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Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act Of 2009

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, before my friend from Iowa, the distinguished Chair of the HELP Committee, leaves the floor, I thank him for his wonderful leadership and friendship in so many capacities and passion for what we are doing now. We are all here together knowing that in the process of legislating, you don't always get every idea you want. But you come together and you work for something that is good for the American people, and that is what we have done. I thank him very much for all of his leadership.

I wish to take a few moments to talk about how we actually got to this point on a Sunday evening--we are voting at 1 o'clock in the morning--and, frankly, what has been happening all year. I want to take a few minutes to talk about what has happened this entire year, the first year of President Obama's presidency, our first year in the majority, and then to speak a little bit as well about the very important legislation that is in front of us.

I do think it is important that we take a moment to recognize and address a very unfortunate milestone, look back on the year on what we have accomplished in spite of that milestone.

In April, the media celebrated President Obama's first 100 days in office. But here in the Senate, we can measure our progress by something else--not 100 days, but 100 objections from the minority party. Actually, 101 as of yesterday; objections, filibusters, delays, stalling tactics designed to stop us from helping the American people who are hurting in these tough economic times. That is more true in my State than any other place in this country. Our people, the great people of Michigan, have been hurting longer, have been hurting much more deeply than other places in the country because of the major economic transition, as well as the recession in which we are involved.

There is good news because while the Republicans were stalling and wasting time, we were working hard doing what the people of America sent us to do. I want to talk about what we have done in spite of the stalling. But I also want to take a brief moment to explain something hard to explain about Senate rules because people look at us and say: They objected, but why does that matter? Why does that matter?

Mr. President, as you know, when there is an objection, in order to overcome it--and it is called a filibuster--it involves invoking motions called cloture and it takes time. It plain takes time. So 101 times we have not been able to move forward because of an objection or we have had to go through this long process we are involved in right now.

I think it is important to briefly explain it because when Republicans object, as they are now, as they have been on so many occasions, our leader has to file what is called a cloture motion, and then you wait 2 days. You cannot do other business for those 2 days. We have done that over and over, wasting time while people in my State want us to be focused on jobs, on lowering their health care costs, on making sure we are doing the things that matter to them every day. But we stop and we wait 2 days. Then we vote on stopping the filibuster. Then we wait 30 hours, which is what we are doing right now. Then we vote on whether to proceed to the item. There are filibusters again. Then we file a cloture motion on the amendments or the bill. We wait 2 more days. Then we vote on closing a filibuster, and then we wait 30 hours, and then we vote on the amendment, which we will do tonight, and then we have to wait another 30 hours. In this case, another 30 hours.

It does matter when we say there have been 101 objections that have either stopped us or forced this process. It does matter. It matters because it has slowed down the ability to move to get things done.

The good news is that we have gotten things done anyway. We have gotten things done anyway because we are focused and committed to getting things done. We know the American people have waited too long. The last 8 years were about taking us in the wrong direction, with things that did not help most people, that put us in a huge deficit hole, that did not address health care or health care costs or jobs, or policies that made it worse.

We know that even though there have been 101 objections so far this year--and there will be more; there will be more--we are going to get things done for the American people.

It is amazing the stalling actually happened on the very first day of the 111th Congress on January 6 when Republicans objected to moving forward with an important public lands bill, something we had been trying to do for some time to protect and preserve our national parks, forests, and wilderness areas. But we passed that important bill anyway over their objections and three different filibusters, as the chart showed. Three different times we had to wait, wait 2 days, wait 30 hours, wait 2 days, wait 30 hours. But we passed it.

Since then, nearly every single week we have been in session, every single week but 4 out of 41 weeks, we have had to go through this process or have had objections. They have found something to object to or something to filibuster.

As I said, yesterday they objected for the 101st time, this time with a filibuster against providing affordable health insurance for over 30 million Americans. They have misused longstanding Senate rules and traditions to stall everything that might give this President and this Congress a victory.

I think it hurts all of us when the Senate breaks down as it has. Everybody is hurt by that--to stall everything that would help get Americans back to work or that would help 15.4 million Americans who are looking for work, and now to stop us, as I said, from extending health insurance coverage to over 30 million Americans. Their objections are about policy. They are about politics.

