The President:
Thank you so much for participating today. I am very grateful to all of you
because I know how busy you are. What I want to do is just make
a few brief remarks on the front end, and then we’re going to
allow leadership from the both the House and the Senate to
make some opening remarks, and then we will dive in. Last year obviously was one of
the toughest years we’ve had on record, and all of us in one
way or another were devoted to focusing on breaking the
back of the recession, restoring economic growth,
putting people back to work. We’ve still got
a long way to go. And so I know both the House and
the Senate are interested in how do we propel economic
growth forward; how do we create more jobs. I was very pleased to see a
glimpse of bipartisanship in the Senate recently in
passing a jobs bill, and I hope that continues, and I
know there are going to be some additional pieces of legislation
moving forward around, for example, making sure
that small businesses can get financing. And those are the kinds of
things that I think all parties and both chambers should
be able to agree to. So I’m very much looking forward
to working with you on all those issues. I have said repeatedly — I
said at the State of the Union, I said last night when I was
meeting with the Business Roundtable — that in addition
to dealing with the immediate challenges we face
in the recovery, it’s absolutely critical that
we also look at some fundamental structural problems in our
economy that are hurting families, hurting businesses,
and having an impact on the exploding deficits and debts
that the federal government, but also state
governments are carrying. And it’s for that reason that
last year, around this time, actually, I hosted in the White
House a health care summit and indicated to Congress that it
was absolutely critical for us to begin now moving on what is
one of the biggest drags on our economy and represents one
of the biggest hardships that families face. Some of you know that I get
10 letters, out of the 40,000 that I receive every day,
for me to take upstairs to the residence and read
every single night. And these are letters from
all across the country, constituents from
every walk of life. And I can tell you that at
least two, sometimes five, of the 10 letters relates to
the challenges that people are experiencing in health
care every single day. I’ll get letters from parents
who — whose children have preexisting conditions and maybe
those children were able to get health insurance when they were
young but now they’re growing up, they’re about to move out,
and they can’t get insurance no matter what job they find. I hear from small businesses who
have just opened up their new rates from their insurance
company and it turns out that the rates have gone up 20,
30, in some cases 35 percent. I hear from families who have
hit lifetime limits and because somebody in their
family is very ill, at a certain point they start
having to dig out of pocket and they are having to mortgage
their house and in some cases have gone bankrupt
because of health care. So this is an issue that
is affecting everybody. It’s affecting not only
those without insurance, but it’s affecting
those with insurance. And when you talk to every
single expert and you just talk to ordinary people and
you talk to businesses, everybody understands that the
problem is not getting better, it’s getting worse. Right now it’s projected that
premiums for families with health insurance — not people
without health insurance but with health insurance — will
almost certainly double over the next decade, just as they
doubled over the past decade. In the individual
markets, it’s even worse. Businesses are having to make
decisions about just dropping coverage altogether
for their employees. If they’re not doing that, then
the money that they are spending on health care is money that
otherwise could have gone to job creation. And I don’t need to tell people
here about the effects on the federal budget. We’ve got some people who’ve
been working a very long time on figuring out how can we
control the huge expansion of entitlements. Almost all of the long-term
deficit and debt that we face relates to the exploding costs
of Medicare and Medicaid. Almost all of it. That is the single biggest
driver of our federal deficit. And if we don’t get control over
that we can’t get control over our federal budget. Now, I’m telling all of you
things you already know. Maybe more personally I should
just mention the fact that I now have about as good health
care as anybody could have. I’ve got a doctor
right downstairs. And all of us, when
I was in the Senate, and all of you as House
and Senate members, have good health care. But remember maybe
when you were younger, when you were first starting
off — I can certainly remember Malia coming into the
kitchen one day and saying, “I can’t breathe, Daddy,” and
us having to rush her to the emergency room because
she had asthma; or Sasha, when she was a baby, getting
meningitis and having to get a spinal tap and being on
antibiotics for three days, and us not knowing whether or
not she was going to emerge okay. In each of those instances I
remember thinking while sitting in the emergency room what would
have happened if I didn’t have reliable health care. My mother, who
was self-employed, didn’t have reliable
health care, and she died of ovarian cancer. And there’s probably nothing
that modern medicine could have done about that. It was caught late, and that’s
