Street in New York City. That message would've been simple. Don't engage in tax shelters like the so-called ``SILO'' transactions. Don't move your company headquarters offshore to minimize your American tax responsibilities like the so-called ``inversion'' transactions. For high-paid CEOS, don't rely too much on non-qualified deferred compensation arrangements. Nope, you can kiss that opportunity goodbye.

When it came to the small business tax relief package, K Street and Wall Street big business won and Main Street small business lost. Not a good outcome. Hopefully, once this bill is vetoed and we return to the minimum wage/small business tax relief package, Main Street small business will come out on top.

Now I am going to turn to the other Finance Committee material in this time-sensitive appropriations bill. I am referring to Medicaid proposals in the conference agreement. There is a provision in the conference agreement that would prevent CMS from implementing the cost-limitation rule.

Certainly, a one-year moratorium is an improvement over the two-year moratorium that was in the bill as passed by the Senate, but the language in the bill still encourages states to push the envelope on payment schemes.

If CMS gets a waiver or state plan amendment that has authority to do with the rule, I don't think CMS has the authority to turn it down. Neither does CMS.

And after trying to work it out with the sponsors of the provision for the last couple of weeks, I don't think they want CMS to have any authority either.

Why? This is a provision written for the benefit of a special interests so they can avoid real scrutiny of their financing arrangements.

This provision will encourage states to offer payment schemes that CMS has previously disallowed as being inappropriate.

It will encourage litigation if CMS tries to assert that they do still maintain jurisdiction.

This is just bad public policy.

The inspector general has investigated and reported to congress on why there are problems in the areas the rule addresses.

We have not had the first hearing on why the rule doesn't work and must be stopped.

This is a tremendous mistake and should not be in the bill.

The way that this provision is paid for is equally noxious.

The extension of the Wisconsin pharmacy plus waiver is an unnecessary earmark. Every State but Wisconsin has changed their pharmacy assistance program as the MMA required.

But why hasn't Wisconsin? It's very simple. They want the Federal dollars that Medicaid provides and the rebates they get from drug companies.

That it is an earmark is bad. But the way the language is written is really offensive. The language is written in a way that games Medicaid's budget neutrality test. It's written to guarantee that it appears to save money.

The reality is that Wisconsin will be providing many poor seniors with less of a benefit than they could get through part d. Wisconsin charges greater cost-sharing than Medicare for low income seniors.

It truly is another missed opportunity. They could have paid for this with a provision we would have gladly supported.

But again, the special interest won out. We could have struck a provision that the House Rules Committee stuck in the tax bill in the middle of the night last December that creates an unfair advantage for certain private fee-for-service Medicare Advantage plans.

Senator Baucus and I thought this was terrible policy, we said so on the floor, and have wanted to change it. Plans based in Illinois and Nevada are among the plans it advantages most. So for some reason, striking the provision didn't make it into the bill. It's a corporate giveaway that should be eliminated.

Legislating to prevent CMS from cleaning up intergovernmental transfers scams on this appropriation bill sets a bad precedent. That is clear. It's legislation on Medicaid and, that is a basic part of the jurisdiction of the Finance Committee.

If the Senate proceeds in this manner, then nothing then would prevent the Senate legislating changes on other Medicaid and Medicare issues on appropriation bills without the benefit of hearings or committee action on those subjects.

Invading the Medicaid and Medicare jurisdiction of the Finance Committee is a mistake.

It is almost impossible to cope with Medicaid and Medicare legislation on appropriation bills. These are complex issues that are best dealt with by the committee of jurisdiction.

This bill is going to be vetoed. The Appropriations Committee will return to its work to fund the troops in the field. We ought to focus on that. On minimum wage/small business tax relief, we need to go to regular order. Let's arrive at a pre-conference agreement on the House and Senate bills and go to conference and hash it out with a real conference. Unlike this situation, the chairmen and ranking members of both tax writing committees should be conferees. In that setting, we can arrive at a bipartisan agreement that passes the House, Senate, and be signed by the President. On the Medicaid provision, it ought to be crafted by the committees of jurisdiction and incorporated in a vehicle controlled by those committees.

After the veto, let's get this right. I would ask the leadership to get out of the way of the tax writing committees and let us do our work on our schedule in line with our committees' objectives.

I yield the floor.


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