RENEWABLE ENERGY AND JOB CREATION ACT OF 2008--Continued -- (Senate - September 23, 2008)
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Mr. DOMENICI. Mr. President, my thanks to the chairman.
First, I wish to thank a number of individuals and institutions.
First and foremost, I thank Senator Kennedy. Senator Kennedy is my long-time partner and friend in our work on parity and other mental health issues. Obviously, he cannot be here today, but he is fully aware of what we are doing. I know he is very pleased with what we are doing and thrilled that we have found the offset for our bill, the bill that has been accepted by the House.
The question is whether our bill with the offset or our bill with a different offset becomes law. There should be no doubt that we will now get parity of treatment for a large number of Americans suffering from mental illness.
My further thanks go to Senator Enzi. I could not have asked for a better colleague to help work on this issue of mental health parity.
Senator Dodd, my long-time friend, has done an admirable job standing in for Senator Kennedy, not to mention his own work on mental health issues.
Chairman Baucus and Senator Grassley: Simply put, we could not be here without you.
Leaders Reid and McConnell: I cannot say enough about the fantastic assistance the leaders have provided and they should certainly share with us the optimism that comes from this bill.
Members of the House of Representatives Kennedy and Ramstad, the chairmen and members of the committees of jurisdiction and the leadership in the House; our superb coalition outside the Senate and House. Mental health groups, insurance companies, and business organizations banded together and stayed together to ensure a broadly supported bill.
It might shock some, but I read the long list of those who banded together. And yes, you will see that this bill is supported by businesses--by big businesses--by those who pay for the large numbers of people who are covered by insurance and who are going to be guaranteeing parity of treatment under this bill. Finally, my dear friend Paul Wellstone. He was always the one who pushed and prodded me to move quicker and faster. I know he is watching us today and is extremely proud of what we have accomplished.
Let me take a couple of minutes to talk about the historic mental health parity compromise before the Senate.
Twelve years have passed since the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 became law. The compromise is the product of 3-plus years of continuous work and thousands of hours of labor. Rather than say just thousands, I will say a thousand hours at a minimum. For those 3-plus years I would walk into my office from time to time and I would see my conference room occupied by 30 or 40 people. Whenever that conference room was full, I knew that the member of my staff who handles mental health parity, Edward Hild, who is sitting at my right hand today, was among them. He was working with them to see what they could agree on and to see which problems could be solved. Joined with him was Senator Kennedy's aide, Connie Garner. I thank the two of them especially. Without them we could not have completed this bill. They worked and worked in order to get all sides to agree. And now we have what many have waited for a long time. My thanks to Ed Hild, and Connie Garner, who works for Senator Kennedy.
What does this bill do? It provides mental health parity for about 113 million Americans who work for employers with 50 employees or more. It ensures that 98 percent of the businesses that provide a mental health benefit do so in a manner that is no more restrictive than the coverage of medical and surgical benefits.
It ensures that health plans do not place more restrictive conditions on mental health coverage than on medical and surgical coverage; parity for financial requirements, such as deductibles, copayments, and annual and lifetime limits; parity for treatment limitations, and the number of covered hospital days and visits.
It provides an out-of-network parity for mental health coverage if a plan provides out-of-network coverage for medical and surgical benefits.
It provides a small employer exemption for companies with fewer than 50 employers and provides a cost exemption to all covered employers.
Simply put, our legislation will ensure that individuals with a mental illness have parity between mental health coverage and medical and surgical coverage. No longer will people with mental illness have their mental health coverage treated differently than their coverage for other illnesses. That means there will be parity between the coverage of mental illness and other medical conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
No longer will people be treated differently only because they suffer from a mental illness. And that means 113 million people in group health policy plans will benefit from our bill.
We have worked with the mental health community and business and insurance groups to carefully craft a compromise that all members of the coalition support.
I wish to take a minute to talk about what we are doing and what we are not doing. I have done that in all of my remarks, talking about what we are doing and what we are not doing.
Mr. President, I say to everyone here, I do believe that if Senator Kennedy had his way, he would be standing over there where his chair is and he would be speaking as long as I speak or maybe longer. He and I would be discussing how difficult it has been to get this very basic American insurance coverage for the mentally ill.
Parity means fairness. We have been unfair to the mentally ill since we started medical insurance coverage for people with illnesses. Somehow we got off the track. We said, of course, we will treat everything that has to do with the heart, but, for instance, we won't do anything having to do with illnesses that affect the brain. Perhaps, it was because we didn't know that illnesses such as schizophrenia were diseases of the brain. We started talking about them as if they were something else. So we began saying they don't get the kind of coverage that people with heart problems do, or people with cancer do, or people with tuberculosis do.
