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Servicemembers Home Ownership Tax Act

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. McCAIN. I ask unanimous consent to enter into a colloquy with the Senators from Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Tennessee, both of them.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, we are here, obviously, as we are on a daily basis, to discuss the issue of health care reform. But we are in a rather unusual situation this morning because we don't know what we are discussing or debating. We find ourselves in an interesting situation.

After almost a year of consideration of health care reform, with a measure that has been--at least a couple of the outlines of it we know but, frankly, we have had no details except that Medicare is going to be extended, eligibility for Medicare is going to be extended to age 55.

I just would quote: There was a meeting yesterday amongst Senate Democrats. Many Senate Democrats emerged from yesterday's caucus meeting saying they had learned little about the public option agreement and there were many outstanding concerns.

Senator Mary Landrieu called the agreement ``a very good idea.'' Senator Blanche Lincoln said, ``More information is needed.'' And Senator Ben Nelson said, ``I just want to know what the costs are.''

So do the rest of us. So do the rest of us. Here we have a proposal after nearly a year that is being assessed by the Congressional Budget Office, and here we are with no knowledge of what that bill is about, with the exception of some bare essentials that have been leaked.

What did this have to do with change? What does this have to do with bipartisanship? What does this have to do with anything?

Frankly, we have an editorial in the Washington Post this morning that calls it ``Medicare Sausage?''

I ask unanimous consent the editorial from the Washington Post be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD

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Mr. McCAIN. ``The emerging buy-in proposal could have costly unintended consequences.''

But we don't know what it is. But we know that never before in this entire year--I ask my colleagues--have we seen a proposal that would change eligibility for Medicare down to age 55, never before.

The majority leader came to the floor this morning and said if we accept an omnibus, a multitrillion-dollar bill by unanimous consent--by the way, the Omnibus appropriations bill is six bills totaling $450 billion, 1,351 pages long, with 4,752 earmarks totaling $3.7 billion. And, by the way, spending on domestic programs is increased by 14 percent except for veterans, which is increased by only 5 percent.

The majority leader wants us to go out for the weekend, after keeping us in all last weekend. Here we have an unspecified proposal--none of us know the details or the cost--so I am supposed to go home to Arizona this weekend and say: My friends, we have been working on health care reform for a year. And guess what. I can tell you nothing.

We need to stay in, we need to know what the proposals are, we need to have votes on it, and we need to tell the American people what is going on behind closed doors.

Mr. McCONNELL. Will the Senator from Arizona yield?

Mr. McCAIN. Gladly.

Mr. McCONNELL. I recall our good friend, the majority leader, telling us on November 30 that we would be here the next two weekends. Then I recall our friend, the majority leader, saying Monday of this week we would be here this weekend.

My assumption was we were here to deal with this important issue that the majority has been indicating to everyone is so important, that we must stay here and do it. We are prepared to be here.

Mr. McCAIN. And vote.

Mr. McCONNELL. And vote. In fact, we have been trying to vote for a couple of days now, and it has been difficult to vote.

Mr. McCAIN. If we are not going to have a vote, maybe we ought to have a vote to table the pending amendments, at least to have the Senate on record.

Could I finally say, I know New Orleans is very nice this time of year, but perhaps we ought to stay here and get this job done?

Mr. ALEXANDER. I think it is important to reflect on the season we have here. A couple of nights ago, the Senator from Arizona gave an impressive speech in front of the Capitol for the lighting of the Christmas tree. This is the Christmas season coming up, 2 weeks from tomorrow, a very important season. The majority leader said it is very important for us to stay through Christmas if necessary to debate this bill. We said: All right, that is what we will do. We will stay to New Year's Day. We will stay to Valentine's Day because this is indeed a historic bill and we don't want to make a historic mistake because it affects our children, our grandchildren, 17 percent of the economy, all 300 million Americans.

None of us have ever seen our constituents more involved in an issue than in this issue. So we are here ready to go to work.

