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Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act Of 2009--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

SERVICE MEMBERS HOME OWNERSHIP TAX ACT OF 2009--Continued -- (Senate - December 02, 2009)


Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I rise to talk about a very important topic on the floor right now, along with the Medicare issue; that is, preventive screenings and services, particularly for women. I want to focus on a very specific and important example of that, which is breast cancer screening through mammography, and also through the practice of self-examination.

This is very timely because 2 weeks ago, a U.S. government-endorsed panel issued new recommendations on this topic, which I believe, along with tens of millions of Americans, is a major step in the wrong direction. I think we need to focus on this recent action and talk about this and fix it in the context of this health care reform debate.

What am I talking about? Well, on Tuesday, November 17--literally just a couple weeks ago--the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which is an official government-sanctioned body--a task force about preventive medicine--issued new recommendations regarding breast cancer screening for women, including the use of mammography.

These new recommendations they came out with a couple weeks ago are a big step backward, a big retrenchment in terms of what the current state of knowledge is and what their previous recommendations were. Their new recommendations, just out 2 weeks ago, do four things that take a big step back on breast cancer screening.

No. 1, for women between the ages of 40 and 49, rather than get a routine mammogram every 2 years to screen for breast cancer, the task force said: Forget about that. We do not recommend that anymore. We step back from that recommendation.

No. 2, for women aged 50 to 74, the previous recommendation was to get a routine mammogram to screen against breast cancer every year. The task force, 2 weeks ago, stepped back from that and said: No, every other year is probably good enough. So not every year: every other year.

No. 3, for women over the age of 75, the previous recommendation was to have routine screening at least every 2 years. The new recommendation from the task force steps back from that and says: No, we do not recommend routine screening over the age of 75.

And, No. 4, the task force 2 weeks ago said: We no longer recommend breast self-examination by women to detect lumps to get treatment early. We do not believe in that. We do not think the science is clear on that. We step back from that.

Those are four huge changes in their previous recommendations. Those are four huge, new recommendations completely at odds with what I believe is the clear consensus in the medical community and the treatment community.

When I first read about these new U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendations, around November 17, I had the immediate reaction I just enunciated, but I said: I am not an expert. I am not a doctor. I am not a medical expert. I want to hear from folks who are much closer to this crucial issue than me.

So my wife and I convened a roundtable discussion in Baton Rouge, LA. We had it on Monday, November 23. It was at the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center. They were very kind to host it. It was cohosted by Women's Hospital in Baton Rouge. We had a great roundtable discussion featuring a lot of different people, including oncologists, other MDs, other medical experts, and including, maybe most importantly, several breast cancer survivors who literally lived through this issue themselves. Those breast cancer survivors were all women who got breast cancer and had it detected relatively early, in their forties. So they are exactly the group of people these new recommendations would work against because the new recommendations say don't get regular mammography screening in your forties.

Again, I was interested in hearing from the real experts, both medical experts and the survivors, what they thought about it. I wasn't very surprised, quite frankly, when they all had exactly the same reaction I did to these new U.S. Preventive Service Task Force recommendations. Everybody to a person said this is a big step backward. This will make us move in the wrong direction. Increased screening, early detection is a leading reason we are winning increasingly the fight against breast cancer. It is a leading reason we are doing so much better in this fight.

In that one room at the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, in a sense we had a snapshot through history and proof of the great gains we have made, including through early screening because, as I said, we had these survivors, all a supercause for celebration: Folks who had detected their cancer, most of them relatively early; all of them first got it and detected it either in their forties or some in their thirties. Unfortunately, in the same room, we had a life experience on the other end of the spectrum going back 40-plus years. That is my wife Wendy who lost her mother to breast cancer when she was 6 years old. One of the reasons is simple and straightforward and directly related to what we are talking about.

Back in the late 1960s when Wendy lost her mom to breast cancer there wasn't this same routine. There wasn't this emphasis on screening. There wasn't the recommendation for annual mammograms. There wasn't the educational push for self-examination. There wasn't that focus, and because of that, far more women, tragically, including Wendy's mother, died.

We have made huge progress since then. Again, the very life experiences in that one room in Baton Rouge proved that. The medical doctors and the oncologists, the other experts, as well as the breast cancer survivors, all made that point.

So I am standing on the Senate floor to urge us to take focused, specific action to legislatively repeal any impact of these new recommendations by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued in November.

This topic is on the Senate floor. It is on the floor through the Mikulski amendment. There is probably going to be a Republican alternative to that Mikulski amendment. My concern is, in terms of everything on the floor now, none of it directly, specifically takes back the impact of those new recommendations. I think that is the first matter we should all come together on, 100 to nothing, on this topic.

