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Remarks by the President, Senator Alexander, Speaker Pelosi, and Senator Reid in Opening Statements at Bipartisan Meeting on Health Care Reform

Statement

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Blair House

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. Welcome. Thank you so much for participating today. I am very grateful to all of you because I know how busy you are.

What I want to do is just make a few brief remarks on the front end, and then we're going to allow leadership from the both the House and the Senate to make some opening remarks, and then we will dive in.

Last year obviously was one of the toughest years we've had on record, and all of us in one way or another were devoted to focusing on breaking the back of the recession, restoring economic growth, putting people back to work. We've still got a long way to go. And so I know both the House and the Senate are interested in how do we propel economic growth forward; how do we create more jobs. I was very pleased to see a glimpse of bipartisanship in the Senate recently in passing a jobs bill, and I hope that continues, and I know there are going to be some additional pieces of legislation moving forward around, for example, making sure that small businesses can get financing. And those are the kinds of things that I think all parties and both chambers should be able to agree to. So I'm very much looking forward to working with you on all those issues.

I have said repeatedly -- I said at the State of the Union, I said last night when I was meeting with the Business Roundtable -- that in addition to dealing with the immediate challenges we face in the recovery, it's absolutely critical that we also look at some fundamental structural problems in our economy that are hurting families, hurting businesses, and having an impact on the exploding deficits and debts that the federal government, but also state governments are carrying. And it's for that reason that last year, around this time, actually, I hosted in the White House a health care summit and indicated to Congress that it was absolutely critical for us to begin now moving on what is one of the biggest drags on our economy and represents one of the biggest hardships that families face.

Some of you know that I get 10 letters, out of the 40,000 that I receive every day, for me to take upstairs to the residence and read every single night. And these are letters from all across the country, constituents from every walk of life. And I can tell you that at least two, sometimes five, of the 10 letters relates to the challenges that people are experiencing in health care every single day. I'll get letters from parents who -- whose children have preexisting conditions and maybe those children were able to get health insurance when they were young but now they're growing up, they're about to move out, and they can't get insurance no matter what job they find.

I hear from small businesses who have just opened up their new rates from their insurance company and it turns out that the rates have gone up 20, 30, in some cases 35 percent. I hear from families who have hit lifetime limits and because somebody in their family is very ill, at a certain point they start having to dig out of pocket and they are having to mortgage their house and in some cases have gone bankrupt because of health care.

So this is an issue that is affecting everybody. It's affecting not only those without insurance, but it's affecting those with insurance. And when you talk to every single expert and you just talk to ordinary people and you talk to businesses, everybody understands that the problem is not getting better, it's getting worse. Right now it's projected that premiums for families with health insurance -- not people without health insurance but with health insurance -- will almost certainly double over the next decade, just as they doubled over the past decade.

In the individual markets, it's even worse. Businesses are having to make decisions about just dropping coverage altogether for their employees. If they're not doing that, then the money that they are spending on health care is money that otherwise could have gone to job creation.

And I don't need to tell people here about the effects on the federal budget. We've got some people who've been working a very long time on figuring out how can we control the huge expansion of entitlements. Almost all of the long-term deficit and debt that we face relates to the exploding costs of Medicare and Medicaid. Almost all of it. That is the single biggest driver of our federal deficit. And if we don't get control over that we can't get control over our federal budget.

Now, I'm telling all of you things you already know. Maybe more personally I should just mention the fact that I now have about as good health care as anybody could have. I've got a doctor right downstairs. And all of us, when I was in the Senate, and all of you as House and Senate members, have good health care. But remember maybe when you were younger, when you were first starting off -- I can certainly remember Malia coming into the kitchen one day and saying, "I can't breathe, Daddy," and us having to rush her to the emergency room because she had asthma; or Sasha, when she was a baby, getting meningitis and having to get a spinal tap and being on antibiotics for three days, and us not knowing whether or not she was going to emerge okay. In each of those instances I remember thinking while sitting in the emergency room what would have happened if I didn't have reliable health care.

