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Family and Business Tax Cut Certainty Act of 2012--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. ROCKEFELLER. Mr. President, I rise today to talk about the so-called Ryan budget plan, endorsed and fully absorbed by Governor Romney--which, when you read it, is nothing more than a diabolical blueprint for slashing services that help families, seniors, and children all across the country.

The Ryan-Romney plan--which is the centerpiece of the Republican Presidential campaign, and certainly will grow more so--has finally come under the new scrutiny that it needed as people got a good look at it leading up to the GOP convention last month. I, for one, have been ashamed of this document for much longer. I was proud the Senate voted against it, although it was equally discouraging that a majority of the House voted for it.

I am here today because I want to set the record straight on what, in my judgment, the Ryan-Romney plan would do to people in my home State of West Virginia, to the Presiding Officer's home State, and to the country.

The Ryan budget proposal tackles the deficit by shredding something called the safety net. If people aren't clear what that is, it is the net of public policy underneath the worst possible situation that somebody can come to in terms of health care or inability to live. Families have counted on that safety net for years in rough times, because they have had that safety net and they have used that safety net.

In essence, the unbalanced Ryan proposal guts programs for seniors, people who are disabled, children, families struggling to make ends meet, and then--most fascinating--turning those cuts into $4 trillion worth of tax breaks for the very wealthiest Americans and corporations. And people say class warfare, but it is mathematics. They give the average millionaire a tidy little tax cut of $265,000 under the Ryan-Romney plan while desperately undermining our economy.

He says he hopes his plan will balance the budget by 2040. That is not very encouraging, and it is probably optimistic on his part if it were ever to take place. The Ryan plan does not contribute a single penny to deficit reduction, which is the great problem we are facing and which we are going to deal with--not a single penny.

Consider how they shred health care, with $2.9 trillion in health care cuts, not just from repealing health care reform--an amazing thing to do--but also by gutting Medicare and Medicaid. In the passing of the health care act, all of a sudden 30 million Americans--by no means all those who are uninsured--get health insurance coverage. The act makes sure that they get health insurance coverage. The Ryan budget, backed by Romney, would take that possibility away from 30 million people who have lived without health insurance for many years.

The Ryan-Romney plan would take Medicare that more than 50 million seniors rely on and turn it into a privatized voucher system. I know this has been said, and it has been said because it is true. They would cap how much the government spends on seniors' health care, regardless of their health care needs--letting profit-seeking private health insurance companies decide what to cover and what not to cover. That alone would cost every individual senior an additional $6,000 per year if that plan were to come into effect. If seniors are not able to pay the difference, then they are simply out of luck under the Ryan-Romney budget plan.

This plan also rips apart the Medicaid Program by turning it into a block grant program. On this one, I get pretty indignant. Right now, Medicaid is a lifeline to 70 million Americans, including families and children living in or near poverty. Medicaid today provides long-term care for more than half of seniors in the United States of America. They can spend down--get rid of their assets--so they qualify for Medicaid so they can get long-term care. There isn't anybody in this country who isn't going to be faced with long-term care. The difference is that some can pay for it and some will have families absorb it through love and cultural tradition, but most can't. They have to have help. There is a little bit that is Medicare, but it is virtually Medicaid that provides long-term care. That is when you are in your declining years. That is when you are approaching death. That is when you are at your most dangerous and vulnerable situation. That is when you are scared. That is when your children come from other States to try to help--but then they start spending down the money they have saved for their kids to go to college. It is a desperate situation, even as it is today with full Medicaid coverage. This would affect those who need care at home, a lot of home health, and it would also affect seniors in nursing homes in terrible ways.

The fact is that middle-income families in this country cannot afford the $80,000 or more per year that it costs to keep a loved one in a nursing home in something called long-term care. The only way to do it without bankrupting the entire family is with the help of Medicaid. Yes, it is a big program. Yes, we are going to have to face reality in some respects on its size. But scaling back Medicaid the way they do it in the Ryan-Romney plan so badly hurts American families, and it forces State governments to do things which they are not going to be able to afford to do.

They are going to have to cut services or they are going to have to go more deeply into debt themselves.

So the real prospect is of people in their seventies, eighties, nineties, et cetera, with no long-term care because of a theological point of view that government is awful--but what this is awful to is people. It is just terrible for people. The Ryan-Romney plan would mean millions more Americans could not afford basic health care--and we know what happens next. More people will get sick with untreated illnesses. Then health care costs will go up for everyone.

That implies that people get health care. Yes, they do because they can go to the emergency room of a hospital. They will not always get services, but for the most part they get those services. But they are not paying for that; the average American is, which adds about $2,000 to their family budget every year, paying for other people's health care because the uninsured do not have insurance and therefore they have no place to go. The idea of repealing the health care act and taking 30 million Americans--really, if we had more money we would have done the 45 or 50 million who are really uninsured and underinsured and taken care of them, but we did not have the money to do that.

The nursing homes and the 1.8 million people who work there would be forced to slash their services or close their doors or certainly turn away seniors. In their frenzy to repeal health care reform, and with not a single proposal to replace it--the great silence--Ryan-Romney would also completely undo all of the new consumer protections to fight back against cruel health insurance practices.

