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Public Statements

Making Continuing Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2013--Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WARNER. Mr. President, first of all I want to commend my friend, the Senator from Tennessee. There is no one in this body who is more thoughtful, works harder on issues, and has shown more willingness to find common ground on a host of issues.

I also want to compliment the earlier speaker, the Senator from Missouri, who laid out a series of items that should be components of any kind of health care reform.

As somebody who is a former Governor, as is the Senator from Tennessee, I have managed a Medicaid program. As somebody who has been a private sector employer and managed private health insurance plans, I know this is a conundrum that has to be solved.

What I don't hear sometimes is folks recognizing the status quo was leading this country down a path that was unsustainable, and I look forward to working with the Senator from Tennessee, the Senator from Missouri and others to see how we can go about fixing the challenges in ObamaCare. I remember when I voted for what I called a very imperfect piece of legislation, but recognized the status quo was not a place that could be maintained.

There are a couple of points I want to make, although I am here to talk about the budget. When we talk about the very attractive components of not discriminating against folks with preexisting conditions--and I say that as somebody who has a daughter with a major preexisting condition--and when we talk about preventive care and other items that are the ``nice to have'' or ``we like'' components, those of us who have wrestled with health care--and I started the Virginia Health Care Foundation 20 years ago--realize that when you push on one end of health care it pops out someplace else. It would be great to be able to do this in segmented parts, but I believe to get the kind of reform that was necessary you have to make a more extensive program.

As someone who stands here speaking from an IT standpoint, let us acknowledge the unprecedented disaster of the rollout of the Web site. But what I don't hear from my colleagues is that beneath all these challenges there are positive points. Look at the rise of health care costs on a macro basis, back 3 years past, when Simpson-Bowles and those of us involved in the budget--which is what I am here to talk about--were engaged in this issue. You look at the decrease in the amount of health care cost increase. If you look at the slope's decline, it is hundreds of billions of dollars of savings in the projected CBO cost of Medicare and Medicaid.

Look at one of the areas that was of enormous concern, one of the broken parts of our health care system--hospital readmission rates. Those rates have dropped dramatically.

I hear the stories of folks who are upset with the implementation of ObamaCare, but I also hear the stories of folks who have never had health care and who are finding it now at rates that are more affordable than in the past or in the past they didn't even have an option of getting health care. This is going to require fixes.

Let me comment on one of the areas most talked about--this notion of the President saying if you want to keep your health care policy, you can keep it. What this Senator has tried to do, as we move past the rhetoric into how we actually try to fix this, I have worked with our State insurance commissioner to take advantage of the opportunity for plans within the Commonwealth of Virginia to extend their coverage for at least 1 additional year, and we are starting to see some progress--not as much as I would like but some progress.

Today, with a group of my colleagues, we have written the administration to suggest that so there is not a gap in coverage, particularly for those folks above the age of 30, because of the transition, who may find themselves faced with higher costs, let's present at least a catastrophic plan under the hardship exemption and view that in a broad way. Again, this is so that folks can find, during this transition period, health care that is affordable.

As someone who believes we need to ensure the commitment of the President and others--I have stated it as well--that you can keep your health care plan, I have joined with Senator Landrieu for a legislative fix, if these other items don't go far enough.

As other Senators have said, there will be other issues coming up. When you are going through the reform of 17 to 18 percent of our whole economy that is connected to health care, it is going to take the willingness and good faith of people on both sides of the aisle to actually not simply relitigate the direction but to recognize how we move on from here, and I would welcome any colleagues who are willing to engage in that kind of productive dialogue, discussion, and laying out of ideas.

But this afternoon, we actually are going to be doing something that, in an otherwise fairly bleak year of accomplishments and in a Congress that may set record lows in terms of legislation passed and approval ratings, will actually end the year with something we should at least recognize as a step forward.

I remind my colleagues it was just 2 months ago we were in the midst of an unprecedented government shutdown, where millions of Americans were furloughed; where America had furloughed three Nobel prize-winning physicists who work at NASA and who were somehow deemed nonessential; where private sector folks in the tourism industry--whether in New Mexico or Virginia--were seeing a dramatic fall-off in tourism because of national parks being closed; where we were inflicting upon this economy somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 billion to $40 billion of unpredicted economic loss simply because we couldn't get a budget. But this afternoon it is my hope we will at last close that chapter. My hope is this afternoon we will vote on a budget agreement for 2 years. While it is not as grand or as comprehensive as I would have liked, it will perhaps demonstrate to the American people that although we have had to crawl before we could walk, walk before we could run, we have put forward a bipartisan compromise.