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Mr. McCAIN. Not only are there questions--not only is there opposition from the Mayo Clinic but the American Hospital Association and the AMA. They have all come up steadfastly against this.

Could I ask my colleague from Oklahoma--and I quote from this editorial. Here we are supposedly going out for the weekend and the editorial from the Washington Post says:

Presumably, the expanded Medicare program would pay Medicare rates to providers raising the question of the spillover effects on a health-care system already stressed by a dramatic expansion of Medicaid. Will providers cut costs--or will they shift them to private insurers, driving up premiums? Will they stop taking Medicare patients or go to Congress demanding higher rates? Once 55-year-olds are in, they are not likely to be kicked out and the pressure will be on to expand the program to make more people eligible. The irony of this late-breaking Medicare proposal is that it could be a bigger step toward a single-payer system than the milquetoast public option plans rejected by Senate moderates as too disruptive of the private market.

Mr. COBURN. I will answer my colleague as somebody who has practiced medicine for 25 years: MedPAC, last year, said 29 percent of Medicare beneficiaries it surveyed were looking for a primary care doctor and had great difficulty in finding somebody to treat them.

That is now. In the State of Texas, 58 percent of the State's doctors took new Medicare patients, but only 38 percent of the State's primary care doctors took new Medicare patients.

I would make the case to you that if you delay care, that is denied care. It is exacerbated in our older population because an older person with a medical need is much more susceptible to the complications that can come from that initial problem. So if you delay the care, you are denying the care and you are actually increasing the cost.

There are 15 million people in this population. I have no idea if their plans include all of them. But if you add 15 million new people to Medicare, what you are going to have is 50 percent of them are not going to find a primary care physician to care for them because the rate of reimbursement does not cover the cost of care.

I think the editorial you quote is exactly right.

I would also note, if I may, that President Obama loves the Mayo Clinic, and rightly so. I had a brain tumor removed the summer before last by the Mayo Clinic. I am standing here on the Senate floor because of their expertise.

Mr. McCAIN. There are many who believe the Senator from Oklahoma could not have a heart attack.

Mr. COBURN. I will ignore that comment.

The fact is, what Mayo says is we have to figure out how we create incentives in terms of how do we get people cared for at a lower cost. Medicare is not the way to do it.

As a matter of fact, I heard our colleagues talk. We have had eight votes since last Saturday. We are ready to vote. This is a 2,074-page bill. I have 15 amendments in the queue. I want to vote on them.

They don't want to vote because they don't want the American people to hear all the bad things about what is going to happen to their health care if this bill passes. If we do Medicare, what is going to happen is Medicare costs are going to skyrocket, but access is going to go down.

Mr. McCAIN. Apparently, I would ask my colleague from Tennessee, we do not know what we would be voting on because there has been a whole rewrite of this health care reform here after a year. We do not even know what the provisions of that bill are except what has been leaked. Apparently, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, with the exception of the majority leader, don't know what it is either.

Mr. COBURN. If the Senator will yield, there are some things we could vote on. President Obama outlined some very specific things that ought to be in this bill. We ought to vote to put them in the bill.

What he said he wanted and what this bill presents are two different things. We ought to vote on making sure everybody has access. We ought to vote on making sure we are under the same plan as everybody else we are going to put into any new expanded health care coverage. We ought to vote in making sure everybody is treated fairly in this country. We ought to vote on your prescription drug reimportation. We ought to vote. But what we are doing is we are getting a slowdown.

We heard we are obstructing the bill. We are not obstructing the bill. Any other bill that comes before this body that had 2,000 pages in it we would allot 8 weeks, 10 weeks to debate.

As our colleague from Maine knows, there is not a more complicated subject that will affect more people that this body has ever taken up. We are trying to squeeze that into 3 1/2 weeks, and the last 2 weeks we don't know what is in the bill.

Time out.

Mr. CORKER. I would like to thank the Senator from Arizona for his great leadership on this issue. I agree with all here. I would like to continue to discuss this, ``colloquize,'' if you will, and vote. That is what we need to do all weekend is talk about this issue and vote.

