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Public Statements

Health Care Reform

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McCONNELL. Madam President, this measure was in the majority leader's office for 6 weeks. It has only been on the floor of the Senate for 3 days. I think it is clearly not the case that the Republicans want to delay a process that we have only now gotten an opportunity to participate in, since this has been a strictly partisan venture from the beginning. But we will have an opportunity over a number of weeks to offer amendments. We will have four votes today and hopefully we can proceed at a more rapid pace than we got off to in the first couple of days. Of course the reason we didn't have votes last night was because there were objections on that side of the aisle. But hopefully we are now into a process where we can go forward without the kind of delay that we had generated by both sides over the last couple of days.

Yesterday some of our friends on the other side were at great pains to explain one of the core pieces of their health care plan. I am referring of course to the massive cuts in Medicare they plan to make as a way of expanding government's reach even further into the lives and, more specifically, into the medical care of every American.

I have no doubt that our friends were reluctant to call for these cuts. But in the middle of a recession, and at a time when more than 1 in 10 working Americans is looking for work, it isn't easy to find $1/2 a trillion lying around. They had to find the money somewhere. And so they set their sights on Medicare.

Republicans have been entirely consistent in this debate: Medicare is already in trouble. The program needs to be fixed, not raided to create another new government program. We have fought these senseless cuts from the outset. And we will continue to fight them.

Democrats, meanwhile, have taken a novel approach. They have apparently decided there is no way to defend these Medicare cuts, so they will just deny they are doing it. It hardly passes the smell test.

Here are the facts. According to this bill: Medicare Advantage is cut by $120 billion; hospitals that treat Medicare patients are cut by $135 billion; home health care is cut by more than $42 billion; nursing homes are cut by nearly $15 billion; hospice care is cut by $7.6 billion.

These are the cuts that our friends on the other side claim not to be cuts. This is the plan that our friends on the other side have said will ``save Medicare''--a talking point so plainly contradicted by the facts, it is almost impossible to repeat it with a straight face.

One Democrat took this strategy to a new level yesterday when he declared on the floor that it wasn't even accurate to describe cuts to Medicare Advantage as cuts because Medicare Advantage, he said, is not a Medicare Program.

Well, that is apparently news to the Department of Health and Human Services, which states on its Web site, in words as plain as the alphabet that ``Medicare Advantage plans ..... are part of the Medicare program.'' And it is news to the millions of American seniors who depend on this popular program for their care.

At the moment, Medicare Advantage has nearly 11 million enrollees looking at it another way, or nearly one-fourth of all Medicare beneficiaries are on Medicare Advantage.

In recent years, this program has proven to be particularly popular with seniors in rural areas who would otherwise have limited access to care. Seniors have shown they want this plan. And I daresay that if you had asked seniors earlier this year what they expected health care reform would look like, it wouldn't have involved massive cuts to a program that they have shown they like and want.

Medicare Advantage has also been proven to help in a particular way low-income and minority seniors. That is one of the reasons minorities are more likely to enroll in it. So this program has given a boost to historically disadvantaged populations and helped give them a greater measure of dignity toward the end of their lives.

These cuts are bad enough. But despite what our friends have said, the Democrat plan for Medicare Advantage doesn't stop here because their bill also gives the Medicare Commission explicit new authority to cut even more from this popular program in the years ahead.

The President has repeatedly said that people who like the plans they have will be able to keep them under his plan. He has said people currently signed up for Medicare Advantage will have the same level of benefits under his plan.

Well, common sense tells us that you can't cut $120 billion from a benefits program without affecting benefits, and the independent Congressional Budget Office confirms what common sense tells us, and they actually quantify it.

CBO says the bill we are debating will cut extra benefits that seniors receive through Medicare Advantage by more than half. The fact is, cuts to Medicare Advantage are cuts to Medicare. And if it is true of Medicare Advantage, it is true of the other Medicare cuts in this bill. Democrats can deny these cuts all they want. Seniors aren't buying it.

Later this afternoon we are going to have a Bennet amendment, Bennet of Colorado, as a side-by-side to Senator McCain's motion, which would send back to committee the Medicare cuts in this bill and ask the committee to report it back without them. I want to comment briefly on the Bennet amendment and we are going to have more to say on that during the course of today's debate.

This amendment is a shell game, a shell game designed to hide the $ 1/2 trillion in cuts I have been talking about. The Bennet of Colorado amendment is a shell game designed to hide the Ð$ 1/2 trillion in cuts I have described. If the Bennet amendment passes, the bill will still cut $ 1/2 trillion from Medicare.

Let me say that again. If the Bennet of Colorado amendment passes, the bill will still cut $ 1/2 trillion from Medicare. It does not protect Medicare. There is only one way to protect Medicare and that is to support the McCain motion.

I yield the floor.

Mr. GREGG. Will the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. McCONNELL. I will be happy to yield to the Senator from New Hampshire.

Mr. GREGG. The Senator is absolutely right to point out the Bennet amendment is a shell game, charade, and a farce; that there will still be Ð$ 1/2 trillion in the first 10 years but actually $2.5 trillion over the period 2010 to 2029 to be cut out of Medicare.

