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Public Statements

Continuing Appropriations

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. THUNE. Madam President, I think the American public overwhelmingly opposes ObamaCare. Every survey shows that, and all of us traveling back and forth to our States hear it. But they also support keeping the government open.

We have had an opportunity over the course of the last several days to deal with both of those issues. In fact, in order to avoid a government shutdown, you have to have people who are willing to work together and come to a solution. The House of Representatives has not once, not twice, but three times sent to the Senate proposals that would fund the government and that would make some changes to ObamaCare that would provide the same sort of relief to every American that big businesses have received from the President by virtue of some of his waivers and exemptions. On all three occasions that was turned down--tabled--when it got to the Senate.

So what did the House of Representatives do? Their most recent proposal advanced to the Senate was to allow the House and the Senate to go to conference, to work out the differences. They asked the Senate to appoint conferees to a conference committee, where Senators and House Members might be able to sit down, Democrats and Republicans, and actually hammer out some sort of solution to the challenge we face in front of us. That got tabled this morning. That is the first time I have ever seen that happen in my time in the Congress--and maybe the first time it has ever happened--where one body has asked for a conference and asked for appointing of conferees and it was tabled.

It was not just turned down. We didn't say: No, we are not going to do it now; we will do it another time. But we actually tabled the motion--tabling a motion of the House of Representatives to have a conference on how to work out the situation and in a way that will allow us to keep the government open and hopefully provide middle-class Americans some relief and the economy--the taxpayers and employers across this country--some relief from ObamaCare.

So we are where we are now--with the House of Representatives having suggested to the Senate that we sit down together in a conference committee and work out our differences--and the Senate having rejected that.

We could all argue about how we initially got where we are. I think it all starts when we don't do things the way they are intended to be done around here--in other words, taking the appropriations process and moving those bills forward.

Here in the Senate we had an opportunity, as we do every year, to move the individual appropriations bills. There are 12 separate appropriations bills that historically have been the way in which we have funded the government. This year we didn't move a single appropriations bill through the Senate. The House of Representatives moved four of the bills through the process. They didn't get through all of them, but at least they got some of the appropriations bills completed. But here in the Senate, we didn't do a single appropriations bill.

We all saw this coming. It is not as if there is any secret or surprise. So what happens is there is a calendar, and when those deadlines aren't met, we get up against the end of the fiscal year, the way we are right now, and we have this huge push to try to keep the government from shutting down, and we generally do it in the form of a continuing resolution. But the fact is, if the Senate had done any of its work earlier this year, if we had taken up any of the appropriations bills and passed them, we wouldn't be in this crisis moment we have in front of us now.

Why is it that so many Republicans in both the House and Senate--and, I would daresay, Democrats as well, although they haven't demonstrated it with their votes--are concerned about what is happening with ObamaCare? Obviously, as more information becomes available about ObamaCare, the more concerns, the more frustrations, the more questions the American people have.

I mentioned this previously, but in my State of South Dakota, according to the report put out last week by the Health and Human Services Department, if you compare the premiums that a 30-year-old male and a 30-year-old female would pay in the State of South Dakota for a bronze plan in the exchanges, the increase in premium for people in that age category would be for a man 393 percent and for a woman 223 percent. So for a 30-year-old female in the State of South Dakota, the annual increase in insurance premiums would be $1,500, and if you are a male in the State of South Dakota, the annual increase would be $2,000. So there is a real concern about the impact this will have, as these exchanges get up and running, on what people are currently paying for health care coverage.

There is also a lot of evidence and data out there now that suggests it doesn't apply just to a 30-year-old male or female in my State of South Dakota, but it also applies to families. There are many families across this country who are obviously concerned about how this is going to impact the cost of health insurance for them. If we look at what health insurance costs have done for families since the President took office, they have gone up on average about $3,000. Since ObamaCare passed, those premiums have gone up for families by about $2,500. So we have seen premiums going up already.

We have a lot of concerns as these exchanges get up and running starting today about what impact they will have on premiums for middle-class Americans. That is why there is a lot of concern and anxiety across the country today with regard to the impacts of ObamaCare.

