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Public Statements

Repealing Affordable Care Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. TONKO. Madam Speaker, for a great number of hours today in this Chamber, there has been a great debate on whether or not to repeal the Affordable Care Act when we know fully that the chances are slim to move forward and the measure would not be signed into law. Is it political posturing? I believe it is, of a grand style.

There's a pattern being established here. There's been an attack--outright attack--on Social Security, attempts to privatize the system. It's been under attack for the last 76 years. It's been the underpinning that provides stability for working families across this great Nation. It has been a security piece that has enabled many to have at least assurances that there would be some support in family budgets as they move month to month. We know that that measure, Social Security, has been dealing with its enemies for a long time--since before it was made a law.

Likewise, Medicare, which came to us in the mid-sixties, enabled our senior community to have its health care needs met, provided predictability and stability for retired households, enabled people to enjoy a quality of life, a better quality of health care. We know that before Medicare, many of those who had retired expected to see their economic security dip south because of the expected cost of providing health care when they, perhaps, could not get that coverage in an insurance context.

So Medicare, as we know it today, would be undone by the Republican majority in this House. They would prefer to privatize Social Security, allow us to reach to the financial sector to, perhaps, see a repeat of what happened to so many individuals and families out there with this past recession, where they saw their lifetime savings wiped away, trillions lost in the American economy, pain and suffering endured by families across this land. They'd rather see a voucher system for Medicare, handing it over to the insurance companies, to leave seniors digging deeper into their pockets.

So the pattern has been established here, and now a repeal of the Affordable Care Act before its full implementation, before given a chance as we arrive as the last industrialized Nation in the world to provide a universal health care coverage program. Unacceptable. Progress is struck. A decision is rendered by the highest court in the land, a conservative-leaning Court. Before the ink is dry on that decision, a move to repeal. The Court spoke. It has spoken to America and said the litmus test for constitutionality was debated and a decision rendered that said, yes, in fact, it meets the constitutionality test.

And so this evening, on the eve of the attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act as it stands, is a very telling moment. It is one that suggests to us that there is this outright attempt to undo programs that serve our middle class so very well. And without a thriving middle class, our Nation is not prosperous. Without that thriving middle class, there's not purchasing power strong enough to provide the recovery of our economy. Without a strengthening of our middle class, there is not a confidence in the economy, a confidence that is needed so as to grow more customers for our business base.

And so the Affordable Care Act is offering promise and hope to millions, tens of millions, of Americans across this land. Whether you're insured, underinsured, uninsured, all categories will see strengthening because of this measure.

Think of it. I represent a large proportion of senior citizens who are concerned about their pharmaceutical costs. Many dealing with that doughnut hole have reached that threshold that requires them to dig into their pockets. We close that doughnut hole. We make more affordable the prescriptions that are required for people to stay well and, in some cases, to have the medications that keep them alive. We deny that opportunity to our Nation's seniors.

We deny the respect that we offer. We deny the dignity in the equation that speaks to affordable outcomes for the pharmaceuticals that our senior community requires. That doughnut hole would have been closed by 2020.

Further, at the other end of the age spectrum, many young adults, finding it difficult in this recession--and now the recovery period--to gain a job as they perhaps leave high school or college, are given the opportunity with the Affordable Care Act to remain on their family's policy until the age of 26. Therein lies a strong benefit for some 6.6 million young adults, denied with the repeal measure, denying access and affordability to health care situations. How many cases of young adults impacted by catastrophic illness or accidents will it require to turn the hearts and the minds in a positive direction, that would not forego this opportunity for our Nation's young adults? A strong benefit associated with this package.

What about those who have a preexisting condition? Some 17 million children in that category. And that's not to account for the many adults who would be denied because of preexisting conditions. Asthma in children, diabetes in our senior community, being a woman, utilized as a preexisting condition, an opportunity to deny coverage and the basic core need that we should consider to be truly American. Another benefit lost to the greedy notion of repealing success that was achieved in this House and the United States Senate and signed into law by this President.

What about the efforts to deny lifetime benefits as a threshold? Cutting people off of an insurance coverage at perhaps a very demanding time in their lives. Games played with people and their lives and their recovery; hope pulled from working families across this Nation because of an insensitivity of this Congress. A deplorable situation.

Assistance to our small business community. Now, if we profess our small business community to be the economic engine that is part and parcel of our economic comeback, our economic springboard, then would we not want to provide assistance in that basic core need area? Would we not want to allow tax credits to come the way of our small business community? Many, a majority of those businesses will remind all of us as Representatives that they want to provide for their employees.