a hard cancer to diagnose. But I do remember the last six
months of her life — insurance companies threatening that they
would not reimburse her for her costs, and her having to be on
the phone in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies
when what she should have been doing is spending
time with her family. I do remember that. Now, everybody here has those
same stories somewhere in their lives. Everybody here understands the
desperation that people feel when they’re sick. And I think everybody here is
profoundly sympathetic and wants to make sure that we have
a system that works for all Americans. You know, I was looking through
some of the past statements that people have made, and I think
this concern is bipartisan. John McCain has talked about
how rising health care costs are devastating to
middle-class families. Chuck, you’ve been working
on this a long time. You’ve discussed the
unsustainable growth in Medicare and Medicaid in our budget. Mike Enzi, who’s worked on this
and partnered with Ted Kennedy on a range of health care issues
as a chairman of the committee, you said that small businesses
in your home state are finding it nearly impossible to afford
health care coverage for their employees. And you said that the current
system is in critical condition. And Mitch, you’ve said that
the need for reform is not in question, and obviously there
are comparable studies on the Democratic side as well. So here’s the bottom line. We all know this is urgent. And unfortunately over
the course of the year, despite all the hearings
that took place and all the negotiations that took place
and people on both sides of the aisle worked long and hard on
this issue and — this became a very ideological battle. It became a very
partisan battle. And politics I think ended up
trumping practical common sense. I said at the State of the
Union, and I’ll repeat, I didn’t take this on because
I thought it was good politics. This is such a complicated issue
that it’s inevitably going to be contentious. But what I’m hoping to
accomplish today is for everybody to focus not
just on where we differ, but focus on where we agree
because there actually is some significant agreement
on a host of issues. I’ve looked very carefully at
John Boehner’s plan that he put forward. I’ve looked at Tom Coburn and
Senator Burr’s plan that’s been put out there. Paul Ryan has discussed some of
the issues surrounding Medicare. I’ve looked at those
very carefully. Mike Enzi, in the past you’ve
put forward legislation around small businesses that
are very important. And so when I look at the
ideas that are out there, there is overlap. It’s not perfect overlap, it’s
not a hundred percent overlap, but there’s some overlap. Now, what I did, what the White
House did several days ago, is we posted what we think is
the best blend of the House and the Senate legislation
that’s already passed. The basic concept is that
we would set up an exchange, meaning a place where
individuals and small businesses could go and get choice and
competition for private health care plans, the same way that
members of Congress get choice and competition for
their health care plans. For people who
couldn’t afford it, we would provide
them some subsidies. But because people would
have some pooling power, the costs overall would be lower
because they’d be in a stronger position to negotiate. We think it is a plan that
works with the existing system, the employer-based system, the
private health care system, but allows a lot of people who
currently don’t have health care to get health care,
and more importantly, for the vast majority of people
who do have some health care, it allows them to
get a better deal. We also have some insurance
reforms in there that, for example, prohibit people who
have preexisting conditions from being banned from
getting coverage. We also talk about how we can
help to make the Medicare system more effective and provide
better quality care. In each of these cases there
are corresponding ideas on the Republican side that we
should be able to bridge. So I promise not to
make a long speech. Let me just close
by saying this. My hope in the several hours
that we’re going to be here today, that in each section that
we’re going to discuss — how do we lower costs for families
and small businesses, how do we make sure that the
insurance market works for people, how do we make sure
that we are dealing with the long-term deficits, how do we
make sure that people who don’t have coverage can get coverage
— in each of these areas what I’m going to do is I’m going
to start off by saying, here are some
things we agree on. And then let’s talk about
some areas where we disagree, and see if we can
bridge those gaps. I don’t know that those
gaps can be bridged. And it may be that at the end of
the day we come out of here and everybody says, well, you
know, we have some honest disagreements; people are
sincere in wanting to help, but they’ve got different
ideas about how to do it, and we can’t bridge the
gap between Democrats and Republicans on this. But I’d like to make sure that
this discussion is actually a discussion and not just
us trading talking points. I hope that this isn’t political
theater where we’re just playing to the cameras and
criticizing each other, but instead are actually
trying to solve the problem. That’s what the American
people are looking for. As controversial as the efforts
to reform health care have been thus far, when you ask people,
should we move forward and try to reform the system,