We also have a lot of concerns about how this will impact jobs and the economy. We have already seen that a majority of the jobs created this year are part-time jobs. There are many reasons for that, but if we talk to employers, one of the things they will point out is that the requirements in the new health care law are that if they have 50 or more employees, they have to offer government-approved health care or pay a penalty. So a lot of employers are trying to stay under that 50-employee minimum or threshold so they don't have to face that requirement. So what happens? They either don't hire people they were otherwise going to hire or they look at ways to reduce their workforce.

It applies in another way because the definition of ``full-time employee'' in the law is 30 hours per week. Again, employers will be subject to the same sorts of penalties, so what many are doing is instead of hiring full-time workers, they are hiring part-time workers, 29-hour-a-week workers. Obviously, 29 hours a week doesn't give you the kind of pay that would allow you to meet the needs your family has. So more and more people are working two jobs, and we see the impact and the distortion this new law is creating in the workplace and for a lot of employers.

There was a lot of anxiety and angst about that, which I think was voiced to the President and to his administration. So what does the President do? The President decided to delay the employer mandate in the law for 1 year. I think employers took great comfort at least in knowing it is not going to be there for this year, but they are also still very worried about what will happen when it does kick in in the following year.

But there are all these employers, and people may say: Who are these people? I don't know how one can travel their State or anywhere else outside of their State and not hear from employers who are expressing concerns and asking questions about what this is going to mean for them and expressing grave reservations about the impact it is going to have on their ability to create jobs.

So as we speak with these various employers and get lots of anecdotal evidence--last week there was an interview done with employers in my State of South Dakota. A person was asked about how this would impact them, and he said: I guess we are probably not going to hire as many people as we otherwise would have hired. He said: I think that is going to be happening with businesses all over the country.

That is one example from my State of South Dakota, but if we look at sort of the aggregate, according to Investor's Business Daily there are some 300 businesses that have said they are going to reduce the size of their workforce or not hire people they otherwise might hire as a result of the impact of ObamaCare. So we see more and more of the experience, the evidence that we get day to day speaking with employers in our individual States, but we also start seeing this cumulative effect and more and more businesses expressing those concerns.

When we look at the economy today and where we are, we find out very quickly that the unemployment rate, which has been at north of 7 percent, 7.5 percent for a long time now--when we add back into that equation the number of people who have either stopped looking for work or who are working part time when they would rather be working full time, the actual number is much higher. We have about 22 million Americans, and the unemployment rate climbs quickly into the double-digit territory when we add those people back. The labor participation rate--which is the number of people in the workforce relative to the number of people who could be--is at the lowest level literally in 35 years.

So we have a historically low labor participation rate, fewer people actually looking for work, some just flat having given up on it. We have a very soft economy. I don't think anybody would describe the economy today as being robust. We have a chronically high unemployment rate, jobs that are being created being part-time jobs, and so we have the overall average household income in this country actually going down. In fact, if we look at the statistics since the President took office, the average household income has gone down by about $3,700 per family--$3,700 less income for the average household--$3,000 higher in health care costs, and we can see how middle-class families are getting increasingly squeezed by what is happening as a result of ObamaCare.

One of the more recent suggestions that came over from the House of Representatives last evening came back with a funding resolution to fund the government and there were a couple of provisions that dealt with some of these more onerous provisions in the ObamaCare law. One had to do with the individual mandate.

The whole theory behind giving people relief from that is to give them the same treatment, to be fair, that employers get. If the President has chosen to waive the employer mandate for big businesses--which he has for 1 year--why then require individuals to have insurance?

There is going to be a significant cost associated when everybody has to buy insurance. It is about a $12 billion cost to people across this country. The question then is, If you are going to give the temporary relief to the business community, why would you not in a fair way at least make sure individuals are treated the same way?