We can have a broader debate. We can have differences about the best approach to prevention and screening. But the first concrete, focused thing we should do right now on the Senate floor today is come together, 100 to nothing, to legislatively overrule any impact of those new recommendations. That is, again, what I have been hearing from experts not just in Baton Rouge, not just in that one room, but across the country; experts in terms of oncologists, other medical doctors, leaders of the cancer associations across the country and, perhaps most importantly, breast cancer survivors. I daresay that is what every Member of this body has heard from their States since those new recommendations came out around November 17.

So, again, whatever we do in this broader debate, I have a very simple, basic, focused suggestion. Let's show the American people we can come together around something on which I believe we all agree.

There is an expression: It is mom and apple pie. Well, this should be considered mom and apple pie because it is literally about mom and our wives and our daughters and, obviously, half the population. So let's come together around this issue, and let's legislatively overrule any legal impact, any legal consequence of these new task force recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Service Task Force.

That is what my Vitter amendment, No. 2808, does. I had hoped the amendments on the Senate floor on this general topic would do that already. Unfortunately, the one that is pending now, at least the Mikulski amendment, does not do that. In fact, in some ways it points to the new recommendations of the task force and holds up those new recommendations. Our current law holds up the current recommendations. I think because the new recommendations they promulgated around November 17 are so egregious, such a bad idea, because the consensus around the country starting with experts and oncologists is so clear that we should negate any impact of them. So, again, my Vitter amendment No. 2808, which is currently filed as a second-degree amendment to the Mikulski amendment, would do that.

Let me be perfectly clear and read my text because it is very short:

For the purposes of this Act, and for the purposes of any other provision of law, the current recommendations of the United States Preventive Service Task Force regarding breast cancer screening, mammography, and prevention shall be considered the most current other than those issued in or around November 2009.

So what it does is simple. It says we are erasing, we are canceling out, any effect of those new recommendations made by the task force in and around November 2009. We are saying that never happened because the consensus is so clear against it.

Again, I expected the Mikulski amendment to do that directly. It doesn't do that. It does other things about prevention, which is fine. We can debate those points. We can have a discussion about that. But I think we need to all come together to absolutely, categorically, specifically, legislatively take back, overrule these new recommendations.

I am certainly eager to work with everyone in this body starting with Senator Mikulski, starting with Senator Murkowski, whom I believe may offer a Republican alternative to include this language. I hope this language, which seems to me is a no-brainer given the consensus on the topic, can be included in both of those amendments. It should be just accepted and included in the Mikulski amendment. It should be accepted and included in the Murkowski amendment. That would be my goal so that whatever happens on these votes, we come together in a unified way. Literally, it would in essence be 100 to nothing, to say: No, time out. These new recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force from November of this year are a huge step backwards, a huge mistake. That is what the experts are saying. That is what oncologists are saying. That is what cancer specialists are saying. That is what leaders of cancer associations are saying. That is what, perhaps most importantly, breast cancer survivors are saying.

We can look at history in this country in the last several decades and happily point to real progress in this fight. One of the causes of that good news, that improvement since the late 1960s when my wife Wendy's mom passed away from breast cancer, clearly one of the underlying reasons, clearly one of the leading causes is dramatic improvement in this prevention and screening, using mammography, also educating about self-examination.

So, again, I have this second-degree amendment. My hope and my goal would be that this language, which should be noncontroversial, would be accepted on it, as well as any Republican alternative, and that whatever happens in terms of those votes, we come together and make crystal-clear that this task force of unelected bureaucrats--didn't include a single oncologist, by the way--made a big mistake and we are going to make sure those new recommendations don't have any impact in terms of law, in terms of government programs, in terms of legal impact on insurance companies.

Again, I look forward to working with everyone on the floor, including Senator Mikulski, including Senator Murkowski and others to pass this language. It should be a no-brainer. It is mom and apple pie. Let's pass it and at least in this focused way come together and do the right thing in direct reaction to something that just happened 2 weeks ago.

Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.


Mr. VITTER. Thank you, Mr. President.

Mr. President, I certainly concur with the distinguished majority whip's goal of more amendments and more votes.

With regard to this very important screening and mammography issue, my goal has been a very focused one. I have a filed second-degree amendment that has a very simple, focused objective, which I believe is extremely noncontroversial. I believe it would be supported by everyone in this body, and that is simply to ensure that there is no legal force and effect to the recent recommendations issued in November of 2009 by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force with regard to breast cancer screening, use of mammography, and self-examination.

As everyone knows, those new recommendations were shocking in that they took a giant step back from the previous recommendations and took a giant step back in terms of recommended screening, which virtually every expert I know of strongly disagrees with.

So this filed, simple second-degree amendment simply says that those new recommendations of November of this year have no force and effect. I will read the amendment. It is very short. To be clear, it does nothing more than that.