A great deal of the credit goes to Chairman Murray and Chairman Ryan. This agreement says for at least the balance of this fiscal year and for the next, we will take off the table the threat of another shutdown, of unprecedented furloughs. It says we will not relax our focus on deficit reduction, and we will not add to the debt, but we will actually do a little more--about $20 billion more in deficit reduction--and we will demonstrate this institution can actually put the country ahead of partisan interests.

In this compromise not everyone got what they wanted. I would have argued strongly that the big enchilada remains. How do we really take on, in a major way, that $17 trillion debt that clicks up about $4 billion a night? That would mean both political parties have to give on their sacred cows. It means we have to generate additional revenues through meaningful reform of a completely disastrous Tax Code, and yes, it means for folks on my side, we have to make sure the promise of Medicare and Social Security and other entitlement programs are here not just for this generation but for 20 and 30 years from now.

Some of those challenges will have to be put off for another day, and there are many in this body on both sides of the aisle who may have a chance to surprise some folks next year in laying out some specific ideas on how we can move to that bigger bargain. But we should not underestimate what we do today.

I have spent a longer time in business than I have in elective office, and what this country is yearning for, what consumers are yearning for, what business leaders are yearning for is just a little bit of predictability. We have seen growth rates go up higher than estimated. We have seen job growth coming quicker--as monthly revisions are made--and going up even higher than we thought. The single best thing we can do is to make sure we remove the cloud of further disruption caused by Washington. So what we do today with this small step--but a step we shouldn't underestimate--is to get rid of that threat for the next 2 years.

So I look forward to supporting this bipartisan agreement. As I mentioned, it rolls back the most draconian parts of sequestration. Sequestration was set up to be the most stupid option so that no rational group of people would ever agree to it. I call it stupidity on steroids. So this budget agreement gets rid of the worst brunt of that sequestration and then gives this body and our colleagues in the House the ability to actually fashion a budget for 2 years that will also allow them to allocate within these still historically lower numbers.

So I will vote for this compromise, but as with any compromise, there are particular provisions of this compromise I would not have agreed to and that I do not support. One of those provisions is a component that unfairly singles out our military families. Our military families over the last decades-plus have fought two wars. They have made unprecedented sacrifices. Often they have been the only Americans making sacrifices through many of the years in the last decades.

Virginia is home to the Nation's largest concentration of Active-Duty and retired military personnel, and I consider it an honor to represent them here in Congress. The component of the budget compromise that singles out these military retirees for a decrease in their cost-of-living increase was not an appropriate component. But rather than saying let's flush the whole deal down, I will vote for this deal, with the idea in mind--similar to my approach to the health care bill--that we will attack this problem and fix it, and I have a fix I will propose to replace this component going forward.

I have been joined in this effort by my friend from Virginia, Senator Kaine, and former Governor Senator Shaheen, to introduce legislation which would eliminate this close to $6 billion hit on our military retirees. Our legislation doesn't add to the debt or deficit but would replace this unfair hit to our military retirees by closing certain corporate tax loopholes, which would generate sufficient revenue to make sure our military families would not be unfairly affected.

I know in a grander bargain all things may be on the table, but in this smaller deal we should not be singling out our military families and those retirees for this undue burden.

I believe and I hope other colleagues on both sides of the aisle, as we get this budget compromise passed, will join in this effort to substitute out this $6 billion provision for what I believe would be a much more readily acceptable $6 billion provision in terms of change in the corporate tax law. I know the chairman of the Budget Committee from our side of the aisle would welcome this kind of substitution. Her job was to get a deal and she did that job, she got a deal, and I look forward to supporting her.

I will close with these comments. Virginians have served with honor in our military for generations. I assure our service men and women that because of this provision--which doesn't take effect until 2016--we have ample time to make this substitution.

We are being joined on the floor by Senator Shaheen, the original sponsor of this legislation, and I remain committed to working with Senator Shaheen, Senator McCain, and any Member of this body from either party, to work on this deficit reduction package, this substitution, which would relieve this burden.

I hope later this afternoon we can build on the overwhelming support this compromise budget measure received in the House, and believe a strong bipartisan vote today--actually, yesterday, when we cleared cloture--is an indication it will hopefully get the same kind of vote today.

Regardless, I believe we will pass this budget compromise and we will show this body can work, and American families can go into the holiday season without the potential threat of another government shutdown hitting them mid-January.

I again thank the chairman of our Budget Committee for the enormous amount of time she put into this effort. She had lots of folks pushing and pulling her from every direction. As someone who still aspires to be part of a grander bargain and a bigger deal, our day will come again; but in the meantime, later this afternoon we will do the people's work and make sure we do our most essential requirement, which is to present a budget which is fiscally responsible, takes down our deficit, and allows our government to move forward and our economy to grow.

I yield the floor.


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