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Public Statements

Health Care and Making it in America

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GARAMENDI. Mr. Speaker, before we start on our dialogue--I expect to have my colleague from New York here in a few minutes--I want to thank my colleague from North Carolina, Walter Jones.

Mr. Jones, every day and every week you speak on this floor about the Afghanistan war and previously about the Iraq war, and you carry a message that is extremely important, one that I agree with, and one that I would hope that our colleagues here in Congress would take up this issue in a very strong and determined way to bring this Afghanistan war to an end.

I thank the President for bringing the Iraq war to an end. And now there's yet another task for all of us to do, and that is to end this continued use and abuse of the American soldiers. They endure much, and it's time for us to bring them home.

We thank them for their service. We see them as they return.

Some of my colleagues and I are working on a major effort to try to deal with more than 365,000 of those men and women that have returned that are suffering from posttraumatic stress syndrome, dealing with everything from suicides to depression and other issues as they return home, and many of them still in the military dealing with those issues.

We also have the traumatic brain issues, and so there's much to be done. And there will be much more to be done for those that are currently suffering. And the longer this war in Afghanistan continues, the more men and women will be suffering from all sorts of medical, physical, and mental issues.

So, Walter, thank you so very much for what you're doing here on the floor day in and day out and reminding us that it's time for us to end this war.

What I want to spend some time on today is really talking about America's middle class. The middle class in America has suffered. For the last 25 years, the American middle class's circumstances have stagnated, and in the last 5 years--actually, 6 years--have seriously declined. We've seen this in the statistics. We've seen them in the economic statistics.

The only way the American middle class has been able to sustain its economic position has been for both husband and wife or children to join in providing the income for the family. It's no longer a single-person income sustaining the American middle class.

It is about our policies here on the floor of Congress and the Senate that has led to the decline of the American middle class. Specific policies have been enacted over the last two decades that have hollowed out the opportunities that the American middle class has counted on, specifically, manufacturing in America.

Once, 20 million Americans and their families were in the manufacturing sector. They enjoyed a good salary. A good hourly wage was available to them such that one individual in that family working in the manufacturing sector was able to support the family, own a home, take a vacation, buy a boat, provide for the college education. That is not the case today. Only 11 million and a few thousand beyond that are actually engaged in manufacturing in America today.

So what happened to the 9 million? They lost their jobs. Those jobs disappeared, not from the Earth, but disappeared from America. They went overseas. They were outsourced. American jobs were outsourced.

Why? Well, they'd like to say it's simply the nature of the free market system, and, indeed, that's part of it. But that's not all of it. A major part of it had to do with specific tax policies and other manufacturing industrial policies that were enacted by Congress and remained on the books for some 20 years or more.

We need to address that issue because, if, in fact, it is the policies of this Congress and previous Congresses that have led to the great outsourcing and decline of the American manufacturing sector and, along with it, the American middle class, then there's something that we can do about it.

We make laws. We establish policies. And if we find that there are policies that are contrary to the good ability of the American economy to prosper and the middle class to prosper along with it, then we ought to change those policies. That's what the Make It In America agenda is all about.

The Make It In America agenda is specifically designed to rebuild the American manufacturing sector. This is an issue that's been taken up by the Democratic Caucus, led by our Minority Whip, Mr. Hoyer, and carried on by my colleagues and I. So we're going to talk a little bit about that.

I notice that my colleague from New York (Mr. Tonko) has joined us. Mr. Tonko, we were going to start out on health care, but we kind of morphed into the issue of the American manufacturing industry and the role of the middle class.

Now, the middle class, I went off on manufacturing and the need to rebuild that and the Make It In America agenda, but also, a key part of the inability of the American middle class to sustain itself is health care. And the Affordable Health Care Act, which the Supreme Court recently confirmed was constitutional, is constitutional, is a major effort on the part of the Democratic Congress and President Obama to provide not only health care, but to lift up the American middle class.

