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S. Con. Res. 41, H. Con. Res. 112, S. Con. Res. 37, S. Con. Res. 42, S. Con. Res. 44 En Bloc--Motions to Proceed

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, without turning this into a bouquet-tossing contest, I want Senator Conrad to know how much I appreciate his leadership. I also want to make sure people understand the record. If the Congress had passed the bipartisan proposal the Senator put together on the budget with Senator Judd Gregg, the Conrad-Gregg proposal--a Democrat joined with a Republican--in 2010 we could have forced an actual effort to put together a comprehensive tax reform and spending agreement. As we know--and I don't need to go over the history--some of the sponsors of the proposal were not even willing to go along. But I think it is important that the country understand we have to do this in a bipartisan way. If Senator Conrad and Senator Judd Gregg had prevailed in 2010, we could have forced actual spending reductions and tax reform in a bipartisan effort. I sure wish we had proceeded with it. And as one who supported it, I still think that would have been preferable.

For 7 years before being elected to the Congress, I had the honor of serving senior citizens. I ran the Senior Citizens Legal Aid Office, I served as the public advocate on our State's nursing home board, and I taught gerontology at several of our universities.

What I enjoyed most was the personal contact I had with senior citizens as a voluntary board member of our senior nutrition program. It is known as Loaves and Fishes, and through it I could bring meals to seniors at their homes on a number of occasions as part of the Meals on Wheels Program. Meals on Wheels is one part of government that truly understands the connection between the heart and the head. It touches the heart because I saw when we bring a nutritious meal to seniors, we can spend time visiting with them at home. Often they will tell us that we are the only visitor they will have during that day. It causes us to use our head and a sharp pencil. We can see without Meals on Wheels, as sure as the night follows the day, some of those seniors are not going to be able to stay in the community. They will end up needing institutional services, and those services are more costly. And, of course, seniors will often be less happy with those kinds of institutional programs.

I bring up Meals on Wheels today because several of the proposals that are offered by colleagues on the other side of the aisle are not going to be bipartisan because they substantially cut the part of the budget that funds Meals on Wheels. Through our research we specifically found that in several instances it will be between 17 and 59 percent in just the upcoming year.

Putting Meals on Wheels at risk like that defies common sense. I have already indicated from a compassion standpoint alone it warrants support. But even if Meals on Wheels doesn't grab your heart the way it does for me, it certainly ought to get the attention of your head because it is the kind of program that lets seniors have more of what they want, which is to be at home at less price to the taxpayers. It defies common sense to not be bipartisan in terms of approaching something like Meals on Wheels.

I think what is common sense is what Chairman Conrad and other colleagues have touched on, and that is tackling the big issues in a bipartisan way. Certainly when it comes to Medicare, that is what is needed. I would only say, having worked in this area, we ought to start with the fact that we are looking at--I am not the first to describe this--a demographic tsunami. For the next 20 years we are going to have 10,000 seniors turning 65 every single day--10,000 seniors turning 65 every single day.

Fortunately, we have made a commitment in this country to those senior citizens, and it is called the Medicare guarantee. That is the commitment we have made to older people. It is a commitment to good quality, affordable health care. And if absolutely nothing is done, it is a commitment at risk. If nothing is done, the Medicare guarantee is in peril. My own sense is that if nothing is done, Medicare--as Senator Conrad pointed out, it is already facing cuts with sequestration--will face a steady diet of benefit cuts and cost shifting until we do not recognize the Medicare guarantee as it stands today. That is unacceptable to me. It ought to be unacceptable to every Member of the Senate.

As Chairman Conrad has noted, Medicare reform is going to have to be bipartisan. The reason I believe that is that if it is not, much like we saw with health care reform, if it is done on a partisan vote, as soon as the ink is dry on the signature of the passed bill, the other side will move to undo it or repeal it or radically alter it. I say the Medicare guarantee is too important for that, and that is why I, with other colleagues on both sides of the aisle and the help of the chairman, have been working to get bipartisan Medicare reform ready and teed up for enactment at the first possible opportunity. It is outlined on my Web site, Bipartisan Options for Reform. I am interested in working with every colleague here in the Senate to pursue it.

Here is what it is going to take: First and foremost, it will protect the most vulnerable seniors, what are called the dual eligibles, which are seniors who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. The protections for those dual eligibles must be ironclad.

Unfortunately, a number of the offerings we are going to see from colleagues on the other side do not ensure ironclad protections for these vulnerable seniors--the dual eligibles--and by block-granting Medicaid, they put at risk the most vulnerable seniors, the seniors who need nursing home care that is paid for by Medicaid, and since Medicaid is a Federal-State program, by block-granting it, we put at risk the most vulnerable seniors. That is certainly not in line with what people will see on my Web site that outlines bipartisan approaches on which Democrats and Republicans can come together for Medicare reform.

The second part of Medicare reform is to ensure that we protect traditional Medicare. Traditional Medicare mandates that the government pay doctors and other providers for services, as well as providing private sector choices that have to offer coverage that is at least as good as traditional Medicare. By doing that, we force traditional Medicare and the private choices to hold each other accountable. It is going to be pretty hard to protect traditional Medicare and its purchasing power with some of what we are going to see later this afternoon that actually proposes to end traditional Medicare within the space of 2 years.

Third, Medicare reform--and we went into this in a very good hearing that was held in Chairman Conrad's Budget Committee--is going to require comprehensive consumer protection. I have been involved in this since the days when I would go visit senior citizens and they would bring out a shoe box full of health insurance policies that weren't worth the paper on which they were written. It was a Medigap scandal that we finally fixed in 1990. I have seen how these rip-off artists try to exploit our seniors. So at Chairman Conrad's hearing we talked about comprehensive consumer protections and specifically ensuring that any Medicare reform would have to have a strong risk-adjustment program so that if, for example, any network of health care providers or an insurer took mostly healthy people, their contribution from the government would be far less than the contribution that would be afforded for a program that took a greater number of older people with health challenges.

So I bring this up only by way of saying I am committed to bipartisan Medicare reform. I think Medicare is really sacred ground. It can only be preserved and protected by ensuring that we take the steps I have just outlined--three or four of them this afternoon--which ensure that we put seniors and their well-being before ideology and politics. This afternoon we are going to hear several alternatives offered by colleagues from the other side of the aisle that, in my view, don't do that, don't meet that test. In effect, we are going to be dealing with ideology rather than the kinds of principles I have outlined here today that I think can win support from colleagues on both sides of the aisle and that people can see on my own Web site have attracted the support of influential Republican voices.

So we have a test to meet. It is a test that builds on a bipartisan approach to a program that is sacred--I ask unanimous consent for 1 additional minute.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. WYDEN. --and that is built around a Medicare guarantee that must be protected and preserved. A number of the proposals we will get from the other side this afternoon don't meet that test.

I want colleagues to know that I am committed to working with them to produce what America wants in this Congress; that is, bipartisan Medicare reform that ensures that this very special program prospers in the days ahead. We are up to it. We are up to it if we build on the bipartisan example Senator Conrad started years ago with Senator Gregg.

With that, I yield the floor.

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