I chair the Commerce Committee. That is about all we dealt with for the past 2 years, health insurance companies and their practices. It is pretty depressing. For example, the new provision ending discrimination by health insurance companies against people with preexisting conditions--that is law. Under Ryan-Romney that would end. I reiterate, women who are pregnant, millions of Americans who have diabetes, people with asthma, people with acne, have frequently been just turned down by health insurance companies when they ruled the roost. Now they don't rule the roost under the new health care bill, and a lot of money is being rebated to American people who were overcharged.

The reform we passed allows parents to keep their children on their insurance plan until the kids are 26 years old. That is one of the most popular aspects in the country. That would disappear under the Ryan-Romney budget plan.

There is a lot of lack of understanding of the health care bill, and it is not wildly popular in some parts of the country. Where you and I come from, Mr. President, that is true. But, on the other hand, when one thinks of it as a bill, people do not know what is in it. When one explains to people what is in it and give them examples, such as up until the age of 26 children can stay on their family's health insurance plan; curtailing the restrictions of lifetime limits, the annual limits first and then lifetime limits in 2014, they are lifted so people get the health care they need.

Pretty much every night on television we see stories of kids born with some terrible set of health problems. I remember one I talked with, an 8-year-old boy who had cancer, and his family. He had run into his annual lifetime limit. He died. This was 2 years ago. He died. He would not have died under the health care act, but the Romney-Ryan people want to scrap all that.

One thing that is very well known is the prescription drug doughnut hole, which our reform bill actually had closed. It is a very big deal. It is very hard to understand how that comes about. What is a doughnut hole? But seniors understand it because they spend quite a lot of time paying premiums to health insurance companies but getting no benefits or health care coverage during that period in which they are in the doughnut hole. We stopped that in the health care bill. That would be repealed. They open that doughnut hole right back up, the Ryan-Romney budget plan, putting that $4,200 a year right back on the shoulders of our individual seniors all across the country.

We can see a pattern here. It is absolutely appalling. It is appalling. They do not talk about it, but even Social Security is threatened by their plans. Social Security is a contract the American people have made with themselves. Virtually everyone pays in throughout their working years so that everyone has a safety net when they retire or they become disabled or they die young and have others in their family to care for--leaving a surviving spouse and children to struggle without help. Under our bill, of course, nothing is changed. They want to change that.

Paul Ryan, for whatever reason, has been trying, since 2004, to privatize Social Security. He just flatout has. He can say what he wants. He can say he doesn't think that anymore--he actually doesn't say that, but that is what he believes because if someone has been doing something for the past 10 years, they probably believe in it pretty strongly--meaning he would like to see the American people bet their retirement savings on the stock market, which is usually not stable. I don't buy that. West Virginia seniors do not buy that.

Think back to 2008 when the financial crisis hit. If every American had privatized Social Security accounts then, their retirement security would have been wiped out. Instead, while many people lost a whole lot of money in that stock market crash back then, their Social Security benefits were safe, and they knew it.

People are fragile. Not everybody is a venture capitalist or an entrepreneur. Not everybody is born wealthy. People are living at the edge. Psychologically, they are living even more closely to the edge. Fear comes to them easily. So when we do something good like pass a health care bill which is going to help them, and then people come in and say they are going to repeal the whole act and everything about it, and then, yes, something about Social Security too--it is cruel. It is appalling and it is cruel. We need to protect and strengthen Social Security, not destroy it.

Don't just take that from me. There is far-ranging opposition to the Ryan-Romney budget plan from economists to religious leaders. A group of Catholic Bishops--this interested me greatly because the candidate for Vice President on the Republican ticket said he got his sort of social values from his Catholic teaching.

There is a group of Catholic Bishops recently who asked Republicans to stop championing Ryan's proposals because they were appalled by it--Catholics are very strong on fairness for people and always have been--because it is so hurtful to the poor. It fails their morality test.

My colleague, Senator Kent Conrad, shared with us this week an amazing quote that I cannot stop myself from giving to you because it was from one of Ronald Reagan's economic advisers, a fellow named Bruce Bartlett, which bears repeating. He said the following:

Distributionally, the Ryan plan is a monstrosity. The rich would receive huge tax cuts while the social safety net would be shredded to pay for [those tax cuts]. Even as an opening bid to begin budget negotiations with the Democrats, the Ryan plan cannot be taken seriously. It is less of a wish list than a fairy tale utterly disconnected from the real world, backed up by make-believe numbers and unreasonable assumptions. Ryan's plan isn't even an act of courage [Bruce Bartlett says]; it's just pandering to the Tea Party.

I think Mr. Ryan is of the tea party, so I don't know of his need to pander to it. But anyway that is what this Reagan person indicated.

A real act of courage would have been for him to admit, as all serious budget analysts know, that revenues will have to rise well above 19 percent of GDP to stabilize the debt.

In the coming weeks and months we will continue to hear a lot of back-and-forth about the heartless policy proposals coming from Paul Ryan and Members of Congress who support his plan. This is a deadly serious debate--deadly serious, with enormous consequences for our country and for every person in it.

It is my sincere and urgent hope that as more Americans come to understand exactly where the Ryan-Romney plan would take our Nation and its lifesaving programs and others, that they will decide to run in the opposite direction away from it. The Republican budget is a slap in the face to millions of Americans. We can and will reduce our deficit. We are going to do that because we have to. There is a strong and enduring consensus on that point. But we do not have to do it this way, and we must not do it this way.

I yield the floor.


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