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Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I thank the chairman of the Finance Committee, with whom I am honored to serve, and colleagues who have been working very hard on this initiative, as all our colleagues have. I wish to talk first about what is in front of us because it is true that today is a historic day. The President signed a very important bill, passed by the House and the Senate, that lays the groundwork for what we all believe should happen in terms of making sure every family has a family doctor and that we tackle the costs that are crippling businesses and the country. What we have in front of us now is a bill to make a good bill better. That is what we are doing. We are making a good bill better with what we are doing right now. It is tackling the issue of cost.
We are saving money in this bill we will be voting on, saving money for middle-class families by making health care more affordable, saving money for seniors by making their prescription drugs more affordable, and saving money for our children and grandchildren because this is the largest deficit-reduction effort we have seen in many years--in fact, since President Clinton brought us into balance when the Democrats were last in charge.
We know from the Congressional Budget Office and we now have 43 leading health economists who all agree that health care reform will reduce the deficit, about $143 billion in the first 10 years and over $1.2 trillion in the next 10 years. This is important, as we go forward and get our House in order, to bring down the deficit and focus on jobs and other parts of the economy that are so important.
What are we talking about, as our colleagues talk about the broader bill that has already been signed into law? What does that bill mean for families and businesses? First, starting right now, today, I was very pleased to author a provision to make the small business tax cut immediate. So as of today, for this year, small businesses are going to receive up to a 35-percent tax cut to help them afford health insurance. In my State, health care is very much about saving jobs. Health care costs are costing us jobs. We have too many small businesses getting a 20- or 30- or 40-percent premium increase notice. They are deciding: Do I keep people employed and cut the health insurance or do I pay the health insurance increase and lay people off?
That is what is happening all across America. Our bill this year now begins a 35-percent tax cut for businesses that have 10 or fewer employees and a tax cut for those up to 25 employees. Four years from now, that tax cut goes up to 50 percent. So it starts at 35 percent and goes up to 50 percent of the cost for small businesses to help them pay for health insurance.
Right now we are going to begin to see the largest effort to provide community health centers that our country has seen. Approximately 10,000 neighborhoods, communities across the country will have the opportunity and funding to create a community health center so people who have lost jobs don't lose their health insurance, so people who don't today have health insurance will have a place to go to take their children to see a family doctor rather than to an emergency room. It is estimated we will be able to serve 25 million people by this effort that is starting today.
Starting today, seniors are going to receive immediate help for their prescription drugs, if they are caught in that gap in coverage that has been called the doughnut hole. We are going to be closing that doughnut hole over time.
What happens next? We are going to see lower costs for early retirees. This is a very important matter in the State of Michigan and other places where we have people being required or forced to retire at 55 because of losing their job or because of cost-cutting efforts. I was proud to join with Senator Kerry in an effort to create a way to lower the cost for employers that have early retirees on their health insurance or for early retirees themselves, between 55 and 65. We will be bringing down the cost of health insurance for people. That is very important.
No preexisting conditions for children. Insurance companies will not be able to block parents from getting insurance for their children. That is pretty important. Young people are going to be able to stay on their parents' insurance until age 26. I wish that one was a little bit higher. I kind of missed that one myself. But the reality is, for a lot of young people and a lot of parents, this is a very big deal. It is very important. I am surprised colleagues would want to repeal something that would take that away.
We have, starting this year, a set of insurance reforms that will say the insurance companies can't cancel your insurance if you get sick. I have so many people who have said to me: I have insurance, but then all of a sudden somebody gets sick, and they find out a technicality. They get dropped. We are going to hold insurance companies accountable in a way that has not happened before in this country. We are going to eliminate lifetime limits on coverage. It is not your fault if you have cancer and you need treatments for a long period or you have some other kind of disease. There should not be artificial caps and lifetime limits.
What this is about for us is that it is time to stand for middle-class families
and small businesses. That is what we are doing. That is what we are doing by lowering costs, by saving money for families, saving money for seniors, saving money for future generations, for our children by lowering the deficit, by focusing on small businesses, where most of the people who don't have insurance are working. They are working in a small business that can't find affordable insurance.
In the short run, we will help them with tax cuts and, 4 years from now, a larger insurance pool so they can buy from the private sector in a larger pool, such as big business does. That will bring down costs. This is about standing for middle-class families, standing for small businesses.
What we are seeing, unfortunately, on the other side of the aisle, as the distinguished assistant majority leader informed us, are all kinds of amendments. First, they have nothing to do with health care, nothing to do with this bill. They are all about games. I say to colleagues on the other side of the aisle: Don't play games with Americans' health care.
Do not play games with the lives of Americans who are counting on us to finish the job--to pass the bill in front of us, to make a good bill better, to be able to save money for Americans, and to be able to get this job done.
We do not need more political games. I think the American people have seen enough. Frankly, I do not blame them for being frustrated about what happened and all that we have gone through in the last year. I share that frustration. They expect us to get things done. Frankly, they are not caring what configuration gets that done in terms of the vote. They want us to get things done.
So I would ask colleagues to drop the games. We are going to get a lot of different kinds of amendments that are designed to embarrass, designed to hold things up. I would ask colleagues to please stop the games. Do not play games with Americans' health care.
In conclusion, I would simply say again, health insurance reform is about a family doctor for every family. Isn't that what we want--the ability to know that when you tuck the kids in tonight, if one of them gets sick, you are going to be able to call the doctor, you are going to be able to care for your children, you are going to be able to get insurance for them, and you are going to be able to know that your children are going to get the care they need because you have a family doctor?
That is what this is about, fundamentally. It is about a set of values that starts from the premise that everybody in America, every family, should have a family doctor. This bill in front of us completes that task and sets us on the road to fulfill that vision. I urge colleagues to vote for this bill, put aside the games, and let us get on with the business of our country.
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