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A SECOND OPINION
Mr. BARRASSO. Mr. President, I come to the floor today, as I have week after week since the health care law has been passed, with a doctor's second opinion about the law that I have great concerns with. I do that as a doctor who practiced medicine for 25 years, took care of families in Wyoming, was involved with programs aimed at prevention of disease, early detention of disease, and early treatment of disease. I come to the floor to talk specifically about a portion of the health care law that has been discussed quite a bit in the last week or two on the Senate floor.
Congress has talked a lot about the so-called Prevention and Public Health Fund included in the President's health care law. When I looked at this health care law initially--and I continue to do so--I asked the question, is this health care law the best way to give patients the care they need, from a doctor they want, at a cost they can afford? I believe it has failed in so many ways to do that, which is why I continue to work to try to repeal and replace this health care law.
When we get to the specifics of this Prevention and Public Health Fund, the President and Democrats have claimed that the purpose of the fund was to promote wellness, prevent disease, and protect against public health emergencies. All of us want to promote wellness, prevent disease, and protect against public health emergencies. I know how important those things are as a doctor. I know how important it is to the point that for over two decades in Wyoming, I was medical director of a program called Wyoming Health Fairs, where we provided low-cost health care screenings to people all across the Cowboy State. It is a very important program. People have continued to write letters to me over the decades about the fact that going to a health fair and learning about how to prevent diseases, about early detection of problems, and how they feel either they or members of their families have had their lives saved as a result of the services provided all throughout those communities aimed at prevention and early detention of problems--tests such as blood pressure, PSA tests, people learning about how to examine themselves, how to get a mammogram--a lost-cost or free mammogram--all of these things that are aimed at prevention. These gave people the tools they needed to make decisions about their health and their health care--not just for the patient but also to help their medical providers.
Instead of helping Americans prevent health problems, the President's new law actually uses this so-called prevention fund as a Washington slush fund. In fact, the new health law provided about $15 billion for this fund from 2010 to 2019, and then beyond that about $2 billion every year in annual appropriation of funds to go toward this same slush fund--$2 billion a year forever.
Who will control the fund? The Secretary of Health and Human Services. Even though this law has only been in place for 2 years, we have already witnessed how the Obama administration officials have allowed this money to be wasted. Among other things, we hear of a health clinic using the funding to spay and neuter pets. That is right, to spay and neuter pets.
The Minnesota Department of Health used $3.6 million to create at least four regional food policy councils. And taxpayers will be happy to learn--or will not be so happy to learn, of course--that their hard-earned money helped a county in California secure a ban on new fast food restaurants.
I have nothing against food policy councils or spaying and neutering pets, but when the U.S. Government is borrowing approximately 40 cents out of every dollar that we spend, and when we have a national debt in the area of $15 trillion, Washington should not waste Americans' hard-earned taxpayer dollars. But we continue to do it, and this fund is a key example.
According to the nonpartisan CBO, eliminating the prevention fund would save about $13.6 billion over the next 10 years. The fact is Congress already funds many prevention programs--prevention programs with a proven track record of success. Examples include cancer prevention, tobacco prevention, and a host of other programs.
Republicans have supported, and will continue to support, these critical prevention programs--cancer prevention, tobacco prevention, and working on heart disease. However, the record is clear that the so-called prevention fund in the health care law is wasteful and duplicative. It doesn't help people stay well or become well.
Senator Alexander from Tennessee introduced legislation that would eliminate this slush fund and use the savings to maintain student loan interest rates at 3.4 percent.
Under current law, students who receive subsidized Stafford student loans will see rates increase shortly to 6.8 percent, unless, of course, Congress acts. I am ready to act. Whether you are Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, people generally agree that preventing this rate increase is an important priority. The difference is how do we pay for it.
The majority leader wants to raise taxes on small business owners. He says that is the better way forward. But there is a better way forward than raising taxes on the people who create jobs, at a time when we have over 8-percent unemployment and last month's job numbers are abysmal. Only 125,000 new jobs were created, but 3 times that amount of people quit looking for jobs completely. For every one new job, three people quit looking for jobs at all. To raise taxes on the people who are creating jobs in this country is the wrong way to go.
Senator Alexander's proposal stops the rate increase by eliminating this prevention slush fund. His bill uses the rest of the funding for deficit reduction. I have cosponsored that legislation.
I think it is also important to know that the President has already agreed to use his slush fund to offset other spending. In September of 2011, the President proposed reducing the slush fund by $3.5 billion. In February, part of the payroll tax cut signed by the President contained a $4.5 billion cut from his slush fund. Finally, in March, the President's 2013 budget proposed cutting the fund by another $5 billion.
It is ironic that the President of the United States and Washington Democrats now oppose using money from their so-called prevention slush fund. If the White House and Democrats in Congress want to ensure that student loan rates stay low, they will cut this wasteful program and use the money to help the next generation of Americans.
We do know that young people coming out of college today are, on average, having a debt of about $25,000; and whether the interest rate is zero or 3.4 percent or 6.8 percent, they are still coming out with a huge debt, at a time when we know 53 percent of the people coming out of school can't find a job or cannot find a job consistent with their level of education. We also read that 40 percent are going back home to live; some are returning home instead of going out into the workplace.
It is time to focus on the economy, on getting people back to work, and it is time to agree that we need to keep the interest rates low; that we ought to pay for it with money that is there, which can easily be used. We should not raise taxes on job creators at a time when the country is in this sort of economic condition.
I continue to come to the floor week after week to talk about findings in the health care law. Some things are unintended consequences, and some things are money tucked away for other purposes. It is hard for Americans to ever forget Nancy Pelosi saying that first you have to pass the health care law before you get to find out what is in it. The more the American people find out what is in it, the less they like it--to the point that 67 percent of Americans feel that the health care law should be totally or at least partially found unconstitutional, as the Supreme Court looks to make their ruling in the next months ahead.
This is a health care law that, in my opinion, is bad for patients, bad for providers--the nurses and doctors who take care of the patients--and it is terrible for the American taxpayers. This is a time when we need to repeal and replace this health care law. Now there is a way to use one of the provisions within it to fund and make sure that we do not raise interest rates for the students in this country, so they can get the education they need and, hopefully, find a job and not punish those who have tried to provide jobs to these graduates.
I yield the floor.
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