So let's hold, for a moment, the issue of Make It In America. We'll come back to it in the latter half of this hour. But let's take up the health care agenda, which I know you wanted to speak to initially.

While you're doing that, I'm going to run and get a couple of placards that show what it is we're talking about. Please, Mr. Tonko, from the great State of New York, part of the East-West team.

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Mr. GARAMENDI. Mr. Tonko, I am really pleased that you brought that up. You have reminded me of a rather lengthy article from The Sacramento Bee. I am from California. Sacramento has one of the hometown papers, and the Bee was writing a major article on the exchange.

In the Affordable Care Act, there is an insurance exchange, and California was the first State in the Nation to follow up on the Affordable Care Act's exchange portion and to put in place a law to build an exchange. Now, at least our Republican friends think that's an awful situation. Governor Schwarzenegger, who was a Republican and is a Republican, signed that legislation before he left office almost 2 years ago now.

So this article is very effusive and upbeat about the establishment of an exchange in that they expect to have it online. What they talked about, a lot of it, was of individuals who could get insurance in a large pool and have the same opportunities for reasonably priced policies as occurs in a big business.

They also spent a lot of time talking about small businesses. How correct you are that the Affordable Care Act really offers small businesses an extremely important and heretofore unavailable opportunity to get insurance for the employer as well as for the employees, and a very big subsidy is available for those small companies that choose to buy insurance. Up to 50 percent of the cost of the insurance could be subsidized and costs reduced to the employer. Now, that's a lot of money. It's calculated at about $4,000 per employee if you're looking at an $8,000 or $9,000 policy. So it's really an important opportunity. Why is that good for business?

Go ahead, Mr. Tonko.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GARAMENDI. Absolutely true.

In addition to that, because of the exchange situation, individuals as well as
businesses find themselves in a large pool.

Now, I was the insurance commissioner in California for 8 years in the nineties and then again in 2000 with an 8-year hiatus in between. I understand that, in insurance, for it to work, you need a very large, diverse population so that the risk is spread. In the individual market today, you can't get that; but in the exchange, the concept is to allow all of these individuals and these small businesses to be part of a very, very large pool so that they can take advantage of the spreading of the risk and, therefore, the lower cost and the subsidy on top of that.

One more thing. I was at a bagel shop. It was in the early morning, and I needed a cup of coffee and a bagel, so I stopped at a bagel shop. There was the owner and one or two employees--I think there were actually three. One was in the back. I didn't see that employee. We were talking about health insurance, and there was an excitement by this employer because she could get insurance. So it's the employer as well as the two employees who were going to be able to get insurance. Previously, she couldn't. She was a single mother with a new shop, opening it up--pretty good bagels and the coffee was very good. Now she can get insurance through the exchange. It was a new shop, and income was going to be low, so she could also get the subsidy. For the first time in many, many years for this woman--a divorcee whose husband went one way and she went the other, who lost the insurance--she can get insurance.

This is part of the Affordable Care Act, and it is specifically designed in a way to encourage businesses to provide insurance and, in that process, as you say, to find the good employees and keep them. It's very exciting.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GARAMENDI. Let me take that a little further.

I wish I'd had this law when I was insurance commissioner because I used to see this all the time when I'd get complaints. We had a consumer hotline, and we would take several thousand calls a week. We'd always get these complaints about: They dropped my insurance.

And we get from businesses, They dropped my insurance. Why did they drop the insurance? You said it right on target. Suddenly one of the members of the workforce of a small group of people had a significant illness. When it came time for the annual renewal--insurance is an annual thing that is renewed every year--they heard back, I'm sorry. We can't renew you this year because we're changing the market. All kinds of excuses. But the reality was there was one sick person in that group. This law will end that.

