SERVICE MEMBERS HOME OWNERSHIP TAX ACT OF 2009--MOTION TO PROCEED -- (Senate - November 21, 2009)
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Mr. VITTER. Madam President, I rise to share the same sorts of concerns as my colleague from South Dakota. I share the concerns, more importantly, of citizens all across Louisiana who have echoed those same thoughts to me over and over again as I have traveled the State. Like so many of my colleagues, I have spent a lot of time these last few months reaching out to my constituents, my fellow citizens in Louisiana, in every part of the State.
During the August recess, obviously, there were lots of townhall meetings around the Nation. I held 21 in Louisiana, in every corner of the State. Since then, I have held six more townhall meetings. I continue to do other types of outreach. For instance, yesterday--since we had a 1-day opportunity--I flew home specifically to do a few things, including having a roundtable of doctors, including two past presidents of the AMA, other health care providers, small business representatives, leaders in the pro-life community, and it was a roundtable discussion specifically to focus on the Reid bill.
In all that process, since the August recess and even before, I have heard certain themes over and over again, no matter where I was in Louisiana. One of those themes was great concern about what this Congress is thinking of doing on health care but not just because of the significance of health care, which is vitally important, which is personal to every American, but also because of how it fits into a trend so many Louisianians and so many Americans are seeing over the past year--a trend of dramatically increasing Federal Government power and intervention and dramatically increasing Federal Government spending and debt.
People have been passionate about health care. Again, part of that is because that is a very personal issue, and a bill such as this affects literally every single American. But, again, a big part of it has been that Louisianians are also connecting the dots. They see a bigger picture, which concerns them. Louisianians have been connecting the dots to a government takeover of banks and insurance companies and car companies, with the CEO of GM literally being fired and hired in the Oval Office, and now, potentially, one-sixth of the U.S. economy through health care.
So there is a broader concern and theme I have heard over and over, which is an explosion of Federal Government power and intervention and an explosion of Federal Government spending and debt. This bill, unfortunately, does nothing except to confirm my constituents' worst fears in that regard. It is more of the same. It is more of that theme. It is another big dot they will be connecting in that trend, and I share that concern.
One specific issue that goes to that concern is the so-called government option or public option because that strikes a lot of people, including me, as a big, open door to dramatically increasing the Federal Government's role and dominance in health care in our country--one-sixth of our economy. Why do I say that? I truly believe the government option--if this bill passed or anything similar to it passed--would be the dominant option overnight and, perhaps, the only option in a few years.
Let me explain why. I will just point to one provision, which is the so-called pay-or-play mandate on business. Under this Senator Reid bill, as under previous versions of this idea, such as the Senate HELP Committee bill, a business--virtually any business in the country--would, for the first time, have a legal mandate, and the mandate would be to provide health insurance up to a certain minimum defined by Federal bureaucrats or the business would have a choice. The choice would be, if you do not want to provide that health insurance, well, you can write a penalty or fee check to the government instead.
What is wrong with that? Well, the penalty or fee check in this bill is pretty much set at $750 per employee per year. How does that equate into a business's bottom line in the choice businesses would face? Well, businesses that do provide health insurance nationally pay an average of not $750 per employee per year but $6,100 per employee per year. So what sort of choice do you think that is going to present to business? What sort of result would you expect?
In this brave new world, if the bill passes, everyone is guaranteed coverage in some form or fashion, and business has a choice: $6,100 per employee per year or $750 per employee per year. I think, for a lot of small businesses under extreme competitive pressure, that is not going to be a hard choice. It is going to be an easy choice. The result for tens of millions of Americans who have coverage now they are reasonably satisfied with through their employer, the result is going to be getting dumped off that coverage, with businesses saying: Well, there are other options now. There is the government option. Good luck. We can't afford it. We have to be competitive. We have to go with our bottom-line decision--$6,100 per employee per year or $750 per employee per year. I think the clear result will be tens of millions of Americans getting dumped off coverage they have now that they are reasonably satisfied with.
Do not take my word for it. Other outside experts, the Lewin Group and others, say dumping will occur and could, in fact, be massive; tens of millions of Americans--under their analysis of a previous bill that had largely the same provisions--over 110 million Americans. So that is a problem with regard to ballooning Federal Government intervention, power, domination of the marketplace.
