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Public Statements

Tax Extenders Act of 2009--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BURRIS. Madam President, my colleagues and I have spent much of last year debating the issue of health care reform. After nearly a century of false starts and broken promises, Democrats came to Congress determined to enact comprehensive reform. We were confident that this time we would not fall short as our predecessors had done; this time we would deliver the changes the American people have been demanding for so many years. But over the course of the debate an unfortunate pattern emerged, a pattern of obstructionism and delay and scare tactics designed to derail our efforts to make a difference.

My Democratic colleagues and I worked hard under President Obama's leadership to craft sweeping legislation, but our Republican friends were not interested in passing health care reform. They had no desire to take action and no plan of their own. Instead, they found every opportunity to stall, to clog up the Senate, and score political points by attacking those who supported our efforts. They spread misinformation about death panels and higher costs and rationing coverage even though they knew these things were not in our bill. But they kept repeating this bad information and repeating it until it finally started to take hold.

The ordinary folk who heard these distortions had no reason to believe their elected officials would try to misinform them, so they retained this bad information and they did exactly what our Republican friends wanted them to do--they got angry. They held rallies. They called their Senators and Representatives. They regurgitated the talking points that had been written for them by obstructionists and special interests and the insurance lobby.

As a result, our Republican friends succeeded in holding up our health reform bill. By misinforming the American people, they stirred up an opposition that was tailor made to create confusion and gridlock no matter how hard some people tried to explain the truth because the facts are these.

No Democratic health care proposal has ever included a so-called ``death panel.''

None of our legislation would result in rationing of any kind.

And, rather than driving costs up, as my Republican friends have argued, nonpartisan analysis consistently shows that the Senate bill would lower costs significantly.

It would reduce the deficit by more than $130 billion in the first 10 years, and almost $1 trillion in the decades after that.

In addition, our bill would extend health coverage to 31 million Americans.

It would prevent corporations from discriminating against their customers because of pre-existing conditions.

And it would reduce health premiums for individuals and families, to the tune of hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars per year, depending on income level.

From the very beginning of this debate, I have called for a bill that fulfills the three goals of a public option:

A bill that creates competition in the insurance market. A bill that gives us the tools to hold insurance companies accountable. A bill that will provide cost savings to millions of Americans.

I believe our current proposal can accomplish all of these things. This legislation is not perfect, but it represents a major step in the right direction. So I would urge my Republican friends to thoroughly examine the legislation we have introduced. And I would ask that they fulfill the public trust that has been placed in them, by being honest with the American people. By building their arguments on facts, not misinformation, and offering constructive suggestions rather than partisan talking points.

We all agree that our health care system is badly broken. And we owe it to everyone in this country to have a vigorous national debate about how to fix it.

In spite of the obstructionism and the delays that we have seen from the other side over the last year, I remain confident that my colleagues and I can pass a comprehensive health reform bill in the coming weeks. We have come further than any Congress in history. So it is time to finish the job. In light of recent developments, I think it is more likely than ever that our efforts will be successful.

Just last week, President Obama invited a group of Republicans and Democrats to join him for an open conversation about health care reform. Millions of Americans watched on TV as leaders from the House, the Senate, and the executive branch laid out their respective ideas for reform.

Yes, we heard some partisan talking points from a few on the other side. But for the most part, both Republicans and Democrats seemed eager to engage in a real conversation. They challenged each other's ideas. They debunked some of the myths that have taken hold over the past year. In the end, I think we discovered that we share more common ground than many people thought.

So it is time to move forward. President Obama has announced that he is open to four specific Republican ideas that emerged from last week's health care summit. I share the President's support for these proposals, which include eliminating waste and fraud, funding demonstration grants, increasing Medicaid doctor reimbursements, and expanding health savings accounts. I hope that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will give these ideas a hard look, so we can incorporate them into our existing legislation. And I hope that my Republican friends will recognize that, while our current bill is not perfect, it contains a number of things they can strongly support.

So let us end the obstructionism and the delays. Let's stop spreading misinformation, and continue the conversation that emerged from the President's health care summit. And once we have a final bill that incorporates some of these suggestions, let us have an up or down vote.

The American people are tired of hearing excuses. They are tired of watching some members of this chamber manipulate the rules to prevent us from taking action. That is not how this Senate is supposed to work. So, whether my colleagues support or oppose the final legislation, I hope they will have the courage to let it come to a vote, rather than hiding behind the threat of filibuster.

This debate has been going on for a year. And the American people have been calling for comprehensive reform for almost a century. So I think it is high time to move forward together. Let's get this done. Let's do it right. Let's do it now.

I yield the floor and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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