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Transportation, Housing And Urban Development, And Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010 - Conference Report

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I want to talk about health care. I have to say that if 20 percent of what was being said by our Republicans friends was true about this bill, I could not vote for it either.

I keep hearing things described that have no relationship to the reality of the bill that I helped to write in the Finance Committee, or my friends helped to write in the HELP Committee or the bill that is on the floor now. I see all kinds of comments that, frankly, concern me because I don't see them reflected in the reality of the legislation in front of us.

I encourage people to take the opportunity to read the bill or the summaries. For the people in Michigan, we have had it up on our Web site, and we have had every bill, as it is introduced and passed, on the Web site, so people will have an opportunity to look at the information available.

I do know this: What we have been hearing from our colleagues is not good enough, when we think about the fact that we had a Congress and a White House for 6 out of the last 8 years that was controlled the by Republican Party and yet nothing was done. Proposals have come forward now about all these things that should be done. But they weren't done when they were in charge. What we saw was a lot of tax cuts for the wealthy people and a lot of no-bid contracts for friends of people in the administration. We saw a lot of things that didn't affect people in my State very positively and didn't help the working people in my great State of Michigan.

But now, as we are trying to move forward and do something for people, for small businesses and large businesses, and bring down costs and provide health care for people, there are all kinds of suggestions about why we should wait and do it over. What I heard in committee and what I am hearing now on the floor, as a proposal--because we don't have a Republican bill in front of us or one that has been offered--is this: Wait, wait, wait. We don't need to do this. That doesn't have to be done right now. There is no sense of urgency. We should wait, wait, wait.

That is what we hear. We hear that business as usual for the insurance companies is OK. Let them decide what is covered--if you can find insurance--and how much it should cost, whether or not they are going to be able to provide a test for you or an operation for you. That is OK. Let the insurance companies continue to be the ones between you and your doctor. That is what we have seen over and over. We saw it in committee. Every time we were trying to lower costs for families and small businesses, they were on the side of helping the insurance companies. They were willing to take tax cuts we put in the bill, and they offered amendment after amendment that would have had higher costs for middle-class families and small businesses, in order to help the insurance industry.

I will share a few stories from people who have become part of our health care people's lobby through my Web site, who have been willing to share stories.

David is from Sutton's Bay, which is a beautiful part of Michigan. We would love to have you come visit. It is a gorgeous part right on the water. David says:

I'm a 61-year-old cancer survivor with diabetes and high blood pressure. I am self-employed, and lately, uninsured. I worked all my life to build a stake here in farm country and almost lost it last fall to foreclosure because of a medical emergency. This farm is all I have ..... the savings and cash are gone. I continue to work with no retirement in sight. I have put everything I had for retirement into my farm. Please, help me keep it.

I know that David is not saying wait, wait, wait. He wants us to act, and to act now, on something that will be meaningful and makes sense to bring down costs, to give him a chance to find affordable insurance that doesn't bankrupt him and his family.

I want to share also another story from Jeff from Rockford, MI:

It has been over five years since death stared me down. I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Losing my job to a layoff, mortgage to pay, among other things--and my options were minuscule. I had no insurance then because there was none that I could afford.

I thank God and the staff at Grand Rapids Spectrum Health for my life today. Unfortunately, I am still $25,000 in debt because of lack of coverage.

I served in the Marines from 1984-1988. One of their mottos is, ``We take care of our own.'' Imagine what this country would be like if we all thought like that.

Jeff is right. We are in this together and, just as we have dramatically increased our support for our veterans and their health care, we need to make sure we are taking care of our own American families and American businesses.

Wait, wait, wait? I don't think so. I don't think that is what Jeff is asking us to do.

Jennifer from Hollow, MI:

I am married and have one beautiful little girl. But about 6 months ago, my husband's work informed us they would no longer be able to carry health insurance for their workers.

A very common story, having to choose between keeping people employed and paying for health care.

We could have gone on COBRA but it would have cost double what we were paying and we couldn't meet that cost.

Mr. President, as you know, we have worked to lower the cost of COBRA, and we hope to be able to continue that lower cost in legislation that will be coming up shortly. But it is still very expensive.