Earlier this year, objection 74, they stalled the unemployment bill, and their delaying tactics caused nearly 200,000 Americans to lose their unemployment benefits a couple of months before Christmas. They objected to the bill twice. They filibustered not once but three times before they voted unanimously. They voted unanimously for the bill. Why would you filibuster something three times and then vote for it unanimously? Not because you are concerned about the policy. The only explanation is that Republicans were trying to waste time--time that cost 200,000 Americans their unemployment benefits; the difference between paying the mortgage, keeping the heat on, putting food on the table, and possibly trying to keep health care going with a COBRA payment or in some other fashion.

Objection 4 was the Republican filibuster of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to make sure women get equal pay for equal work. Republicans filibustered and held up that bill, but we pushed forward. We passed it. We passed a very important equal pay for equal work bill in spite of it.

Objection 6 was to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act which
has been absolutely critical to creating jobs, keeping our economy out of a depression. They filibustered that bill three times as well. But we overcame the objections, passed the Recovery Act, and made critical investments in transportation, in our schools, in our police officers, and in clean energy technology and manufacturing.

And, yes, we are seeing the difference in Michigan right now. Mr. President, $2 billion was part of the Recovery Act. I am pleased to say we have received a large part of that in Michigan to develop new battery technology manufacturing. We have at least six different firms that have announced and begun to develop manufacturing facilities for advanced battery development. Those manufacturing facilities are going to put thousands of people back to work. That was in the Recovery Act that was filibustered three times.

Objection 20 was to Senator Kennedy's Serve America Act, which we passed despite their filibuster, to help young people give back to their country through voluntarism and community service.

Objection 24 was to the Fraud Enforcement Recovery Act which cracked down on predatory lending and abuses by banks and mortgage companies. That bill was held up for nearly a month. But we passed it, giving real relief to millions of American homeowners.

We passed the credit card bill, Republican objection 32.

We passed the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, Republican objection 33.

We gave the FDA the authority, finally, to regulate tobacco to help keep kids from smoking. That was Republican objection 38.

We passed the Travel Promotion Act which will help stimulate the suffering tourism industry across the country. That was objection 45.

We passed a true funding bill to make sure our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan had the support they needed despite having to file cloture to stop a filibuster--objection 47.

We passed the Defense authorization bill that included a pay raise for our troops and other help for our military and their families despite repeated filibusters and objections. And these were objections 54, 56, 57, and 58. Can you imagine? This was a Defense bill.

We passed the veterans health care bill, despite Republican stalling, to help caregivers of disabled veterans, women veterans, rural health improvements for veterans, mental health care for veterans, and support for homeless veterans. This was Republican objection 89.

Objection 98 was another filibuster against those pay raises for our troops just 9 days before Christmas.

Despite all of those objections, 101, we have been doing what we were sent here to do. We have focused on actions to help create jobs and strengthen our economy and focus on the things that families struggle with and care about every day to make people's lives better, not just a few, not just investment bankers on Wall Street, not just the wealthy folks who got the tax cuts in the last 8 years, but middle-class families every day who are trying to figure out: What about them? What about us? That is what we have been focused on.

We passed an extension of the Children's Health Insurance Program to provide health and dental care to nearly 10 million children. We passed legislation to reform government contracting and protect taxpayer dollars. We passed legislation to invest in health care, energy, and education. We passed the cash for clunkers bill, as you know, that I was proud to lead in the Senate that moved over 650,000 fuel-efficient cars off dealer lots and brought thousands of laid-off manufacturing workers back to work.

We passed legislation to support the growth of small businesses and to extend the first-time home buyers tax credit. And now, just a few days before Christmas, we are working to pass this critical, historic health insurance reform legislation. We are committed to getting it done.

Republican colleagues can object 100 times or 1,000 times, but we are not wavering in our commitment to do the right thing. Even though inaccuracies abound, even though misinformation has been said over and over about what this bill would do, we are committed to overcoming what has been the tidal wave of opposition from the special interests who control the status quo, who like it the way it is right now.

