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Energy And Water Development And Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010 - Conference Report - Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, D.C.


Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, will the Senator respond to a question?

Mr. GREGG. I am honored to respond.

Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, the Senator mentioned a little bit earlier about the previous attempt to slow the growth of Medicare. I remember during my House days--it has probably been a decade or more ago--when the Senator from New Hampshire was on the Budget Committee on the Senate side. We were looking at a rapid growth of Medicare, somewhere in the 7 to 8, 9 percent rate. What the Senator from New Hampshire is talking about is that in order to try to achieve a balanced budget and to make reforms in Medicare, instead of it growing at that rate, we were going to reduce the rate of growth, not reduce the amount of money, just reduce the rate of growth to about 5 percent per year to help achieve a balanced budget and at the same time continue to provide the services under Medicare that we did then.

I ask the Senator what he thinks is going to happen if we are not reducing the rate of growth, but in this plan coming out of the Finance Committee that will be on the floor and the one that came out of the HELP Committee that will be melded with that bill, there is going to be a reduction in Medicare spending by about $500 billion over 10 years. Will we be able to provide the same services under Medicare that we do now if we reduce the amount of money spent on Medicare?

Mr. GREGG. The Senator from Georgia asks a very appropriate question because the practical effect of the reductions which are being proposed is that people who are on Medicare Advantage, which is a program many seniors like, will be eliminated. They will no longer have the opportunity to use Medicare Advantage or it will be contracted so much that it will be a shell of its former self. This is being done not in order to make Medicare solvent--and there are very serious issues about Medicare solvency--it is being done in order to move that money over and start a new entitlement for a new group of people who are not seniors and who have not paid into the health insurance trust fund and who have no relationship at all to Medicare.

Mr. CHAMBLISS. The Senator from New Hampshire has been here a lot longer than I have, both in the House and his service in the Senate. Mr. President, has the Senator from New Hampshire ever seen a mandatory spending program that has been created by the Federal Government reduce its spending?

Mr. GREGG. The Senator asks another good question. ``No'' is the simple answer. We all know that once you start a mandatory program, it always grows and grows significantly. That, of course, is why we are in such trouble as a nation, because we have a number of mandatory programs to which so much has been added that we simply cannot afford them any longer under our present structure of a government.

Now we are going to take that problem and compound it by $1.8 trillion, which is pretty irresponsible of us and fiscally irresponsible, but it is also irresponsible in the sense of stewards of our children's future because our children are going to inherit a government that cannot be afforded and they are going to get bills or get a devalued dollar.

Mr. CHAMBLISS. If the Chair will allow me, I wish to ask another question about Medicaid.

The proposal coming out of the Finance Committee to the floor of the Senate has a huge effect on my State, and I am sure it has a similar effect on Senator Gregg's State, and that is this: The eligibility for Medicaid will move from 100 percent of poverty level to 133 percent of poverty level, which will add a significant number of additional individuals all across America to the Medicaid rolls.

In my State, where the Federal Government will pick up the tab for the first 3 years, there is going to be an additional cost of $1.2 billion for those additional Medicaid-eligible individuals in Georgia. Beginning in the fourth year, the State of Georgia is going to have to pick up that $1.2 billion.

The Senator from New Hampshire is a former Governor, and I assume New Hampshire probably has a balanced budget requirement, as we do. We are furloughing teachers today. We are furloughing State employees. Schools are operating 4 days a week instead of 5 days a week. We are doing everything we can to decrease spending at the State level and even below that to try to make sure we achieve that balanced budget. If we as Georgians are asked to come up with another $1.2 billion to fund a health care program, we simply do not have the money to do it.

I ask the Senator if he has a similar situation in New Hampshire.

Mr. GREGG. The Senator from Georgia is expressing a problem which I think most State Governors are extraordinarily worried about, whether they are Republicans or Democrats, which is that this bill, as it starts up, covers the additional people who will be pushed into Medicaid, which is about 14 million nationally, but that coverage drops off in the outyears, and it will put many States in dire straits.

The Senator from Georgia talked about the numbers in Georgia. New Hampshire will have the exact same problem, only we do not have a balanced budget amendment. We are not that foresighted. I wish we were. So we already have a problem. We are already running major deficits in the State of New Hampshire, and if you throw these new Medicaid costs on, you are going to make it very difficult to do things such as spend on school systems and, especially in New Hampshire, on our college systems and our mental health care systems which are key to our quality of life in New Hampshire.

This will be a massive unfunded mandate. I saw the number $33 billion as being what the States will end up picking up over the 10-year period. That is a big number for States to pick up. It will put massive strains on State budgets. It is another example of the Federal Government saying: Here, look at the wonderful things we have done for everybody, and then sending the bill to the States, which is totally inappropriate.

Mr. CHAMBLISS. Lastly, if I may ask one more question through the Chair, as we reform health care--and 100 percent of the Members of this Senate agree that we need to reform health care. We have the best delivery system in the world, but it can get better. We can have a better delivery system. We have the best insurance system in the world, but it needs reforming. It can be made better.

