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Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act Of 2009

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. CHAMBLISS. Madam President, here we are on our 21st legislative day, less than 4 weeks, on the most major piece of health care legislation ever proposed in the history of our great country. That is less than weeks that we have been on this bill that seeks to change the way health care is delivered in America and also seeks to change the way individuals have access both to health care itself as well as to insurance. During this period of time--and we are headed, I might say, too, toward passage of this bill in the Senate over the next couple of days.

I do not remember, in my 15 years in the Congress, both in the House and in the Senate, any major piece of legislation such as this being debated and ultimately brought to a final vote within such a short period of time. I have been involved in farm bills that have been on the Senate floor for longer than this--any number of other pieces of legislation that we deal with on a regular basis that have been on the Senate floor for longer than that period of time.

I heard the assistant majority leader a little earlier talking about the fact that we have had the opportunity to amend this bill. The fact is, the Republicans have been offered the opportunity to introduce 10 amendments to this massive piece of legislation for debate on the floor. We have a number of other amendments that have been filed. The four of us here today have significant amendments that we filed that now we are not going to have the opportunity to call up. It is extremely unusual for such a massive change in American policy being debated and voted upon without not only bipartisan support but without bipartisan participation from the standpoint of giving us the opportunity to file amendments, to have those amendments debated and voted upon.

The assistant majority leader also referenced amendments by Senator Coburn. I am not going to speak for him. He will be on the floor of the Senate later today to certainly speak well for himself. But the fact is, he and other Members of the HELP Committee offered any number of amendments, as well as Members of the Finance Committee offered any number of amendments, that were voted down in the HELP Committee and in the Finance Committee on a pure partisan vote.

It was the opportunity for meaningful participation by Republicans, who have some pretty good ideas about health care, to participate in the development of this bill, and it simply did not happen.

Let me say what Republicans are for. There have been comments on this floor that there has been no substitute bill offered. The fact is, Senator Burr and Senator Coburn, who will be on the floor a little bit later, have spent hours on the floor of this Senate talking about their proposed bill that is not going to see the light of day. It has never been allowed to come up in committee, and it is not going to be allowed to come up on the floor of the Senate because the majority leader has done what we call fill the tree. That is the Washington speak way of saying that all amendments are now cut off. There will be no more additional amendments debated and brought up for a vote. But that is just one of four separate plans that have been filed and laid on the table, not just for the last 72 hours but for the last several months. They have been available to look at online. There are any number of cosponsors to the bipartisan Wyden-Bennett bill. There is also the Gregg bill. There is the Coburn-Burr bill. There are any number of alternate proposals out there that the majority has simply decided: We do not think those bills are worth even debating on the Senate floor, so they have not allowed those bills to come up.

But what are Republicans for? We have said this over and over. Let me just say, No. 1, we are for meaningful, affordable access to health insurance by every single American. We can do it in a way that does not raise taxes. We are for providing coverage for all Americans, including those who have had preexisting conditions. We can do it in a way that does not raise taxes.

We are for trending down the cost curve; when it comes to health care reform, if we do not turn that cost curve downward, then we have failed the American people. Frankly, the independent Congressional Budget Office has said health care cost under the Reid proposal is going to not only continue to go up but it is likely--not only will it continue on its current curve, but it is going to go up and not down.

The way you can ensure that cost curve turns down, just two Republican proposals that we think have an awful lot of merit but are not going to be considered and certainly are not going to be included--are not included in the managers' amendment that has now been filed--one of those is tort reform. Physicians all across the country have been crying for this for years. But, more so, health agencies and individuals who have to pay health care bills have been crying for this for years. We can do it in a way that will allow every aggrieved individual who is injured as a result of negligent health care being delivered to have their day in court. Yet we need to provide some means of the elimination of the frivolous lawsuits that go so much toward physicians having to call for tests that they might not otherwise need; and also to prevent the spiraling costs, on the delivery side, of health care because of the high cost of malpractice insurance as well as other measures.

The other way we can trend that curve down is to provide preventive incentives to individuals across America to live healthier lives. There is example after example that we have talked about on the floor of the Senate--from health care providers, employers who have provided incentives in their program, their health insurance program, that have in fact lowered costs. We can do that. There are proposals to do that, but they are not included in the managers' package.

