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Energy And Water Development And Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010 - Conference Report - Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, D.C.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GRASSLEY. Before I speak, Madam President, from my text, this year, for the most part, I haven't spoken on the Senate floor much on health care reform because so much of this period of time I have either been in consultation with Chairman Baucus or with what has been called the Group of 6, three Republicans and three Democrats, trying to negotiate a bipartisan health care reform package. I didn't speak during that period on the floor because in intense negotiations, you can say things sometimes that might upset the negotiations. I didn't want to do anything to do that. I want people to know that those negotiations, obviously, were not fruitful in the end because the leadership and the White House thought they had gone on long enough and that we ought to move ahead. I am not sure that was to Chairman Baucus's liking because I think he was comfortable thinking we could get to a bipartisan negotiation. Everybody in the Group of 6 wanted to. But, of course, they came to an end. Then, of course, it took a partisan approach from that point on.

I want everybody to know, though, that during that period of talks we had in the Group of 6 and what Senator Baucus and I were doing individually, it ended in a way that was congenial in the sense that up to that point everything was moving along, and during the 2- or 3-month period of time we were negotiating, there was never a period that anybody walked away from the table. There was never a period that there was ever a harsh word. There was a sincere effort during all that time to reach a bipartisan agreement. I am sorry that didn't materialize, but I have no regrets that I participated in the process because you never know, you take it a day at a time around here. You never know, it could be very fruitful. And if it had been fruitful, it probably would have been better for this process in the Congress and better for the country as a whole.

For sure, this issue of health care reform is, in a sense, redirecting one-sixth of the economy because $1 out of every $6 spent in America involves health care. Of course, the issue of health care itself is a life-or-death situation with every American. That is what health care implies.

Never before has Congress done stuff so encompassing and affecting such a large segment of the economy.

So in the process of 6 months of negotiation on health care reform, I feel much better informed about health care than I otherwise would have been, and I want to thank Senator Baucus for his patience in negotiating that and for every courtesy he gave to me and Senator Enzi and the Senator from Maine, Ms. Snowe.

(Mr. BURRIS assumed the Chair.)

Mr. GRASSLEY. Mr. President, the bill is now out of the Senate Finance Committee. I commend the chairman for bringing the markup to where it was yesterday. It seems a long time since we started that markup on September 22. We have been able to air our differences, and we have been able to have votes. I think Senator Baucus tallied up 61 different rollcall votes we had during that 7- or 8-day period of time.

I would have to say to my colleagues in the Senate, I wish I felt better about the substance of the bill and would not have had to vote no. The chairman's mark underwent many changes during the process since the bipartisan talks ended, and I think the changes that happened since then are not for the good. I want to highlight a few of the changes I find most disturbing. As I highlight these issues, it will be clear that this bill is already sliding rapidly down the slippery slope to more and more government control of health care.

It has been the biggest expansion of Medicaid since it was created in 1965, and I think that is going to add up to 11 million more people being on Medicare.

It imposes an unprecedented Federal mandate for coverage backed by the enforcement authority of the Internal Revenue Service. I could put that another way as well: In the 225-year history of our country, never once, to my knowledge--and I would be glad to be informed if I am wrong on this, but the Federal Government has never said any citizen in this country, anytime in that 225-year history of our country, has ever had to buy anything. They do not tell you what you have to buy or not buy. You make a consumer choice.

So for the first time in the history of our country, enforced by the power of the Internal Revenue Service, people are going to have to buy health insurance. And if they do not buy health insurance, a family is going to be fined $1,500.

Additionally, it increases the size of government by at least $1.8 trillion when it is fully implemented. I want to emphasize ``fully implemented'' because right now we would read the papers as saying it is $820-some billion and fully paid for, et cetera, et cetera. But this program really does not start until 2013. Oh, the taxes and the increase in premiums will start more immediately, but the program does not take off until 2013. If we figure 2013 to 2023 as the 10-year window, at that particular time--being fully implemented--$1.8 trillion.

Additionally, it gives the Secretary of Health and Human Services the power to define benefits for every private plan in America and to redefine those benefits annually. That is a lot of power over people's health insurance and over people's lives.

Further, it will cause health care premiums for millions to go up, not down. It tightens further the new Federal rating bands for insurance rates. That means millions who are expecting lower costs as a result of health reform will end up paying more in the form of higher premiums. The new rating reforms alone will raise premiums by as much as 50 percent on millions, particularly in those States where there is not a lot of regulation of insurance and requirements on insurance.

I would say in regard to premiums going up, I will bet most of the 85 percent of the people out there who have private health insurance--we are talking about health insurance reform--that one of the things they would expect is that we would not have these big increases in premiums, as has happened over the last 10 years--terrible increases in premiums. Right now, we have the Congressional Budget Office and CBO saying that premiums are going to go up.

Part of this is because it is going to impose new fees, but it also has increases in taxes. These new fees and taxes will total about a half trillion dollars over the next few years. On the front end, these fees and taxes will cause premium increases as early as 2010, even before most of the reforms take place.