They want a productive workforce. That means a strong and well workforce. And so they see it as a strong investment; one, however, that they could not afford in recent years because of the escalating costs, 18 percent larger bill than industry and perhaps weaker coverage.

They wanted that turned around. They wanted a smart approach, a businesslike approach, a sensitive response. They got it with the Affordable Care Act.

Progress denied, the small business engine weakened by this sort of neglect that could be advanced in this cited pattern of undoing Social Security, privatizing Social Security, changing Medicare as we know it forever, now repealing the Affordable Care Act. We see the pattern. We see the gross neglect, the disrespect for America's middle class, her working families.

So we go forward and we understand that, with the opportunities of an exchange, small employers, our small business community understands that if they're unable to enter into an exchange where all the private sector participants agree to play by the rules, to sharpen their pencils, roll up their sleeves, provide the service, live within the parameters, and allow for the many to enter into a common exchange to provide corresponding benefits.

Think of it. If 1 of 10 in that employee firm of 20 were to be impacted with catastrophic illness, it's devastating, an actuarial impact that hits that small business owner hard in the pocketbook because of the premium increase for that 1 person of the 10 you employ.

If those same 10 employees were allowed to enter the exchange, a better outcome, a different outcome, a stronger outcome for the economic recovery of this Nation because the gross majority of jobs being produced in this comeback are being done by our small business community.

And so, you know, the formula is quite obvious. We want a comeback. We want that strongest response here from Washington for that kick that we endured from a recession that drained us of 8.2 million jobs.

The best way to do it, first of three principles, small business. Provide for the strengthening of small business, which the Affordable Care Act does, because that small business community has forever been the pulse of American enterprise.

Secondly, invest in that entrepreneur, the dreamer, the mover, the shaker. It always stretched us, since our days of pioneer spirit with the Industrial Revolution and the westward movement, very familiar to the district I represent, which is the donor area to the Erie Canal in upstate New York in the capital region, Mohawk Valley. That pioneer spirit exists in our fabric today. It's our DNA. Invest in the entrepreneur. To be the ideas economy kingpin, we rely on these wizards to build us, sustain us, stretch us, empower us.

And then finally, invest in a thriving middle class, which the Affordable Care Act does. It enables us, as a middle class community, to be bolstered by the confidence, the security, the stability that has come with this success story in guaranteeing access and affordability to quality health care that will underscore the value of wellness and not just deal with illness, that will put together efforts to cost contain, that will bring people into a structured program so that we can monitor their activities and connect them to a system.

You know, you'll hear from some on the floor, we don't want to pay for this. It's going to cost us too much.

We're paying today for the neglect, for the consequences of a not-so-perfect system. Status quo will not cut it, and so we need to go forward with progressive policies, with the soundness of reform, with the boldness of transition, with the confidence we can instill, with the progressiveness of policies that we can draft.

And so it is a sad note here echoed in this Chamber, that would attempt to unravel, dilute, destroy, deny the promise we can make to America.

As I look at this effort for a comeback, the containment of health care costs is just one of those areas that we need to help control. Create that better environment in which to grow jobs, cultivate a prosperity. It's important. It's important for us to understand that it is part of an economic recovery equation.

But there's also the wisdom of investing in education, in higher education, again, under attack by a system that does not always profess the strength of research and education and patents and discovery.

We understand that we are in the midst of a global race on innovation, clean energy and ideas and high tech. To be outstanding competitors, to arrive at that race ready to conquer, we will need to be strong and fit in order to be the winning agent on that global scene.

We saw that order of passion. We saw that order of investment in the global race on space just decades ago. This Nation, impacted by a Sputnik moment, dusted off its backside and said, Never again. Never again.

And what was the result?

Together, a Nation grew in its commitment to winning the global race on space. We are going to be that agent, that Nation, that proud people that would stake the American flag on the Moon. And we won that race because of a commitment, because of investment in the soundness of the people of this great country and her business community. We embraced research. We embraced science. We believed in our strength as a people, and the confidence exuded was the elixir that brought us to the victory.

Where is that like passion today? Where is that leadership?

A rather youthful President that led us in the sixties and challenged us, in almost replication today, finds us, interestingly, to be challenged by a rather youthful President asking us to enter into the global sweepstakes, committing with passion to the cause.

And so we need that investment in education, in higher education and research. Just today, in Schenectady, New York, in the 21st Congressional District of New York that I'm proud to represent, we announced formally the creation of the advanced battery manufacturing center at that facility of GE.

CEO Jeff Immelt traveled for the celebration, came to town to announce this wonderful, wonderful addition. That is America at work with her genius activity. That's America determined to win the global race on ideas.