Insurance reform--Republicans have been very strong about the fact that, as a part of overall health care reform, we need to reform the insurance industry, rein in some measures that have caused the cost of health insurance that is provided by employers to, again, not only level off but ultimately trend downward.

How do we do that, and what ideas have been proposed? We have proposed the sale of insurance policies across State lines. There is a provision in the underlying bill that does that. I am very pleased to see that included.

Another thing we can do is to allow for what is called associated health plans that Republicans have been promoting for years. Every time it has come up for a vote in this body, the Democrats have opposed allowing individuals across State lines to group together and spread the risk of health
insurance coverage. It would go a long way toward reducing the cost of health insurance premiums. But, unfortunately, we have not been allowed to move forward with that proposal.

Let me mention a couple of things, before I turn to my friend from Texas, with respect to the changes in the Reid amendment that was filed yesterday. Again, there have been a number of individuals who have come to the floor since that amendment was filed yesterday to talk about the fact that it is online, and as we look through it more and more we are finding more and more about it, that is true. But it certainly does not meet the test of giving us 72 hours before we vote on it.

The number of pages in the bill now, the base bill plus the Reid amendment plus the Indian health bill, which is now included by reference, totals 2,733 pages. The gross Medicare cuts--and these are not slowing the growth of Medicare. These are direct Medicare cuts that are being used to finance the underlying health care bill--now totaling $470.70 billion. The gross tax increases in the Reid amendment now total $518.5 billion. CBO says the gross cost of the insurance coverage expansion is $23 billion higher under the Reid amendment than it was under the base bill. Federal revenues or Federal taxes increase by almost $26 billion under the managers' package.

All told, the amendment reduces the deficit by $2 billion--going from $130 to $132 billion. But, boy, is that ever a figleaf. We are going to talk about the CLASS Act that provides for that increase in the deficit.

The Federal cost curve, according to CBO, still goes up. I alluded to that a little bit earlier.

There is a slight increase in additional coverage--but still under the Reid amendment there will be 23 million Americans left uninsured. That is not what we have heard from the other side of the aisle from day one about making sure that every single American was covered.

Despite the fact the Democrats have said changes in the managers' package would improve the delivery system, CBO also says it is likely that the amendment would have little impact on premiums.

As we move toward the cloture votes on this bill over the next couple of days, I think it is important for the American people to get some understanding of the fact that the deals that have been made, the deals that have been cut to get the Democrats to 60 votes on this bill do not do what has been said over and over by folks on the other side of the aisle.

I would now like to ask my friend from Texas how it impacts Texas, the managers' amendment, as well as the underlying bill and other comments he has relative to the bill.

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Mr. CHAMBLISS. I think it is obvious it is pure arrogance on the part of the folks on the other side of the aisle. The American people do not want it, but they are saying Washington knows better than the people back home know. That is pretty clear.

I know my colleague from Georgia is like me, when we go back home, we get stopped in the airport, in the grocery store, on the streets, all around different parts of Georgia. People are not happy about what is going on up here with respect to this bill. I wish to ask him about his comments with respect to where we are.

Mr. ISAKSON. Like the Senators from Texas and South Carolina and my senior Senator from Georgia, we all represent the people who vote for us. And in reference to Senator Cornyn's question about popularity, about the way people feel about this legislation, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record two letters--one from the Medical Association of Georgia and one from a consolidated group of medical associations representing 92,000 physicians.

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

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Mr. CHAMBLISS. I rise to pose a question to the Senator, and I would ask my colleagues to comment with respect to their States.

The Senator served in the State legislature for many years, and is very familiar with our SCHIP program, which is called PeachCare, and he is also familiar with the rising Medicaid costs that we have seen in our State. What this bill does, in seeking to reach out, as I understand, is to expand the eligibility for Medicaid. We are all for Medicare, but this raises the eligibility level for Medicaid from 100 percent of the poverty level to 150 percent of the poverty level. That will have a huge impact on every single State that is now going through very difficult financial times.

We in Georgia have had a $3 billion shortfall this past year that had to be plugged. I saw the other day in the press where we have almost another $2 billion our legislature is going to have to deal with next month in reducing services around our State. Every State is having that same experience. Yet what this bill does is to put a mandate on States to increase the amount of money that States put into Medicaid. I know the Senator is very familiar with that, and I would ask him to comment.

