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Drug Quality and Security Act-- Motion to Proceed-- Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I rise today to again advocate for no Washington exemption from ObamaCare. This is an issue I have talked about with several of our colleagues in this body, and I have been joined by many supporters in the House of Representatives. I believe it is very important.

As we hear story after story from Americans in each of our States about what they are facing--being dropped from policies they liked and wanted to keep, having premium increases of 1,000 percent in some cases, getting their work hours cut back to under 30 hours a week--the fact remains that Washington has essentially an exemption from all of that pain. Washington has a big taxpayer-funded subsidy that nobody else in America at the same income level can get, and that really needs to end.

One critical component of this issue is the fact that even though the ObamaCare statute clearly said that every Member of Congress and all of their official staff had to go to the exchanges for their health care--and of course mentioned nothing about any huge taxpayer-funded subsidy--in fact, that language was considered and not included. Even though that is crystal clear under the statute, the Obama administration issued a special rule to get around that clear language. Part of that rule, which I think is outrageous on its face, says: Well, we don't know who official staff are. We cannot determine that, so we are going to leave it up to each individual Member of Congress to determine who their official staff are. As long as they deem certain staff nonofficial, then they don't have to go to the exchanges at all. They don't have to follow that clear mandate in the statute itself.

Well, again, when we are talking about folks who work on our staff, committee staff, and leadership staff, that is ridiculous. They are clearly official staff. They are not campaign staff. They are not off Capitol Hill and outside of government. They are not working for other entities. They are clearly official staff. This is just one of the major ways this illegal rule does an end run around the clear language of the statute.

In reaction to that part of the illegal rule, I introduced a bill that simply says these decisions by each individual Member of the Senate and the House need to be made public. There needs to be full disclosure when anybody is using this end-run around and saying: Yes, this person works for me but somehow they are not ``official,'' so they do not have to follow the mandate of ObamaCare to go to the exchanges. That information should absolutely be public, and I put that in the form of a bill which I have filed both as a freestanding bill and as an amendment to the measure before the Senate today.

Whatever we think about the underlying issues--and I know there is disagreement--to me it should be a no-brainer that there is full disclosure about how each individual office handles the situation. That is not fully disclosed now. Some Members may choose to say it to the press, to answer press questions, but it is not public information. It seems clear to me that how each office elects to handle that situation, how each elected Member elects to handle that situation, should be, by definition, public information, fully disclosed.

The measure I am talking about right now, that is all it does. It does not prohibit anything else from going on. I object to that. I have other measures I will push to prohibit it. But all the measure I am talking about right now does is make sure that information, that election by each individual Member, is public, that there is full disclosure about something I think clearly the public has a right to know about. So I am simply on the floor lobbying for that measure to pass and lobbying for a vote opportunity up or down on that important provision.

My first choice would be a simple vote on the measure in front of the Senate right now, the drug compounding bill. I have no interest in delaying progress of that bill. I simply want an amendment vote on the measure I am describing. We can vote it up or down. Either way, I think it is crystal clear this bill will proceed to become law. If my amendment is adopted, it would be voted on in the House. I think it would clearly be passed, become law. That is my first choice request here.

If that is not possible, I do have a second choice request, which is to simply make this vote in order in the context of the next major bill coming to the floor, the National Defense Authorization Act--again, a simple amendment, a simple vote. I have no interest in delaying the time running on the consideration of this bill, on delaying votes on this bill, or of delaying debate and voting on other amendments on the Defense authorization bill. It seems to me that is a very basic, straightforward request: a vote on a pure disclosure provision.

By the way, this provision has been hotlined on the Republican side, and there is no Republican objection to the substance of this provision. It is pure disclosure. We all think it should be public information. There is no objection.

So I would simply ask unanimous consent to proceed in this way and expedite, in the process, consideration of all of this, including the compounding bill on the floor right now. The distinguished floor manager for the bill said a few minutes ago he does not want delay on this bill. I do not want it either. There does not have to be any delay, and, in fact, this unanimous consent will expedite all of that consideration.

In that spirit, I ask unanimous consent that all remaining time on the motion to proceed to H.R. 3204, the compounding bill, be yielded back; that the motion to proceed be agreed to; that my amendment No. 2024 be the only amendment in order; that no second-degree amendments be in order; and that the amendment be subject to a 60-vote affirmative threshold for adoption; I further ask that there be 2 hours of debate equally divided, and that upon the use or yielding back of that time, the Senate proceed to a vote on my amendment; following the disposition of my amendment, that the bill, as amended, if amended, be read a third time and passed, and the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table, with no intervening action or debate.

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Mr. VITTER. Well, Mr. President, reclaiming my time, that is unfortunate. That could dispose of this bill and pass this bill today--a very straightforward, expeditious way of passing this bill with no delay.

I said I had a second choice, a path forward which I think is very reasonable as well, related to the National Defense Authorization Act.