So let me say that a second time but yet another way: By saying that, a lot of the increases in revenue coming into the Federal Treasury or the money that is going to be saved in certain programs that is going to help pay for some of those start next year, but the benefits from the program and the policy does not kick in until the year 2013. So one of the reasons we can say it is revenue neutral is from the standpoint that there are 10 years of revenue or savings but only 6 years of policy costs that are there.

Then, of course, after making health premiums go up, this bill makes it mandatory to buy that insurance. That is what I previously referred to as the first time in American history--the first time in American history--the Federal Government has said we had to buy anything.

On several occasions, Republicans tried to take the chairman's mark in a different direction. We tried to ensure that the President's pledge to not tax middle-income families or tax seniors or veterans or change seniors' and veterans' programs was carried out. We were rebuffed every step of the way.

Republican efforts to provide consumers with lower cost benefit options were consistently defeated. This means that despite these promises, a lot of people are not actually going to be able to ``keep what they have.'' We heard the President say that during the campaign, and we heard the President say that in September when he gave an address to a joint session of Congress.

It imposes higher premiums for prescription drug coverage on seniors and the disabled, it creates a new Medicare Commission with broad authority to make further cuts in Medicare, and it makes that Commission permanent.

In our Group of 6 negotiations--which I said broke up when the White House decided it was taking too long to do things right because they wanted to do it right now--during our Group of 6 negotiations, I resisted making the Commission permanent. I certainly was not going to agree to target prescription drug premiums. But this bill now requires the Medicare Commission to continue making cuts to Medicare forever. The damage this group of unelected people could do to Medicare is very unknown. In fact, we will not know for quite a few years because it does not even start operation until the year 2014, as I recall.

What is more alarming is so many providers got exempted from the cuts this Commission would make that it forces the cuts to fall on those who are covered, to fall directly, more so, on seniors and the disabled.

The Congressional Budget Office has confirmed that the Commission structure requires it to focus its budget axe on the premiums seniors pay for Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage and for Medicare Advantage. Sooner or later, it has to be acknowledged that by making the Commission permanent, those savings are coming from more and more cuts to Medicare.

Finally, I cannot help but note the incredible cynicism in an amendment that took benefits away from children. That amendment was offered and passed because the chairman's mark had the audacity to let children get covered through private insurance where, of course, there is a great deal of choice. In 41 States, children would have received access to a program that is called the EPSDT benefit--basically diagnostic services. These benefits cover vitally needed services for children such as rehabilitation services, physical, occupational, and speech therapy, particularly for children with developmental diseases.

But those benefits were deleted by Rockefeller amendment No. C21. Now children in 41 States will not have access to health care, and they will be left in a grossly underfunded public program. They lost these important benefits.

What this mark has shown is that there is a clear and significant philosophical difference between the two sides. Throughout this markup, we have focused on trying to reduce the overall cost of the bill. We were told, flatout, no.

We focused on trying to reduce the pervasive role of government in the chairman's mark. We were told, flatout, no.

We tried to make it harder for illegal immigrants to get benefits. We were told, flatout, no.

We tried to guarantee that Federal funding for abortions would not be allowed under this bill. We were told, flatout, no.

We tried to allow alternatives to the individual mandate and also to the harsh penalties associated with that part of the bill that requires everybody, for the first time in the 225-year history of this country, to buy something that maybe they do not want to buy. We were told, flatout, no.

We tried to reward States with extra Medicaid dollars if they passed medical malpractice reform. We were told not just no, but, shockingly, we were told Medicaid is not even in the committee's jurisdiction.

We have watched while the other side has expanded public coverage. We saw Democratic amendments move millions from private coverage to public coverage. We saw Democratic amendments create new government programs that cover families making close to, would you believe it, $90,000 a year.

At the end of the day, after raising billions in new taxes and cutting hundreds of billions from Medicare and imposing stiff new penalties for people who do not buy insurance and increasing costs to those who do, we still have 25 million people who are going to be uninsured.

I do not think this is what the American people had in mind when we promised to fix the health care system. As I said when this process started, the chairman's mark that was released 27 days ago was an incomplete but comprehensive, good-faith attempt to reach a bipartisan agreement. But then the modifications pulled that attempt at bipartisan compromise very far toward a partisan approach on several key issues.

With this markup being completed yesterday, we can now see clearly that the bill continues its march leftward.

The broad bipartisan character of the reform proposals have very dramatically changed. This partisan change is precisely what Republicans feared would have occurred at the later stages in the legislative process. Today, as we saw yesterday, we see that those fears that were expressed when the bipartisan process ended were legitimate, and we now see they were justified. The product proves that justification.

