Search Form
First, enter a politician or zip code
Now, choose a category

Public Statements

Tax Extenders Act Of 2009

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, as we all know, yesterday the President issued a letter that said he was agreeing on ``four policy priorities identified by Republican Members at the meeting'' that we had. And he said, ``I am exploring. I said throughout this process,'' I quote from the President's letter, ``that I'd continue to draw on the best ideas from both parties, and I'm open to these proposals in that spirit.''

So he mentioned several of them. In it, he talks about the four areas he would be considering: One by Senator Coburn, a proposal; another one that a number of people had discussed concerning demonstration projects through Health and Human Services for resolving medical malpractice disputes; one on Medicaid reimbursements; and then expanded health savings accounts.

He said: ``That's why my proposal does not include the Medicare Advantage provision, mentioned by Senator McCain at the meeting, which provided transitional extra benefits for Florida and other States. My proposal eliminates those payments, gradually reducing Medicare Advantage payments across the country relative to fee-for-service Medicare,'' et cetera.

Then he says, ``In addition, my proposal eliminates the Florida FMAP provision, replacing it with additional federal financing'' in all States.

Of course, this raises, I think, first of all, the legitimate question: How did this stuff get in there to start with? How did it take weeks of examining a 2,400-page bill? What about the other sweetheart deals that were included behind closed doors in this 2,400-page legislation? What about the deal for Vermont, a 2.2-percent Medicaid bonus for 6 years for their Medicaid Program? What about the Massachusetts deal, a .5-percent Medicaid bonus for 3 years? Hawaii? It adds money for Hawaii hospitals. Hospitals in Michigan and Connecticut have the option to benefit from higher payments; Connecticut, $100 million for a university hospital. The Senate beneficiary of this provision was not originally known. Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming had increased Medicare payments for those States.

What is unique about those States? Libby, MT, Medicare coverage for individuals exposed to environmental health hazards, asbestos mining. That may be a worthy cause, but shouldn't it be the subject of an authorization and debate and appropriations?

Then, of course, we had the special deals that were cut with the special interests, not just PhRMA. The White House negotiators--the White House negotiators not congressional negotiators--extracted an $80 billion deal to gain more offsets from the drug industry, and their $2-million-a-year lobbyists confirmed the deal in news reports. In exchange for PhRMA supporting the Democratic Senate bill, PhRMA spent $150 million in advertising support. And to further lock in the deal, the White House and Senate Democrats agreed to oppose drug reimportation and a shorter pathway for generic biologics.

To sum all this up, there is no better description of it than what is by the majority leader of the Senate, who, on Christmas Eve, when these deals became known as we examined the 2,400 pages, Senator Reid, the majority leader, said--this, I think, encapsules, summarizes the entire process they went through:

A number of States are treated differently from other States. That's what legislation is all about. That's compromise.

I want to repeat that. I want to repeat that quote from Senator Reid.

A number of States are treated differently from other States. That's what legislation is all about. That's compromise.

That is not compromise. That is not the word. ``Compromise'' is an agreement between two parties on both sides of the aisle who reach an agreement. This is backroom wheeler dealing, special interest influence, and vote buying. That is what this was. Why would a State be treated differently from another State? Why would we have disparate impact on different States?

One of the reasons I have focused a lot of my attention on the 800,000-person carve-out in the State of Florida, as the President has said that would be changed, is because there are 330,000 Medicare Advantage enrollees in my State. Why should it ever happen that the residents of one State who are in the same program, the exact same Federal program, have different advantages over another State?

I am pleased the President's letter concerning the issue of the 800,000 people in Florida who will receive different coverage, that that would be fixed. But I also point out, as I just chronicled, that is one of many proposals, many sweetheart deals, many backroom deals. It has to be put in the context of the fact that the President of the United States promised the American people that we would change the climate in Washington. Eight times the President of the United States said all of these negotiations on health care reform will take place with C-SPAN cameras in the room.

My understanding of the process now is that there is going to be a vote in the House on the Senate bill and then there will be a reconciliation of 51 votes, which, of course, is offensive to the American people. But I assume, then, the Senate bill as passed will have all of these provisions in it that are these secret, backroom, unsavory deals that were made.