Earlier the majority leader came to the floor and talked about a memo that I sent around, which is a fairly innocuous memo to our fellow Members, which outlined the rights to fellow Members relative to floor activity, and I sent in my position as Budget ranking member, because most of these issues are tied to the budget, and the covering letter said we as a minority must use the tools we have under the Senate rules to insist on a full, complete, and fully informed debate on health care legislation as well as all legislation that comes before the Senate.

I ask the Republican leader, is it not reasonable that we should have a full, complete, and fair debate on this health care bill?

Mr. McCONNELL. I say to my friend from New Hampshire, we know this bill was produced by Democrats in committee. Then it went to the majority leader's conference room and stayed there for 6 weeks. There were no Republicans in those meetings, not a one. So after being in the majority leader's conference room for 6 weeks, it has been on the floor of the Senate for 3 days. This will be the fourth day.

To suggest that Republicans don't want to offer many amendments to this massive 2,000-page bill that seeks to restructure one-sixth of our economy is nonsense. The American people will not stand for not having a free and open amendment process during the course of this debate. This is a debate, I say to my friend from New Hampshire, the American people deserve to have for a considerable period of time. For goodness' sake, we spent 4 weeks on a farm bill in the last Congress. F

Mr. GREGG. If the Republican leader will yield further, it is ironic, is it not, that the majority leader would come to the floor and complain about an innocuous statement that outlines the rules which Members of the Senate have, a statement which I suspect he actually would pass out to his members for information were they in the minority--maybe even in the majority, because they would like to know how the rules work in the Senate--after the majority leader had completely subverted the rules of the Senate by not taking this 2074-page bill through committee so it could be amended, in the open, so it could be amended but, rather, writing it in the back room, some closet around here, with three or four Members of the Senate present? Isn't there an ironic inconsistency to his outrage on the fact that we suggested people should know the rules here while he has basically tried to go around the rules?

Mr. McCONNELL. I say to my friend from New Hampshire, nobody is going to buy outrage over a mere 40 Members out of 100 Members of the Senate having an opportunity, for the first time, to offer amendments. The majority, by the way, has the right to do this, and I don't complain about it. They are going to offer an amendment for every amendment we offer, so not only did they have the bill in their conference room in secret for 6 weeks, out here on the floor they are going to get 50 percent of the amendments we vote on. I don't think they will be able, with a straight face, to convince the American people that somehow the 40 of us who are asking for an opportunity to amend a bill that all the surveys indicate the American people don't want us to pass is somehow unfair.

Mr. GREGG. I will ask one more question because I find the irony in the situation so unique. A memo which outlines what the rights are of all Members--but Members of the minority specifically because the rules are meant to protect the minority from the majority; that is the tradition of our Government, of course, which seems to be an affront to the majority at this point--that a memo of that nature, which essentially says the minority has certain rights in order for the institution to function correctly--I am wondering, why did we create these rules in the first place? Wasn't it so we could continue the thought of Adams, of Madison, who suggested that the Senate should be the place where, when legislation comes forward which has been rushed through the House, the Senate should be the place where that legislation receives a deliberative view, where it is explored as to its unintended consequences and as to its consequences generally, and where the body has the opportunity to amend it effectively so it can be improved? Isn't that the purpose of the Senate? And isn't that what the rules of the Senate are designed to do, to accomplish the goals of our Founding Fathers to have a Senate where the legislation is adequately aired and considered versus being rushed through in a precipitous way?

Mr. McCONNELL. It was George Washington who presided over the Constitutional Convention who was asked: General, what do you think the Senate is going to be like?

He said: I think it is going to be like the saucer under the tea cup and the tea is going to slosh out of the cup down into the saucer and cool off. That is precisely the point the Senator raises, which is the Senate is the place viewed to be a body that ought to and correctly takes its time. The House of Representatives passed this massive restructuring of one-sixth of our economy in 1 day with three amendments--1 day. That is not the way the Senate operates. I can remember when our friends on the other side were in the minority. Specifically, I can remember the now-assistant majority leader saying the Senate is not the House--praised the procedures in the Senate. If ever there were a measure, if ever in the history of America there were a measure that the Americans expect us to take our time on and to get it right, it is this one, this massive 2,000-page effort to restructure one-sixth of our economy and have the government take over all of American health where we see, in all of the public opinion polls, people are saying please don't pass this--they want to try to rush it.

They want to try to rush it, try to get it through here in a heck of a hurry, back it up against Christmas. I have said to the majority leader, we are happy to be here. We are going to be here Saturday and Sunday. I did ask for an opportunity for Members to go to church Sunday morning, if they want to, and the majority leader indicated that would be permissible. But after that, we will be here and ready to vote.

Mr. GREGG. I thank the Republican leader for his response. I suspect, were the majority leader in the minority, he would be insisting on exactly what the Republican leader is insisting on--a fair and open debate which allows the minority to make its case as to the good points in this bill and as to the bad points. The way you make that case is by following the rules of the Senate; is that not correct?

Mr. McCONNELL. The American people expect and deserve no less than exactly what we have been discussing.

I yield the floor.

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