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Public Statements

American Jobs and Health Care

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. TONKO. Absolutely. We didn't hear too much about what would be lost in their cuts or repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Representative Garamendi, you are absolutely right, there is much that has been gained by the American population, health consumers across this Nation, with the efforts of the Affordable Care Act, to close the doughnut hole, to make prescription drugs more affordable for our pharmaceutical consumers out there, for seniors who require this medication, their prescription drugs to stay well or to stay alive. Far too many were balancing their household budget by reducing their intake of prescriptions advised by their medical community. That is immoral. It's unnecessary and has been addressed by the Affordable Care Act. So 5.3 million seniors today are drawing $3.7 billion in benefits. That is something that could be taken away if the Republican majority in the House of Representatives had its way.

Now, this is a wellness aspect. This is part of a formula that allows people to be cured, to be healed, to be allowed to live with a quality of life that then addresses their very needs. And so I think it's necessary to point out what would be taken away from the benefits already offered, and there are more to come. But as we know, they're staged. They are rolled into the operations of reform over the next several years. But suffice it to say, the screenings, the annual checkup, flu shots that are made available without cost, no copayment, no coinsurance, no deductible is required here. These are huge benefits to every age demographic that are offered through the Affordable Care Act.

And so we heard about adding to the cost curve of health care. We have heard about repealing the Affordable Care Act. We have heard about taking away the benefits that have just recently arrived at the door steps of health consumers across this great Nation. And why would you want to play politics with the very fabric of quality of life of the people that we represent collectively by undoing progress? This is a recurring theme. They want to undo Social Security that has a 76-year-old history. They want to voucher out Medicare that came to us in the mid-1960s that addressed the economic stability, the predictability of senior households and the quality of life in those households. Why would you want to take that progress away?

It is heart wrenching to listen to some of this insensitive, callous dialogue on the House floor that really renders the public that we are here to serve without benefits that have just recently arrived through the success of the Affordable Care Act.

Representative Garamendi, it is something that I think needs to be echoed out there from this House floor and shared with the constituents of this great Nation in a way that allows them to better understand what is part and parcel of the Affordable Care Act, a monumental piece of success. Is it perfect? No. We aimed for perfection, we struck with progress. But there is many, many a benefit that is part of the Affordable Care Act, and we are witnessing an all-out attempt by the Republican majority to turn that success into failure.


Mr. TONKO. Thank you, Representative Garamendi.

One of the things you talked about with the influence or the focus on women's health care reminds me of the preexisting conditions that are precluded now as a rationale for denying insurance. And ``preexisting'' might mean, in youth, asthma; in our senior population, emphysema or cancer recovery or cancer struggle.

But it can also mean in a gender-related bias--being a woman. That is used as a preexisting condition. Being a woman is a preexisting condition. So the benefits to women, as you outlined in the direct services, the screenings, the mammograms and the like, are a portion. The other portion is just being born a woman can deny you insurance.

So, when you talk about the 30 cents on the dollar that the voucher would carry for the Medicare recipient, and
they're asked to go shop, this is saying that compared to today's standards, it's the senior digging much deeper into her pocket. It's the senior digging into another pocket to be able to afford his Medicare voucher portion. And that's unacceptable. That is playing to a special interest.

That's what I believe the espoused virtue of this deny, this repeal, is about. It's about playing to special interests that don't want to be told that there's a transition here, that there's a new day in America for health care consumers, and that the heart has been poured into this to be more sensitive, to address a moral compass that this Nation has always uniquely embraced, that we are a compassionate society, that we are going to make a difference out there, and that we are solutions bound.

That's what the Affordable Care Act was about: presenting a new approach to health care, providing more freedom and opportunity to our seniors and to our children.

If you're 26 and under, you can stay on your parents' policy. These are the formulae for success that allow us to go forward with much more dignity, much more success, cost containment, affordability, and accessibility. These are the dynamics of reform.

Why would you repeal something here other than to respond to special interests?


Mr. TONKO. Well, if I might ask the gentleman from California if he would yield.

I believe there's a whole lot of political posturing going on with the Medicaid decision by States. We are hearing a lot of talk about, well, we are not going to pay for that portion because, while it may be 100 percent in the near future, it may go to 90 percent into the long-distance future, and they don't want to pay anything for the new installments of the Medicaid plan.