There are numbers of amendments. But the thing that is interesting to me, I say to the Senator from Arizona--he has been one of the great champions in this country as it relates to how we live within our means. He has pointed out waste in government. He has pointed out overspending.

What has happened during this Christmas season is, for our friends on the other side of the aisle Medicare has become the gift that just keeps on giving.

I know the Senator talked about, during his campaign--and all of us have--that we need to get Medicare to a point where it is solvent, where seniors actually have the ability to use the benefits later on that now are in place. We have all talked about the need to make it solvent.

What does the base of this bill do? It takes $464 billion out of Medicare to create a whole new entitlement. It doesn't even deal with the doc fix, as we have said many times.

The reason, by the way, we do not know what this says is the leadership on the other side--this is another one of those yellow post-its. They are throwing it up on the wall just to see if it works. They are not telling us what the game plan is because they don't yet know whether it works. What they are hoping to do is to solve a major problem they have within their caucus, again, by taking from Medicare.

If you think about the fact that the Mayo Clinic, which is the model for all of us, would not even take new Medicare patients, and yet our friends on the other side of the aisle are trying to throw a whole new decade of seniors into the plan, what that means is less and less seniors are going to have access to care. That is what this means.

The other side of the aisle, I will have to say, based on history, I am surprised, but they continue, through their policies, to throw seniors under the bus.

I do not understand what has happened. This must be about a political victory and not about health care reform. What we would do is more firmly put in place, again, bad policy. The problem with Medicare today is physicians and providers are paid fees to do more work. So now what we would be doing, instead of health care reform, which is what Senator Coburn and all of us have talked about for some time, we are putting in place, in cement, something that works poorly, that the Mayo Clinic said is damaging to them and their patients, we would be putting it in place for even more people.

I thank the Senator for his leadership. I hope to be with him all weekend discussing amendments that are important and voting on those amendments. I can't imagine a better place for all of us to be.

Mr. McCAIN. I thank the Senator. May I ask the Republican leader, again, to be very clear that it is his view and that of all Republican Members that we will stay in for as long as it takes to get this issue resolved and we are prepared to vote throughout the entire weekend. If the majority leader moves to the Omnibus appropriations bills, we will have a conference report, and we will certainly have discussion about a bill that has 4,752 earmarks totaling $3.7 billion. But we should not get off this, should we?

Mr. McCONNELL. My friend is entirely correct. I can only quote the majority leader himself who said we were going to be here this weekend. We expect to be here this weekend. If he tries to leave, we will have a vote to adjourn, and I am confident every Republican will vote against adjourning. This either is or it isn't as important as the majority says it is. If it is that important, we need to be here. More importantly than being here, equally important to being here is to vote. We tried to get a vote all day yesterday on a motion by Senator Crapo. What we heard from the other side is: We are working on a side-by-side. That is kind of parliamentary inside talk for delay. We are ready to vote. As several of our colleagues have suggested, we keep hearing about these new iterations of this bill. It reminds me of the end of a football game, trying to throw a ``Hail Mary'' pass, just somehow, some way find a way to pass this bill. I think it important to remember what happens to most Hail Marys. They fall to the ground incomplete. You get the impression they are far less interested in the substance of the bill than just passing something.

When the President came up here last Sunday, he said: Make history. Make history? The American people are not asking us to make history by passing this bill. They don't believe it is about the President. They believe it is about the substance. We are out here prepared to talk about the substance of this measure, offer amendments, and we fully intend to do it for as long as it takes. As the Senator has suggested, if the majority leader pivots to a conference report, which he is able to do under our process, we will spend all the time it takes to deal with the conference report.

Mr. McCAIN. May I point out, again, as the Senator from Maine, Ms. Snowe, pointed out--and it was highlighted in the Wall Street Journal--no major reform in the modern history of this Senate has been enacted without bipartisan support, a reason for us to go back to the drawing board.

I know the Senator from Texas has been heavily involved in the issue of hospitalization and the American Hospital Association's reaction to what appears to be an expansion of Medicare.