My mother, who was self-employed, didn't have reliable health care, and she died of ovarian cancer. And there's probably nothing that modern medicine could have done about that. It was caught late, and that's a hard cancer to diagnose. But I do remember the last six months of her life -- insurance companies threatening that they would not reimburse her for her costs, and her having to be on the phone in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies when what she should have been doing is spending time with her family. I do remember that.

Now, everybody here has those same stories somewhere in their lives. Everybody here understands the desperation that people feel when they're sick. And I think everybody here is profoundly sympathetic and wants to make sure that we have a system that works for all Americans.

You know, I was looking through some of the past statements that people have made, and I think this concern is bipartisan. John McCain has talked about how rising health care costs are devastating to middle-class families. Chuck, you've been working on this a long time. You've discussed the unsustainable growth in Medicare and Medicaid in our budget. Mike Enzi, who's worked on this and partnered with Ted Kennedy on a range of health care issues as a chairman of the committee, you said that small businesses in your home state are finding it nearly impossible to afford health care coverage for their employees. And you said that the current system is in critical condition. And Mitch, you've said that the need for reform is not in question, and obviously there are comparable studies on the Democratic side as well.

So here's the bottom line. We all know this is urgent. And unfortunately over the course of the year, despite all the hearings that took place and all the negotiations that took place and people on both sides of the aisle worked long and hard on this issue and -- this became a very ideological battle. It became a very partisan battle. And politics I think ended up trumping practical common sense.

I said at the State of the Union, and I'll repeat, I didn't take this on because I thought it was good politics. This is such a complicated issue that it's inevitably going to be contentious. But what I'm hoping to accomplish today is for everybody to focus not just on where we differ, but focus on where we agree because there actually is some significant agreement on a host of issues.

I've looked very carefully at John Boehner's plan that he put forward. I've looked at Tom Coburn and Senator Burr's plan that's been put out there. Paul Ryan has discussed some of the issues surrounding Medicare. I've looked at those very carefully. Mike Enzi, in the past you've put forward legislation around small businesses that are very important.

And so when I look at the ideas that are out there, there is overlap. It's not perfect overlap, it's not a hundred percent overlap, but there's some overlap. Now, what I did, what the White House did several days ago, is we posted what we think is the best blend of the House and the Senate legislation that's already passed.

The basic concept is that we would set up an exchange, meaning a place where individuals and small businesses could go and get choice and competition for private health care plans, the same way that members of Congress get choice and competition for their health care plans. For people who couldn't afford it, we would provide them some subsidies. But because people would have some pooling power, the costs overall would be lower because they'd be in a stronger position to negotiate.

We think it is a plan that works with the existing system, the employer-based system, the private health care system, but allows a lot of people who currently don't have health care to get health care, and more importantly, for the vast majority of people who do have some health care, it allows them to get a better deal.

We also have some insurance reforms in there that, for example, prohibit people who have preexisting conditions from being banned from getting coverage. We also talk about how we can help to make the Medicare system more effective and provide better quality care.

In each of these cases there are corresponding ideas on the Republican side that we should be able to bridge. So I promise not to make a long speech. Let me just close by saying this. My hope in the several hours that we're going to be here today, that in each section that we're going to discuss -- how do we lower costs for families and small businesses, how do we make sure that the insurance market works for people, how do we make sure that we are dealing with the long-term deficits, how do we make sure that people who don't have coverage can get coverage -- in each of these areas what I'm going to do is I'm going to start off by saying, here are some things we agree on. And then let's talk about some areas where we disagree, and see if we can bridge those gaps.

I don't know that those gaps can be bridged. And it may be that at the end of the day we come out of here and everybody says, well, you know, we have some honest disagreements; people are sincere in wanting to help, but they've got different ideas about how to do it, and we can't bridge the gap between Democrats and Republicans on this.

But I'd like to make sure that this discussion is actually a discussion and not just us trading talking points. I hope that this isn't political theater where we're just playing to the cameras and criticizing each other, but instead are actually trying to solve the problem.

That's what the American people are looking for. As controversial as the efforts to reform health care have been thus far, when you ask people, should we move forward and try to reform the system, people still say yes, they still want to see change. And it strikes me that if we've got an open mind, if we're listening to each other, if we're not engaging in sort of the tit-for-tat and trying to score political points during the next several hours, that we might be able to make some progress. And if not, at least we will have better clarified for the American people what the debate is about.