We are determined to get beyond that and do the right thing for American families. Whether our Republican colleagues work with us or not--and we sincerely hope they do, and we have spent a tremendous amount of time this year reaching out to get bipartisan support--whether they stall or object, our job is to do everything we can to move America forward, and that will continue to be our focus.

As the distinguished Presiding Officer knows because we both sit on the Finance Committee, we have spent months reaching out with committees, with processes to get bipartisan support. But, as my dad used to say, it takes two to tango. It takes both sides to want to work together. Unfortunately, it appears the strategy that was put in place back at the beginning of the year, the very first day of session, with the very first filibuster, was just to stop us from being able to move America forward, to stop this great new President, to stop the majority in the Congress. But we have moved forward despite that.

I think often of what we could do if we hadn't had to deal with 101 filibusters, what we could have done in creating a clean energy bill, which would create more jobs in my great State, or dealing with other critical issues we need to deal with and we will deal with. As we slog through filibuster after filibuster in the coming year, we will do that. But now we have the opportunity in front of us to pass historic health insurance reform that, frankly, people have talked about for 100 years.

This legislation is not perfect, but nothing ever is when you start. It is a great framework, however, for putting in place the value, the principle that every American should be able to have affordable health insurance and that we are going to tackle the explosion of costs that have hit businesses large and small, that have hit taxpayers, and to bring those costs down over time. That is what we are involved in right now, and we are going to get it done.

We could have voted much earlier, rather than keeping our staff here until 1 a.m., and we will vote again after we run the next 30 hours, which will be, I believe, Tuesday morning. We could vote and be done with the final passage at that point. We know where the votes are. We have the votes to pass this. But it appears we will be here until Christmas Eve. Mr. President, I do not mind for myself. I, of course, want to be home with my family, as I know you do. But I think about my brother, who drives for UPS, and I know he will be working on Christmas Eve, as a lot of Americans will be working on Christmas Eve. And if we need to be here until Christmas Eve to do something that will positively affect every American, I am willing to do that. I am willing to do that if that is what we need to do.

Let me take a moment to talk about the bill in front of us. The bill in front of us literally saves lives, saves money, and saves Medicare, and I am very proud that in the managers' amendment, the amendment we will be voting on at 1 a.m. today, we have made it even better.

I am very pleased to have helped to lead a section related to small business tax cuts. Along with our chair of the Small Business Committee, Senator Landrieu, and another strong advocate, Senator Lincoln, we have been working on provisions that will make sure there are small business tax cuts that start immediately--next year--after the bill passes, $40 billion in tax cuts in total to help small businesses afford health insurance for themselves and their workers.

In our amendment, we also provide even tougher insurance reforms.

In the underlying bill, we lay out a whole health care bill of rights. I remember coming here in the year 2000, and the Patients' Bill of Rights was the major thing we were trying to get done. We were in the minority, the Democratic minority, but we were working hard to do that. It was my first opportunity to work with Senator Kennedy. We believed strongly that we needed to take insurance company bureaucrats out of the middle--from between doctors and patients. That is in this bill. Those kinds of reforms are in this bill and only one of many things that are in this bill.

We have toughened it up so that if insurance companies, between now and when the new group insurance pool takes effect, are raising their rates too high, spending too much on profit and administration, then taxpayers, ratepayers, will get a refund. And we hope that will put pressure on them not to continue to raise rates or try to do what the credit card companies have done before the bill takes effect--raise their rates. So we have put new protections in and other protections as well to make sure that the majority--the vast majority--of every dollar a family puts into premiums actually goes for their medical care rather than for profits and administration.

In total, we have $430 billion in tax cuts to create affordability for families and for individuals, to help them afford health insurance. With that, overall, this is a tax reduction--this bill is--for the American people, and it is a reduction for taxpayers because it lowers the deficit in the first 10 years and on into the future.

I am going to take just a moment to give a sense of what is in the bill as it relates to new coverage and the benefits.

We know the majority of us have health insurance already. In Michigan, it is about 60 percent of the people, and in other places it is 50 or 55 percent. But we have what is called an employer-based health insurance system. So we have started from the basis that people should be able to keep what they have, and we have built on that. The majority of people have either employer-based insurance or they have Medicare or Medicaid or veterans services or other public services. So we started from the basis that we want to make current health insurance more secure, more stable. The insurance reforms we are putting in place for those plans that take effect--or new plans after this takes effect--will include the elimination of preexisting conditions, the elimination of what is called rescissions--the ability to drop someone if they have gotten sick--and the elimination of discrimination.

