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Transportation, Housing And Urban Development, And Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010 - Conference Report - Resumed

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. REID. I think my friend from Arizona asks a very pertinent question. We offered a consent request last evening--and I did again today--that we would have the votes now before the Senate in sequential order. I offered a unanimous consent request to do that. We are happy to do that. I announced there would be no more votes today. On Monday when we come in, we will be happy to do that.

Mr. McCONNELL. I say to my friend the majority leader, the problem with that is we have been going back and forth with an amendment on each side, and the agreement that you have proffered, if I understand it correctly, basically had two Democratic side-by-sides. Am I not correct in my understanding of that?

Mr. REID. Yes, but on all amendments that we have had up to this point, every side, Democrats or Republicans, has had the opportunity to do side-by-sides if they wanted to. In the weeks we have worked on this, what has transpired here, I am quite sure, has happened before. Simply stated, we have been requested by Republicans to have some votes, and we have agreed to have the votes. I explained in some detail last evening why we can't do it on a piecemeal basis. Procedurally, it puts us into a quagmire. Let's clear the deck. There will be other amendments after that we would certainly try to have each side offer.

But I agree with the Senator from Arizona, we should get rid of the drug reimportation amendment one way or the other, in addition to the motion offered by Senator Crapo.

Mr. McCONNELL. My point was, typically a side-by-side is offered one on each side. On the drug reimportation issue, you have basically two votes, both generated on the Democratic side, which created some confusion. But we will have to continue to talk about this and see if we can work our way through it.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Massachusetts.

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I wanted to ask the minority leader--some of us are a little bit perplexed. I know the Senate has its rules, and we try to work through them. But we also at this time of year often try to accommodate families and schedules and so forth. I am curious as to whether the minority leader might not consent to allowing us or why it is that we couldn't, since Senators are here today, schedule the vote and agree to have the vote on the 60-vote margin today rather than tomorrow morning, requiring all staff and everybody in the Senate to come in on a Saturday.

Mr. REID. If I could make a comment before my friend the Republican leader comments, everyone should understand--this should make it easier for everybody--I am going to be home all weekend in Washington. I won't be traveling the country doing any fundraisers that people seem to be afraid of.

Mr. McCONNELL. The answer to it is that our good friend the majority leader told us on November 30 we would be here the next two weekends. He said again this past Monday we would be here this weekend. I assumed and I know he certainly meant what he said. Our Members are here and ready to work. We wish to work on health care amendments. But as a result of the privileged status of the conference report that is before us, we have had that displaced. But I think everybody was on full notice as to what the work schedule was going to be for last weekend and this weekend.

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, if I could respond, I don't mean to assert myself in any way that is inappropriate with respect to the leader, but we all know that in the workings of the Senate, what we are doing is both complicated and serious and critical to the country.

We are waiting for CBO to appropriately, consistently--as a member of the Finance Committee, we adhered to a very strict notion that we would try to find the precise modeling and cost of whatever it was we might do. It is entirely appropriate, to have a proper debate or discussion, that we know exactly what the cost is of any particular proposal. That is what we are waiting for. So the majority leader is appropriately trying to move another piece of legislation that is ripe, that is important to the country. This is just a question of courtesy to Senators and to their families and to the staff of the Senate who have been working extraordinarily hard. The question is simply, why, as a matter of convenience, we couldn't schedule a vote for today instead of being scheduled for tomorrow. We could do that by unanimous consent.

Mr. REID. If I could have the Record reflect, the Republican leader is right. I said we would be in session the next several weekends. But if you go back and look at the Record, how many times have I said we would be in session over the weekend and, interestingly enough, around here, magic things happen on Thursdays and Fridays. I have had every intention, as I have every time I have said it, that we should be in on a weekend, and usually we are able to work something out. We haven't been able to this time. I accept that. I am not complaining. But certainly the question of my friend from Massachusetts is a pertinent one. Senators are here now. Maybe we could have the vote early. But it is set statutorily. My unanimous consent request was, and I am not sure it was responded to, that we could have that vote at 9:30 tomorrow morning without having the mandatory 1-hour beforehand.

I heard no objection to that. We will just come in at 8:30. We will come in at 8:30 tomorrow morning and have a 9:30 vote.

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the vote scheduled for tomorrow morning be held instead today at some convenient time within the next hours.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection?