So let me propose this unanimous consent request: I ask unanimous consent that all remaining time on the motion to proceed to H.R. 3204, the compounding bill, be yielded back; that the Senate proceed to H.R. 3204; that the bill be read a third time and passed, and the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table; I further ask that the Senate then proceed to the consideration of S. 1197, the national defense authorization bill; that my amendment, which is at the desk, be called up, and that notwithstanding rule XXII, my amendment remain in order; that no second-degree amendments to my amendment be in order; and that the amendment be subject to a 60-vote affirmative threshold for passage.

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Mr. VITTER. Well, Mr. President, reclaiming my time again, I think that is unfortunate. That would be an even quicker route forward on the compounding bill because had that unanimous consent request been agreed to, the compounding bill would have just passed the Senate. It would have happened right now, and we would move on to something that clearly needs time for debate and discussion and amendments, the National Defense Authorization Act.

In closing, let me underscore all I am seeking, urging, and, yes, demanding is a clear up-or-down vote on a pure disclosure provision: let the public know, as I think they clearly have a right to, how each individual Member is handling the situation. If a Member actually has the gall, in my opinion, to say: No, all these people who work for me are not ``official staff'' and therefore they can right out ignore the clear language and mandate of ObamaCare that says Congress and all staff must go to the exchanges for their health care--people have a right to know that.

By the way, a lot of Members, including myself, say: No, we are all going to the exchanges. That is what the law says. It is perfectly clear, and that is what we are going to live by. A lot of Members are doing that.

Either way, the public should know what is going on. There should be full disclosure, and that is all the provision I am discussing today does.

It has been completely cleared by hotline on the Republican side. There is no objection. I would urge us to move forward with a simple, straightforward vote on it, so we can expedite consideration of this bill on the floor, so we can move more quickly to the national defense authorization bill, which does merit a lot of significant floor time, so we can have amendment votes on that bill immediately and not have any controversy about that.

I urge that reasonable and expedited and clear path forward.

I yield the floor.

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Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I appreciate the comments of the distinguished floor manager. I want to respond very briefly. My goal is a clear up-or-down vote on this pure disclosure proposal. I am open for suggestions for that to happen in any reasonable timeframe, meaning this calendar year.

I have focused on these two bills simply because it seems to me, from what I know of the Senate schedule and floor activity, these are going to be the only opportunities in terms of amendments proposed. If there are other opportunities we can identify for this year, if we can identify an opportunity for a vote on a freestanding bill, I am all ears. I am completely open to that. I want more amendment votes in the Senate, not fewer. If there is a side-by-side idea, that is fine by me. I am completely open to that. I simply made these concrete suggestions because, based on what I know of the majority leader's plans for the rest of the calendar year, these are going to be the amendment opportunities.

By the way, the only reason I put in my second consent to turn to the Defense bill is because that is exactly what the majority leader articulated as his desire, his plan, to turn to that as soon as possible, to take up amendments.

So I am open for any reasonable opportunity this year for this vote. Again, this is a pure disclosure provision. I do not see why it should be partisan or controversial. It has been cleared through the hotline on my side. So if there are any other suggestions of how this can happen, I am completely open to that.

Unfortunately, I had a phone call with the distinguished majority leader last week and proposed various options. His response was simply: No. No. No. No. No other ideas, no other options. No. But I am completely open to those other ideas. It is obviously part of the tradition of the Senate that nongermane amendments are considered all the time. In fact, with regard to the Defense bill, that is the norm, not exception. There are usually significant nongermane amendments, often by the majority side, sometimes by the majority leadership, which are critical votes on the Defense authorization bill. That is not unusual at all.

I am for more amendment votes, if there are alternative ideas on this topic, more amendment votes there, not fewer. So I look forward to moving forward in a productive, effective way toward getting this simple vote on disclosure and toward moving in an expedited way through this bill and to the Defense bill and whatever else is on the Senate calendar as determined by the majority leader. But, again, so far the response is no, across the board, not any sort of alternative suggestion.

Finally, with regard to the idea of having one vote and one vote only, there is a clear practical problem with agreeing to that. That is the following: For instance, what if there were one vote on my disclosure provision on the Defense authorization bill? That bill is going to a conference committee, so it would obviously be possible for my amendment to be adopted 100 to 0 and then be dumped in the conference committee and stripped from the bill. Then I would have forgone the opportunity to ever bring up the subject again this entire Congress. I mean that is a fool's agreement. I am not going to agree to a fool's agreement. I need to be able to protect my right to revisit the issue, particularly when it would pass through a vote under that scenario and then be stripped in conference.

So I hope we find a productive way forward. Again, this is a pure disclosure provision. I am going for a simple up-or-down vote in whatever context presents itself this calendar year, on this bill or any bill. I am open to other suggestions.

I yield the floor.

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