Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Speech: Nomination of Sylvia Mathews Burwell

Posted on June 4, 2014

Tomorrow we will vote on the nomination of Sylvia Mathews Burwell to be the Secretary of Health and Human Services.  I intend to vote yes on the nomination.  Ms. Burwell has a reputation for competence, and she is going to need it.  She is being asked to oversee a big mess this administration has created in health care and so far has lacked the leadership to clean up.  Republicans know how to clean it up.  We want to take our health care system in a different direction, and we need to be able to work with Ms. Burwell to do it. 

In a few minutes, I am going to spell out two things:  First, what Ms. Burwell can do to avoid the mistakes of her predecessor in working with Congress and serving the American people, and second, what Republicans would like to do with our health care system.  I have five items to suggest for her to work on with us. 

Number 1: End the secrecy.  Last year I said the NSA could have learned something from Secretary Sebelius because getting information about the Obamacare exchanges was next to impossible for members of Congress.  The administration owes the American taxpayers and their elected representatives under the Constitution information about how the administration is spending our money.  We should not have to rely on anonymous news sources. 

Number 2: Work with Congress.  This administration has made at least 22 unilateral changes in the new health care law, many of which should have been made by Congress.  At this rate, the president may be invited to speak at the next Republican convention for having done the most to change his own health care law. Our founders did not want a king.  Some presidents have stepped over the line the founders intended, but I don't think any president has gone as far as this one.  He has appointed more czars than the Romanovs.  He made recess appointments when the Senate was in session.  He turned his Education Secretary into the chairman of the national school board.  This president has swung the furthest from the kind of elected leaders our founders envisioned, George Washington modeled, and our Constitution prescribed.  Will Ms. Burwell follow the president's steps or will she seek to work within the framework of the Constitution?  I hope she chooses the latter. 

Number 3: Please don't solicit from companies you regulate.  This is pretty simple, but the outgoing Secretary solicited from companies she regulated, and she should not have.  This kind of behavior should leave with her. 

Number 4: Be a good steward of taxpayer dollars.  Apparently the government is set to spend more than 1 billion federal tax dollars in technology costs on the Obamacare website.  We know that nearly $1/2 billion was wasted on four failed state exchanges.  This kind of waste makes American taxpayers furious.  They earned those dollars, paid those taxes, and don't deserve to see that money flushed down the drain by Washington bureaucrats who didn't care enough to see that things were done right. 

Number 5: Show Americans some respect.  That means don't announce major policy changes in blog posts.  When Congress asks if you are in trouble, don't pretend everything is fine.  If Secretary Sebelius had been upfront about the website problems before the rollout, we might have saved Americans precious time and money.

Most importantly, recognize that the majority of Americans disapprove of the new health care law and start taking a look at Republican health care proposals as a way to repair the damage done by Obamacare.       

At Ms. Burwell's hearing before the Senate HELP Committee, where I am the ranking Republican, I laid out again what Republicans would do if we could – what we would like to do with our health care system.  We have been saying this since 2009 when the legislation was first introduced. 

When I was a boy, my grandfather was a railroad engineer in Newton, KS.  He drove a big steam locomotive.  He would drive a switch engine into a roundhouse and onto a turntable.  It might have been headed to Santa Fe, and then he would turn it around and head it off to another direction, maybe to Denver or Houston.  It is hard to turn a big train, so that is what they had the turntables for.

Ms. Burwell understands this.  She is from a railroad town in West Virginia, as it turns out, and that is what Republicans would like to do with our health care system, we would like to turn it around and head it off in a different direction – not back, but in a different direction.  We want to repair the damage Obamacare has done, and we want to prevent future damage as responsibly and rapidly as we can.  We would like to move in a different direction to put in place health care proposals that would increase freedom, increase choices, and lower costs.  We trust Americans to make those decisions themselves, and we believe that is the American way. 

Four years ago, Congress and the president made what we believe was an historic mistake.  Congress passed a 2,700-page bill.  Republicans said we don't believe in trying to rewrite the whole health care system.  Let's instead go step-by-step to create more freedom, more choices, and lower costs. 

Let me take you back for a moment to the health care summit at the Blair House 4 years ago.  The president invited three dozen members of Congress.  He spent 6 hours with us, all on national television.  I was asked to speak first for the Republicans.  I said what I thought was wrong with the President's plan.  I said it would increase health care costs, and it has. 

USA Today reported that health care spending in the first quarter of this year rose at the fastest pace in 35 years.  The Hill newspaper reported that insurance executives say premiums in the new exchanges will double or triple in parts of the country the next year.  Even with subsidies, many Americans are finding that deductibles, copayments, and out-of-pocket expenses are so high they can't afford health insurance.

We said people would lose their choice of doctors, and many have.  We said Obamacare would cancel policies, and it has.  At least 2.6 million Americans have had their individual plans outlawed by Obamacare.  I remember that Emilie from Lawrenceburg, TN, had a $52-a-month policy.  She has lupus, and her policy fit her needs and her budget.  It was canceled.  Now she is in the exchange, and it costs about $400 a month.  She says it is more coverage than she needs and she can't afford it. 

Millions more Americans who get their health care through small businesses will find the same thing will happen to them later this year. We said jobs would be lost, and they have.  The president of Costa Rica is hosting jobs fairs and welcoming medical device companies that have been driven out of the United States by the onerous 2.3-percent tax on revenues.  We said Medicare beneficiaries would be hurt, and they have.  The average cut for a Medicare Advantage beneficiary will be $317 between this year and next.  We said the only bipartisan thing about the bill would be opposition to it, and it is.  A recent Gallup poll says that 54 percent of Americans are opposed to the law. 

During the debate, I said every senator who voted for the new health care law ought to be sentenced to go home and serve as governor in their home state and try to implement it.  There are 16 governors struggling with that today who won't implement the Medicaid expansion because they are worried about costs down the road, and they should.  When I was governor of Tennessee, Medicaid costs were 8 percent of the state budget, and that was in the 1980s.  Today it is about 30 percent.  These governors are wondering what costs will be in 10 years. 

The most important thing we said was what we would do if we could.  We said, “Let’s go step-by-step in a different direction.”  Our Democratic friends said, “Wait a minute. That is not a comprehensive plan.”  We said, “You are right; we don't believe in comprehensive.”  If you are expecting Mitch McConnell to wheel in a wheelbarrow with a 2,700-page Republican health care bill on it, you will wait until the moon turns blue because we are policy skeptics.  We don't believe we are wise enough to write a 2,700-page bill that will change the whole system, but we do believe we can go step-by-step in the right direction, and we outlined our steps. 

Senator Johnson has a proposal that would allow more Americans to keep their insurance plans, as the president promised.  Senator McCain has a proposal that allows you to buy insurance in another state if it fits your budget and your needs. Senator Enzi has a proposal for a small business employer to can combine purchasing power with other employers and offer employees lower cost insurance.  Senators Burr, Coburn, and Hatch have a proposal to allow to you buy a major medical plan to insure you against a catastrophe and a health savings account to pay for everyday expenses.  I have a proposal to make it easier, not harder, for employers to reward employees who live a healthy lifestyle. 

That is what we mean by doing what my grandfather did with that train and turning it around and heading it off in a different and correct direction. 

As rapidly and responsibly as we can, we would like to repair the damage Obamacare has done.  We would like to prevent future damage.  We want to move in a different direction that provides more freedom, more choices, and lower costs.  We trust Americans to make decisions for themselves.  That is the American way. 

Since President Obama will still be in office for the next 2 years, if Ms. Burwell is confirmed, as I fully expect she will be by a good vote, we will need her help to accomplish that.