We are lucky because Michigan has a program for children, so we didn't have to worry about our daughter's coverage. When we went to look for insurance for my husband and me, the prices were steep or we were denied because of my preexisting condition.

That is one of the things we are going to change.

Right now going to the doctor is next to impossible, but to see a specialist is like asking for the Moon. We know that we are highly blessed. My husband has a job. That is more than a lot of people have. We just want affordable health insurance, and we don't mind paying for it. It just doesn't seem like too much to ask, does it?

No, Jennifer, it is not too much to ask, and that is what we are all about. We are all about putting together a plan--and that is what is in front of us--that will lower costs, that will save lives, save Medicare, that will focus on making sure each American has a health care bill of rights, has protections they know will allow them to make sure their health insurance will be available if they pay for it; that they cannot get dropped because of a technicality; that if they have a preexisting condition, they can still find affordable insurance; that there will no longer be lifetime caps on insurance policies; that we will allow our young people to stay on mom's or dad's insurance until age 26.

We have a number of changes we are making for people in the insurance exchange, for policies that take effect after the effective date of this act, and it is about making sure people have affordable insurance and they are getting what they are paying for. That is what this is about.

What happens if we do nothing--if we do nothing; if we wait, wait, wait, like the Republicans are saying? Every single day 14,000 Americans lose their health insurance; 14,000 people got up today with health insurance and they will go to bed without it. That happens every single day.

Insurance rates are going to double in the next few years, by 2016. Business costs are going to double. Increased premiums are going to cost us, it is expected, 3.5 million more jobs. I don't know about any of my colleagues, but we cannot afford to lose any more jobs in Michigan. Health care is directly related to jobs and our international competitiveness.

We know incomes of families will be reduced. We know every 5,000 homes will be foreclosed as a result of a health crisis, and 62 percent of the bankruptcies are as a result of a health care crisis.

Wait, like our Republican colleagues say? No, we cannot wait. The families, the people I talked about and read their stories, they cannot wait. Families cannot wait. Businesses cannot wait. Small businesses that cannot find insurance cannot wait. Large businesses that are finding themselves in difficult situations, considering pulling up shop and going to another country because of lower health care costs cannot wait.

People expect us to solve this problem. They expect us to come together and work together, without all the stalling and the objections and the partisan politics. They expect us to come together and solve what is a huge American problem by bringing down costs and creating access to affordable health care where people know that the insurance company will not be the one that is standing between them and their doctor.

This is about saving lives, saving money, saving Medicare. Mr. President, 45,000 people will lose their lives in the coming year. And 45,000 families will have one less chair or an empty chair at the holiday dinners that are coming up because 45,000 people could not find affordable insurance in this country--Americans, in America.

Saving money--this is about making sure small businesses get the tax cuts they need to help them buy insurance, to make sure that families who are buying through the new insurance pool get the tax cuts they need to afford to buy insurance.

This is about making sure large businesses begin to see costs come down over time because when they are providing insurance already, they are not going to pay the extra costs of folks walking into an emergency room uninsured who are treated and then the costs get rolled over on to everybody with insurance.

We as a country are going to save dollars, save money over time for taxpayers and strengthen Medicare to bring down costs.

And, yes, we are going to save Medicare. We are going to lengthen the Medicare trust fund solvency. We are going to make sure overpayments to for-profit insurance companies are reined in so that the majority of seniors do not see their premiums go up under Medicare to pay for those excess profits.

We are going to make sure we are closing that gap in coverage for prescription drugs that has now been called the doughnut hole, where too many seniors or people with disabilities fall into that hole, cannot afford their medicine, and are not able to get the care they need.

We are going to make sure preventive care does not have an extra cost of a copay or deduction because we know it saves money and saves lives. Under Medicare, we are going to make sure that is there as well.

That is what this is about. It is not about waiting. It is not about all the other stuff we have heard that are scare tactics. This is about tackling and solving a problem for the American people that we cannot afford to wait to do any longer.

Coming from Michigan, I have to say everything I do, everything I care about is about saving jobs. We know in addition, we truly are saving jobs. We are saving jobs for our large employers right now that provide insurance, have been doing the right thing for years but have seen their costs go up 10 percent, 20 percent, 30 percent every year and cannot sustain it anymore. They are cutting health care benefits, raising premiums, or laying people off because they cannot afford it.