people still say yes, they still want to see change. And it strikes me that if
we’ve got an open mind, if we’re listening
to each other, if we’re not engaging in sort
of the tit-for-tat and trying to score political points during
the next several hours, that we might be able
to make some progress. And if not, at least we will
have better clarified for the American people what
the debate is about. So, with that, I just want to
say again how much I appreciate everybody for participating. And I am going to now turn it
over to Senator McConnell so that he can make
some opening remarks. And we’ll just go back and forth
between the Democratic leaders and the Republican
leaders, House and Senate, and then we’ll just open it
up and we’ll start diving in. All right? Senator McConnell:
Thank you very much, Mr. President. John Boehner and I have selected
Lamar Alexander of Tennessee to make our opening
framing statement, and let me turn to him. Senator Alexander:
Thanks, Mitch and John. Mr. President, thank you
very much for the invitation. Appreciate being here. Several of us were part of the
summits that you had a year ago, and so I’ve been asked to try to
express what Republicans believe about where we’ve gotten
since — since then. As a former governor, I also
want to try to represent governors’ views. They have a big stake in it. I know you met with some
governors just the last few days. We believe that our views
represent the views of a great number of the American people
who have tried to say in every way they know how — through
town meetings, through surveys, through elections in Virginia
and New Jersey and Massachusetts — that they oppose the health
care bill that passed the Senate on Christmas Eve. And more importantly, we want to
talk about — we believe we have a better idea. And that’s to take many of the
examples that you just mentioned about health care costs, make
that our goal — reducing health care costs — and start over,
and let’s go step by step toward that goal. And we’d like to briefly mention
— I’ll briefly mention and others will talk more about it
as we go along — what those ideas are, what
some of them are, what some of the
suggestions we have are. I’d like to begin with a story. When I was elected governor
some of the media went up to the Democratic leaders of
the legislature and said, “What are you going
to do with this new, young Republican governor?” a few years ago. And they said, “I’m going to
help him because if he succeeds our state succeeds.” And they did that. That’s the way we
worked for eight years. But often they had to persuade
me to change my direction to get our state where it needed to go. I’d like to say the
same thing to you. I mean, we want you to succeed,
because if you succeed our country succeeds. But we would like, respectfully,
to change the direction you’re going on health care costs. And that’s what I want to mention here in the next few minutes. I was trying to think about if
there were any kind of event that this could
be compared with, and I was thinking of
the Detroit Auto Show, that you’d invited us out to
watch you unveil the latest model that you and your
engineers had created and asked us to help sell it to
the American people. And we go and you do that
and we look at it and we say, that’s the same model
we saw last year, and we didn’t like it and
neither did they because we don’t think it gets us
where we need to go, and we can’t afford it. So as they also say
in Detroit, again, we think we have a better idea. Your stories are a lot
like the stories I hear. When I went home for Christmas,
after we had that 25 days of consecutive debate and voted on
Christmas Eve on health care, a friend of mine from
Tullahoma, Tennessee, said, “I hope you’ll kill
that health care bill.” And then before the words were
out of his mouth, he said, “But we’ve got to do something
about health care costs. My wife has breast cancer;
she got it 11 years ago. Our insurance is $2,000 a month. We couldn’t afford it if our
employer weren’t helping us do that. So we’ve got to do something.” And that’s about —
that’s where we are. But we think to do that we have
to start by taking the current bill and putting it on the shelf
and starting from a clean sheet of paper. Now, you’ve presented ideas. There’s an 11-page memo on the
— I think it’s important for people to understand there’s
not a presidential bill. There are good suggestions
and ideas on the Web. We’ve made our ideas. But it’s said — it’s a
lot like the Senate bill. It has more taxes, more
subsidies, more spending. So what that means is, that
when it’s written it will be 2,700 pages, more or less, which
means it will probably have a lot of surprises in it. It means it will cut Medicare by
about half a trillion dollars, and spend most of
that on new programs, not on Medicare and
making it stronger, even though it’s
going broke in 2015. It means there will be about
a half trillion dollars of new taxes in it. It means that for millions of
Americans premiums will go up because those — when
people pay those new taxes, premiums will go up — they
will also go up because of the government mandates. It means that from a
governor’s point of view, there are going to be what our
Democratic governor calls “the mother of all
unfunded mandates.” Nothing used to make me
madder as a governor than when Washington politicians would get
together and pass a big bill, take credit for it, and then
send me the bill to pay. And that’s exactly what this
does with the expansion of Medicare. And in addition, it dumps 15 to
