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Public Statements

The Debt

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. STABENOW. It is my great pleasure and honor to be here with my friends and colleagues who have all fought so long and hard to make sure that women's voices and experiences are represented in the decisions we make here in the Senate and in Washington on behalf of all of the families we represent.

I have to say that people in Michigan, my family, friends, everybody across Michigan, are shaking their heads right now trying to figure out what the heck is going on. All of this is a diversion from what we want to be talking about and doing something about; that is, jobs, putting people back to work, making sure people have money in their pockets to be able to pay their bills, and that they can tackle their house that very well may be under water right now, and how they are going to pay for gas with prices going through the roof, and how they are going to be able to take care of their kids and make sure they can have the opportunities to go to college that they want for them. All of the things we all want for our families, that is what families want us to be talking about right now.

I also have to say the people in my State are finding that the dollars they earn right now are hard to come by. These dollars are precious, and we need to be holding every program accountable, we need to get results for every dollar is spent, and make decisions that if something does not work, we need to stop doing it. We need to focus on things that do.

We know the whole deficit discussion is very critical for us, and that we need to be smart about the way we do things. That is not what this debate is about at the moment, certainly not only women's health care. But we understand that we need to be serious about this. Certainly in my role as chairing the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, we take that very seriously, and we will be doing that in the context of our responsibilities moving forward.

But I also know, and the people of Michigan understand more than I think anybody else across the country, that we will never get out of debt with more than 15 million people out of work, which is why we want to focus on jobs. They also know that women of all ages, seniors, middle-class families, did not cause the deficit hole we are in, and they should not be responsible for the sacrifice and burdens on their backs only in order to move us out of deficit.

We certainly are not going to allow a thinly veiled threat to women in general to become part of a debate about how we balance the budget and eliminate the deficit, which is a very real issue. The fact is, in order to get the budget completed for this year, women--women's health care--was held hostage. We were able to separate that, because the women came together in the Senate and said, there is no way we are going to allow this whole debate to become some political debate about whether women should get breast cancer screenings or cervical cancer screenings or blood pressure checks. So we separated that now from the agreement for the rest of the year. I am proud to have stood with women from all over this country to say no, we are not going to let you play politics with the women of this country and our health care. But now we have in front of us two different votes. This was the price we had to pay. And we are willing to stand here and make the case for why people need to vote no. But it is also deeply concerning that we have to be in a situation to debate whether women should get breast cancer screenings and cervical cancer screenings, and whether we should have access to health care as a part of the price to be able to come together on a budget agreement. That is exactly where we are.

The majority of the funds from what is called title IX for preventive care goes to health departments. By the way, I helped be able to support, when I was a county commissioner years ago, the Ingham County Health Department, setting up their preventive care center for women, health care screenings for women.

All across Michigan, 70 percent of the funds under something called title X go to health departments. There is a small amount that goes to Planned Parenthood. That is being very politicized now, because of the other side's wish to politicize women's health care. But in 2009, those centers provided 55,000 cancer screenings. We had almost 4,000 women--3,800 women--who got back an abnormal result on a cancer screening. Because they had a chance to get that screening, they then had the opportunity to do something about it, and lives were saved. Moms are alive today to be able to care for their children, and watch them grow up because they found out they had breast cancer early. Grandmas are alive and well today to be able to play with their grandkids and their great-grandkids because they found out early they had breast cancer or cervical cancer or some other health care challenge. I think we ought to celebrate that as the best of who we are and our values in this country.

The other piece we have in front of us will be to defund health care in general. We know, first of all, that women are health care consumers. Usually in families they are making the decisions about health insurance, if you are able to have health insurance, or how to purchase it or what will be covered and certainly caring about our families. We usually are the last ones to take care of ourselves. I certainly can speak to that myself as maybe other colleagues can, that we tend to make the decisions first for our children, our families, and not take care of ourselves as we should.

But we made a very strong statement, and I think a valued statement, in health care reform, to say that we want to make sure women have access to health care and that they can afford to get it, and that they are not penalized, we are not penalized as women, and that we are not going to have to pay more.

Right now, prior to health care reform, any woman purchasing health insurance on her own was paying more, sometimes up to 50 percent more, or more, for the same health insurance as a man, or even less health insurance, because she was a woman, because she may be of childbearing years, because of whatever the reason.

Women have traditionally paid more for the same insurance. That is no longer the case. Now, for the same coverage, the same medical circumstances, women cannot be discriminated against. That is a good thing. I think that is something we should be proud of that we have been able to do, to make sure insurance companies cannot charge women more just because they are women.

We have also made clear that preventive care is an essential part of basic health care. I will always remember the debate I had as a member of the Finance Committee with a colleague on the other side of the aisle over whether maternity care is a basic part of health insurance and health care.

Of course, I think it is hard for people in Michigan to understand why we would even have to have that debate, because prenatal care, maternity care, certainly is a basic, not just for the women involved but for the baby, for the family. But we stood together and we said, we are going to make sure that maternity care is part of the definition of basic health care.

So there were a number of things that we did together, the women of this Senate, to make sure that over half the population, the women of this country, have access to quality, affordable health care for themselves so they can continue to care for their families and be a very important part of who we are in contributing to America.

We are here because tomorrow the question will be, should women's preventive health care services be allowed to continue as part of our framework in terms of health care funding, both broadly in health care reform, and narrowly under title X and family planning for the country?

We will say no to efforts to defund women's health care.

I hope going forward, as we tackle huge issues for the country around bringing down the debt and balancing the budget and growing the economy and creating jobs and looking to the future, that we will not see, once again, something as important as women's health care put on the chopping block as part of the debate. That is the message all of us have and the message we will be sending tomorrow, that women across the country need to know they are valued, that we want them to be healthy, that we want them to be able to afford health insurance, that we want them to get cancer screenings, that we value their lives. We don't believe folks should continue to play politics with their health care.

I yield the floor.


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