So, with that, I just want to say again how much I appreciate everybody for participating. And I am going to now turn it over to Senator McConnell so that he can make some opening remarks. And we'll just go back and forth between the Democratic leaders and the Republican leaders, House and Senate, and then we'll just open it up and we'll start diving in. All right?

SENATOR McCONNELL: Thank you very much, Mr. President. John Boehner and I have selected Lamar Alexander of Tennessee to make our opening framing statement, and let me turn to him.

SENATOR ALEXANDER: Thanks, Mitch and John. Mr. President, thank you very much for the invitation. Appreciate being here. Several of us were part of the summits that you had a year ago, and so I've been asked to try to express what Republicans believe about where we've gotten since -- since then.

As a former governor, I also want to try to represent governors' views. They have a big stake in it. I know you met with some governors just the last few days. We believe that our views represent the views of a great number of the American people who have tried to say in every way they know how -- through town meetings, through surveys, through elections in Virginia and New Jersey and Massachusetts -- that they oppose the health care bill that passed the Senate on Christmas Eve.

And more importantly, we want to talk about -- we believe we have a better idea. And that's to take many of the examples that you just mentioned about health care costs, make that our goal -- reducing health care costs -- and start over, and let's go step by step toward that goal. And we'd like to briefly mention -- I'll briefly mention and others will talk more about it as we go along -- what those ideas are, what some of them are, what some of the suggestions we have are.

I'd like to begin with a story. When I was elected governor some of the media went up to the Democratic leaders of the legislature and said, "What are you going to do with this new, young Republican governor?" a few years ago. And they said, "I'm going to help him because if he succeeds our state succeeds." And they did that. That's the way we worked for eight years. But often they had to persuade me to change my direction to get our state where it needed to go.

I'd like to say the same thing to you. I mean, we want you to succeed, because if you succeed our country succeeds. But we would like, respectfully, to change the direction you're going on health care costs. And that's what I want to mention here in the next few minutes.

I was trying to think about if there were any kind of event that this could be compared with, and I was thinking of the Detroit Auto Show, that you'd invited us out to watch you unveil the latest model that you and your engineers had created and asked us to help sell it to the American people. And we go and you do that and we look at it and we say, that's the same model we saw last year, and we didn't like it and neither did they because we don't think it gets us where we need to go, and we can't afford it. So as they also say in Detroit, again, we think we have a better idea.

Your stories are a lot like the stories I hear. When I went home for Christmas, after we had that 25 days of consecutive debate and voted on Christmas Eve on health care, a friend of mine from Tullahoma, Tennessee, said, "I hope you'll kill that health care bill." And then before the words were out of his mouth, he said, "But we've got to do something about health care costs. My wife has breast cancer; she got it 11 years ago. Our insurance is $2,000 a month. We couldn't afford it if our employer weren't helping us do that. So we've got to do something."

And that's about -- that's where we are. But we think to do that we have to start by taking the current bill and putting it on the shelf and starting from a clean sheet of paper.

Now, you've presented ideas. There's an 11-page memo on the -- I think it's important for people to understand there's not a presidential bill. There are good suggestions and ideas on the Web. We've made our ideas. But it's said -- it's a lot like the Senate bill. It has more taxes, more subsidies, more spending. So what that means is, that when it's written it will be 2,700 pages, more or less, which means it will probably have a lot of surprises in it. It means it will cut Medicare by about half a trillion dollars, and spend most of that on new programs, not on Medicare and making it stronger, even though it's going broke in 2015. It means there will be about a half trillion dollars of new taxes in it. It means that for millions of Americans premiums will go up because those -- when people pay those new taxes, premiums will go up -- they will also go up because of the government mandates.

It means that from a governor's point of view, there are going to be what our Democratic governor calls "the mother of all unfunded mandates." Nothing used to make me madder as a governor than when Washington politicians would get together and pass a big bill, take credit for it, and then send me the bill to pay. And that's exactly what this does with the expansion of Medicare.

And in addition, it dumps 15 to 18 million low-income Americans into a Medicaid program that none of us would want to be a part of because 50 percent of doctors won't see new patients. So it's like giving someone a ticket to a bus line where the busses only run half the time.