Mrs. HUTCHISON. I thank the Senator from Arizona. I am pleased our leader is standing strong to say nothing should take precedence over our handling of this bill and making sure it is done right. That is what the Republicans are trying to do, to make sure this is done right. We talked about the Medicare expansion that is in the purported bill that we have not seen yet but that Democrats appear to be putting forward. We have also been spending the week talking about $ 1/2 trillion in cuts to Medicare. Now we are talking about possibly expanding Medicare at the same time we are cutting $ 1/2 trillion out of the care Medicare patients would get.

I have an amendment. It would stop the $135 billion in cuts in the underlying bill to hospitals, cutting hospital reimbursements for Medicare patients. That is my amendment. Now we are talking about possibly expanding Medicare. The American Hospital Association put out an alarm, an action alert. It says:

Medicare pays hospitals 91 cents for every dollar of care provided. Medicaid pays just 88 cents for each dollar of care provided.

Medicaid, which may also be expanded, and the cuts in Medicare, which we are talking about possibly expanding, would go forward. Which means what? The hospital association knows what. ``What'' is rural hospitals that care for Medicare patients are going to go under. What kind of services can be provided if there is no hospital in the whole county that can provide care to these senior citizens? I ask the Senator from Arizona, who has been such a leader on this, we are going to cut $135 billion out of Medicare coverage for hospitals. We are going to now talk about expanding the coverage of more Medicare patients, which will mean we will cut more from the hospitals than is even envisioned in the underlying bill. Help me understand this, Senator. How would you suggest that passes the commonsense test?

Mr. McCAIN. May I say, having stood fifth from the bottom of my class at the Naval Academy, I cannot explain it. But perhaps before I turn to the Senator from South Dakota, maybe we could get a response from Dr. Coburn to that question.

Mr. COBURN. They are going to cut care. We are going to have more complications and worse outcomes. That is what is going to happen. Rather than changing the payment formula, which is what we should do, by rewarding quality and rewarding outcome, rather than rewarding flipping a switch, that is what needs to happen. We are going to take the same antiquated system, we are going to cut $465 billion from it, and then we are going to add, as my colleague from Tennessee said, it is 34 million people, if they include everybody from 55 to 64 in the same program.

Mrs. HUTCHISON. Is the Senator saying that whether you were at the top of your class, such as the Senator from Oklahoma or the Senator from Tennessee or the Senator from South Dakota, or the bottom of your class, as the Senator from Arizona has admitted he held down the fort, regardless of where you are on the quotient of where you stood in your class, you know what the bottom line is.

Mr. COBURN. Care is going to be impacted. Here is a survey of 90,000 physicians. That is more than the active practicing physicians of the AMA. More than 8 in 10 physicians surveyed think payment reform is best to improve the system for all Americans. Only 5 percent of the physicians surveyed rated the current government health care program as effective, 5 percent.

Mr. McCAIN. I yield to the Senator from South Dakota.

Mr. THUNE. I ask my colleague from Arizona if this is what happens when you end up with one-party rule, one party trying to go this on their own. This seems to be a model of dysfunction in how to come up with a solution to one of the major problems facing the American people, dysfunctional by Washington's twisted standards. They seem to be desperately throwing things at the wall, hoping something will stick. Surely, there has to be a better suggestion coming from the other side than to expand a program that is destined to be bankrupt in the year 2017. It is the equivalent of a ship that is sinking. It is similar to the Titanic. You will put more people on the deck of a sinking ship. Clearly, the overall objective, at least among some, and I think some have been very transparent about it--someone quoted earlier today the Congressman from New York in the other body who said this is the mother of all public options. He went on to say:

Never mind the camel's nose. We have his head and neck in the tent on the way to a single-payer system.

