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Public Statements

Recognition Of The Minority Leader

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, we all know the U.S. health care system is in serious need of reform. Costs are too high, they are rising, and if we do nothing, they will continue to consume a larger and larger share of Federal dollars and of the budgets of millions of middle-class American families, of young workers trying to get their start in life, and, of course, of seniors.

For months, the administration and its allies in Congress promised a solution to these problems, a solution they said would lower costs and help the economy. They assured us that under their proposal anyone who likes the health care plans they have would be able to keep them, and they said their proposal would save Medicare.

But, in the end, what matters is not what we say. It is what we do. This week, the proponents of this plan did more with a single vote than they did all year in talking about all the things their health care plan would do.

How? Because in voting to cut a $ 1/2 trillion from the Medicare Program for seniors, our Democratic friends undercut not only the roughly 40 million seniors who depend on Medicare, they also undercut their own promises about reform.

As I said, the President and congressional Democrats have noted, again and again, that under their measure those who like their plans will be able to keep them. After Thursday's vote, even Democrats are admitting that is no longer true.

Here is how one of our Democratic colleagues put it:

We're not going to be able to say that ``If you like what you have, you can keep it.''

Then he added:

..... and that basic commitment that a lot of us around here have made will be called into question.

As for the oft-repeated pledge to save Medicare, well, nobody buys that one after the vote on Thursday to cut it by $ 1/2 trillion.

These Medicare cuts will impact the quality of care for millions of American seniors. Nearly 11 million seniors on Medicare Advantage will see a reduction in benefits. Hospice care will see massive cuts. Hospitals that treat Medicare patients will see massive cuts. Nursing homes are cut. More than $40 billion is cut from home health care agencies--agencies that provide an appealing alternative to seniors who would rather receive the care and attention they need in the comfort and privacy of their own homes.

I hear from seniors all over Kentucky worried about the impact these cuts will have.

Anita, from Hebron, KY, says she is worried about the impact these cuts will have on her husband, a Vietnam vet with multiple sclerosis. Every 2 weeks, she writes, a home health care nurse visits her husband to perform procedures prescribed by his doctors. Now Anita is worried those visits might be limited or curtailed under this bill. It is not clear they will not be because cutting $40 billion from a benefits program is bound to affect the benefits that people such as her husband receive.

Joy, from Somerset, KY, works for a home health care agency. She wrote my office because she is also concerned about cuts to home health care. She asked me to protect the rights of the chronically ill, elderly Medicare population that she and her colleagues care for every day in Kentucky through cost-effective home health care.

Robin, from Independence, KY, writes that her father is almost 80 and receives home health care twice a week. She says he depends on a walker and a wheelchair to get around and that it is hard for him to get out of the house. Robin's father is the kind of person home health care is meant to help. Frankly, I do not know what to tell her--I literally do not know what to tell her--except that $40 billion in cuts to this program is not a very encouraging sign for people such as her dad.

I noticed that some years ago one of the top Senators on this issue on the Democratic side used the very same image I have used to decry these cuts. Back then, he warned, as I have in recent months, not to use Medicare as a piggy bank. Yet that is precisely what our friends are doing with Medicare. They are not fixing it. They are raiding it--raiding it--to create an entirely new government entitlement program, raiding Medicare not to help save Medicare but to create an entirely new entitlement program. In fact, one of the largest single sources of money for this 2,074-page bill is the money they get from Medicare.

I am not sure what has changed since our friends decried cuts to Medicare as immoral and irresponsible. But today I would, once again, urge them to reconsider their vote from earlier this week. They have voted now to cut Medicare, and they have now voted twice to cut the important Medicare Advantage Program for nearly 11 million seniors.

Today we will have a chance to restore the cuts they authorized to home health care. A vote in favor of the Johanns amendment is a vote in favor of the men and women who have been writing our offices, sharing their stories about the benefits of home health care.

Americans never expected that health care reform would mean that they would have to give up the health care they have and like. They didn't expect it because they were told it wouldn't happen. Unfortunately, that pledge was broken this week. That pledge was broken this week. Today our friends have an opportunity to help repair some of that damage.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.


Mr. McCAIN. I am sorry the Senator from Montana cannot understand that they are people who sell health insurance as well. AARP does, Walmart does. If we are going to have this kind of demagogic amendment, then we should include them, especially Walmart, that does a lot of business.

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I would ask the Senator from Arizona if I may ask a question. I would ask the Senator from Arizona, is this the same AARP that I recall opposed a $10 billion reduction in the rate of increase in Medicare spending back in 2005?

Mr. McCAIN. I would say to my colleague they not only opposed it, they got all of their members fired up in opposition to it. We all heard from them back in 2005. These were reductions in spending. This was not $438 billion taken out of Medicare and put in to create a new entitlement program of $2.5 trillion.

Mr. McCONNELL. Could I ask my friend one more question? Is this the same bill that back in 2005 my counterpart, the majority leader, decried as immoral?

Mr. McCAIN. As I recall, that is exactly it. I think the Senator from New Hampshire recalls that debate.


Mr. McCONNELL. Will the Senator yield for an observation? Senator McCain has pointed out where the lobbyists are on this bill. Senator Isakson has pointed out where the people of Georgia are on this bill. Senator Barrasso has pointed out where the people of Wyoming are on this bill. We also know where the American people are.

I have not seen a survey in months--in months--by anybody that indicates the American people are for this bill. It is not in doubt. We have heard that President Clinton came up to their lunch. The President may be coming back himself. The argument they are making on the other side? Ignore the American people, make history. Make history? What I hear the American people saying to us is: Vote for this bill and you will be history.

This is not in the gray area. The American people are asking us to stop this bill and start over. They do not want a 2,074-page monstrosity of complexity and Medicare cuts and tax increases and higher premiums for everybody else. They want us to stop and start over and get it right.


Mr. McCONNELL. I say to my friend from Arizona, at the risk of being repetitious, what we all know is going on here is there is a total disconnect between inside-the-beltway lobbyists who cut their special deals and the American people who are speaking loudly to all of us in all of the surveys saying: Please stop this thing.

I have never been involved in an issue in all the years I have been here, I say to my friend from Arizona and other colleagues, on which people spontaneously stop me in the airport and say: Please stop this bill.

I am sure there are people in Kentucky who are for it. I have not met one. There must be a doctor in Kentucky who is for this. I have not heard from one.

This is an incredibly unpopular bill. Thus, their only rallying cry: Make history, ignore the American people. What an act of arrogance. What an act of total arrogance. We know better than you. Why don't all you American people, all 300 million of you, shut up, sit down, and we will do it for you. We will restructure one-sixth of the economy. We know what is best for you. This is an act of total arrogance.

As the Senator from Utah pointed out, we just need one Democratic Senator to say no: No, I am not going to do this. I know the President would like me to make history, but this is wrong for the country, and I will not participate in it. Just one can make a difference.


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