That seemed to be a pretty compelling argument. If you are going to do something that actually does impact in a favorable way people across this country who are going to be suffering even more from the harmful effects of ObamaCare, it would strike us as at least reasonable to suggest giving a 1-year delay to people under the individual mandate--the same delay the President has given big businesses under the employer mandate.

The other provision attached to the continuing resolution proposal advanced by the House last night had to do with treating Members of Congress, their staff, and people here in Washington, DC, the same as everybody else. It strikes me again, at least, that if we are going to have these policies, everybody ought to be treated the same way.

Frankly, my hope would be that we could relieve everybody. I would love to see us permanently delay this so that no American would be subject to the harmful impacts and effects of ObamaCare. But for sure, for certain, people here in Washington, DC, should not be exempt. There should not be a separate carve-out or separate treatment for people here in Washington, DC, compared to other people around the country.

So the legislation that came over from the House last night included a 1-year delay in the individual mandate--trying to treat individuals and people across the country the same way as businesses are being treated in terms of the way the law is being applied--and secondly, make sure people here in Washington, DC, Members of Congress and their staff and others, are treated the same way as everybody else around the country. In other words, there is no exemption, there is no carve-out, there is no preferential treatment for people here in Washington, DC. Those were the two things that were attached to the funding resolution last night. That got tabled here in the Senate.

So having sent now three different proposals over, I think the House of Representatives has decided, OK, clearly the Senate doesn't like any of our ideas. Let's get together and have a conference committee.

So that was proposed, and--again, something I have never seen done before--there was a motion to table a request to go to conference. We get a lot of requests to go to conference. Sometimes those are not adhered to, and you have a debate about various conference meetings on various pieces of legislation that we deal with here in Congress. But I have never seen a tabling motion on a request to go to conference. It is a pretty clear indication that the Senate has no interest in resolving this matter; otherwise, they would at least sit down with our counterparts in the House of Representatives and say: What can we do to find that middle ground? What can we do to find that consensus? How can we resolve the differences we have here in a way that will keep the government up and functioning and hopefully provide some relief for people who are struggling under the impacts of ObamaCare?

So that is where we are today. What is interesting about it is our colleagues on the other side, the Democrats--not all of them because they weren't all here at the time, but those who were all voted in favor of ObamaCare. There isn't a single Republican who was here at that time who did, nor are there any here today who would. In fact, every time we have had an opportunity to vote to repeal all or parts of it, everybody on this side of the aisle has voted for that.

Now, our colleagues on the other side continually hold out this argument that, after all, this is the law of the land. Frankly, they are right. It is the law of the land. But it is pretty obvious that at least in the President's view there are parts of the law that don't need to be applied right away; otherwise, he wouldn't have extended a 1-year delay or a 1-year waiver under the employer mandate.

So it is pretty clear that the President has a different view than perhaps his allies here in the Senate with regard to what that law actually means. He has been perfectly willing on not just that occasion but on other occasions to take portions of a law and not apply them, to waive them and provide exemptions for particular groups of people--namely, those here on Capitol Hill and also big businesses around the country. So there is a very discriminate way in which the President is approaching this law. It seems to me, at least, that in fairness he would give the same favorable treatment to individuals that he has given to big businesses.

The other thing that is really interesting about the folks on the other side of the aisle saying this is the law of the land is that there are many things that are the law of the land. The Budget Act is the law of the land. The Budget Act, which was passed back in the 1970s--1973 or 1974--is the budget law that Congress has been under now for the past almost 40 years. Yet for 3 consecutive years in a row the Democratic majority didn't even pass a budget, didn't move it through the committee, didn't bring it to the floor, just said: We don't need to do it. We will just ignore the law. That happened for 3 years in a row.

So I would suggest that our colleagues on the other side who are quick to say that ObamaCare is the law of the land are very willing, when it serves their purposes or they find it convenient, to completely ignore other laws that have been on the books for a much longer period of time. So that argument really misses the point.

I guess what I would say is that I hope this can be resolved. It needs to be resolved. I think we need to provide some relief for the American people from the impacts of ObamaCare. Clearly, our economy needs a break. The American workers and middle-class families need a break. Employers have already been given a break--big businesses, by the President, have been given a 1-year delay under the law.