When fully implemented, the bill would spend about $2.5 trillion a year, and it still has the sweetheart deals in it. One is out; some are still in. I mean, what's fair about taxpayers in Louisiana paying less than taxpayers in Tennessee? And what's fair about protecting seniors in Florida and not protecting seniors in California and Illinois and Wyoming?

So our view, with all respect, is that this is a car that can't be recalled and fixed, and that we ought to start over. But we'd like to start over.

When I go down on the floor -- and I've been there a lot on this issue -- some of my Democratic friends will say, well, Lamar, where's the Republican comprehensive bill? And I say back, well, if you're waiting for Mitch McConnell to roll in a wheelbarrow in here with a 2,700-page Republican comprehensive bill, it's not going to happen because we've come to the conclusion that we don't do comprehensive well. We've watched the comprehensive economy-wide cap and trade. We've watched the comprehensive immigration bill. We had the best senators we've got working on that in a bipartisan way. We've watched the comprehensive health care bill, and they fall of their own weight.

Our country is too big, too complicated, too decentralized for Washington, a few of us here, just to write a few rules about remaking 17 percent of the economy all at once. That sort of thinking works in the classroom but it doesn't work very well in our big complicated country.

And it doesn't work for most of us. I mean, if you look around the table -- and I'm sure it's true on the Democratic side, as it is on the Republican -- we've got shoe store owners and small business people and a former county judge and we've got three doctors. We've got people who are used to solving problems step by step. And that's why we said 173 times on the Senate floor in the last six months of last year, we mentioned our step-by-step plan for reducing health care costs.

And I'd like to just mention those in a sentence or two. You mentioned Mike Enzi's work on the small business health care plan. That's a good start. It came up in the Senate. He will explain why it covers more people, costs less, and helps small businesses offer insurance, too, helping Americans buy insurance across state lines. You've mentioned that yourself. Most of the governors I've talked to think that would be a good way to increase competition.

Number three, put an end to junk lawsuits against doctors. In our state, half the counties, pregnant women have to drive to the big city to have prenatal health care or to have their baby, because the medical malpractice suits have driven up the insurance policies so high that doctors leave the rural counties. Give states incentives to lower costs, number four. Number five, expanding health savings accounts. Number six, House Republicans have some ideas about how my friend in Tullahoma can continue to afford insurance for his wife who has had breast cancer -- because she has a preexisting condition, it makes it more difficult to buy insurance. So there are six ideas. They're just six steps, maybe the first six. But combined with six others and six more and six others, they'd get us in the right direction.

Now, some say we need to rein in the insurance companies; maybe we do. But I think it's important to note that if we took all the profits of the insurance companies, the health insurance companies, entirely away -- every single penny of it -- we could pay for two days of the health insurance of Americans, and that would leave 363 days with costs that are too high. So that's why we continue to insist that as much as we want to expand access and to do other things in health care, that we shouldn't expand a system that's this expensive; that the best way to reduce cost -- to increase access is to reduce cost.

Now, in conclusion, I have a suggestion and a request for how to make this a bipartisan and truly productive session. And I hope that those who are here will agree I've got a pretty good record of working across party lines and of supporting the President when I believe he's right, even though other members of my party might not on that occasion. And my request is this, is before we go further today, that the Democratic congressional leaders and you, Mr. President, renounce this idea of going back to the Congress and jamming through on a bipartisan -- I mean, on a partisan vote through a little-used process we call reconciliation, your version of the bill. You can say that this process has been used before, and that would be right, but it's never been used for anything like this. It's not appropriate to use to write the rules for 17 percent of the economy. Senator Byrd, who is the constitutional historian of the Senate, has said that it would be an outrage to run the health care bill through the Senate like a freight train with this process.

So this is the only place, the Senate, where the rights to the minority are protected and sometimes, as Senator Byrd has said, the minority can be right. I remember reading Alexis de Tocqueville's books, which most of us have read, and he said in his "American Democracy" that the greatest threat to the American democracy would be the tyranny of the majority.