Obviously, there are people here who want to see a single-payer system, who want to see government-run health care. We don't happen to believe that is the best solution for America's health care system, but the amazing thing about this proposal is, it takes a program that is destined to be bankrupt in a few short years, cuts $1 trillion out of it over 10 years, when fully implemented, and then adds millions of new people into that program. It is hard to come up with any rational explanation for what is going on here, other than that they are left with, in desperation, trying to throw something at the wall, hoping it will stick. Is this typically what happens around here when one party tries to go on its own on something that is this consequential to America? One-sixth of our economy is represented by health care.

Essentially, what they are saying is, we want to expand that part of the economy that isn't working today, that is headed for bankruptcy, that underreimburses doctors and hospitals, put more money into that failed system, exacerbate the cost-shift problem by forcing people in the private-payer market to pay higher premiums. It seems like this creates all sorts of problems that make matters even worse.

I appreciate my colleague's leadership on this issue of pointing out what inevitably is going to happen. When you have the Washington Post editorial this morning even acknowledging the terrible problems this creates for health care and the way this is being conducted, sausage being made here in Washington, DC. Even by Washington's twisted standards, this process has become so dysfunctional, I don't know how they can recover.

One thing they could do is decide to sit down with Republicans and actually figure out some things we could do that would drive health care costs down, rather than making them go up.

Mr. McCAIN. I thank the Senator from South Dakota. I have to say I have never, in the years I have been here, seen a process such as this. It is incredibly bizarre that after a year, after hundreds of hours in the HELP Committee, after how many hundreds of hours in the Finance Committee, products are here on our desks. Yet there is a meeting yesterday of the Democrats. They come out, and they don't know what the proposal is either. Apparently, there is only one Senator who knows what the proposal is and that is the majority leader. Also, then it is OK to go home for the weekend. I honestly say to my colleague from South Dakota, I have never seen anything quite like this, especially when we are talking about one-sixth of the gross national product. Of course, already from what they know, the hospitals and doctors and others have come out in strong opposition to expansion of a program, as the Senator points out, that is going broke.

Mr. McCONNELL. I say to my friend from Arizona, he made reference today to the senior Senator from Maine and her very insightful and thoughtful and correct speech a couple weeks ago about how an issue of this magnitude was historically dealt with here and how it was not being dealt with this way. She pointed out, major domestic legislation in modern U.S. history was, without exception, done on a largely bipartisan basis. That whole process, as the Senator from Maine pointed out, has been entirely missing, as we have moved along toward developing this 2,074-page monstrosity of a bill, designed to entirely restructure one-sixth of our economy on a totally partisan basis.

I don't think that is what the American people had in mind. They want us here, as we have all indicated, debating, discussing, and amending this proposal. That is what we would like to do for as long as it takes.

Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, if the Republican leader will think back when he first came to the Senate as a young aide in 1969, the year before I was a young aide in the Senate,

I can remember President Johnson, a Democrat, and Everett Dirksen, the Republican leader, dealing with the open housing legislation in 1968, a very controversial bill. How did they deal with it? The Democratic President had the bill literally written in the office of the Republican leader, with staff members and Senators trooping in and out. The country looked to Washington and said: Well, the Republican leader and the Democratic President both think it is important. They are trying to work it out. In the end, they voted for cloture. In the end, they got the bill.

Mr. McCONNELL. My friend from Tennessee is entirely correct. Right before we got here--right before we got here--in 1964 and 1965, the Democrats had overwhelming majorities, as they do now, and the civil rights bill of 1964 and the voting rights bill of 1965 passed on an overwhelming bipartisan basis. The leader of the Republicans, Everett Dirksen, was every bit as much involved in that, if not more involved in it, than even the Democrats. Republicans supported it. On a percentage basis, a greater number----

The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Burris). The minority time has expired.

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent for 1 more minute.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. McCONNELL. An even greater percentage of Republicans ended up supporting the civil rights bills of 1964 and 1965 than Democrats. But it was a truly bipartisan landscape for our country--a landmark, important. It was widely accepted by the American people because of the broad bipartisan support it enjoyed. That is what has been lacking here from the beginning.

Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that a list of physician organizations that oppose this act, representing nearly one-half million physicians, be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record

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