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, reserving the right to object--and I will object--we have been told by the majority that the single most important thing we could do would be to work on weekends and try to pass this health care bill which, according to the CNN poll that came out last night, the American people oppose 61 to 36, before Christmas. We are here. We are prepared to work. We would like to get back on the health care bill as rapidly as possible and vote on amendments to the bill. It either is or it isn't important enough for us to be here before Christmas. My Members are not expecting to take a break. We have been told by the majority all year long this is important. First we had to get it done before August. Then we had to get it done before Thanksgiving. Now we have to get it done before Christmas. We are here, ready to work.

I object.

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Mr. McCONNELL. I say to my friends from Tennessee and Idaho, December 11, 2009 may be remembered as the seminal moment in the health care debate for those who are writing about what finally happened on this issue. There were two extraordinary messages delivered on this very day on this health care issue. They were delivered from CMS and from CNN. CNN told us how the American people felt about it: 61 percent, as the Senator from Idaho pointed out, telling us please don't pass this bill. A week ago, Quinnipiac said 14 percent more disapproved than approved; the week before Gallup said 9 percent more disapproved than approved. We can see what is happening here: widening public opposition.

And then CMS, the actuary, the independent government employee who is an expert on this, says this bill, the Reid bill, doesn't do any of the things it is being promoted to accomplish. So two important messages on December 11 delivered from CNN and from CMS.

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Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, this follows along further with my colleagues who were discussing the CMS report.

Americans, of course, were told the purpose of reform was to lower costs, to bend the so-called cost curve down. But the report released last night by the administration's own independent scorekeeper, as we have been discussing on the floor of the Senate, shows the Reid bill gets a failing grade.

The chief actuary is the person the administration depends on to give its straightforward, unbiased analysis of the impact the legislation would have. This is an independent expert. It is the official referee, if you will. So this is quite significant.

According to CMS, the Reid bill increases national health spending. According to CMS, there are new fees for drugs, devices and insurance plans in the Reid bill and they will increase prices and health insurance premiums for consumers.

According to CMS, claims about the Reid bill extending the solvency of Medicare are based on the shakiest of assumptions.

According to CMS, the Reid bill creates a new long-term insurance program, commonly referred to around here as the CLASS Act, that CMS actuaries found faces a ``very serious risk of becoming unsustainable.''

The CMS found that such programs face a significant risk of failure.

The Reid bill pays for a $1 trillion government expansion into health care, with nearly $1 trillion in Medicare payment cuts.

All of this, I continue to be quoting from the CMS report.

The report further says the Reid bill is especially likely to result in providers being unwilling to treat Medicare and Medicaid patients, meaning a significant portion of the increased demands for Medicaid services would be difficult to meet.

The CMS actuary noted the Medicare cuts in the bill could jeopardize Medicare beneficiaries' access to care.

The CMS actuary also found that roughly 20 percent of all Part A providers--that is hospitals and nursing homes, for example--would become unprofitable within the next 10 years as a result of these cuts. As a result of those Medicare cuts, 20 percent of hospitals and nursing homes would become unprofitable within 10 years.

The CMS actuary found that further reductions in Medicare growth rates through the actions of the independent Medicare advisory board, which advocates have pointed to as a central linchpin in reducing health care spending, ``may be difficult to achieve in practice.''

The CMS further found the Reid bill would cut payments to Medicare Advantage plans by approximately $110 billion over 10 years, resulting in ``less generous benefit packages'' and decreasing enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans by about 33 percent. That is a 33-percent decrease in Medicare Advantage enrollment over 10 years.

What should we conclude from this CMS report? The report confirms what we have known all along: The Reid plan will increase costs, raise premiums, and slash Medicare.

That is not reform. The analysis speaks for itself. This day, this Friday, as we were discussing yesterday, is a seminal moment. We have heard from CMS, the Government's objective actuary, the bill fails to meet any of the objectives we all had in mind. We also heard from CNN about how the American people feel about this package: 61 percent are opposed; only 36 percent are in support.

The American people are asking us not to pass this, and the Center for Medicaid Services' actuary is telling us it doesn't achieve the goals that were desired at the outset.

How much more do we need to hear? How much more do we need to hear before we stop this bill and start over and go step by step to deal with the cost issue, which the American people thought we were going to address in this debate?

I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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