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Public Statements

Health Care Week XIV, Day III

Floor Speech

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

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, over the last several months, lawmakers in Washington have been engaged in a serious and wide-ranging debate about the fate of our Nation's health care system. It is a debate that grew out of a recognition that while America may have the best health care in the world, the cost of care is too high and too many lack insurance. This much was never in dispute.

There is not a single Member of Congress from either party who does not want to solve these problems. That is why the disagreements we have had have arisen not over the ends but over the means of achieving these common goals. That is why, over the past few months, two very different approaches to reform have come into view.

For most Democrats, reform seems to come in a single form: a vast expansion of government, detailed in complicated, 1,000-page bills, costing trillions. The only thing that is clear about the Democratic plans are the basics: They cost about $1 trillion, they increase premiums, raise taxes, and slash Medicare.

In short, they include a lot of things Americans did not ask for and do not want, and they include very few of the things Americans thought they were going to get.

What was supposed to be an exercise in smart, bipartisan, commonsense reforms that cut costs and increased access somehow became an exercise in government expansion that promises to raise costs, raise premiums, and slash Medicare for seniors. For Democrats in Congress, the original purpose of reform seems to have been blurred.

Republicans have taken a different approach. We agreed at the outset that reform was needed. But in our view, those reforms would not necessarily cost a lot of money, would not add to the debt, and would not expand the government.

Instead of a massive government-driven experiment, Republicans have offered commonsense, step-by-step solutions to the problems of cost and access--things such as medical liability reform, which would save tens of billions of dollars and increase access to care; needed insurance reforms that would increase access and lower costs; and prevention and wellness programs, such as the ones that have been so successful in bending the cost curve in the right direction--which is downward--at major businesses such as Safeway.

Here were the two approaches to reform. Well, the American people looked at these two approaches and they made their choice. All summer long, we watched as ordinary Americans reacted to the administration's plan to put government between individuals and their health care and to pay for it with higher premiums, higher taxes, and Medicare cuts in the middle of a recession.

Americans rejected the idea of a vast, new experiment to reorder their health care and nearly one-fifth of the economy in a single, stunning move. They know the stakes are too high. Last Friday, the Treasury Department announced the government ran a deficit, in the fiscal year that just ended, of more than three times the previous record.

The national debt is nearly $12 trillion. It is expected to grow by another $9 trillion over the next 10 years. Medicare and Medicaid cost the Federal Government nearly $700 billion a year--a cost that is expected to double in 10 years.

These numbers are like nothing we have ever seen. Yet in the midst of all this, the administration is proposing that we conduct a $1 trillion experiment in health care that would expand government spending even more. Now Democrats in Congress are proposing that we put another $1/4 trillion on the government charge card in order to prevent a cut in the reimbursement rate to doctors who treat Medicare patients.

All of us want to keep this cut from happening, but the American people don't want us to borrow another cent to pay for it, and they don't want Democrats in Congress to pretend that this $ 1/4 trillion isn't part of the cost of health care reform because it is. It is also a clear violation of the President's pledge that health care reform wouldn't add a single dime to the deficit over the next decade. In fact, if Democrats have their way, this bill would add nearly 2.5 trillion dimes to the national debt. Well, the American people have a message for Democrats in Congress: The time to get our fiscal house in order is not tomorrow, it is not next year, it is now--right now.

Last week, 10 Democratic Senators sent a letter to the majority leader outlining some of the problems that can be expected to result from our record deficit and debts. They pointed out that each American's share of today's debt is more than $38,000, that long-term deficits will lead to higher interest rates and inflation, and all this debt threatens to weaken not only our basic standard of living but also our national security. Then they make an urgent plea. They called on their party to do something to deal with these urgent fiscal realities.

Well, they shouldn't hold their breath because instead of addressing these urgent issues, a handful of top Democrats are pressing forward behind closed doors with a health care plan that, once fully implemented, and including the physician reimbursement issue, would cost more than $2 trillion.

It is hard to imagine, but if the history of government entitlement programs is any guide, then these estimates are almost certainly on the conservative side. History shows these kinds of programs almost never come in under cost. Consider just a few examples: At the time that Medicare Part A was created, it was estimated that costs for hospital services and related administration for the year 1990 would run about $9 billion. The actual cost was seven times that amount. Medicare Part B, a program that covers physician services, was expected to run on $500 million a year from general tax revenues, along with a $3 monthly premium. Last year, the program was funded through nearly $150 billion in Federal revenue.

As I say, these are just a few examples, but they illustrate a larger point that can't be ignored. The nature of government entitlements is such that they only get bigger with time. The estimates we are getting have to be viewed in light of past experience, and past experience isn't encouraging.

Several months into this debate, it is easy to forget that at the outset everyone seemed to agree--at the outset of this debate on health care everyone seemed to agree--on two things: that health care reforms were needed and any reform would have to lower overall health care costs. We all agreed on that. Yet the evidence suggests that the bill Senate Democrats and White House officials are carving up in private would do just the opposite. It would actually increase costs, it would increase premiums, raise taxes, and slash Medicare. That is not reform.

Americans are concerned about the direction in which we are headed: record debts, record deficits, endless borrowing, and yet every day we hear of more plans to borrow and spend, borrow and spend. Americans don't want the same kind of denial, delay, and rationing of care they have seen in countries that have followed the path of government-driven health care for all. They are perplexed that in the midst of a terrible recession, near 10 percent unemployment, massive Federal debt, and a deficit that rivals the deficits of the last 4 years combined, the White House would move ahead with a massive expansion of government health care. They are telling us that common sense, step-by-step reforms are the better, wiser, and more fiscally responsible way to go.

This is the message I have delivered nearly every day on the Senate floor since the first week of June because, in my view, it is the message the American people have been sending us.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.


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