We know our small employers under our package will save 25 percent. I believe we are going to be doing even more for small businesses.

We have tax credits to help companies, and, as I indicated before, our plan is going to save 3.5 million jobs that would otherwise be lost because of the increased health care costs that cause employees to be let go or companies to move overseas.

We are talking about saving lives, saving money, saving Medicare. We are talking about saving jobs.

What we are not talking about is waiting. We are not talking about stall tactics or politics. We are way beyond that. I understand there is a big strategy to make sure the President of the United States is not successful. There is a big strategy to make sure we are not successful in the Senate. We have seen more filibusters and more objections than ever before. The vast majority of the days we have been in session--I believe it is 39 weeks now--all but 4 of those we have seen filibusters. It has never been done before--filibusters and objections over and over again.

We are committed to getting beyond that and focusing on the reality of what is happening in people's lives. People are waiting for us to step up and to solve this problem and to give them the ability to have access to affordable health insurance for themselves and their families.

We are not proposing something radical. We are proposing that we fill in the gaps for the folks who do not have insurance today, most of whom are in a small business, most of whom are working maybe one, two, three part-time jobs but they are working and they don't have access to health insurance, or they are self-employed, as the gentleman I talked about, David, in Suttons Bay, maybe a farmer, maybe a realtor, maybe the next Bill Gates in their garage coming up with the next great invention. They don't have access to the same big insurance pool that a big business has to bring down costs.

What we are talking about for those folks who are working or have recently been laid off and cannot find insurance is giving them a way, a competitive way to buy insurance from an insurance pool.

I cannot imagine a more important Christmas present to give to American families than the ability to know going forward that when they lose their job, they are not going to lose their health insurance; that they have an opportunity, a way to get affordable insurance, and that we have come together as a Senate to focus on saving lives, saving money, and saving Medicare.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.


Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, I thank my friend from Rhode Island for the question and for his advocacy and understanding of how we bring down costs and what we should be doing in so many areas for families and for businesses in the country.

I will just say that we have, first of all, attempted to get something done for years. In the last couple of years, reaching out to Republicans in an unprecedented way, our distinguished chairman of the Finance Committee, as everyone knows, went to unparalleled lengths in reaching out and spending months and months putting together a work group of three Democrats and three Republicans to work in good faith to get something done.

We have accepted Republican ideas. I know on the HELP Committee there were many amendments accepted from Republican colleagues. We have continued to reach out and look for ways to work together.

But what we are seeing is a lack of desire to work together and more than just a lack of desire, as the Senator indicated, but simply to attempt to embarrass the President of the United States, to stop him from being successful, and to stop us politically, when the reality is very serious. This is not about a President. We have had 100 years of Presidents trying to do this. This is not a particular Senate. We have had Senates for years that have been trying to do this. This is about when are we going to get beyond all this? When are we going to actually get beyond this and focus on the reality of what is going on in people's lives, what is going on in every small business that is trying to figure out how to pay the bills and hold it together or every manufacturer in my great State that is trying to figure out how they are going to hold it together. At one point, the American people will have every right to say to us: When are you guys going to get beyond this stuff?

The good news is, we have a President who has said now is when we are going to put it behind us and the Senate has said now is the time and we will work in good faith with anyone who wants to work with us. But we will not wait, which is what we are being asked to do--wait until another time, when 45,000 more people will have died next year, when another 5,000 people a day will have lost their homes to foreclosure.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. If we were to wait, does the Senator think there is any likelihood people on the other side would suddenly want to cooperate with President Obama and not hand him a defeat? If Rush Limbaugh would say: OK, Republicans in the Senate, go ahead, work with the Democrats now; don't just be the party of obstruction and delay but try to work cooperatively for the American people, does the Senator think there is any likelihood of that happening?

Ms. STABENOW. I would like to think there would be a likelihood of that happening, but I can't imagine it. Frankly, and I think unfortunately, they view it in their self-interest, whether it is a business decision, as a radio host, or whether it is a decision of the other party. I appreciate the fact that it is hard to lose elections. We have all been in those situations. I appreciate the fact that folks don't want to be in the minority. Most of us have been in that situation. So I appreciate that. But I think all of us were hoping this year, with two wars, with the deficit we have, with the challenge on health care, with the need to create jobs, and with the financial crisis we are in, that somehow it would be different for a while.

