Servicemembers Home Ownership Tax Act Of 2009 - Continued

Floor Speech

By:  Lindsey Graham
Date: Dec. 9, 2009
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, I assume it is our turn to talk a bit.

Mr. BAUCUS. Mr. President, I remind all Senators that we have an hour, equally divided, with each Senator able to speak up to 10 minutes each.

Mr. GRAHAM. I appreciate that. I appreciate the effort to try to solve a hard problem. It is easy to criticize in this business, and it is hard to bring folks together. Maybe one day we can solve a hard problem where we get 70 or 80 votes. I don't think this is that day.

One thing I will point out about the process is that somehow between the time this started until now, something went wrong. This is what happened. This is what was said by Candidate Obama in January 2008:

That's what I will do in bringing all parties together. Not negotiating behind closed doors, but bringing all parties together and broadcasting these negotiations on C-SPAN so that the American people can see what the choices are.

In November 2007, he talked about, in his Presidency:

We are going to have a big table and everybody is going to be invited--labor, employers, doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, patients, and advocate groups. The drug and insurance companies, they will also get a seat at the table, and we will work on this process publicly. It will be on C-SPAN. It will be streaming over the Net.

March 2008:

But here's the difference: I'm going to do it all on C-SPAN so the American people will know what's going on.

August 2008:

When we come together around this health care system, I am going to do it all in the open. I am going to do it on C-SPAN.

August 2008:

I am going to have all the negotiations around the big table. We will have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN.

The truth is, Mr. President, I am not so sure negotiating on C-SPAN is the way to find a solution to hard problems. But being at the table with all parties represented is probably a very good idea. And the process, as I understand it now, is that our Democratic colleagues are trying to negotiate among themselves to get to 60 votes. There was an announcement made last night by the majority leader that we have had a breakthrough. He said, ``I can't tell you what it is, but it is good.''

Mr. President, that is not the way we want to change one-sixth of the economy. I argue that is not the best process by which to make major decisions that affect the quality of Americans' lives.

The idea of Medicare being changed so dramatically by one party is probably not a good idea. What have we done on the Medicare front? The actual bill that has been proposed increases spending by $800-something billion. To pay for that, there are cuts in Medicare of close to $400 billion to $500 billion. The money that would be taken out of the Medicare system is not plowed back into Medicare but used to fund other aspects of this bill. This is at a time when Medicare--the trust fund--is $36 trillion underfunded and will begin to be exhausted in 2017.

I argue that both parties should be trying to find a way to save Medicare from the pending bankruptcy and do something about entitlements in general, Social Security and Medicare, to make them solvent so that, one, they don't run out of money and we don't have to raise taxes in the future or cut benefits for young people because those are the choices we will pass on to the next generation if we do nothing.

Instead of coming together to save Medicare from bankruptcy, we are actually reducing the amount of money going to an already-strapped system and using it for something else. There is another idea floating around that one of the solutions that may come out of this deal, which we don't know the details of yet, is we are going to allow more people to buy into Medicare under the age of 65, and we will be expanding the number of people going into a system that is already about to go bankrupt. If we add new people to the system, approaching insolvency, something has to give. Who will be coming into the system from 55 to 64? I argue those people are going to be in as a result of the process of adverse selection, people who have health care problems. It is going to put more pressure on a system that can't stand one more drop of pressure. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

We know this Medicare system is very much under siege, that the baby boomers are about to come into the system by the millions. There are three workers for every retiree today, and in 20 years there are going to be two. So what do we do? We take money out of the Medicare system and use it for other things, and we are adding more people into the system that are going to drive up the cost overall to those already on Medicare.

So if you are over 65, your ability to receive treatment is going to be compromised because now we have to accommodate more people. If you don't believe me, ask the hospitals and doctors who are very worried. The Medicare reimbursement system now makes it very difficult for doctors and hospitals to pay the bills. So the hospital association, the Mayo Clinic, and others have warned Congress: Please don't expand Medicare because we can't survive on the reimbursement rates we have today.

If we add more people, we create more stress on a system that is hanging by a thread. I argue that is not change we can believe in or accommodate. If you had run for President on the idea that you are going to put more people on Medicare and expand that system, not reform it, take money out of it and use it for another purpose, you would have never had a chance of getting elected. No one during the campaign for President ever suggested any of these ideas.

I just hope we will, as a Congress, stop and think about what we are doing and realize if we do this--if we cut Medicare and expand the number of people who will be in the system--we make it impossible to save it down the road and make it difficult for people coming behind us to have the same quality of life we have enjoyed. Between Medicare and Social Security and other entitlement programs, we are about $50 trillion short of the money we are going to need in the next 75 years to pay the bills.

In trying to reform health care, we have taken a weak system and almost made it impossible to reform. We have expanded taxes at a time when the economy can't bear any more tax burdens because part of the bill raises taxes by about $500 billion. You will never convince me or anybody else that if you raise $500 billion in taxes to pay for this new health care bill, it would not affect the economy in general. There has to be a better way.

I am on the Wyden-Bennett bill. I am a Republican who agrees with mandated coverage for everybody. Senators WYDEN and BENNETT have a comprehensive proposal that is revenue neutral. We would take the tax deductions given to business over a period of time and give them to individuals so that all of us would have tax deductions to go out and purchase health care in the private sector. We would have exchanges where we can go shop for health care that is best for us.

If you are single and 22, you would want a plan that is different than if you were 45 and had 3 kids. The tradeoff is that the Republicans, on the Wyden-Bennett bill, would agree to mandate coverage. The Democrats would allow people to purchase health care in the private sector. We would all use the Tax Code to fund those purchases. If you didn't make enough money to have the tax deductions, you would get a subsidy. That makes perfect sense to me.

I want to solve the problem. I want to make sure everybody is covered because a lot of us are paying health care bills for those who are not covered that could afford to pay--about 7 million or 8 million people make over $75,000 a year, and they don't pay anything for health care of their own. So the rest of us have to pay it when they get sick. That is not right.

There is a better way, in my view. I just hope we will understand that what we are doing with one-sixth of the economy is going to have a lasting effect on the quality of American life, and now is not the time to cut Medicare or add more people to it. Now is the time to come together in a bipartisan fashion to save Medicare from impending bankruptcy. Now is not the time to raise taxes.

I hope our colleagues will understand that there is a better way.

I yield the floor.

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