SMALL BUSINESS TAX RELIEF ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - August 01, 2007)
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Mrs. CLINTON. Mr. President, I thank my colleague from Washington for her usual very thorough and persuasive statement on the floor about the need for flexibility in this important program and the recognition that health care, similar to everything else, costs differently depending upon where you are in the country. I thank the Senator from Washington for reinforcing that important point.
The larger point is that today, in this Congress, we are on the verge of providing the greatest expansion of health coverage for our children since the creation of the Children's Health Insurance Program a decade ago. I believe--and I don't imagine anybody in this Chamber would argue with this belief--that every child deserves a healthy start in life. Certainly, we try to provide that healthy start for our own children, and we give a lot of lip service to the idea that we should provide it for all children. Yet far too many children in our Nation--more than 9 million--do not have health care.
I was very proud to help create the State Children's Health Insurance Program during the Clinton administration, working on this legislation during my time as First Lady. After the bill passed, I worked to get the word out to try to help more children and their parents understand what this new program could mean for them and encourage them to sign up in the first few years. In the Senate, I have continued that effort, fighting to ensure that health care for children has the priority in our budget that it deserves.
Today, thanks to the work of so many, CHIP provides health insurance for 6 million children. In New York alone, almost 400,000 children benefit from this program every month. With the legislation that Chairman Baucus and Senators Grassley, Rockefeller, and Hatch helped to craft, an additional 50,000 children in my State of New York will have access to health insurance coverage.
This legislation will also help enroll many of the 300,000 children in New York who live in families who are already eligible because their families make less than $52,000 a year, 250 percent of the poverty level for a family of four.
In total, across our country, 3.2 million children who are uninsured will gain coverage. That will reduce the number of uninsured children by one-third over the next 5 years.
If we can afford tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and tax cuts for oil companies that are making record profits, I certainly think we can find it in our hearts and our budget to help cover millions of children who deserve a healthy start.
I want to be clear. If the President vetoes this bill, he will be vetoing
health care for more than 3 million children. And, once again, the President will have put ideology, not children, first.
Earlier this year, I was proud to introduce legislation with Congressman John Dingell to reauthorize and expand CHIP, and I am very pleased that a number of the ideas in our bill are included in this legislation, such as cutting the redtape and bolstering incentives to get eligible children into the program.
The legislation also improves access to private coverage and expands access to benefits, such as mental health and dental coverage.
This is so important, and I applaud the Finance Committee, under Chairman Baucus's leadership. Mental health and dental coverage are too often left out when we talk about health care.
Not far from where I am standing, in the State of Maryland last year, a young boy, Deamonte Driver, had a toothache. His mother sought help for him to get dental care. She called dentists, but they were not taking any more children on Medicaid or on CHIP. Then she got help from a legal aid group that helped poor families. They called around. I think they called 27 or 28 dentists who said: Look, our quota for poor kids is filled.
Deamonte Driver's toothache turned into an abscess, and the abscess burst, infecting his bloodstream, and he ended up in the hospital where doctors valiantly tried to save his life from the brain infection that resulted from the abscessed tooth that had not been treated. This young man died.
When one thinks about the loss of a child over something that started as a toothache, it is heartbreaking, but it is not by any means an isolated case. At the end of Deamonte's life, the State of Maryland and the U.S. Government ended up paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for emergency care, for intensive care, for life support, to no avail, for want of $80 to $100 to find a dentist who would care for Deamonte.
I commend the authors of this bipartisan bill for their work and for bringing forward a practical, fiscally responsible compromise that will allow us to reauthorize this important program and expand coverage. I am eager to see that it is signed into law.
I am disappointed, however, that the bill we are considering this week fails to include the Legal Immigrant Children's Health Improvement Act, which I introduced with Senator Snowe. Senator Snowe and I have been working on this legislation for a number of years. This bipartisan bill would give States the flexibility to provide the same Medicaid and CHIP coverage to low-income legal immigrant children and pregnant women as is provided to U.S. citizens. I underscore that. We are talking about legal immigrant children and legal pregnant women.
