SERVICE MEMBERS HOME OWNERSHIP TAX ACT OF 2009 -- (Senate - December 20, 2009)
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Mr. VITTER. Thank you, Mr. President.
I, too, rise to voice my very strong concerns about this latest version of so-called comprehensive health care reform. I will speak of my strong concerns starting with the process we are in the midst of because I am still digesting the particulars of this latest megabill.
As you know, it was divulged yesterday, a 383-page amendment to the underlying bill. The amendment references another bill which is 286 pages. The underlying bill is 2,074 pages. It makes for the seventh--count them--the seventh version of so-called comprehensive health care reform, Obamacare for short, in a few weeks. That grand total would be 2,733 pages. So, certainly, I am still digesting this latest version. My staff is helping me,
but I wish to rise to begin to express my concerns.
The first concern is what I just referenced, this process we are in the midst of. When I went around Louisiana and when I continue to go around Louisiana--have townhall meetings--of course, health care comes up first and often. The themes I hear over and over are: This is too important to rush. This is too important to have some arbitrary deadline, whether it was last summer or Christmas. We need to get it right, not have arbitrary deadlines, and we need to know what we are voting for or against. That is what I hear about the right process to use over and over and over.
Well, unfortunately, clearly, this process we are in the midst of does not honor those wishes of Louisiana citizens, of American citizens. Before this latest megahealth care bill was unveiled yesterday, everyone it seems--including Members of the majority party who, at least, were involved in the negotiations, unlike Republicans--was in the dark.
Let me mention a few statements Democratic Senators made over the last week or so before yesterday's unveiling.
Senator Durbin, in the leadership, said:
I would say to the Senator from Arizona, that I'm in the dark almost as much as he is. And I'm in the leadership.
Senator Schumer of New York, also in the leadership:
I can't say what there is, because we're not allowed to talk about what's submitted to CBO.
Senator Bayh of Indiana:
We're all being urged to vote for something and we don't know the details of what's in it.
Senator Bill Nelson of Florida:
I don't know what the deal is.
My colleague, Senator Landrieu, of Louisiana:
There's no specific compromise. There were discussions. ..... Until the package that was sent is scored, we really don't even know what's in it.
Senator Casey of Pennsylvania:
Any big agreement is progress ..... even if we do not know any of the details.
Senator Feinstein of California referred to a meeting on the majority side recently:
There was no explanation. It was sort of go team, go.
Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, talking about a similar majority meeting:
General concepts, but nothing very specific at all.
Then, at least yesterday, this new megabill--this 383-page amendment, referencing another 286-page bill, attached to an underlying 2,074-page bill--was unveiled. That finally happened yesterday morning.
Well, that is some progress. But I am afraid it is not progress enough. It is not time enough, considering we are set to vote on this new megabill in just a few hours, starting at 1 a.m. tomorrow morning.
Listening to American citizens all over the country, several Senators, including myself, have advocated we need at least 72 hours of final bill text on the Internet before we take any votes about this sort of major legislation. We need at least 72 hours of the official Congressional Budget Office cost estimate being on the Internet before we start any of those votes. I have certainly advocated that. Many of my colleagues on the Republican side have advocated that, listening, responding to American citizens who say: No arbitrary deadlines. Know what you are voting on. Get it right.
Perhaps even more importantly than my advocating it or other Republicans advocating it, at least eight Democrats have specifically demanded the same thing. In fact, on October 6 of this year, eight Democrats wrote a very clear, strongly worded letter to the majority leader, Senator Reid, and they demanded exactly the same thing: 72 hours of final legislative language on the Internet before any vote on the matter, a full Congressional Budget Office cost estimate on the Internet for at least 72 hours before any vote on the matter. I applaud these Senators for demanding that: Senator Lincoln, Senator Landrieu, Senator McCaskill, Senator Pryor, Senator Bayh, Senator Lieberman, Senator Ben Nelson, and Senator Webb.
But, again, this process we are in the midst of certainly does not honor that minimal demand. We are set to vote on this in just a few hours. When we do, we will have only had the final legislative language for about 40 hours. We will have only had the full Congressional Budget Office cost estimate for about 37 hours. That is 56 percent or less of this minimum timeframe that so many of us, including eight Democrats, have demanded.