When Republicans were trying to change the rules a few years ago -- you and I were both there; Senator McCain was very involved in that -- about getting a majority vote for judges, then-Senator Obama said the following: "What we worry about is essentially having two chambers, the House and the Senate, who are simply majoritarian -- absolute power on either side. That's just not what the Founders intended." Which is another way of saying that the Founders intended the Senate to be a place where the majority didn't rule on big issues.

Senator Byrd in his book -- Senator Reid in his book, writing about the Gang of 14, said that the end of the filibuster requiring 60 votes to pass a bill would be the end of the United States Senate. And I think that's why Lyndon Johnson in the '60s passed the civil rights bills in Everett Dirksen's office, the Republican Leader's, because he understood that having a bipartisan bill not only would pass it but it would help the country accept it.

Senator Pat Moynihan said before he died that he couldn't remember a big piece of social legislation that passed that wasn't bipartisan. And after World War II in this very house in the room back over here, President Truman and General Marshall would meet once a week with Senator Arthur Vandenburg, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and write the Marshall Plan. And General Marshall said that sometimes Van was my right hand and sometimes he was his right hand.

And we know how to do that. I mean, John Boehner and George Miller did that on No Child Left Behind. Mike Enzi and Ted Kennedy wrote 35 bills together. You mentioned that in your opening remarks. You and I and many other senators worked together on the America COMPETES Act. We know how to do that and we can do that on health care as well.

But to do that, we'll have to renounce jamming it through in a partisan way. And if we don't, then the rest of what we do today will not be relevant. The only thing bipartisan will be the opposition to the bill. And we'll be saying to the American people, who have tried to tell us in every way they know how -- town halls and elections and surveys -- that they don't want this bill; that they would like for us to start over.

So if we can do that -- start over -- we can write a health care bill. It means putting aside jamming it through. It means working together the way General Marshall and Senator Vandenburg did. It means reducing health care costs -- and making that our goal for now, and not focusing on the other goals. And it means going step by step together to re-earn the trust of the American people. We'd like to do that, and we appreciate the opportunity that you've given us today to say what our ideas are, and to move forward.

Thank you very much.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Lamar. Both I and Lamar went a little bit over our original allocated time. (Laughter.) Not wanting to be a hypocrite, I wanted to give you some slack. We're going to have Nancy and Harry -- I think my understanding is you guys want to split time. We'll split it up, and so we'll let them make some quick remarks.

What I will then do is just address -- John, are you going to make the presentation yourself? Okay. What I will then do is just address a couple of points that were raised by you, Lamar, in terms of process, and then we will start diving in and getting to work.

All right? Nancy.

SPEAKER PELOSI: Yes, Mr. President. Thank you very much for bringing us here today. I will try to stick to the time because we have many people to hear from. Thank you, Mr. President, again. It was almost a year ago, March 5th of last year, when you brought us together in a bipartisan way to set us on a path to lower cost, improved quality -- expand access to quality health care for all Americans. In the course of that time in our committees in the House and the Senate, we've had lively discussions. Here we are today.

You began your remarks, Mr. President, by saying there was a glimmer of bipartisanship in the Senate for the passage of the jobs bill. I want you to know there was a blaze of bipartisanship in the House yesterday -- with, what, 406-19, we passed under leadership of Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, Tom Perriello, Betsy Markey and others the lifting -- repealing the exemption that insurance companies have on health insurance and the antitrust laws for health insurance -- 406-19, a very strong message that, yes, the insurance companies need to be reined in. So put us down on that side of the ledger.

That day, March 5th, we all remember the bipartisan spirit, the hope that was in the room, and also when Senator Kennedy came into the room and declared himself a "foot soldier" in the fight for health care for all Americans. And then, later he wrote to you and said this is not just about the details of policy, it is about the character of our country. The character of our country has formed the backbone of our country, our working middle-class families in America.

As we sit around this table, I think we should be mindful of what they do when they sit around their kitchen table. What we do here must be relevant to their lives. And for them, they don't have time for us to start over. Many of them are at the end of the line with their insurance, with their caps, with their -- this and that. You talked about stories -- Senator Alexander did, too. I can tell you many stories as I travel the country where I've seen grown men cry. One man in Michigan, Mr. Dingell told me that his wife had been sick for a long time. He was at the end of the line in terms of his finances; he might have to lose his home, and she was bedridden. He was afraid of what was going to happen. He was too proud to tell his children that he needed help, because they were raising their own families. He said, "When is something going to happen on health care in America? I can't hold out much longer."