I believe we should provide this flexibility to States because the current restrictions prevent thousands of legal immigrant children and pregnant women from receiving preventive health services and treatment for minor illnesses before they become serious. Families who are unable to access care for their children have little choice but to turn to emergency rooms, and this hurts children and pregnant women, plain and simple.
I urge my colleagues to support my amendment to lift the ban on Medicaid and CHIP coverage for low-income legal immigrant children and pregnant women.
I also am disappointed that some of my colleagues have expressed concern about States, such as New York, New Jersey, and others, that have chosen to cover children above 300 percent of the poverty level. The legislation we are considering on the floor of the Senate would allow New York to continue doing this and receive the CHIP matching rate. We should not punish children and their families who live in high-cost areas and who need health care coverage.
I encourage my colleagues to vote against any effort to undermine the extension of health care in high-cost States where it costs more, as we heard from Senator Cantwell in her statement on the floor, to provide the same coverage and treatment one would get elsewhere in our country.
I am proud we are debating a bill to expand health care to 3.2 million children, but the fact is, there should be no debating the moral crisis of 9 million children without health care, no debating the moral urgency of strengthening our health care system for children and all Americans.
Ultimately, the answer will be in a cost-effective, quality-driven, uniquely American program that provides health care to every single man, woman, and child in our country. But until we get to that point, it is imperative that the Congress pass this bill before we go out for recess and send it to the President, with the hope that he will sign it into law.
I also wish to mention another issue we urgently need to address. Last week, the bipartisan Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors, chaired by former Senator Bob Dole and former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, issued its final report on the need to reform the medical care that our troops and veterans receive.
The Commission found in an excellent report--it is not one of these commission reports that just takes up a lot of space on the shelf. It is very pointed, with six specific recommendations, and it found that one of the most important ways to improve care for injured service members is to improve support for their families. That is why I introduced a bipartisan bill, the Military Family and Medical Leave Act, with Senators Dole, Mikulski, Graham, Kennedy, and Brown, to implement a key recommendation of the Commission. We have offered this as an amendment to the CHIP legislation.
The Family and Medical Leave Act was the first bill signed into law under the Clinton administration. It came about because of a lot of hard work, led by Senator Dodd in the Senate, and others, and it has proven to be enormously successful, helping more than 60 million men and women who try to balance the demands of work and family.
I believe it is time to strengthen the act for military families who find themselves in a very difficult situation. They should be given up to 6 months of leave to care for a loved one who has sustained a combat-related injury.
Currently, these spouses, parents, and children can receive only 12 weeks of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. All too often, this is just not enough time, as injured servicemembers grapple with traumatic brain injuries, physical wounds, and other problems upon returning from Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. In fact, 33 percent of active duty, 22 percent of reservists, and 37 percent of retired service members reported to the Commission that a family member or close friend had to leave their home for extended periods of time to help them in the hospital. About 20 percent said family or friends gave up jobs to be with them to act as their caregiver. This is a step that we can take immediately that will make a real difference.
Many of us have been to hospitals in our own country--Walter Reed, Brook Army Medical Center--and other places in the world, such as Landstuhl in Germany, where we have seen our wounded warriors. There is absolutely no doubt that having the support, assistance, and comfort of a family member during that process when a young man or woman who has served our country is brought from the battlefield to the hospital makes a big difference in recovery and rehabilitation.
I think all of us agree that not only do our men and women in uniform make tremendous sacrifices on our behalf, so do their families. As a nation, we have a duty to provide them with the support they deserve.
Expanding access to health care for children and providing better support for our military families comes down to basic values that we as Americans hold dear. I think we all agree every child deserves a healthy start and every man or woman who wears the uniform of our country deserves more than words of support. The promise of America is rooted in these values, and I am very proud to support the bipartisan legislation expanding health care for children, and I urge my colleagues to join me and Senators from both sides of the aisle who are supporting our military families who are caring for those who have been injured in service to our country.
Finally, we hope on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue there will be a
change of heart; that the President will decide to sign this legislation and relieve the burdens of ill health and inadequate access to health care that haunt the lives of so many American families.
Mr. President, please support this effort in every way possible by signing the legislation that will be sent to you.
I yield the floor.