Again, as I said a few minutes ago, another part of that theme and concern I heard over and over was ballooning Federal Government spending and debt. Here again, this Reid bill does nothing to allay those fears. In fact, it does a lot to increase those fears.
There has been a lot of talk and a lot of reports of the CBO score of $848 billion over 10 years. First of all, $848 billion is a lot of money. That is a lot of Federal Government spending and growth. It is hard to get your hands around that figure. What does that mean? If someone had started spending $1 million a day when Jesus Christ was born and kept spending $1 million a day, we would not yet be up to that figure. So that is a lot of money.
But what is worse, that figure is artificially low. The true cost of the bill is much greater. There are a number of budget gimmicks the ranking member on Budget, Senator Gregg, and others have talked about that prove that $848 billion figure is truly low compared to the full cost of the bill.
What am I talking about? Well, the biggest budget gimmick is the fact that the spending side of the bill does not kick in for the first 4 years. The tax side, of course, as always, kicks in immediately. So the tax increases, the fee increases, et cetera, kick in immediately. But the benefit spending side of the bill does not kick in for the first 4 years. So that is what will occur in the first 10 years of the bill's life, should it be passed. Therefore, in that CBO score of the first 10 years, what the CBO is scoring is 10 years of tax increases and only 6 years of spending. So that is a huge budget gimmick which helps produce that artificially low $848 billion or so.
In fact, we should be looking at the first 10 years of full implementation; in other words, the first 10 years when not only all the tax provisions are kicked in but everything on the benefits spending side is kicked in. That is basically from 2014 to 2024. What are the numbers there when you look at the real first 10 years, the first 10 years of full implementation? The real numbers are not $848 billion--as big a figure as that is, spending $1 million a day since Jesus Christ was born and you still would not be up to it--but there the analysis is $2.5 trillion over 10 years.
Again, Louisianians see this, Americans see this as another big dot to connect, part of a huge trend of exploding Federal Government power and exploding Federal Government spending and debt. What does that represent in terms of that explosion of spending and debt? It also represents enormous new taxes, and that goes to the cost issue my distinguished colleague from South Dakota was talking about.
When I talk to Louisianians specifically about health care--not just these
broader trends and these broader concerns they are very focused on but specifically health care; OK, we have to fix certain issues in health care--what is the top issue? Virtually everyone in Louisiana says cost, ballooning cost. Whether they have coverage now or they are struggling to get coverage, the issue is cost. What can we do about cost?
Again, this bill does nothing to fix that. It makes it worse. As was illustrated with Senator Thune's graph, it pushes the cost curve up and not down. Part of the reason it does that is, in that $2.5 trillion of activity there are enormous taxes, and those taxes become built into health insurance premiums. So premiums do not go down, they go up. They go up in a major way.
What are some of these we are talking about--again, enormous tax increases, enormous tax increases across the board, taxes on choice and well-being. Flexible spending which allows individuals to have a tax-free account for medical needs, that is limited. That is downgraded and capped at $2,500 a year. Taxes on over-the-counter medicines that many patients' families and seniors depend on, that is a tax increase of $5 billion; reduced deductions for health expenses, again, another tax increase; higher Medicare payroll taxes; the rate on wages in excess of $200,000, a very large tax increase; over and over again, major tax increases. The bill would impose $28 billion in new taxes on employers that do not provide government-approved health care plans. There is a tax increase of $53.8 billion, over 10 years, in terms of the Medicare population.
So, again, there are huge tax increases that are part of that, and that is the major reason that cost curve is not being pushed down. In fact, it is being pushed up.
As I approach this bill, after looking at it carefully over the last few days, my first bottom-line question is: How does it respond to those dominant concerns I have heard over and over again from Louisiana citizens all across the State over the last several months? What does it do about ballooning Federal spending and debt? What does it do about the growth of government power and intervention and the cost of health care?
Sadly, it fails on all those accounts. It moves us in the wrong direction on all those accounts. So I urge my colleagues to adopt a different approach, to vote no tonight, to not move to this approach, to adopt a far more focused, positive approach that responds directly to those concerns of the American people.
I yield back my time.
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