I would ask my colleague if he had the same sense of hope coming in; that this year maybe there would be a moratorium on the partisanship; that we could actually come together in the interest of the country and solve problems before going back to the elections. I would ask my friend if he was as surprised as I was that there was not only no stopping after the election but that the same folks who led things during the election are leading them right here on the floor.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. I share the disappointment of the Senator from Michigan; that the promise and the outreached hands have been rejected and rebuffed; that this place has become so bitterly partisan. This is my first time in the Senate with a Democratic President, and I have been surprised at the tone of the debate, at the lack of truth of a great many of the arguments, of the very apparent motivation.

I have spoken to members of our caucus who I think are probably viewed as some of the most moderate when it comes to seeking bipartisanship, who are calm and respected Members of the Senate and who have been here a long time, and I have asked them how this compares to their long years of experience in the Senate. One of them said he has literally never seen anything like it in all the years he has been in the Senate. He has never seen anything like it. They are always on message, he said, but I have never seen them so off truth.

I think it is regrettable, but if your mission is to destroy a strong and important piece of legislation, not because it is bad legislation but because you can't stand having this new President win a political victory, are you going to go out and disclose that is your motivation? No, you are going to come up with a bunch of other cockamamie arguments to paper that over. You will talk about death panels and you will go through all the nonsense we have seen and it is regrettable.

Ms. STABENOW. If I might interject with my friend, I have been handed a note that says, in fact, there have been over 150 amendments offered by Republicans, and so our attempts have been ongoing to reach out.

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. I think those were the Republican amendments that were accepted into the HELP Committee bill. In fact, I think there were 161, if I remember correctly from my time sitting on the committee. We took Republican amendment after Republican amendment after Republican amendment trying to reach out to them.

Ms. STABENOW. So we have over 300 pages of the bill which contain Republican amendments, and that is fine. There is no ownership in the sense of who has the better ideas. In fact, what I find interesting is the insurance exchange we have in the bill for small businesses--which is at the heart of coverage of small businesses and individuals--has been offered by Republicans and Democrats. I believe distinguished former Senator Bob Dole offered some form of an exchange back during the debate when President Clinton was in office.

So we are not trying to claim a corner on ideas. There are many ideas that have been available and talked about for years. It is a matter of having the will, the commitment to actually do the hard work people expect us to do in order to get this done. I think that is what is so important about this time, when the average family is finding themselves unraveling, with not knowing if their job is going to continue to be available or if there will be a cut in wages. They are paying more out of pocket for everything under the Sun and then worrying if the employer is thinking: Well, you can have your job or your health insurance because the employer can't keep both going.

The fact is, we have lost so many middle-class jobs--and I will spend another time talking about the loss of manufacturing jobs in this country. We have lost a lot of our middle class in terms of good-paying jobs. So people are now saying: Wait a minute, just being the party of no, that is not going to be enough. That is not good enough--just saying no for political reasons. That is not enough. We want to know what you are going to say yes to. We want to know how you are going to work together. We want to know how are you going to actually solve a problem.

When someone such as Joe, from Rockford, MI, says he served in the Marines for 4 years and their motto is: ``We take care of our own,'' my question is: When are we going to come together and take care of our own Americans? I don't mean literally taking care of every person but creating opportunity for people, creating the climate for people to have a job, to have health insurance, to send the kids to college, to be able to afford to keep their lights on, and to be able to know that their country is on their side. That is what this is about. They do not want us to wait more, they want us to move quickly--move quickly on health care and jobs and all the other issues that are so important to their families.

So I thank my friend from Rhode Island for joining me, because there is a sense of urgency that people have, and we need to have that sense of urgency to get things done--to work together and to get things done. Frankly, one of the things our colleagues on the other side of the aisle have successfully done is united our caucus in its determination to not let this kind of stalling and objections and tactics, which are slowing things down, stop us from actually solving a huge problem that has gone too long unsolved for the American people.

I thank the Chair.


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