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Mr. BURRIS. Madam President, as I address this Chamber, President Obama is hosting the leaders of both political parties in a summit on the issue of health care reform. He has asked for all serious proposals to be brought to the table, once and for all, in an effort to bridge the gap between the House and Senate legislation and pass a final bill. He even provided his own proposal for how we can reconcile these bills with one another.
I thank the President for his leadership on this issue and his continued commitment to the issue of health care reform. I am glad he has called Republicans and Democrats to the table once again in yet another effort to reenergize this debate and move forward on behalf of the American people. I remain confident that we can still get this work done. That is why I have come to the floor today: to reaffirm my commitment to comprehensive health care reform and to urge my colleagues to join with our President and the leadership of our respective parties to find a real solution. In fact, I recently joined many of my colleagues in signing a letter urging this Senate to pass a bill that includes a public option--something everyone in this room knows I have supported since the beginning of this long debate. No matter what comes out of this afternoon's summit, I will judge our final proposal based on its ability to acknowledge three goals--the same three goals I have called for time and again over the past several months.
Our reform bill must restore competition to the insurance market, it must give us the tools to hold insurance companies accountable, and it must provide real cost savings to the American people. I am confident we can pass a measure that is capable of meeting these goals. I remain confident that after nearly a century of inaction, the American people demand and deserve nothing less.
Every President, every Congress, every ordinary citizen in the past 97 years has had to wrestle with a health care system that is broken and inadequate, a system that our predecessors consistently failed to fix; a system that has deteriorated badly over the last few decades and that remains unworthy of this great Nation. Today, 47 million Americans are without health insurance and 88 million do not have stable coverage. As a result of our broken system, 45 million Americans die every single year because they had no health insurance. These shocking facts should never be far from our minds as we debate these issues. They are more than statistics; they are ordinary Americans who desperately need our help.
As I address this Chamber today, we stand on the verge of correcting the oversights of the past century and getting these people the help they need. Legislation has been written, amended, and rewritten. We have compromised and compromised again. Each Chamber of the Congress has passed a comprehensive bill. Neither bill is perfect but both represent significant progress. We are so close to doing this. Now is the time to finish the journey.
Late last year, both the House and Senate voted for health care reform with a strong voice and a clear majority. At this point, we have only to reconcile the differences between these two bills. Just this week, President Obama released his detailed proposal outlining exactly how we can get this done. I urge my colleagues from both Chambers and from both parties to strongly consider this option.
Regardless of how we choose to proceed after today's bipartisan health care summit, let us come away with a definite plan of action. Let us come away with a plan to get this done, a plan that includes competition, cost savings, and accountability.
It is time to realize the promise of the last 100 years. I urge my colleagues to finish the fight that Teddy Roosevelt first waged more than a generation before any of us were born. Now is not the time to lose our nerve. Now is the time to act with conviction. Let's not allow the obstructionist tactics of a few to undermine legislation that garnered 60 votes in this Chamber and 220 votes in the House. I refuse to accept that a handful of ``no'' votes can invalidate 280 votes. I refuse to accept that the minority party can stifle the voices of millions of Americans and hundreds of Members of Congress who have demanded that we win this fight. I call upon my colleagues in both Chambers to look past our differences and carry out the will of the American people. They sent Democrats to Congress with the largest majority in decades. They elected a President who has pledged himself to this cause.
As far as the American people are concerned, this debate was over a long time ago. This issue has carried the day. This is the measure that the American people voted for in 2008 and, my fellow Democrats, this is what our party is all about. Now is not the time to shrink from the fight but to engage in it. Now is not the time to falter or to second-guess the wisdom of the folks who sent us here. Now is the time to take bold action, to forge ahead, to carry forward the ideas and principles of our party by delivering real results and delivering for the American people a health care plan that will give them protection and not see their premiums going up 39 percent and 40 percent.
Comprehensive health care reform will extend quality coverage to 31 million Americans. It will reduce premiums and prevent insurance companies from abusing their customers or discriminating against people who get
sick. Can my colleagues imagine: You get sick and think you have coverage today and then they cancel your policy and you have no coverage. The majority leader stood on the floor yesterday and told the story about the young kid with the cleft lip where the father paid $90,000 because the insurance company canceled the policy because the kid was born with a cleft lip. That is unconscionable. We in this country should not tolerate it.
The Senate bill could even cut the Federal deficit by about $1 trillion over the next two decades. I ask my colleagues: What are we waiting for? This is about values, not politics. Our country deserves better, so let's make it happen.
In politics, it is easy to find excuses. It is easy to wait, to delay, to place blame on another and throw up our hands. That is not leadership. That is not what the American people have called upon us to do and it is far less than they deserve. The American people have been waiting for 100 years, and I, for one, think that is quite long enough.
I say to my colleagues: It is time for us to lead. It is time to take up the mantle of Teddy Roosevelt and, yes, Teddy Kennedy, and everyone in between. Because this isn't just about health care; it is about creating jobs, helping small businesses, and keeping America on the road to economic recovery. These issues are not separate as some would have us believe. They are tied inextricably together. Fixing the American health care system will reduce the deficit, make it easier for small businesses to meet expenses, create jobs, and provide health coverage to more Americans than ever before. The way I see it, we cannot afford to wait any longer.
So let us act with a strong, united voice. I urge my colleagues to join me in passing a final health care bill and sending it to President Obama as soon as possible. Yesterday would have been all right. Let's win this fight. Let's stand up for what we believe in and succeed where our predecessors came up short. The stakes are too high to settle for anything else.
I say to my colleagues, and to those who are meeting today with the President, we must come up and out of this summit with a plan that is going to give health insurance to the people of America not tomorrow, not next week, but right now.
Thank you, Madam President. I yield the floor, and I note the absence of a quorum.
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