Again, this rush to judgment, this rush to beat an arbitrary Christmas deadline, is clearly ignoring the common sense of the American people, the common sense I heard in my dozens of townhalls all across Louisiana: no arbitrary deadlines. Know what you are voting on. Get it right. Do not rush to judgment.
I have strong concerns about this process. Where are the 72 hours? Where is the opportunity for Members and the American people to know what is in this latest version of a megabill on so-called comprehensive health care reform? Where is the 72 hours' notice of a Congressional Budget Office cost estimate?
Given that rush to judgment and arbitrary timeline, I am rushing to digest this latest version of the bill. But certainly, already, I have other very strong substantive concerns. I will be coming back to the floor within the next few days to more precisely outline those concerns as I digest more of the details of this latest megabill. But let me mention at least six of the big Louisiana-based questions I am focused on in terms of this latest megabill, this latest so-called comprehensive health care reform or Obamacare.
No. 1 is the impact on the Louisiana State budget. There has been a lot of discussion about that because of the particular language included in the bill pertaining to Louisiana that apparently gives Louisiana a $300 million benefit. The problem, from the Louisiana perspective, is in the Medicaid system, and that $300 million is directly related to Medicaid. In Medicaid, there is a much greater additional burden put on all States, including Louisiana. In Louisiana's case, apparently, that is going to far surpass $300 million.
So I am concerned about the overall, the net, impact on the Louisiana State budget, particularly because of the dramatic expansion of Medicaid. Medicaid is the health care program for the poor. It is dramatically expanded in the bill. Every State--except perhaps Nebraska because of special language put in for Nebraska--every State pays a match for both existing Medicaid and Medicaid expansion. That is going to put a big extra burden on the Louisiana State budget, and that big extra burden is apparently going to be much more than the $300 million of benefit that has been so widely talked about. I am looking, right now, at the details of that.
My second big Louisiana-based concern has to do with the Louisiana seniors--Louisiana seniors who have paid into Medicare, the health care system for retirees, for years and have assumed it would be there for them, as they paid in, as they followed the rules every step of the way. I know from the study I have done already that this new, latest version of the megabill, so-called comprehensive health care reform, involves a $464.6 billion cut to Medicare. That is going to impact every Louisiana senior, and it is going to impact tens of thousands of Louisiana seniors on Medicare Advantage particularly onerously.
My third big Louisiana-based concern is the Louisiana taxpayer because this bill contains massive tax increases to pay for all these new entitlements. Apparently, the total figure of tax increases in the bill is $518 billion--over $ 1/2 trillion--more tax increases than in any of the six previous megabills, the six previous versions of Obamacare. A lot of these taxes are clearly going on individuals who earn less than $200,000 per year, families who earn less than $250,000 per year. A lot of Louisiana taxpayers are going to be hit. That is a big concern.
Fourth, I am concerned about Louisianians who have health care now and who pay premiums because those premiums, by all accounts, by all independent estimates, are going to go up because of the taxes and fees and other burdens in this bill.
Fifth, what about Louisiana small businesses, businesses that are struggling right now in a serious recession, the most serious recession since the Great Depression? We are in the midst of an extremely serious recession, and we are putting new mandates, new burdens, and new taxes on Louisiana small business. By all accounts, that is going to cost jobs, pure and simple, as we are in the midst of a very serious recession. I am concerned about that impact on Louisiana small business.
Sixth, and finally, Louisiana defenders of life. I am very proud to say Louisiana is one of the most pro-life States in the Nation--very strong values which hold up life and the defense of life in all its forms. Apparently--it is clear to me--this bill has taxpayer funding of abortion, the first time ever in Federal legislation, breaking tradition from the Hyde amendment, which has been the law since early 1977.
I am very concerned about that radical, truly radical departure from the past.
So in closing, let me say I hope we can adopt a different process, one that reflects the common sense of the American people and Louisianans when they say no arbitrary deadlines, no rush to judgment, and know what you are voting on. Also, I hope we will adopt a different approach that doesn't involve all of the downside I have mentioned, those six major categories.
I am still digesting this latest megabill. I will return to the Senate floor in the next few days to talk more and in more detail about those concerns I have laid out. But I hope all of my colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, look hard at those and similar concerns, look hard at the process and resolve to not just do this quick, not just do it before Christmas by some arbitrary deadline, but to do it right and to honor the American people in our work.
Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.
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