There's also the opportunity for people that have become unemployed in this economy to get a job, particularly if that person happens to be 50 years or older. That person today has a preexisting condition called ``age.'' They're beginning to enter that part of life where you're going to have more medical issues, and employers go, Wait a minute. We don't have a position for you. We're not discriminating based on age, but your resume isn't exactly the way it ought to be. It's very difficult for a person 50 and older to get back into the workforce because of health insurance.

With the exchange and the anti-discrimination policies in the Affordable Care Act, which we call the Patients' Bill of Rights, they will be able to get back into the workforce. We're talking about people going back to work with health insurance no longer being a barrier to employment.

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Mr. GARAMENDI. These are all part of the puzzle of putting people back to work. As I started this discussion, talking about the laws of America, the policies that have been enacted by this Congress and by previous Congresses and the way in which they impact the middle class of America, that impact has been devastating on the middle class for the last 20 years. It is our determination as Democrats to change the policies so that the American middle class can once again thrive, so that a family can enjoy the fruits of their labor, and so that they can enjoy the potential that America brings to them.

I notice that we've been joined by our colleague from Pennsylvania. Please, join us. Thank you for coming in this evening and sharing with us your thoughts.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GARAMENDI. Thank you very much for joining us, and thank you for bringing that perspective.

Twice, now, our Republican colleagues have voted for a full repeal of the law, and you very correctly and, I think, almost totally pointed out the things that would disappear. The doughnut hole would open up again, the preexisting conditions, the patients' bill of rights would be gone, and the insurance companies can then re-engage in discrimination, as they have so often. All those things that are very positive would disappear. So we're fighting fiercely to keep them. As Mr. Tonko, our colleague from New York has said, We will work through the years ahead to improve and to deal with the unknown issues that are certain to arise.

We've got work ahead of us, and we can do it.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GARAMENDI. Well, we heard many, many things during that debate last week that are just, I think, incorrect and inaccurate.

One of them was that the Medicare program was cut and benefits taken away from seniors. It didn't happen. What happened was that about $50 billion a year of expenditures going to the insurance industry unnecessarily, an unnecessary bonus was removed, that was about $160 billion, about $16 billion a year; and then there was the Medicare fraud. That is a big problem and other adjustments, but no reduction in benefits to seniors and, in fact, significant increases.

Mr. Altmire talked about those with the drug benefit, as you did. There was also the prescription drug savings, which, Mr. Altmire, you raised. We also know that every senior now has a free annual health checkup, which is an exceedingly important way of keeping seniors, well, anybody, healthy. You get a checkup--we got blood pressure issues, diabetes issues, other kinds of medical issues--you get ahead of them, and then with the drugs you can keep ahead of them. There are many, many improvements in the Medicare program that are as a result of the bill.

Mr. Altmire, I know that you have been spending a lot of time on these issues, and I thank you for your participation here tonight. If you would like to expand on maybe some experiences in your own district, go for it.

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Mr. GARAMENDI. Well, this is the only thing that's actually been done. When the President last September proposed the American Jobs Act, the second thing that he talked about was the veterans jobs bill, and it kind of languished around here for a couple of months. It was early September when the President spoke.

Then came this special day every year called Veterans Day, and all 435 of us, we would go home, and we would go to the veterans parades and, lo and behold, we came back and we found compromise, and we found bipartisanship and the veterans jobs bill actually became law shortly thereafter.

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Mr. GARAMENDI. Exactly.

Now the American Jobs Act had many, many pieces to it; and this is one of the great what-ifs, you know, one of the woulda, coulda, shouldas. What if back in September this House had actually taken up the elements of the American Jobs Act. There was, I think, almost 250,000 teaching jobs that were in this piece of legislation. There was also almost the same number of police and firemen and public safety officers in the legislation.

It didn't happen and so I know that in my daughter and son-in-law's own school district there have been layoffs because of the economic and financial circumstances of the State of California, and the class size went from 22-23 to 33-34, an extraordinary burden on the kids.