Advanced battery manufacturing, the battery, the linchpin to so much potential out there, to grow domestic supplies of energy, to grow jobs as we grow our energy future, to reduce the gluttonous dependency on fossil-based fuels, oftentimes imported from some of the most unfriendly nations to the United States, sending hundreds of billions of dollars annually to those foreign treasuries that are then used to train troops to fight against our own daughters and sons on the battlefield.

Unacceptable. There is a better way, and this Congress knows it.

We invest in jobs. We invest in health care. We invest in education. We invest in research. We do it in a way that promises our best attempt as a Nation to generations yet unborn. Someone was there for us, and we need to be there for future generations of Americans to provide the sort of cutting-edge opportunity that will spell America at her best. I look at that opportunity for not only battery manufacturing but nanotechnology and semiconductor signs, chip manufacturing.

The newly designed 20th Congressional District in New York that comprises a good portion of the now existing 21st District that I represent is probably one of the most technology invested-in congressional districts in the country. It is happening because there is this belief in the worker, a belief in the entrepreneur, a belief in the small business community, a belief in the industrial context of the district, and knowing full well that America's needs--be they for the environment or energy's sake or business creation, job creation, business opportunity--are inspiring this remarkable progress.

It requires our moving forward with a plan. It requires our moving forward academically with the soundness of policy and with the corresponding resource advocacy that will yield lucrative dividends. I see it all the time. I see it in energy-efficiency programs that produce jobs, that enable us to capture waste heat. That is part of the energy process, enabling us to be much more efficient. Efforts that enable us to create more and more patents in a world that has grown much more competitive, much more sophisticated we can ill afford to weaken in our attempts to be the kingmakers of the international economy.

The old American spirit, the history of this Nation replete with those rags to riches scenarios, that became the reason and the inspiration for the compilation of journeys made by our ancestors to these shores, because the opportunity called the ``American Dream'' became the prize for which they searched. I see it in my own roots. The proudest label I carry in life is as the grandson of immigrants. Their journey gave me great opportunity, and it gave my family great opportunity. Those journeys chased after the American Dream.

We need, beginning in this House Chamber, to reignite the American Dream, to go back to the core essence of who we are as a people, to reach into that American heart and soul that has forever relied on its passion that we can achieve because we have opportunity, and that we will not deny that opportunity, that we will strengthen the boldness of those dreams and enable us to respond to the needs of the moments and the future and to write our legacy as a generation of Americans.

Let us not fail in that attempt. Let us continue to reach deep into that American spirit. At a time when we were challenged and our economy was brought to its knees by failed policies that did not manage well, that did not provide for the stewardship of our resources, and when we tripped and fell, let it be known that, in the recovery, we were stronger than ever before. Because of that belief that our best days lay ahead of us, the belief that those best days were in the future, we moved forward, and we dug deep into that American spirit to respond with the respect for America's middle class. Our middle class--all of us in that middle class--have always understood if you play hard, if you abide by the rules, if you roll up your sleeves and do your best, you could rightfully anticipate the taste of success.

That is America in her most shining moments, and that is an economy that we can produce. It begins with the soundness of a strong and productive workforce that went through training and retraining, that got to taste the potential for success by that self discovery that comes with education, and to then understand our gifts so that we could share them in the most profound way, and then to provide for the wellness of that workforce so it could be most productive, so that the conditioning that came with that sort of commitment and that order of respect and that potion of dignity could then allow for us to speak to a Nation that was humbled by its own beginnings, where the rightful stories of so many who made it their journey were written by a Nation that believed in her people.

So, tonight, on this eve of an attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, let us understand that our budget here in Washington, our actions with legislation, our responsiveness to the needs of the American people are an establishment of our priorities--a prescription of what we see our future to be--a reaching into the heart to say that we are a truly caring lot. That's what separates us from other nations. It is the uniqueness of America and her greatness. The Affordable Care Act is a measurement of not only sound policy; it is a statement of a compassionate society that understands it's not about oneself, that it's about neighbors, that it's about community, that it's about The Great Society.

It has been the history through the decades, through the vintages of time, that has enabled us to reach to the greatness of our government, to reach to the soundness of ideas and innovation, to respond to the challenges that have enabled us to build upon those who preceded us, always anticipating that the next generation would be made stronger.

We owe it to our children and grandchildren and generations yet unborn. Let them look at this moment in history, American history, knowing that America was challenged, that she stepped up to the plate and said ``yes'' to her people and truly made a difference, and allowed people to understand full well that the best days of this great Nation lie ahead of us.

With that, Madam Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.


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