One of the things I was surprised to learn about, in terms of how extensive it is, as we went through this process is that women are paying, on average, 50 percent more than men for the same coverage in the individual insurance market or maybe even less coverage. Because a woman is in her childbearing years or perhaps has been pregnant and may be viewed as having a preexisting condition, some women might not be able to find health insurance.

So those who have insurance today, as they attempt to get new plans, will be able to take advantage of all of the insurance protections--our health care insurance bill of rights--in the bill. And this is very important.

Also, people with insurance today will actually, over time--and it will take some time for this to happen--but as others who do not have insurance now are able to afford health insurance and become able to get health care, there will be fewer people using emergency rooms. There will be fewer people needing other kinds of services that actually end up coming back, in terms of cost, to all of us who have insurance today because when someone walks into the emergency room sicker than they otherwise would be if they had seen a doctor, they get treated, as they should, but then the hospital has to make up the cost, so they put it on people who have insurance today. That is estimated to be about $1,100 in hidden costs for individuals. So we are going to see those kinds of costs come down and other changes and efficiencies and quality that will help people with insurance today. So coupled with the insurance reforms, we will see more stability and more quality for people who have insurance today.

The major area of new coverage is in what is called the insurance exchange. For the 15 to 20 percent of the people who can't find affordable insurance today--and most of them, as our Presiding Officer knows, are small businesses or people who are self-employed or people who have lost their jobs and then lose their insurance--we set up a new group pool, which is a way for people to use the same leverage a big business does or the Federal Government does, just as the insurance policy for Members of Congress uses a pool. Then everyone can choose the insurance coverage they want within that pool and get a better deal. That is what we are setting up in the insurance exchange, with helpful tax cuts for families and for businesses and individuals to help them afford health insurance.

We are also giving a choice to States. For lower income working people, a State may choose to provide a basic health insurance plan rather than people getting a tax cut to go into the exchange. They can set up their own basic health insurance plan and bring down costs as well through the State.

For young workers--and this is one of the things I wish had been around a couple of years ago--we will be allowing parents who have their children on their insurance policies--after the effective date of the act, they will be able to keep their children on their insurance policies until the age of 26. That will give young people a chance to get a start in that first job knowing they have insurance until they are 26. And there are a number of other provisions in the bill for young people as well.

We are making Medicaid a true safety net for low-income people up to 133 percent of poverty. We are truly going to be able to say: If you lose your job, you won't have to lose your insurance. What an important thing to be able to say in terms of taking away that fear of losing your job and having nowhere to turn.

Improving Medicare. We are going to stop what have been overpayments to for-profit insurance companies and put that money back into closing the gap in prescription drug coverage under Medicare. It has been called the doughnut hole. We are going to close that. We are going to provide preventive care for seniors without out-of-pocket costs and lengthen the Medicare trust fund so that it is stronger for a longer period of time.

I am very proud to have worked with Senator Kerry to develop a way to provide support and help for companies that pay for the health insurance of early retirees, to lower their costs so that, in fact, we will be able to help those who have retired, voluntarily or involuntarily, so they will have the insurance they need until they can qualify for Medicare.

Let me close by saying this legislation is very much about saving lives. Forty-five thousand people lose their lives every year because they can't find health insurance they can afford. That is 45,000 families who will have one less person at the dinner table over the holidays because of lack of health insurance. Surely we can do better than that in our great country.

We will be saving money for small businesses, for families, for taxpayers, and bringing down the deficit--beginning to turn those costs downward rather than keeping them going upward in such an uncontrollable way.

Saving Medicare. We will be making sure Medicare is stronger out into the future and that our seniors have more help paying for their prescription drugs and preventative services as well.

When you get through all of it, we know it is hard to change the status quo because those who benefit from the current system don't want it changed.

The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Wyden). The Senator's time has expired.

Ms. STABENOW. But we do.

I thank the Presiding Officer.

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