18 million low-income Americans into a Medicaid program that
none of us would want to be a part of because 50 percent of
doctors won’t see new patients. So it’s like giving someone a
ticket to a bus line where the busses only run half the time. When fully implemented, the bill
would spend about $2.5 trillion a year, and it still has
the sweetheart deals in it. One is out; some are still in. I mean, what’s fair about
taxpayers in Louisiana paying less than taxpayers
in Tennessee? And what’s fair about protecting
seniors in Florida and not protecting seniors in California
and Illinois and Wyoming? So our view, with all respect,
is that this is a car that can’t be recalled and fixed, and
that we ought to start over. But we’d like to start over. When I go down on the floor —
and I’ve been there a lot on this issue — some of my
Democratic friends will say, well, Lamar, where’s the
Republican comprehensive bill? And I say back, well, if you’re
waiting for Mitch McConnell to roll in a wheelbarrow
in here with a 2,700-page Republican
comprehensive bill, it’s not going to happen because
we’ve come to the conclusion that we don’t do
comprehensive well. We’ve watched the comprehensive
economy-wide cap and trade. We’ve watched the
comprehensive immigration bill. We had the best senators
we’ve got working on that in a bipartisan way. We’ve watched the
comprehensive health care bill, and they fall of
their own weight. Our country is too
big, too complicated, too decentralized for
Washington, a few of us here, just to write a few rules about
remaking 17 percent of the economy all at once. That sort of thinking works in
the classroom but it doesn’t work very well in our
big complicated country. And it doesn’t work
for most of us. I mean, if you look around the
table — and I’m sure it’s true on the Democratic side, as it is
on the Republican — we’ve got shoe store owners and small
business people and a former county judge and we’ve
got three doctors. We’ve got people who are used to
solving problems step by step. And that’s why we said 173 times
on the Senate floor in the last six months of last year, we
mentioned our step-by-step plan for reducing health care costs. And I’d like to just mention
those in a sentence or two. You mentioned Mike Enzi’s work
on the small business health care plan. That’s a good start. It came up in the Senate. He will explain why it covers
more people, costs less, and helps small businesses
offer insurance, too, helping Americans buy
insurance across state lines. You’ve mentioned that yourself. Most of the governors I’ve
talked to think that would be a good way to increase
competition. Number three, put an end to
junk lawsuits against doctors. In our state, half the counties,
pregnant women have to drive to the big city to have prenatal
health care or to have their baby, because the medical
malpractice suits have driven up the insurance policies so high
that doctors leave the rural counties. Give states incentives to
lower costs, number four. Number five, expanding
health savings accounts. Number six, House Republicans
have some ideas about how my friend in Tullahoma can continue
to afford insurance for his wife who has had breast cancer —
because she has a preexisting condition, it makes it more
difficult to buy insurance. So there are six ideas. They’re just six steps,
maybe the first six. But combined with six others
and six more and six others, they’d get us in
the right direction. Now, some say we need to rein
in the insurance companies; maybe we do. But I think it’s important to
note that if we took all the profits of the
insurance companies, the health insurance companies,
entirely away — every single penny of it — we could pay for
two days of the health insurance of Americans, and that would
leave 363 days with costs that are too high. So that’s why we continue to
insist that as much as we want to expand access and to do
other things in health care, that we shouldn’t expand a
system that’s this expensive; that the best way to reduce
cost — to increase access is to reduce cost. Now, in conclusion, I have a
suggestion and a request for how to make this a bipartisan
and truly productive session. And I hope that those who are
here will agree I’ve got a pretty good record of working
across party lines and of supporting the President
when I believe he’s right, even though other members of
my party might not on that occasion. And my request is this, is
before we go further today, that the Democratic
congressional leaders and you, Mr. President, renounce this
idea of going back to the Congress and jamming through
on a bipartisan — I mean, on a partisan vote through a
little-used process we call reconciliation, your
version of the bill. You can say that this
process has been used before, and that would be right,
but it’s never been used for anything like this. It’s not appropriate to use to
write the rules for 17 percent of the economy. Senator Byrd, who is the
constitutional historian of the Senate, has said that it would
be an outrage to run the health care bill through the Senate
like a freight train with this process. So this is the only
place, the Senate, where the rights to the minority
are protected and sometimes, as Senator Byrd has said,
the minority can be right. I remember reading Alexis
de Tocqueville’s books, which most of us have read,
and he said in his “American Democracy” that the greatest
threat to the American democracy would be the tyranny
of the majority. When Republicans were trying to
change the rules a few years ago — you and I were both there;