Nevertheless, I want people to know I still hope that at some point the doorway to bipartisanship will be opened once again. That might happen because I have read in the newspapers, and I guess I have talked to one of the Senators who is involved in promoting a great deal of transparency in this process--making sure things are on the Internet for 72 hours before we take up the bill; making sure it is paid for or at least we have a CBO score--maybe there is a chance there are enough Democrats out there who have some questions about the movement of this bill leftward that we would be able to have that doorway to bipartisanship opened again.

I also hope that at some point the White House and leadership will want to correct the mistake they made by ending our collaborative bipartisan work. I hope, at some point, they will want to let that bipartisan work begin again. Then they need to go back to that effort and give it the time needed to get it right instead of getting it done right now. I am open to that. I hope to speak to people on the other side of the aisle about that process moving forward because, here again, I get back to something I heard Senator Baucus probably say first, but I totally agree with him. It was said many months ago, and I think Senator Baucus still believes it. We may not be in a process that gets him to where he said he wanted to go, but something as serious as health care reform and something as serious as redirecting one-sixth of our economy ought to be done on a fairly consensus basis. During the process of bipartisan talks of the six of us, and even before that when Senator Baucus and I were talking one on one, we were talking in terms of getting a bill that 75 to 80 people would support in this body because of the significance of the issue we are dealing with: Redirecting one-sixth of the economy. At the same time, the words ``health care'' imply life or death. It affects the lives of all 306 million Americans who are here. It is clear that yesterday was not the day when that was going to happen, but you take a day at a time around here.

I think, eventually in this city, right wins out. Maybe not always. Maybe some people would think CHUCK GRASSLEY by saying that is very naive about the process, but there is something about ``I believe,'' and I believe in the process of democracy. I think we saw that at work in the last several months. I am not referring to the raucous things we saw on television that went on in town meetings. I only saw the ones that went on in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Missouri; maybe they went on elsewhere. The town meetings we had in my State of Iowa were not raucous. Everybody was able to speak their piece. In every instance, I was asked a question, I was given the opportunity to answer it. I saw some of my colleagues not even being able to control their respective town meetings. It wasn't that way in my State. But I say this process, whether it is raucous or whether it is more civilized, is a process of representative government. I think the people of this country now have about a month to weigh in on this issue, both from those who want a single payer yet, those who want public option yet, and for those who think things ought to be done in an incremental way; and people who think we should not have a bill go through here that doesn't take into consideration what to do about the practice of defensive medicine and correcting that through medical malpractice reform in other words, getting rid of the frivolous lawsuits that get doctors to give patients every test under the Sun because they think that patient may someday sue them.

That is just one of many items that people back at the grassroots of Iowa, and I think the grassroots of America, think we ought to be dealing with. Well, there will be a month now to weigh in on these things. There is at least a week or two where we have to have a merging of the Senate HELP Committee bill with the Senate Finance Committee bill. There is still time, as Speaker Pelosi puts together a bill out of three committees in the House. There is an opportunity for democracy to work as it has during all the massive amounts of mail we are getting that we have never gotten before on a single subject and the turnouts at our town meetings and the telephone calls that come in. I think people made an impact, and I am suggesting they can make the same impact on health care reform as they made on the stimulus bill. It didn't get quite the results constituents wanted, but I can tell my colleagues that during a 10-day period of time, 5,000 Iowans called my office on the stimulus bill, and during that period of time about 83 percent were opposed to the stimulus bill. Those calls were coming in from all over the country into everybody's office.

As my colleagues remember, the Thursday before the Presidents Day break in February, everybody was being told that constituents would have 72 hours to read the stimulus bill, but an agreement was hastily reached that Thursday before that break and the constituents didn't have 72 hours to read that product, because I think the leadership of this body and the White House were reading the grassroots objections to a $787 billion stimulus bill, and if they waited around for the 72 hours for constituents to read it and it laid around over the week-long break, that it would never have been passed a week later, after the Monday of the Presidents Day holiday.

So people are listened to. This is an opportunity for the grassroots of America to speak up. If they speak up in the same way they did on TARP legislation, on stimulus, and they do it on this health care bill, it may make an impact. It may surprise people that Washington does respond to the grassroots of America. It may prove to the American people that representative government does work. What is representative government all about? It is about those of us who were elected being one-half of the process of representative government, and it is our constituents who are the other one-half of representative government. If there is no dialogue between constituents and those of us who are elected, we don't have representative government.

This is an opportunity, over the next month, for representative government to work for the people of this country, both for this legislation or people who think this legislation ought to be revised because I don't think we are going to have anybody calling in saying everything in America on health care is OK, but we are going to have a lot of people calling in and saying how they think it ought to be done. There will probably be a great deal of disagreement with a bill that constitutes the most massive involvement of health care in the United States since Medicare and Medicaid, with all its taxes and with all its premiums going up and all the cuts in Medicare that are going to scare the devil out of our senior citizens, et cetera.

I hope people will take notice now that all these bills are out of committee and they are coming to the floor because this is serious business. I hope the American population takes it seriously.

I yield the floor. I don't see other colleagues ready to speak, so I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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