When you're in the second or third grade, you never get a chance to go back and repeat. That's a lost year, and that will carry through perhaps all the rest of your life, that you missed that opportunity to really advance your education.

Just on the educational side, you go, whoa, what if we had another 280,000 teachers in the classroom across America today? How would that advance the well-being of our children? I think it's very clear they'd be far better off, far better off. But it didn't happen.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GARAMENDI. So the President also talked about building the foundation for tomorrow's economic growth. This is the infrastructure of the Nation--a big word, but one that I think most Americans understand as being the roads, the bridges, the railroads, the sanitation systems, the water systems, the research, the schools. We delayed--I guess all of us, in some respect, but really the Republicans in this House controlled this--the transportation bill. We delayed the implementation of the reauthorization of the transportation bill until the middle of the construction season. Just 2 weeks ago, we actually passed a 2-year transportation authorization program--very, very important and very beneficial. But what if that had happened last September? We lost half of a construction season and States and localities were unable to plan and put in place the projects that they needed to put in place because of the dilly-dallying and the delay that went on here.

We'll take some of the blame on our side, but we don't control the legislation. It's controlled by our Republicans here. Ultimately, they were unable to even put a bill out. The Senate did put a bill out; and I thank Senator Boxer from California, the lead author on that, and the minority leader, and in her committee the two of them came together with a bipartisan bill. It finally got done. We're thankful for it.

But the President wanted to go beyond that. He wanted to establish an infrastructure bank, one where we could literally invest some public money, some private money, and go about building projects that have a cash flow, like a toll road or a sanitation plant or a water system where people pay a fee and there's a cash flow so that we can really build the infrastructure of this Nation. But it didn't happen.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GARAMENDI. Well, you just talked about history here. Actually, your Governor, DeWitt Clinton, really did lead a major infrastructure project. Now, California was the Gold Rush. It's very interesting to go back through the old writings; and the folks from the East, New York and around, traveled up the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes to Chicago and then from there on. And they also left--and these are my relatives--the port of New York, which was built as part of the infrastructure, to travel to the Panama and then across the Isthmus of Panama and then up the coast of California. So my own relatives took advantage of those two infrastructure projects that you talked about.

However, your Governor was building off some of the work of the Founding Fathers. There's a lot of talk around here that there's no role for government in the economy. Well, George Washington disagreed. And his Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, disagreed. And they had a debate with Jefferson, who thought that we ought to be an agrarian State; and George Washington and Hamilton thought there was a role for industrial and for manufacturing. And so George Washington in his very first days as President told Alexander Hamilton to put together an industrial policy for America. And there were about, I think, nine points or maybe 12 points in that industrial policy. One of them was: build the infrastructure. It specifically said canals and harbors.

So this goes back to the very beginning of our country. What the President wanted to do and what we Democrats want to do is to build the infrastructure, the foundation upon which the economy grows. And we can do it. We can pay for it because every dollar we invest in the infrastructure immediately turns around and develops $1.75 of growth in the economy. So it's not money down a rat hole. It is money that builds the foundation and then expands the economy immediately. It is the very best way to put people back to work immediately, together with education.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GARAMENDI. I want to just pick this up. I do want to come back to our manufacturing policies before we wrap up here. But before we do, just to pull together the American Jobs Act that the President proposed back in September, A, folks, it did not increase the deficit.

The program was paid for, paid for by changes in the tax policy of the United States, policies that the President continues to talk about today that we eliminate the tax benefits that go unnecessarily to the oil company, the oil industry. Some $5 billion to $15 billion a year of subsidy is going to the wealthiest industry in the world. Pull those back. And the extraordinarily low taxes that have been available to the super rich, the top 1 percent, restore those to the Clinton era tax and other tax proposals that he had made so that the proposal was fully paid for--not decreasing the deficit but rather putting people back to work and creating the jobs that are necessary to move the economy and to get the American middle class back into the game so that they can prosper and so that we can rebuild those American manufacturing jobs, the 9 million jobs in manufacturing that were lost between 1990 and 2010.