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Mr. CHAMBLISS. The Senator from South Carolina raises the point about this bill being revenue neutral and it actually decreases the deficit. How do they achieve that? They achieve that through some truly Enron accounting, as the Senator from South Carolina just said. But here is what happens: There is a certain amount of money that is projected by CBO to be generated in insurance premiums being paid by young individuals across this country under what is called the CLASS Act. The CLASS Act is a new health care-generated program, a new entitlement program that is included in this bill that is going to provide long-term care benefits for young, healthy Americans who, ultimately, are going to become invalid and need that long-term care.

Well, the fallacy in the numbers game that is being played is that CBO is saying it is true there will be a projection that we are going to save--the projection they are using says we are going to generate premiums from these young people who are not going to be entitled to the benefits under this bill for 20, 30, 40 years from now. But even CBO recognizes that when these benefits begin being paid out, there is going to be an entitlement created that is going to blow the budget of this particular new program all the way out the top.

In fact, the chairman of the Budget Committee, a Democrat from North Dakota whom I admire and respect so much, has even said this particular provision in this bill is a Ponzi scheme. It is something Bernie Madoff would love. Yet here they are with straight faces on the other side of the aisle coming in and saying we are really going to reduce the deficit by passing this provision called the CLASS Act. It is beyond me how anybody, with a straight face, can say that is actually a fact.

Mr. ISAKSON. Will the Senator yield?

Mr. CHAMBLISS. Absolutely.

Mr. ISAKSON. Isn't it true that is what is wrong with Social Security today? We have spent it for years and years rather than putting it in a trust fund, and now the baby boomers are going: The money is not there? Isn't that the same thing?

Mr. CHAMBLISS. The Senator is exactly right, and exactly the same situation with Medicare.

Mr. ISAKSON. Just a question on a followup on the fiscal part the Senator from South Carolina brought up. It is also still true that the taxes on this bill begin in 11 days--January 1, 2010--but the benefits begin on January 1, 2014, and in that score of the first 10 years of cost, you have years of program that are not costing anything while you are raising revenues. So it is a ruse and a masking of the actual fiscal effect on the United States of America.

Mr. CHAMBLISS. The only way Senator Reid could get the score that he kept going back and forth with the Congressional Budget Office on was to make sure the taxes started immediately. And they will. He has increased taxes by $26 billion to come up with a proposal that he says is revenue neutral. That is an additional $26 billion. So it makes it a total of $518.5 billion in new taxes that are going to be paid by hard-working, tax-paying Americans, and no benefits under this bill are going to start accruing until the year 2014.

Mr. CORNYN. Will my friend yield for a question?

Mr. CHAMBLISS. Absolutely.

Mr. CORNYN. I ask the senior Senator from Georgia, does he remember this statement by President Obama? He said he will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits, either now or in the future, period. Yet David Broder, perhaps one of the most respected journalists here in Washington, DC, who has been around a long time, said he has talked to all the experts and everybody he has talked to said these bills as they stand are ``budget-busters.'' Of course, I am sure the Senator also remembers a Washington Post-ABC poll that said 66 percent of those who responded to the poll think this bill will make the deficit worse, not better.

In other words, we have a credibility problem between what is being promised here by the President and presumably by the proponents of this bill and the American people because they simply do not buy it. They do not believe it. Maybe that is why that earlier number from the Rasmussen poll said a majority of Americans do not want us to pass this bill but, rather, want us to start over and take a step-by-step or incremental approach.

Mr. CHAMBLISS. There is just no question but that the American people understand this. They get it. When we talk about cutting Medicare by $450 billion, do they really not think the quality of care under Medicare is going to be diminished? Of course it is. Do the American people really think we are not going to have an increase in the deficit when we are going to have almost a trillion-dollar bill in real, live dollars that is going to be passed by this body in the next couple of days, in all probability? Surely the American people get that. They know this is going to increase the cost of health care and it is going to increase the deficit. That is why they are opposed to this.

Mr. GRAHAM. Will the Senator yield for another question?

Mr. CHAMBLISS. Sure.