I have a letter -- and Michigan seems to be where I get some mail on this subject since I've travelled there recently -- the woman who said that their family -- to pay their deductible, they have to subtract it from their food budget. And that's just one of the concerns she mentioned.

I can't mention health care in Michigan without acknowledging Chairman Dingell. His institutional memory of how difficult it was to pass Medicare, how he has worked over the decades to improve it, how committed he is to preserving it, and how important a part of preserving Medicare is to this passing this health care bill. Later he will inspire us with that, but he, Mr. President, as you know, as a young Congressman gaveled Medicare into law in the House of Representatives.

You have talked about how the present system is unsustainable for families, for businesses large, modern and large, small -- any size, and how it's unsustainable, as you said on March 5th of last year. And health care reform is entitlement reform. Our budget cannot take this upward spiral of cost. We have a moral obligation to reduce the deficit and not heap mountains of debt onto the next generations.

But I want to talk for a moment about what it means to the economy. Imagine an economy where people could change jobs, start businesses, become self-employed, whether to pursue their artistic aspirations or be entrepreneurial and start new businesses if they were not job-locked, because they have a child who's bipolar or a family member who's diabetic, with a preexisting condition, and all of the other constraints that having health care or not having health care places on an entrepreneurial spirit.

Think of an economy with that dynamism of people following their pursuits, taking risks -- we want them to take risks and yet we lock them down, and we have an anvil around their businesses because of these increasing costs of health care.

So this bill is not only about the health security of America. It's about jobs. In its life it will create 4 million jobs -- 400,000 jobs almost immediately; jobs, again, in the health care industry, but in the entrepreneurial world as well. You, Mr. President, with your leadership we passed the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act last January and got a running start on some of the technology and scientific advancements in this by the investments in biomedical research, health IT -- health information technology -- a running start by your signing the SCHIP, the children's health bill, insuring 11 million children. You had a running start on expanding access, and not only that, but doing it in a way that is of the future.

This is not just about health care for America; it's about a healthier America. This legislation is about innovation; it's about prevention; it's about wellness. But most people haven't heard about that. And those people sitting at that kitchen table, they don't want to hear about process; they want to hear about results. They want to know what this means to them. And what it means is a health initiative that is about affordability for the middle class, lowering costs, improving access for them. Accessibility -- affordability and accessibility are closely aligned -- and accountability for the insurance companies.

So it is -- it's a very important initiative that we have to take. And I want to say, because Medicare was mentioned, unless we pass this legislation we cannot keep our promises on Medicare. We simply must make the cuts in waste, fraud, and abuse in Medicare so that the benefits and the premiums are untouched. We owe it to our seniors. We owe it to our country.

That day, March 5th, Senator Kennedy said health care is a right, not a privilege. Let us move in a way -- who can say "ram"? We started this six weeks after your inauguration, just six weeks after your inauguration, on March 5th, with you extending a hand of bipartisanship. And many of the provisions that are in our bill are initiatives put forth by the Republicans -- others of our colleagues will talk about this.

But I just hope that as we sit around this table, we understand the urgency that the American people have about this issue, how it affects not only their health but their economic security. And I thank you, Mr. President, for your leadership in getting us to this place.

SENATOR REID: Mr. President, my friends in the House and in the Senate, I want to spend a few minutes talking about Nevada, about our country, and not what's going on here in Washington. I want to start by talking about a young man by the name of Jesus Gutierrez. He works hard. He has a restaurant in Reno, Nevada. He had everything that he wanted, except a baby. He had health insurance. He had employees that liked him. But he was fortunate -- they were going to have a baby and it was going to be a little girl. And the baby was born, and in just a few minutes after the birth of that baby, he was told that the baby had a cleft pallet. "But that's okay," he was told. "We can take care of that." And they did. They did some surgery on the baby; he was happy -- that is, Jesus was happy -- until he got his mail four months later, opened the envelope, and the insurance company said, "We didn't realize that your baby had a preexisting disability. We're not covering the $90,000 in hospital and doctor bills you've already run up." So he's trying to pay that off. The baby needs a couple more surgeries. This shouldn't happen to anyone in America. He had health insurance. He paid his premiums.