Does the Senator from New Hampshire, who I know is familiar with the details of the plan that came out of the Finance Committee, know of any provision in that bill that is designed to reduce the costs of health care delivery in this country, which will help make that system better, which will help make the insurance system better by making premiums for insurance more affordable for folks who cannot afford it today?

Mr. GREGG. The Senator from Georgia leads in the way I want to close this discussion. There are ways to do what the Senator from Georgia is suggesting. There are ways to reduce the cost of health care in this country and to make it better.

Let's take, for example, malpractice reform, abusive lawsuit reform. None of that is in the Finance Committee bill. We should have something there. The President says he is for it. We should do something in that area. CBO scores this as a $54 billion savings. That is not chicken feed--not in Georgia, not in New Hampshire. That is a big number. So we should have malpractice reform.

We should have proposals which basically incentivize employers to have their employees with healthier lifestyles. It is called HIPAA reform. That is not in the Finance Committee. It is very easy to do. You give people the incentive and employers the ability to say to someone: If you stop smoking, if you live a healthier lifestyle by reducing your weight, if you take the tests you need to take in the area of better health care, such as colonoscopies, we actually will give you a cash reward. We cannot do it under the Finance Committee bill and, to a lesser degree, under the Kennedy-Dodd bill or the Harkin bill but not as much as we would like.

There are specific diseases we should target, such as obesity and Alzheimer's. There are a whole series of healthy lifestyles. There are things we can do in a step-by-step manner which will get us much farther down the road toward quality health care for all Americans rather than this massive expansion of health care through a massive expansion of an entitlement which will lead inevitably to, in my opinion, a huge debt being passed on to our children.

Three groups are going to pay for this $1.8 trillion: One is seniors citizens who are going to pay for the cuts through Medicare; two is small businesses that are going to have to pay through massive increases in premiums for their insurance, and they will probably have to give up a lot of coverage of their people; and three is our children, who are going to have to pay the debt.

I appreciate the thoughts and questions of the Senator from Georgia. They are right on point. I thank him for getting involved in this discussion. In fact, I yield the floor to him right now.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Georgia.

Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, I appreciate the comments of the Senator from New Hampshire, who has certainly been in the forefront trying to make sure, No. 1, that the budget of this country is in a very positive situation as we move forward and that we do not leave our children and grandchildren burdened with a debt they simply cannot pay. As he has said, they are the ones who, at the end of the day, along with senior citizens and the small business community, are going to wind up paying for this bill if it comes out crafted the way it is presented in the Finance Committee and the way it appears it is going to come out of the Finance Committee to the floor of the Senate.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to speak for 5 minutes on another subject.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The majority leader.

Mr. REID. Mr. President, I have been waiting to come here for a bit. I have no problem with 5 minutes. I am patient. I want to alert the Senate what is going to be happening the rest of the day. I will wait for my friend from Georgia.

Mr. CHAMBLISS. If the majority leader wants to go----

Mr. REID. No, that is fine. I am happy to do this. I want everyone to know what is happening here tonight. I will do that when the Senator from Georgia finishes.

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


Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, it is with great pride and yet much regret that I stand here today to recognize a dear friend and longtime servant of American agriculture who is retiring from public service.

Through nearly 25 years of serving in various capacities on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, Vernie Hubert has exemplified tremendous character, an infectious personality, and an astute knowledge of the law, for which I admiringly respect and thank him. I would like to issue a special thanks to his wife Kathleen and daughter Mary Phillips for allowing us to have him in Washington for the past 3 years while they have lived in Texas. I am eternally grateful for his dedication to agriculture. His encyclopedic knowledge and valuable input will certainly be missed.

What began as an internship in the House Agriculture Committee for Vernie in 1982 has since blossomed into a distinguished agricultural law career. Before entering law school, he earned a bachelor's degree in biomedical science at Texas A&M University and even served as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve Medical Service Corps after graduation.

Upon graduation from St. Mary's University School of Law in 1985, Vernie returned to his beloved South Texas for a brief stint as an assistant prosecutor in Brazos County. Though his heart has always remained in Texas, Vernie returned to the House Agriculture Committee to work with then-chairman Kika de la Garza and ranking member Charlie Stenholm, where he served for almost 20 years in various roles--as associate counsel, staff director, and legislative director.

In 2004, I was fortunate in luring Vernie to the Senate, where he has served as chief counsel on the Senate Agriculture Committee for me since then. We were successful in passing a farm bill last year, and a big reason for that success is due to the tireless, diligent efforts of Vernie Hubert.

Seeing that the 2008 farm bill was the fifth farm bill that saw passage during Vernie's tenure, it goes without saying that his experience in negotiating agriculture policy is not going to be easily replaced.

In fact, it is impossible to replace a person like Vernie Hubert, not only for his wealth of knowledge but also for the richness of his character.

In the years I have known and worked with him, he has remained a loyal confidant and has always kept American agriculture's best interests at heart. Vernie, you will sincerely be missed by everyone who has had the pleasure of working with you, and I wish you nothing but the best in all your future endeavors.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.


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