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Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act Of 2009

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

SERVICE MEMBERS HOME OWNERSHIP TAX ACT OF 2009 -- (Senate - December 22, 2009)


Mr. VITTER. Thank you, Mr. President.

Mr. President, since this latest version of comprehensive health care reform was unveiled a few days ago--a 2,733-page bill--I have been looking at it very carefully, particularly, of course, with the Louisiana perspective, and I want to share my strong concerns with that Louisiana perspective with my colleagues today.

Of course, we have all heard this Senate health care reform bill referred to
as the ``Louisiana purchase'' because of the special $300 million provision in it related to our Medicaid match rate.

Quite frankly, I do not much like that nickname for two reasons. First of all, the fact that we in Louisiana have to pay a higher Medicaid match rate under present law because of the hurricanes is a real inequity, which I support fixing. It is a shame the merits of that fix, which are very real, have been completely lost in this debate because of the way this Louisiana fix has been used and abused, quite frankly, in trying to pass this megabill.

But, secondly, I do not like the phrase because it suggests that Louisiana in general would fare very well under the bill overall, and nothing could be further from the truth. This bill overall sells Louisiana short. It sells Louisiana out. In fact, rather than the ``Louisiana purchase,'' I think the bill could be very accurately called the ``Louisiana sellout.''

What are those costs and those serious problems for Louisiana I am talking about?

Let's start with Medicaid, the program for the poor. Let's start with that $300 million fix. It is certainly true that fix is there--a $300 million benefit to the State under our Medicaid Program--but that is not all of the picture. It is not even all of the Medicaid picture because besides that fix, in the bill overall there is a dramatic expansion of Medicaid--a huge expansion--and the Louisiana State government and Louisiana taxpayers have to help pay for that expansion. That extra cost to the State government, to the State taxpayer, is way more than the $300 million benefit.

By very conservative estimates by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, it is at least $1.3 billion over 10 years of full implementation. So, sure, a $300 million benefit but, at least, minimum, a $1.3 billion cost--extra cost--to the State.

Now, three things are important about these figures. One is obvious: $300 million is a whole lot less than $1.3 billion. But, secondly, this $1.3 billion over 10 years of full implementation is a very conservative estimate from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. And, No. 3, while this money, the $300 million, is one time, this other goes on forever. This $1.3 billion is the first decade cost, but it goes on forever from there; and every 10 years, this grows and is repeated.

So what does that mean? That means in the first 10 years of full implementation, the net impact on the State is very negative, at least $1 billion, and it goes on from there.

I am very concerned about a lot of other groups in Louisiana, not just the State government and State budget. I am particularly concerned about Louisiana seniors. Of course, Louisiana seniors, like seniors everywhere, depend on Medicare. They have paid into it their whole lives. This bill--it is a simple fact; it is confirmed by the Congressional Budget Office, nonpartisan--this bill cuts Medicare $466 billion. Medicare now is already facing insolvency by 2017. So instead of fixing that in a real way, the bill steals almost $ 1/2 trillion from Medicare and uses it not within Medicare but to help pay for a brand-new entitlement.

Mr. BAUCUS. Mr. President, will the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. VITTER. I will not at this time. I will be happy to yield after my presentation.

That means real cuts in terms of hospitals, home and hospice, nursing homes, and Medicare Advantage. There are over 151,000 Louisiana seniors on Medicare Advantage. They are going to be particularly hard hit. They like that choice now. They will not have that choice as it exists now under this bill.

How about Louisiana taxpayers? I am also very concerned about Louisiana taxpayers. Again, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the bill contains $518 billion of tax increases nationwide--over $ 1/2 trillion of tax increases. As for that oft repeated promise that no one who earns under $200,000 will be affected, well, again, think again. The Joint Committee on Taxation--nonpartisan--has said 42.1 million Americans earning below $200,000 will get a tax increase over the next several years--42.1 million. That means hundreds of thousands of Louisiana taxpayers will be hit, will get a tax increase--I am talking about folks who earn well below $200,000--will also pay more in the form of higher insurance premiums because, again, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said this bill increases overall health care costs. It does not decrease those costs.

