Department Of The Interior, Environment, And Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010
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Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I rise to call my colleagues' attention to a truly disturbing development in the health care debate. A colleague of ours--a colleague of ours--has called for an investigation into a major health care company because this company informed its customers of its concerns about health care legislation that this colleague of ours introduced. Let me say that again. A colleague of ours has called for an investigation of a major health care company because this company disagreed with a bill our colleague introduced.
As a result, the Federal Government has now told all companies that provide Medicare Advantage to stop communicating with their clients about the effects of that legislation. Let me say that again. The Federal Government has now told these companies to stop communicating with their clients about the effects of a piece of legislation that is before us, even telling them what they can and cannot post on their Web sites. This gag order, enforced through an agency of the Federal Government at the request of a Senator, is wrong.
It started when a company based in my hometown of Louisville, KY--Humana--had the temerity in the eyes of some of our colleagues to explain to its customers that if Medicare Advantage is cut, as the chairman's mark requires, it may reduce benefits which, of course, is a commonsense conclusion.
This is America, the United States of America. Citizens, either as individuals or grouped together in companies, have a fundamental right--a fundamental right--to talk about legislation they favor or oppose in this country.
This is the core of the first amendment's protections of speech. Unfortunately, this is part of a troubling trend of efforts to dismiss the concerns raised by the American people over the past few months.
Over the summer, we saw American citizens who raised concerns about the health care proposals before Congress dismissed--utterly dismissed--as somehow un-American by leaders in Congress. That is bad enough, but using the full weight of the Federal Government's enforcement powers to stifle free speech should trouble all Americans--and all of us--even more. We cannot allow government officials to target individuals or companies because they do not like what they say.
The latest effort to squelch free speech raises several serious questions.
Is this what we have come to as a country; that an individual or company can no longer factually advocate their position on an incredibly important public policy issue? Is this what we have come to in America?
Shouldn't customers have a right to know the potential impact of a congressional action?
Is this what we believe as a Senate; that this body should debate a trillion-dollar health care bill that affects every single American while using the powerful arm of the government to shut down speech?
Is this how citizens and companies can expect to be treated if health care reform passes; that any health provider that disagrees with a powerful Senator will be subject to an investigation and a gag order for disagreeing with a powerful Senator?
How is this any different than what the Washington Post and the New York Times have done in lobbying for a reporter shield law? Would we stand by if the Judiciary Committee asked the FBI to investigate the media for taking positions on pending legislation with which we do not agree? Of course not.
Humana is headquartered in my hometown of Louisville, and, yes, I care deeply about its 8,000 employees in Kentucky. But this gag order now applies to all Medicare Advantage providers. Shut up, the government says. Don't communicate with your customers. Be quiet and get in line.
I remind my colleagues that I have spent a good part of my career defending the first amendment rights of people to criticize their elected officials, including me. I would make the same argument if this were a company based in San Francisco or Helena, MT, or Chicago.
The right to free speech is at the core of our democracy. Free citizens have a first amendment right to petition their government for a redress of grievances. This gag order on companies such as Humana and those in all our States, in my view, is a clear violation of that right and it is wrong.
Employers who warn their customers about the effects of legislation are not the ones who should be getting warnings. They are not the ones who ought to be getting warnings. Senators who threaten first amendment rights are the ones who should be getting the warnings.
I yield the floor.
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Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I say to my friend from Tennessee, he is absolutely correct. There are two obvious violations of the first amendment here. One is the right to speak freely and the other is the right to petition Congress for a redress of grievances.
Here you have an industry, the health insurance industry, at least one company of which is communicating with its customers the truth about this legislation and being threatened by a powerful Senator and a government agency to shut up.
Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, as I understand it from reading it in the newspapers some of the big drug companies are lined up with the Obama administration with the Democratic health care bill. I wonder what the Republican leader would think if some Republican Senator called one of the big drug companies and said: You are going to suffer serious consequences or even went to one of the agencies of government and caused them to tell a big drug company that because of their speeches and remarks, they were going to suffer some consequences.
Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, once again, I say to my friend from Tennessee, to call an agency of the government for the purpose of implementing a gag order against a company that is speaking freely about the impact of legislation on its business and its employees is an astonishing thing to behold in the United States of America.
I assume the particular industry the Senator from Tennessee is talking about, which has been out running millions of ads in support of what the administration is trying to do, is not getting such threats.
Mr. ALEXANDER. I assume, Mr. President, that the big drug companies that are running ads against Republican Senators for questioning the health care reform bill, they have a right to do that. I know what is happening in Memphis is people are seeing the ads and calling me and telling me: Continue to oppose what is going on. But that is part of our system.
I congratulate the Republican leader for bringing to the attention of all his colleagues this action.
Mr. McCONNELL. I thank my friend from Tennessee. I yield the floor.
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