Keep in mind that over the last 29 months, there has been private sector job growth every one of those 29 months. And so when people say, no, no, it's not good; say, it's not good enough, but at least it is happening. Men and women are going back to work in the private sector. The public sector continues to lose jobs and continues to shed jobs. But on the private sector job side, in part because of the policies we've been talking about here and the inherent strength of the American entrepreneurial and business spirit, people are coming back, not as strong as we want, but if the American Jobs Act were in place in its fullness, we would be moving towards a more balanced budget, reducing the deficit, and putting people back to work. We're not there yet, but we've not given up on this. And one of the major pieces in this is what we call Make it in America, because manufacturing matters.

I know in your district you've been talking a lot about this Mohawk Valley and about this great history. I'm not going to let you continue on without saying, hey, I'm from California. And we know entrepreneurship, and we know about the next generation of jobs and the next innovation. But New York still is there, and we'll vie with you for the best in the Nation.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GARAMENDI. Let me pick up one of the issues the President has been talking about recently, and we actually worked on this more than a year and a half, almost 2 years ago, and that was the tax policy. At the outset, I talked about policies, tax policies being one of them. American tax policies until December of 2010 actually allowed and gave to American corporations a tax reduction, a tax break when they offshore jobs. Send a job oversees and reduce your taxes. Hello? How could that be?

I don't know where it came from, but that was the law of the land until the Democrats, then in control of Congress, pushed through a piece of legislation that ended $12 billion a year of tax breaks for corporations that offshored, sent jobs oversees.

I will just note parenthetically that not one Republican voted to end that extraordinarily damaging tax proposal that rewarded companies with lower taxes when they offshored jobs. Not one Republican voted to repeal that law. However, the Democrats stood together, the President signed that, and it is now the law. There is still about another 4, 5, maybe $6 billion of tax breaks that companies get when they offshore jobs. We've been working to eliminate those, and the President talks about it very often. He also talks about something that we should do, and that is to reward the onshoring of jobs.

When companies bring the jobs back home, they should receive a tax break. When you want to send jobs offshore, you should receive a penalty and certainly ought not receive a tax reduction. Now, that's good public policy. It hasn't happened. We don't control the House of Representatives, and all tax bills have to start in the House of Representatives. So we keep pleading with our Republican colleagues, please, please, give American corporations a tax break when they onshore jobs, and end the remaining tax breaks for offshoring jobs.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GARAMENDI. You talk about reward and about tax policy, as was I. And let me give you another one, and I know that you and I are working on this together: tax policy. Right now we provide, we Americans provide a tax credit, a tax reduction, for those who put up solar programs or wind turbines. The thing is, that's our tax money. The question is, where is it being spent? Is it being spent on American-made equipment, or is it being spent on foreign made equipment? All too often, those tax subsidies are used to purchase foreign equipment.

This piece of legislation which I'm working on together with Mr. Tonko, H.R. 613, basically says that if you're using our tax money, for example, the Highway Trust Fund tax money, for buses, trains, or building roads, then you must spend that money on American-made equipment. Similarly, with solar and wind, if you're going to get a tax credit, if you're going to use American taxpayers' money to build something, then it's going to be made in America. We're going to return the American manufacturing by using our tax money on American-made goods and services.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GARAMENDI. Well, Mr. Tonko, thank you for joining us this evening. I thank our two gentlemen from the armed services who were here earlier. And, yes, our best days do lie ahead. It's about public policies, it's about the entrepreneurial spirit, and it's about America's desire to be the best. We're going to make it in America. We're going to make it in America because we will, once again, make things in America. We will rebuild the American middle class.

It's about policy, it's about the spirit of America. It can be done and it will be done, and we're here to see that it does get done.

Mr. Tonko, thank you for this evening.

Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.


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