Well, today we are paying. It's not like it's against an absolute that costs nothing. If you have the poor uninsured, underinsured in any given State, there's indigent care. There is bad debt and charity that is addressed in ratepayer dollars for insurance coverage's sake because that is going to be incorporated into the overall actuarial plan, or you're paying it through taxpayer dollars and for a much more inefficient system.

To have the poor, uninsured, and underinsured go to emergency rooms visiting a different doctor team every time they visit that emergency room, or perhaps a different emergency room, to not provide the stable, standardized care, acceptable notions of how to provide a predictable outcome, you're going to pay needlessly and wastefully. This is about networking people to a system that provides a stability, a standard that will enable them to have a clinic, have a contract that will cover them and make certain that all of us are strengthened by it.

And guess what. The business community, we talk about competitiveness. We talk about a sharp competitive edge for America's business communities as they enter into the international sweepstakes on winning contracts. That translates into providing jobs and profitability for our business community. Well, part of their cost of doing business is to have health care for their workers. Many want the health care coverage for their workers but simply cannot afford it.

So the exchange opportunities that are part of the package of the Affordable Care Act enables them to cut their cost. It's taking their experience, their actuarial experience of 10, 15, 20 workers in that small business and putting them in a pool of millions of workers.

That enables them to shave the peaks and enables them to take those catastrophic situations. One person in their plan of 10 impacted by catastrophic situations can cause their premiums as a company and the copayments of their workers to skyrocket. But if they're enabled to join this pooled effort, it provides for a better outcome for everybody.

So there is wisdom and thoughtfulness poured into the reform elements of the Affordable Care Act. And it's done again with that American heart, that spirit, that sense of compassion for the worker, the sensitivity toward the employer, and putting together a package that has everyone responded to in a way that speaks to a long-overdue bit of success. The last industrialized nation, Representative Garamendi, to go toward a guaranteed health plan.

So, long overdue. And now to taste success and have it pulled away from the American health care consumers of this great Nation is a very troubling notion.


Mr. TONKO. My colleague from California just indicated that there would be a favorable deficit outcome because of the Affordable Care Act.


Mr. TONKO. Well, what else reduces the deficit? Putting people to work. Putting people to work, the American Jobs Act. Plain and simple: It's about addressing the deficit and providing for the dignity of work and the enhancement of services that strengthens the fabric of our communities, our States, our Nation. So, the American Jobs Act, according to experts, is a phenomenal plan.

We've heard the Republicans say we have some 30 bills that are about growing the economy and producing jobs when, in fact, when put under the test, when reviewed by some very sound organizations out there and professional economists and analysts, they said it would do precious nothing. That it was not the formula. It's not what the doctor called for, if we can stay on that health-care related theme. But the American Jobs Act, well, listen to some of the experts.

The chief economist at Moody's Analytics--who, by the way, Mark Zandi, was the former economic advisor for Senator John McCain--what does he theorize? That anywhere from 1.9 million to 2 million jobs would be the outcome of the American Jobs Act, something that not only produces the jobs, but would reduce the unemployment rate by at least 1 percentage point. That's a major significant factor.

What also happens is that, when you produce those 2 million jobs, you're addressing the GDP by at least 2 percentage points. Growth in the GDP, reduction in the unemployment, reducing the deficit, putting people to work, strengthening the economy, providing purchasing power at a time when businesses are saying the best thing you can do: Get us customers. A healthy economy, putting people into the work mode creates customers. It creates purchasing power. It creates a strength in the economy. Two million jobs.

How can we walk away from a proposal? Oh, I know why: Because there were those who spoke before cameras reaching all of America saying anything this President offers, we won't do; our goal is to make him a one-term President. My friends, that is putting partisan politics--petty, partisan politics ahead of the interests, the better interests of the American public.

Where is that American spirit? Where is that sense of patriotism? Where is that sense of responsibility, of leadership in this House and in the U.S. Senate that needs to go forward with the American Jobs Act?

Representative Garamendi, I know we've been joined by another colleague. It is just great to share this hour with you to talk about the progress we can taste that would lift every community in this great Nation.


Mr. TONKO. Yes, they are both significant bits of legislation, so it's good to interlace the American Jobs Act and the Affordable Care Act.

To the 280,000 teachers, I think it's very easy to state that the human infrastructure in our school systems across this Nation are a critical component to quality education, that personal relationship of students to teacher, the exercise of self-discovery--who am I, what are my gifts, what are my talents, what are my passions. That is exercised in the classroom. That is a spirit that prevails. It's a magic that happens in the classroom and that sense of self-discovery.