So let me just say it is disappointing, the contrast of the President's statement, when we have learned that last week's health care summit was not really a true effort. In other words, the summit at the Blair House did not reflect what the overwhelming majority of the American people are demanding; that is, we start over and we stop what has been done.

One of the reasons they want it stopped is because they have become aware of these special deals for special interests and vote purchasing. That is what they have become aware of. So that is one of the major reasons they want us to start over.

At the townhall meetings I have, people are as upset about the process we went through as they are the actual legislative outcome, although they are very unhappy about that.

Let me just say I know a bit about working in a bipartisan fashion. I know people want us to get things done together. I know the approval ratings of Congress are extremely low, and there is a great disconnect between the people of this country and what we are doing in Washington, and they want us to work together, adhering to principle and addressing the enormous challenges that face them. But that means starting over.

We did identify areas on which we could agree. We did identify the fact that there are some areas. But unless we start over, then how in the world can we put lipstick on a pig? It is still a pig. It is still a bad and unsavory process that we went through in order to reach the legislative package we have now.

What we really need to do is start over and then we can get rid of all of these. We can get rid of the ``Louisiana purchase,'' and Vermont and Massachusetts and Hawaii and Michigan, Connecticut--Connecticut twice, one $100 million for a hospital and then higher payments--Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming. We can get rid of all of these if we start over.

I point out, finally, because we are going to be talking a lot about this--and I know other colleagues of mine are waiting to speak--I just point out again this whole issue of reconciliation. A lot of Americans had never heard that word before, certainly not in this context before this came up. But the word ``reconciliation'' means we would reconcile differences on small issues between the two bodies. It was the product of Senator Robert Byrd, who has said unequivocally that health care--that Medicare and health care should not be included in this process. It was Senator Robert Byrd who specifically exempted Social Security from being a part of reconciliation. He said, and I quote from Senator Robert Byrd:

I was one of the authors of the legislation that created the budget reconciliation process in 1974 and I am certain that putting health care reform and climate change legislation on a freight train through Congress is an outrage that must be resisted.

That was the author. Of course, all during the time when the other side of the aisle was in the minority they complained bitterly, and I think with some justification, that reconciliation was used as a means of getting legislation through this body, bypassing the 60-vote requirement.

I would like to point out--and it may be a bit self-serving, but I would like to point out that when the so-called nuclear option was up, we would move to a process that only 51 votes would be required in order to confirm judges in this body, I and 13 others joined in a bipartisan fashion, and we said no. We will have circumstances that will attend our votes on confirmation and, for the good of the body, we preserved the 60-vote majority rule that has been the custom in this institution of the Senate in modern times.

The American people are watching very carefully what we are doing. There may be some belief that a lot of Americans are not appreciating what apparently is the plan, and that is to move serious legislation through the Senate with a 51-vote majority, legislation that would affect one-sixth of our gross national product.

I urge my colleagues, as I did when we were considering the ``nuclear option on judges,'' that this nuclear option also be rejected and go back to the 60 votes and maintain the 60-vote majority requirement that basically governs our proceedings in the Senate.

Let's start over. Let's listen to Warren Buffett, a strong supporter of the President of the United States. He noted that this legislation includes nonsense, backroom deals for special interests.

He said:

Democrats should cut off all the kinds of things like the 800,000 special people in Florida or the Corn Husker kickback, as they called it, or the Louisiana Purchase, and we are going to get rid of the nonsense. We are just going to focus on costs and we are not going to dream up 2,000 pages of other things.

I hope we will heed the words of Warren Buffet, which basically is that he and the American people want us to start over. They certainly do not want to have legislation enacted by a bare majority. Again, I would remind my colleagues of history. Every major reform that has been enacted by this body, whether it be the Civil Rights Act, whether it be Medicare, whether it be other major reform, it has always been done with overwhelming bipartisan support.

It is not too late. Let's go back to the beginning. Let's start over. We have identified areas we can work together on and certainly reject this idea of 51 votes governing the way this body functions. I think it poses great danger to the future of this institution that all of us who have the privilege of serving here love as well.

I yield the floor.


Skip to top

Help us stay free for all your Fellow Americans

Just $5 from everyone reading this would do it.

Back to top