Well, what about Louisiana small businesses? Surely, this bill protects them in the midst of this serious recession. Well, not exactly. The biggest impact on businesses is a brandnew mandate in the bill. Most businesses have to either provide a government-defined health insurance benefit or they have to pay a new tax to the government. NFIB, the National Federation of Small Business, says that is going to cost the Nation 1.6 million jobs. Translated to Louisiana, that is tens of thousands of additional lost jobs on top of our current high unemployment. Again, we are in the middle of a serious recession. This will cost us jobs on top of that.

There is also another big problem, which is an incentive for businesses to drop coverage. I mentioned that brandnew mandate: Either you provide a government-defined health benefit or you pay a new tax to the Federal Government. The other problem with that is, for a lot of business, it is going to be cheaper to drop coverage and pay the new tax. So many employees who have coverage now that they are reasonably satisfied with are going to lose it, and that is a big concern as well.

Just for good measure, the bill forces pro-life taxpayers to, in many very meaningful ways, subsidize abortion. Louisiana is one of the most proudly pro-life States in the Nation, so that is particularly offensive. Everyone who cares about life, who has followed this issue, whether it is the Catholic Bishops, National Right to Life, and other organizations have said, clearly, the language in this bill doesn't protect against taxpayer-funded abortion. The language in this bill does not honor the Hyde amendment, which has been Federal law since 1977. The language in this bill crosses an important line, does not offer the conscience protections we have depended on for years. So this sets radical new precedent in terms of taxpayer and Federal Government support of abortion. That is a big Louisiana concern as well.

So what do we have? We have a 2,733-page bill, mega health care reform, with all these very serious problems for Louisiana and important Louisiana groups and important Louisiana citizens, including seniors, small business, taxpayers, and the State budget, which is already facing serious cuts and challenges.

If we want to put Louisiana first considering all these costs, we have to say no to this bill. If we want to put America first considering all these unsustainable costs, we have to say no to this bill. But we can and we should say yes to the right kind of health care reform. This isn't a debate about yes or no, health care reform or not; this is a debate about what the right kind of health care reform is.

To me, we need to start over with that right kind of reform. To me, that would mean something such as starting by passing five bills. Each one doesn't need to be longer than 25 pages. Each one would be focused like a laser beam on a real problem that affects real Louisianans, real Americans, offering a real, concrete, focused solution. My five bills would be this: Cover preexisting conditions. That is a real problem in Louisiana. That is a real problem in America. Let's have a focused bill that does that.

Secondly, allow buying insurance across State lines. That would dramatically expand competition in the marketplace. That would lower premiums. That would give all folks wanting health insurance dramatically decreased costs than they have now.

Third: Let's do something real about prescription drug prices. Let's not sell out to PhRMA and cut a special deal with the pharmaceutical industry, as the White House has. Let's pass reimportation and pass real generics reform.

Fourth: Let's pass tort reform and take all that unnecessary cost out of the system. That doesn't provide better health care for anyone. It doesn't do anything positive for anyone except wealthy trial lawyers. Let's pass tort reform.

And fifth: Let's allow small business to pool across State lines to form larger pools of insurance across State lines and gain from that extra buying power. Why shouldn't a restaurant in Baton Rouge that may only have seven or eight people to cover in health insurance, why shouldn't they be able to pool through the National Restaurant Association, create a pool of millions nationwide and enjoy the same buying power Apple Computers or Toyota has and get the same benefit in the insurance marketplace through that increased buying power and increased competition?

So I urge all my colleagues to put their State first and vote no, to put our Nation first and vote no, and to start anew with the right sort of focused reform as I have outlined.

I thank the Chair. I yield the floor.


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