Part of our goal here is not only to enable these students to understand who they are, to draw forth the soul of the individual; it's to provide the opportunity for our workforce of the future.

That fourth-grader, hypothetically, that was impacted by class size or the lack of a teacher for certain subject areas, that's something that child will never gain again. What you lose in that given year is lost throughout the development. And it is important for us to make certain that every bit of opportunity, every bit of learning experience is granted our children so that they understand where they can best contribute to society, where their gifts can be utilized.

And it's part of that development of the workforce of the future, the workforce of the present, training, retraining dollars, that are part of the American Jobs Act, absolutely a critical piece of the infrastructure.

And the tens of thousands--this chart will say retain thousands of police officers and firefighters. We know it's tens of thousands across this Nation. An element of public safety, a quality-of-life component, making certain that our core communities have the given workforce of firefighters, of police officers that will enable us to respond to public safety measures.

These are a core bit of principle, along with veterans that would be hired with benefits that are significant. That element was done under pressure, under scrutiny, under growing public sentiment. But think of what could happen if we did all of these and did even additional services with our veterans who are returning home and are in need of employment.

These are the factors, these are the dynamics that are introduced through AJA, the American Jobs Act, that would allow for the deficit to be addressed and at the same time to have services responded to, essential services.

We've talked about the belt-tightening, addressing waste and inefficiency and outmoded programs and fraud. And after we capture those savings from that exercise, it's important, I believe, to slide that into an investment zone so that the result is cut where you can, so as to invest where we must.

The investment, absolutely critical. The investment in jobs, the investment in teachers, firefighters, public safety elements, our police officers, our veterans community, and items like an infrastructure bank bill, an infrastructure that we'll talk about in the remaining minutes of this Special Order.


Mr. TONKO. I think it's interesting too because we're talking about the jobs created that impact the unemployment rate, that impact the reduction of the deficit.

In contrast, the Ryan budget, which we've talked about many times, the Republican plan for this House, that's been adopted by Republicans that are in leadership and running for President, would, in contrast, according to the Economic Policy Institute, the cuts in services would result in a reduction of 1.3 million jobs in the first year and 2.8 million jobs in the second year.

Mr. GARAMENDI. Excuse me, 4.1 million jobs total.

Mr. TONKO. So when you contrast that, that cut in jobs, the cuts that would be part of the Republican budget plan, adopted by this House, would grow the deficit because if we're arguing that employment reduces the deficit, unemployment, in contrast to the American Jobs Act, would drive up the deficit. It's going back to the failed policies of the past.

We've fought two wars that were never put on budget. We offered trillions in tax cuts that we couldn't afford, and we avoided talking about paying for the war. Did we think there wasn't going to be a crash?

Did we think that that behavior wouldn't come with a price?

Of course it had to extract a price from the American society, and it was the loss of 8.2 million jobs; it was the loss of as many as 800,000 jobs a month. It was about bringing America's economy to its knees and draining trillions of dollars from households that trusted that their investment with the private sector, with the financial industry was going to return them lucrative dividends.

We saw the failure of those policies. Why would we go back down that road, which seems to be what the Republican plan, the Republican budget, is all about?


Mr. TONKO. Earlier, I think you had made mention of modernizing our schools and that part of the American Jobs Act includes the investment in the revitalizing of our schools, some 35,000 schools across this Nation. The statistics are there. People document, historically, what investments in refurbishing our schools have meant. For every $1 billion of investment, we can grow some 9,000 to 10,000 jobs. That's the start of the story. So what we have here, the modernization of schools, would create some 250,000 jobs. As I said, that's just the start of the story.

What happens after that?

Maintenance costs and operating costs are reduced because you might have energy efficiency embraced in that restructuring. You'll have better, more efficient weather-type situations, more comfortable situations for students in which to learn, which is important.


Mr. TONKO. They're typical danger zones with ceilings falling and poorly upheld infrastructure.

The jobs--the absolute jobs of a 250,000 count--would benefit, again, the economy. These operating costs are reduced, and they theorize that it could be in the neighborhood of $100,000 a year. Now, think of what you can do locally with that. That might mean two teachers, or it might mean 200 more computers, or it might mean 5,000 textbooks. It's a way to invest by balancing those savings with the investment in children--in our future and our present--because our children represent our future and our present. It is a respect toward our children.