Senator McCain was very involved in that — about getting a
majority vote for judges, then-Senator Obama said the
following: “What we worry about is essentially
having two chambers, the House and the Senate, who
are simply majoritarian — absolute power on either side. That’s just not what
the Founders intended.” Which is another way of saying
that the Founders intended the Senate to be a place where the
majority didn’t rule on big issues. Senator Byrd in his book —
Senator Reid in his book, writing about the Gang of
14, said that the end of the filibuster requiring 60 votes to
pass a bill would be the end of the United States Senate. And I think that’s why Lyndon
Johnson in the ’60s passed the civil rights bills in
Everett Dirksen’s office, the Republican Leader’s, because
he understood that having a bipartisan bill not only would
pass it but it would help the country accept it. Senator Pat Moynihan said
before he died that he couldn’t remember a big piece of social
legislation that passed that wasn’t bipartisan. And after World War II in this
very house in the room back over here, President Truman and
General Marshall would meet once a week with Senator
Arthur Vandenburg, the Republican chairman of
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and write
the Marshall Plan. And General Marshall said that
sometimes Van was my right hand and sometimes he
was his right hand. And we know how to do that. I mean, John Boehner and George
Miller did that on No Child Left Behind. Mike Enzi and Ted Kennedy
wrote 35 bills together. You mentioned that in
your opening remarks. You and I and many other
senators worked together on the America COMPETES Act. We know how to do that and we
can do that on health care as well. But to do that, we’ll have to
renounce jamming it through in a partisan way. And if we don’t, then the rest
of what we do today will not be relevant. The only thing bipartisan will
be the opposition to the bill. And we’ll be saying to
the American people, who have tried to tell us in
every way they know how — town halls and elections and surveys
— that they don’t want this bill; that they would
like for us to start over. So if we can do that — start
over — we can write a health care bill. It means putting aside
jamming it through. It means working together the
way General Marshall and Senator Vandenburg did. It means reducing health care
costs — and making that our goal for now, and not
focusing on the other goals. And it means going step by step
together to re-earn the trust of the American people. We’d like to do that, and we
appreciate the opportunity that you’ve given us today to
say what our ideas are, and to move forward.
Thank you very much. The President:
Well, thank you, Lamar. Both I and Lamar went a little
bit over our original allocated time. (laughter) Not wanting
to be a hypocrite, I wanted to give you some slack. We’re going to have Nancy
and Harry — I think my understanding is you
guys want to split time. We’ll split it up, and so
we’ll let them make some quick remarks. What I will then do is
just address — John, are you going to make the
presentation yourself? Okay. What I will then do is just
address a couple of points that were raised by you, Lamar,
in terms of process, and then we will start diving
in and getting to work. All right? Nancy. Nancy Pelosi:
Yes Mr. President. Thank you very much for
bringing us here today. I will try to stick to the time
because we have many people to hear from. Thank you, Mr. President, again. It was almost a year ago,
March 5th of last year, when you brought us together in
a bipartisan way to set us on a path to lower cost, improved
quality — expand access to quality health care
for all Americans. In the course of that time in
our committees in the House and the Senate, we’ve had
lively discussions. Here we are today. You began your
remarks, Mr. President, by saying there was a glimmer of
bipartisanship in the Senate for the passage of the jobs bill. I want you to know there was a
blaze of bipartisanship in the House yesterday —
with, what, 406-19, we passed under leadership of
Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, Tom Perriello, Betsy Markey and
others the lifting — repealing the exemption that insurance
companies have on health insurance and the antitrust laws
for health insurance — 406-19, a very strong message that, yes,
the insurance companies need to be reined in. So put us down on that
side of the ledger. That day, March 5th, we all
remember the bipartisan spirit, the hope that was in the room,
and also when Senator Kennedy came into the room and declared
himself a “foot soldier” in the fight for health care
for all Americans. And then, later he wrote to you
and said this is not just about the details of policy, it is
about the character of our country. The character of our country
has formed the backbone of our country, our working
middle-class families in America. As we sit around this table, I
think we should be mindful of what they do when they sit
around their kitchen table. What we do here must be
relevant to their lives. And for them, they don’t have
time for us to start over. Many of them are at the end of
the line with their insurance, with their caps, with
their — this and that. You talked about stories —
Senator Alexander did, too. I can tell you many stories as
I travel the country where I’ve seen grown men cry. One man in Michigan, Mr. Dingell
told me that his wife had been sick for a long time. He was at the end of the line
in terms of his finances; he might have to lose his