[F]or the purposes of this Act, and for the purposes of any other provision of law, the current recommendations of the United States Preventive Service Task Force regarding breast cancer screening, mammography, and prevention shall be considered the most current other than those issued in or around November 2009.

So we are simply ensuring that those new recommendations--which I strongly disagree with, experts strongly disagree with, I believe all of my colleagues do--have no legal force and effect. So I would simply ask that the unanimous consent proposed be modified so that the Mikulski amendment incorporates this language. I would propose that as an alternative unanimous consent request.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection to the request, as modified?

Mr. DURBIN. I object.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Objection is heard.

Is there objection to the original request from the Senator from Illinois?

Mr. VITTER. Yes, I continue to reserve my right to object. I am very disappointed about objecting to this important and what should be noncontroversial provision. I would suggest another solution, which is to take the unanimous consent request on the floor and modify it so there is simply a vote on this second-degree amendment, amendment No. 2808, immediately before the vote on the Mikulski amendment.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection to the request, as modified?

Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, reserving the right to object.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Illinois.

Mr. DURBIN. I am not sure I would support or oppose the amendment offered by the Senator from Louisiana, but this matter has been on the floor now for 3 days. I say to the Senator, there is a pending amendment here on your side of the aisle from Senator Murkowski on this issue, and I would hope that the Senator has approached her to incorporate his language. I do not know if the Senator approached Senator Mikulski. But at this point we think we have some effort being made at fairness on both sides, that there will be Democratic amendments and Republican amendments both offered--Mikulski and Murkowski and McCain and Bennet--and so I would object because I believe we have the basis for a fair agreement at this point.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Objection is heard. Is there objection to the original request of the Senator from Illinois?

Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, reserving my right to object, again, I am very disappointed to hear that. I have approached both sides. Senator Murkowski has incorporated similar language, and I was hoping we could come together, 100 to nothing, to actually pass this on to the bill, whichever alternative tomorrow is voted up--and maybe they both will be--but whichever is voted up or whichever is voted down, I think it is very important to come together and state that we don't want these new task force recommendations to have any force and effect.

So let me propose a third and final alternative unanimous consent request: that at any point after these votes, but before cloture is filed on the pending matter, this amendment No. 2808 receive a vote on the Senate floor as a first-degree amendment to the underlying bill.

Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, reserving the right to object, may I suggest to my friend from Louisiana, would you consider approaching Senators Mikulski and/or Murkowski the first thing tomorrow and see if they are prepared to work with you on this? This Mikulski amendment has been pending for 3 days.

Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, if I could----

Mr. DURBIN. Well, then, I object.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Objection is heard.

Is there objection to the original request?

Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, reserving my right to object, just so I can respond directly, I didn't mean to cut the Senator off. If he has any further statement, I will be happy to listen to it. But just so I can respond directly, the first thing today, I approached both those Members and everyone involved in this debate about this language and certainly the majority side has had this language for at least 7 1/2 hours. The equivalent of this language has been incorporated into the Murkowski amendment, but my hope is that the same thing be accepted in the Mikulski amendment because it is not clear which is going to be adopted. I don't see the great controversy here. So that was my hope. And that is why I approached those two Senators and the majority side 7 1/2 hours ago about it with specific language.

So I renew my last unanimous consent request I made in that spirit.

Mr. DURBIN. Reserving the right to object, the staff advises me that they are reaching out to Senator Mikulski at this moment. I don't know if we can be in contact with her this evening, but I would ask the Senator from Louisiana if he would consider allowing us to go forward with this unanimous consent request and hope we can still modify it tomorrow, if there is an agreement with Senator Mikulski at that point. I don't think that jeopardizes the right of the Senator from Louisiana to offer this at a later time during the course of this debate.

Based on that, I would continue to object.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Objection is heard.

Is there objection to the original unanimous consent of the Senator from Illinois?

Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, reserving the right to object, merely to respond through the Chair, I would say I have been working in that spirit. I have given the language to the majority side. I have been working both at the staff level and Member level with many folks. This should be noncontroversial. I don't know of any Senator who disagrees with this. So I will accept that offer. I will not object to this pending unanimous consent, but I truly hope the offer is made in good faith because I believe, when anyone reads this language, they will agree with it.

Again, it simply says these latest recommendations by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, made 2 weeks ago, will not have any legal force and effect. I believe all of us--certainly, it is my impression and, I guess, we will find out tomorrow morning--I believe all of us want to stop them from having force and effect because it is a great step backward in terms of breast cancer screening and mammography and even education about self-examination.

So I certainly take that offer and look forward to the majority side rereading this language and hopefully accepting it tomorrow morning because I can't imagine, on substantive grounds, objecting to the language.

Thank you. With that, I will not object.


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