Mr. GRAHAM. Let's talk about the CLASS Act a little bit more. It is a new program that doesn't exist today where the Federal Government, as I understand it, will be offering long-term health care insurance to the American people. It is a voluntary program at first, just like everything else around here. Guess who is going to sign up. It is called adverse selection. The sickest people in the country are going to sign up.

Under the bill as it is written, it is just like what Senator Isakson said about the underlying bill. You collect taxes for 10 years; you pay out benefits for 6. That is the way you get the money to make the numbers come out right.

Guess what happens in this CLASS Act, the new program no one has heard much about. You start collecting premiums in 2011, but you don't pay any benefits until 2016. Guess what happens. That generates $73 billion of money to be used to say to the American people that this bill is paid for. But when you ask the CBO about what happens after 2016, they say that by 2029, I think it is, the whole thing falls apart because the only people in the program are the sickest folks because it is a voluntary program, and at the end of the day, you have created a new entitlement, and everybody in this body is going to be rushing to subsidize premiums and get more people into this system. It will be another entitlement that grows, and CBO says it will be a death blow to our fiscal soundness.

I ask the Senator from Georgia, when Senator Conrad, whom we all respect, said this is a giant Ponzi scheme that Bernie Madoff would have been proud of, do you think that is what he meant? You collect premiums and you make it look as if you have money you really do not have and you put off paying out benefits. And at the end of the day, would the Senator agree with me--I have a letter from October 23, 2009, from Senators Conrad, Landrieu, Lincoln, Warner, Lieberman, Bayh, and Nelson to the majority leader saying: Please take the CLASS Act out of the bill.

Would the Senator agree that the CLASS Act is still in the bill and that anybody who votes to send this off to the President to become law has become a coconspirator to the giant Ponzi scheme?

Mr. CHAMBLISS. I don't think there is any question about that. The Senator is exactly right. It is what we in Washington call fuzzy math--utilization of money from one pocket to pay for something on the other side. At the end of the day, it just does not add up. The Senator from North Dakota was exactly right, it is a huge Ponzi scheme.

I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record the letter dated October 23, 2009, just referenced by the Senator from South Carolina.

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

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Mr. CHAMBLISS. We have talked a little bit about the negotiations that took place behind closed doors over the last few days. It is unfortunate that we have gotten to the point in this body and on this particular piece of legislation where the issue of abortion has injected itself into meaningful and affordable health care reform measures. But that is, in fact, what has happened. Similar to my friend from South Carolina, I am pro-life. We all are. I am very proud to be and have a strong voting record on that. The law of the land for well over 30 years has been that no Federal funds should be used to fund abortions. It makes no difference whether you are in one part of the country or the other; that is the law. That is the way it ought to be. It ought not to be changed.

We have had any number of votes on abortion issues over the years. In every instance, we have failed to pass a law that would provide for the use of Federal funds for abortions. That is changing. Irrespective of what the Senator from Nebraska thinks he negotiated, that has changed.

I have three letters I will include for the Record. One is pretty interesting because it is from a group of African-American ministers in my home State. This group is headed by Bishop Wellington Boone. He wrote me a letter yesterday. Here is part of what he says:

We cannot emphasize enough that abortion is not health care.

He is absolutely right.

There is also a letter from Cindy O'Keary, executive director of the HOPE Center in Woodstock, GA, who is appalled at the discussions and the fact that we now are going to be using Federal money to fund abortions, and also a letter from Sadie Fields, State chairman of the Georgia Christian Alliance, imploring us not to pass any kind of bill that sets the precedent of providing Federal funds for the use of abortion.

I ask unanimous consent to have all three letters printed in the Record.

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

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Mr. CHAMBLISS. Madam President, in closing, let me say, the Senator from South Carolina said it strongly and he is right: We have reached a new day in this body. We have had deals cut behind closed doors that are going to provide benefits for individual Senators and their States--whether Vermont, New Hampshire, Nebraska, Florida, or wherever--and that are going to require those of us who didn't have the opportunity to participate in the discussions and negotiations on this bill to represent to our citizens that they are going to have to pay more for services than everybody all across America gets. There is nothing right about that. There is nothing fair about it.

I daresay, I have some relatives who live in Nebraska. They have to be embarrassed and ashamed about this. They are going to be getting a huge benefit simply because the Democrats needed 60 votes to pass the health care bill.

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