home, and she was bedridden. He was afraid of what
was going to happen. He was too proud to tell his
children that he needed help, because they were raising
their own families. He said, “When is something
going to happen on health care in America? I can’t hold out much longer.” I have a letter — and Michigan
seems to be where I get some mail on this subject since I’ve
travelled there recently — the woman who said that their family
— to pay their deductible, they have to subtract it
from their food budget. And that’s just one of the
concerns she mentioned. I can’t mention health care in
Michigan without acknowledging Chairman Dingell. His institutional memory of
how difficult it was to pass Medicare, how he has worked
over the decades to improve it, how committed he is
to preserving it, and how important a part of
preserving Medicare is to this passing this health care bill. Later he will inspire us with
that, but he, Mr. President, as you know, as a young
Congressman gaveled Medicare into law in the House
of Representatives. You have talked about how the
present system is unsustainable for families, for businesses
large, modern and large, small — any size, and
how it’s unsustainable, as you said on March
5th of last year. And health care reform
is entitlement reform. Our budget cannot take
this upward spiral of cost. We have a moral obligation to
reduce the deficit and not heap mountains of debt onto
the next generations. But I want to talk for a moment
about what it means to the economy. Imagine an economy where
people could change jobs, start businesses,
become self-employed, whether to pursue their
artistic aspirations or be entrepreneurial and start new
businesses if they were not job-locked, because they have a
child who’s bipolar or a family member who’s diabetic, with
a preexisting condition, and all of the other constraints
that having health care or not having health care places on
an entrepreneurial spirit. Think of an economy with that
dynamism of people following their pursuits, taking risks —
we want them to take risks and yet we lock them down, and
we have an anvil around their businesses because of these
increasing costs of health care. So this bill is not only about
the health security of America. It’s about jobs. In its life it will create
4 million jobs — 400,000 jobs almost
immediately; jobs, again, in the health care industry, but
in the entrepreneurial world as well. You, Mr. President, with
your leadership we passed the American Reinvestment and
Recovery Act last January and got a running start on some of
the technology and scientific advancements in this by the
investments in biomedical research, health IT — health
information technology — a running start by your
signing the SCHIP, the children’s health bill,
insuring 11 million children. You had a running start
on expanding access, and not only that, but doing it
in a way that is of the future. This is not just about
health care for America; it’s about a healthier America. This legislation is
about innovation; it’s about prevention;
it’s about wellness. But most people haven’t
heard about that. And those people sitting
at that kitchen table, they don’t want to
hear about process; they want to hear about results. They want to know what
this means to them. And what it means is a health
initiative that is about affordability for the middle
class, lowering costs, improving access for them. Accessibility — affordability
and accessibility are closely aligned — and accountability
for the insurance companies. So it is — it’s a very
important initiative that we have to take. And I want to say, because
Medicare was mentioned, unless we pass this legislation
we cannot keep our promises on Medicare. We simply must make the
cuts in waste, fraud, and abuse in Medicare so that
the benefits and the premiums are untouched. We owe it to our seniors. We owe it to our country. That day, March 5th, Senator
Kennedy said health care is a right, not a privilege. Let us move in a way
— who can say “ram”? We started this six weeks
after your inauguration, just six weeks after your
inauguration, on March 5th, with you extending a
hand of bipartisanship. And many of the provisions that
are in our bill are initiatives put forth by the Republicans —
others of our colleagues will talk about this. But I just hope that as
we sit around this table, we understand the urgency that
the American people have about this issue, how it affects not
only their health but their economic security. And I thank you, Mr. President,
for your leadership in getting us to this place. Senator Reid:
Mr. President, my
friends in the House and in the Senate, I want to spend a few
minutes talking about Nevada, about our country, and not
what’s going on here in Washington. I want to start by talking about
a young man by the name of Jesus Gutierrez. He works hard. He has a restaurant
in Reno, Nevada. He had everything that he
wanted, except a baby. He had health insurance. He had employees that liked him. But he was fortunate — they
were going to have a baby and it was going to be a little girl. And the baby was born, and in
just a few minutes after the birth of that baby, he was
told that the baby had a cleft pallet. “But that’s okay,” he was told. “We can take care of that.” And they did. They did some surgery on the
baby; he was happy — that is, Jesus was happy — until he got
his mail four months later, opened the envelope, and
the insurance company said, “We didn’t realize that
your baby had a preexisting disability. We’re not covering the $90,000