Why not apply that to others who are going to be hurt in an equal fashion.

Just to put a fine point on why it is important, we think, to have some delays--today is the day they roll out the exchanges. But if you look at what the reports are about, whether or not those things are ready, up and ready to go, it is pretty clear they are not ready for prime time. We hear about glitches, which is the President's word--I think that is a kind word--malfunctions, inaccuracies, bumps in the road. We have heard them described all those different ways. But the clear reality is that this thing is not ready for prime time. Why would we not delay it?

There was a story yesterday in the Wall Street Journal and the headline was ``Late Snags on Eve of Health Rollout.''

Nonprofit groups and brokers that will help enroll consumers in the marketplaces, known as exchanges, say they haven't yet had a chance to preview the systems. Technical problems have limited certification for some nonprofit workers involved. And some of these groups say they haven't fully staffed up for the influx.

The exchange software that determines whether people get ..... subsidies was returning accurate determinations about two-thirds of the time late Friday, up from less than 50 percent earlier in the week.

At least they are trending in the right direction.

Additionally, one Web broker agreement with CMS to sell Federal exchange health plans, announced that it will not be able to offer those plans on October 1, blaming CMS delays.

The point is this is clearly not ready for prime time. Last week the District of Columbia said they are experiencing a very high error rate. Error rates, malfunctions, inaccuracies, bumps, glitches--these all seem to me to suggest that this is something that needs to be delayed. I think that would make the most sense, given the President has already acknowledged that for big businesses, for employers. It ought to be delayed for a year.

I think there is bipartisan support for giving individuals and families relief just like businesses have been granted. We have a Democratic Senator, a colleague from West Virginia, who said last week a delay for individuals would be very reasonable and sensible. But this week Senate Democrats voted in lockstep with the President and refused to give low-income and middle-class families that same relief that has been provided to big businesses and to some of the President's allies.

We are now in a holding pattern. It seems to me at least that the ball is in the Senate majority leader's court. The House of Representatives has asked for a conference, which has been rejected. The response was we are not going to sit down, we are not going to negotiate this. The President has said we are not going to negotiate. We are not going to sit down. We do not believe there is any room here for negotiation.

I think the American people are going to perceive that to be an unreasonable position because I think most people understand when we come here we have differences of opinion. But the way you resolve those is you sit down and work out those differences. You try to come to some resolution that would allow everybody to move forward.

What we have seen here is that time after time, the House of Representatives has sent to the Senate proposals. Those have been tabled here, and the House has sent back another one. I said three times now that has happened. Finally, the House of Representatives said: OK, we get it. You do not like what we are sending you. Let's sit down and see if we can work this out. Let's have a conference and see if we can work out our differences. That was tabled by the majority leader earlier today.

What is coming out of the White House, what is coming out of the Democrat majority is: Sorry, we don't negotiate. We are not going to sit down. We are not going to try to find common ground. We are not going to try to find a bipartisan solution to this. We are going to have it our way, and you can take it or leave it.

I don't think that is what the American people sent us here to do. I think they sent us here to do the people's business. I said before, when I started my remarks, I believe the American people overwhelmingly dislike ObamaCare and the effect it is having. I think they overwhelmingly believe the government should stay open. I think we can accomplish both of those objectives, hopefully sooner rather than later, if both sides will sit down in good faith and actually try to work out a solution.

That is certainly not going to happen as long as the President continues to stay dug in. It appears he has drawn a line in the sand. That seems to be the tactic and the approach that is being taken by the Senate majority, by the Democratic leader. That is not going to get us to an answer. That is not going to get us to a solution. All that is going to do is to provide even more frustration, even greater disdain and cynicism from the American people when they see the in-fighting that is going on here and a lack of a willingness on the part of the Democratic majority to sit down with House Republicans and figure out what is in the best interests of the American people as we move forward.

I hope we can do better. The American people deserve better. Future generations deserve better from us.

I yield the floor.


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