What we have had is millions of Americans, since health insurance was first started, to this date, millions of Americans have been born and died with mental illnesses. Illnesses never covered by health insurance. However, over time the unfairness has been whittled away, and we have become more and more fair.
Today this bill says all of the group insurance policies in the United States of America, no matter who wrote them, no matter where they were written, no matter which company they were written by or for, will have to provide for the mentally ill who are covered. If they are going to have any mental health coverage, those insurance companies must cover them with the exact same coverage they give to others who suffer from other diseases as I have described in the last 6 or 7 minutes.
This is a red-letter day for fairness, a red-letter day for doing something very positive. This was a tough one, and it should have been easy. But it was tough. It took many years to get it through here. In fact, the last effort we had, believe it or not, we had a Senator who was so concerned about his work that he said he wanted one more weekend. To which I said: What can you do in one more weekend? And his response--and he was sincere--he said: I want to finish reading the bill. Nobody tells us that, but he did. He finished reading the bill. I thank him. I said: You must be a genius to understand what we wrote. I compliment you. That was one of our last hurdles. That was months ago in the Senate. Then it got to the House, this final bill, this bill before us today.
We had a parity bill a number of years ago which was quasi almost parity. That got through here a little easier, although even that bill was resisted in the House. Many of us have warmed to the idea finally that the mentally ill of our country are truly people who are sick, and if they are treated by doctors or in hospitals for that ailment--be it schizophrenia, be it bipolar, be it depression, any of those doctors have to treat--those patients ought to be covered by general health insurance.
I am so pleased we are finally doing this bill. I am so unhappy that my friend Senator Kennedy cannot be here today. He and I spent many hours talking about this legislation, changing it, moving it around. I know he would have loved to have been here. So I say on behalf of Senator Kennedy that he and I thank the Senate for this bill. It will be adopted shortly.
My 10 minutes is up. This is on a bill which is destined to pass. We were glad to put it on the bill. Maybe we helped the bill; maybe the bill helped us. In any event, we are trying to do everything that anybody asks of us. We even had the Congressional Budget Office say this bill costs the Government money, and that was a hard thing to eat and buy, but we did buy it. It took us a long time because we had to have an offset. We did get one.
For those people interested in the bill, I have said everything about the bill and the people with mental illness across our land. I have seen these people by the thousands--the mothers and fathers and relatives of the mentally ill. They are my friends across the land. Today, we have added other things and we are getting close to covering the mentally ill, as we should--as a concerned, considerate country should do.
I yield the floor. I suggest the absence of a quorum.
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Mr. DOMENICI. Mr. President, as a Senator that not only represents a leader in renewable energy technology but also helps run the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I am pleased that we have finally reached a compromise which will allow us to extend important tax credits for renewable energy.
History tells us that our most promising technologies frequently need government assistance in order to get off the ground and become economically viable. One of the most effective ways we can do this is through our Tax Code.
Our Nation is facing unprecedented challenges in our financial markets and in energy. I have spent much of my time over the last few months talking about the need to build a bridge toward our energy future. I believe that bridge consists of increased oil and gas production from American lands offshore. I am pleased to note that since the time I first introduced legislation to open up lands offshore in May, there has been a sea change in both public opinion and the opinions of my colleagues on this issue.
But the domestic oil and gas that I am talking about is not the entire solution. In fact, as I said, it is just a bridge to the ultimate solution, and that is the development of new technologies that will allow us to use far less oil. Those technologies include plug-in hybrid cars as well as renewable energy sources like wind, solar, biomass and geothermal.
In 2005, as chairman of the Energy Committee, I was pleased to lead the Senate to pass the largest and longest tax credits for renewable energy in history. We have renewed those tax credits several times since then, but these credits are once again set to expire. Every time they get close to expiring, investments in the industry begin to dry up, and the uncertainty hurts our Nation's ability to deploy these technologies in a timely and cost-effective manner.
We have struggled with the tax extensions during this Congress, because, frankly, the majority has decided to play politics with them. For the first time in history, they have demanded that they be offset through tax increases. Although the Senate voted 88-8 to extend them without those tax increases earlier this year, the House refused to consider our proposal, and the renewable energy industry has suffered as a result.
At last, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel if the House of Representatives doesn't seek to politicize this issue once again. A reasonable, commonsense agreement to extend the tax credits for renewable energy, as well as do several other important things like mental health parity and fixing the AMT problem, has been reached. I will address those subjects in greater detail, but it should be noted that the agreement now before us does offset much of the cost of the tax credit extensions, but it does so in a way that will not harm domestic production of energy.
I urge my colleagues to support this agreement in its totality, and I sincerely hope that the House will take up this entire package and pass it so that these essential tax credits will once again not be allowed to expire.