in hospital and doctor bills you’ve already run up.” So he’s trying to pay that off. The baby needs a
couple more surgeries. This shouldn’t happen
to anyone in America. He had health insurance. He paid his premiums. I say to my friend, Lamar,
who I have great respect and admiration for, you’re
entitled to your opinions, but not your own facts. Your opinion is
something that is yours, and you’re entitled to that,
but not your own set of facts. Senator Moynihan said
that many years ago, and that’s what we
have to do here today. Let’s make sure that
we talk about facts. Last Monday, a week ago
Monday, all over America, results were run from a poll
done by the Kaiser Foundation. It was interesting what that
poll said: 58 percent of Americans would be disappointed
or angry if we did not do health care reform this
year — 58 percent. Across America, more than
60 percent of Republicans, Democrats, and independents want
us to reform the way health care works. Is it any wonder? They want it so that businesses
can afford health care. They want to give consumers more
choices and insurance companies more competition. And the doughnut hole. What is the doughnut hole? Well, a senior citizen will tell
you what the doughnut hole is. Under the Medicare law
that is in existence, you can be sick and you can get
your medication paid for for a while. After you spend $2,000
approximately in medication, you are finished
until you spend $3,500 more out of your own pocket. And what happens during that
hole that we’ve called the doughnut hole? Seniors in America are
splitting pills in half, not getting the
prescriptions filled, taking them every other day. Again, Lamar, you’re entitled to
your opinion but not your own facts. No one has said — I read what
the President has online — no one has talked about
reconciliation but that’s what you folks have talked about
ever since that came out, as if it’s something that
has never been done before. Now, we as leaders
here, the Speaker and I, have not talked about doing
reconciliation as the only way out of all this. Of course it’s not
the only way out. But remember, since 1981
reconciliation has been used 21 times. Most of it has been used by
Republicans, for major things, like much of the Contract for
America, Medicare reform, the tax cuts for rich
people in America. So reconciliation isn’t
something that’s never been done before. It’s as if there’s
a different mindset, a different set of
facts than the reality. Remember, Chairman Dodd in the
HELP Committee held weeks of markups. And in the bill that he
reported out of that committee, there’s more than 150 Republican
amendments that are part of that legislation. The same happened with Chairman
Baucus in the Finance Committee. And those were put together,
that’s what we brought to the floor. So the bill on the floor that my
friend Lamar is lamenting here has significant input
from the Republicans. So let’s look at the facts a
little bit more because they can be stubborn, you know? Harvard just completed
a study that shows 45,000 Americans die every year
because they don’t have health insurance — almost
1,000 a week in America. In 2008, about 750,000
bankruptcies were filed. About 70 percent of those
bankruptcies were filed because of health care costs. Eighty percent of the people
that filed for bankruptcy because of health care
costs had health insurance. America is the only country in
the world where if you get sick or hurt, you’re going to have
to file bankruptcy — 750,000 bankruptcies in 2008. These facts show that the story
that I told about Jesus is not just a story of some young
businessman in Reno, Nevada, running a restaurant that gets
jerked around by an insurance company. Happens all over. Health reform shouldn’t be about
political parties fighting each other. It should be about people
fighting for their lives and fighting for a better
quality of life, people like Jesus
and that little girl. This debate shouldn’t be about
whether an idea came from Democrats or Republicans, or one
side of the aisle or the other side of the aisle, but whether
the idea will improve the health care delivery system
in our country. I know, it’s obvious, we’ve
heard it — our Republican friends oppose our legislation. And that is your right. But also, it becomes your
responsibility to propose ideas for making it better. So if you have a better plan for
making health insurance more affordable, let’s hear it. If you have a better plan
for making health insurance companies more accountable,
let’s face it. Let’s work on it. If you have a better plan for
doing this while cutting the deficit, as our bill did —
during the first 10 years, our bill cuts the
deficit by $132 billion; the second 10 years
up to $1.3 trillion. Those aren’t my numbers; they’re
from Congressional Budget Office. So we’re ready to listen. I so appreciate the President
getting us together. I want the American people
to know that we need to work together, and I want to do
everything that I can as a senator to work with my
colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get this done. We need to do
health care reform. I’ve spoken with Madam
Speaker on many occasions, numerous times,
about health care. We spent most of the last year
talking about health care. I so admire her tenacity,
her legislative brilliance. And I will do everything
I can, Mr. President, to get this health care
reform over the goal line.

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Methew Wade

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