These are, I think, in keeping with the old American spirit--the pioneer spirit--to enable us to dream bold dreams and to encourage our youngsters to pursue these career paths and to develop, again, the workforce of the new millennium, in which we are going to be asked to compete in a global marketplace where there are investments going on around the world. Now is not the time to cut our commitment to our children and to our society and our competitiveness as a business community. So it all comes together in a very structured sense, in a very comprehensive plan.


Mr. TONKO. A couple of things come to mind legislatively.

What about investing, as the AJA does, in community colleges--the campus of choice across this Nation? The associate degree is a very important, valuable bit of material to have in one's hand. We are going to rely heavily on those associate degrees, and community colleges need our assistance. They are also there as the operational center of training and retraining programs.

What about investments in technology? investments in research? investments in alternative energy supplies that give us an opportunity to grow independent?


Mr. TONKO. Absolutely.

I was energy chair at the State assembly for the last 15 of my 25 years in the legislature, but then went over as president and CEO with NYSERDA, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. We made it our goal to advance research, to make certain that we would incubate these ideas--these innovations, the cutting-edge technology--that translate into jobs. Research equals jobs.

I have advanced legislation that would slide subsidies that are given to the historically profit-rich in the tenure of capitalism--our goal here is to not feed the profit margin of our oil companies--over to cutting-edge technology, renewables, providing for consumer behavioral transitioning that enables us to grow American independence in the energy generation business.

Why are we sending tens and hundreds of billions of dollars over to unfriendly nations to the United States for our dependency on fossil-based fuels when, in fact, we can encourage renewables here and energy efficiency, utilizing that as our fuel of choice to make certain that we reduce demand that then reduces bills that then allows the competitiveness of our businesses to be all the sharper? Those are the sorts of things in which we want to invest, and it's the going forward from that point.

How about our infrastructure bank bill that would leverage public and private monies and that would stretch our opportunities to respond to that deficient infrastructure of which you spoke? These are important measures. This is the sort of cutting-edge opportunity--the investment, the pioneer spirit again.

We can learn from our American story. There have been those golden moments when we have hit bottom. There were those golden moments when we were tremendously challenged and when we rose to the occasion in tough times, primarily tough times, by responding with a tough agenda that said, look, true grit here will get us to the finish line--and it happened. It happened with Medicare. It happened with the Erie Canal, of which we often speak.

Mr. GARAMENDI. Social Security.

Mr. TONKO. Again, Social Security. You're absolutely right.

The President lifted this Nation, and he made certain that all families would have at least a foundation upon which they could grow, upon which they could live in this society. It addressed the dignity factor, which has made us unique as an American society: caring about our fellow man, caring about the men and women of this great Nation in a way that created an American society, a sense of community--we the people--talking of us in a community sense, a neighborliness, neighborhoods and societies speaking in a compassionate way, caring about one another. That's when we're at our best.


Mr. TONKO. Yes, we're down to our last 4 minutes.

I always find these discussions to be interesting because there's all this rhetoric out there about 30 bills that have been advanced by the majority in the House and that it's the salvation that's going to produce jobs and get America working again.

Major analysts have reviewed that legislative agenda and said it doesn't do what they contend it will do. It doesn't produce the results. We would love that to be the case, but it doesn't produce the result. They said that we are really in need of legislation that will advance jobs.

Tonight, this discussion about providing the tools, putting additional tools into the kit that makes American industry competitive, speaks to our humble beginnings. So many people travel to these shores. Their journey was about the dream, a noble dream, an American Dream that they were going to make it here. That was our humble beginning, and we enabled people to experience the rags-to-riches scenario. We allowed for generations to continue to grow and prosper and build upon the success that preceded them.

Today, sadly, our middle class is weakening household income-wise. The next generation may be the first to go backward. The President is trying to move us forward, with great resistance in this House to reject progressive policies.

We say: Let's build upon the success of the past. Let's reach to those shining moments when we were challenged as a nation and produce the best outcomes. That can happen again here if we open up to what's best for America and not resort to petty partisan politics that want to deny a Presidency, that want to deny opposition that comes forward with constructive qualities to do it in a better way, to build the consensus.

We need to move forward on behalf of the nobleness of the American Dream. With heart and soul poured into the efforts here in this House, we can achieve and grow that middle class, purchasing power enhanced for the middle class, opportunities for our middle class. A strong middle class means a strong America. Let's go forward.

Representative Garamendi, thank you for leading us in this hour.


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