I say to my friend, Lamar, who I have great respect and admiration for, you're entitled to your opinions, but not your own facts. Your opinion is something that is yours, and you're entitled to that, but not your own set of facts. Senator Moynihan said that many years ago, and that's what we have to do here today. Let's make sure that we talk about facts.

Last Monday, a week ago Monday, all over America, results were run from a poll done by the Kaiser Foundation. It was interesting what that poll said: 58 percent of Americans would be disappointed or angry if we did not do health care reform this year -- 58 percent. Across America, more than 60 percent of Republicans, Democrats, and independents want us to reform the way health care works. Is it any wonder? They want it so that businesses can afford health care. They want to give consumers more choices and insurance companies more competition.

And the doughnut hole. What is the doughnut hole? Well, a senior citizen will tell you what the doughnut hole is. Under the Medicare law that is in existence, you can be sick and you can get your medication paid for for a while. After you spend $2,000 approximately in medication, you are finished until you spend $3,500 more out of your own pocket. And what happens during that hole that we've called the doughnut hole? Seniors in America are splitting pills in half, not getting the prescriptions filled, taking them every other day. Again, Lamar, you're entitled to your opinion but not your own facts.

No one has said -- I read what the President has online -- no one has talked about reconciliation but that's what you folks have talked about ever since that came out, as if it's something that has never been done before. Now, we as leaders here, the Speaker and I, have not talked about doing reconciliation as the only way out of all this. Of course it's not the only way out. But remember, since 1981 reconciliation has been used 21 times. Most of it has been used by Republicans, for major things, like much of the Contract for America, Medicare reform, the tax cuts for rich people in America. So reconciliation isn't something that's never been done before.

It's as if there's a different mindset, a different set of facts than the reality. Remember, Chairman Dodd in the HELP Committee held weeks of markups. And in the bill that he reported out of that committee, there's more than 150 Republican amendments that are part of that legislation. The same happened with Chairman Baucus in the Finance Committee. And those were put together, that's what we brought to the floor.

So the bill on the floor that my friend Lamar is lamenting here has significant input from the Republicans. So let's look at the facts a little bit more because they can be stubborn, you know? Harvard just completed a study that shows 45,000 Americans die every year because they don't have health insurance -- almost 1,000 a week in America. In 2008, about 750,000 bankruptcies were filed. About 70 percent of those bankruptcies were filed because of health care costs. Eighty percent of the people that filed for bankruptcy because of health care costs had health insurance. America is the only country in the world where if you get sick or hurt, you're going to have to file bankruptcy -- 750,000 bankruptcies in 2008.

These facts show that the story that I told about Jesus is not just a story of some young businessman in Reno, Nevada, running a restaurant that gets jerked around by an insurance company. Happens all over. Health reform shouldn't be about political parties fighting each other. It should be about people fighting for their lives and fighting for a better quality of life, people like Jesus and that little girl. This debate shouldn't be about whether an idea came from Democrats or Republicans, or one side of the aisle or the other side of the aisle, but whether the idea will improve the health care delivery system in our country.

I know, it's obvious, we've heard it -- our Republican friends oppose our legislation. And that is your right. But also, it becomes your responsibility to propose ideas for making it better. So if you have a better plan for making health insurance more affordable, let's hear it. If you have a better plan for making health insurance companies more accountable, let's face it. Let's work on it. If you have a better plan for doing this while cutting the deficit, as our bill did -- during the first 10 years, our bill cuts the deficit by $132 billion; the second 10 years up to $1.3 trillion. Those aren't my numbers; they're from Congressional Budget Office.

So we're ready to listen. I so appreciate the President getting us together. I want the American people to know that we need to work together, and I want to do everything that I can as a senator to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get this done. We need to do health care reform.

I've spoken with Madam Speaker on many occasions, numerous times, about health care. We spent most of the last year talking about health care. I so admire her tenacity, her legislative brilliance. And I will do everything I can, Mr. President, to get this health care reform over the goal line.


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