Speeches & Floor Statements

Colloquy Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Republican Colleagues - Democratic Health Care Bill

Posted on December 11, 2009

Mr. BARRASSO. Madam President, it seems to me that what the Senator is doing with the Crapo amendment is actually trying to help people, trying to help the American people by taking this burden of $500 billion of taxes off of their backs, off of their shoulders; helping the American people. That is what I see he is trying to accomplish, at a time where with a gimmick they are going to start taxing immediately and when the taxes go into play -- today is the 11th of December; in 20 days they are going to start collecting taxes for services they are not going to give for 4 more years. So it seems to me what is going on here with the Crapo amendment is it is saving the American people by keeping dollars in their pockets, keeping dollars in the pockets of the hard-working people of our country.

I am not the only one who is saying that. There is a new CNN poll out today that specifically asks the question -- because the President has made a statement about the fact that you wouldn't see your taxes go up -- Do you think your taxes would or would not increase if Harry Reid's bill is passed, and 85 percent of the American people in a CNN poll out today said they believe their taxes are going to go up; 85 percent of the American people.

Mr. CRAPO. I would say to my colleague from Wyoming that they are right, if this bill is not committed back to the Finance Committee to take those taxes out.

The next phrase in the amendment is -- this is referring to a procedural motion, we call it -- "that provides tax cuts for American workers and families."

In other words, they don't want to send it back to committee to have a procedural motion put into place that would stop them from providing tax cuts for American families.

Again, it is rhetoric. Read the motion. The motion does not say to take out any benefits in the bill for anybody in America, unless you consider taxing people to be a benefit to them, but it simply says the taxes in the bill that are imposed on people that the President identified to be in the middle class and would be protected must be removed from the bill.

Mr. ROBERTS. Would the distinguished Senator yield for a question?

Mr. CRAPO. Yes.

Mr. ROBERTS. As Republicans, there is probably no principle that unifies us more than keeping taxes low on American workers and families, and I don't think our friends on the other side would dispute that notion. Indeed, the Democratic Party assumed control of the White House almost a year ago, as everybody knows, and seated large majorities here in the Congress. The one unmistakable distinction between the parties is this: Our party has respectfully opposed -- I underline the word respectfully -- opposed numerous efforts by the majority party to impose broad-based taxes increases on American workers and families. So one only need to look at the stimulus debate or the budget debate or the cap and-trade legislation, and I could go on and on and on, more especially with the health care debate, and the bill before us indeed.
Don't you follow from that general principle?

Mr. CRAPO. Absolutely. Again, I believe what is going on here with this new amendment is simply an effort to sort of divert attention from the real issue that is before the American people, the motion that was before the Senate, before we were forced by a procedural vote yesterday to move off the bill, and that is the question of the taxes in the bill.

The final phrase refers to a couple of the provisions in the bill that do have some support for improving the tax circumstances for small businesses and the affordability tax credit, meaning the tax credit that will be utilized to implement the subsidies for insurance.

Again, we can say it any number of times, but the fact is the motion they are trying to avoid does not deal with either of these provisions of the bill; it deals with those provisions in the bill that tax the American people.

Mr. BARRASSO. My question would be -- I am fine with voting on this, but it doesn't mean anything. I think it is absolutely meaningless, the Baucus amendment. I want to get to the heart of the matter, the meat of the matter, which is the Crapo amendment. That is the one I think makes the difference for the American people. If I were a citizen sitting at home watching C-SPAN on a Friday afternoon saying, what is going on in the Senate, what do I want, what is going to help me, I would say I want to call my Senator and say: Vote for the Crapo amendment because that is the one that is actually going to help keep money in my pocket. The sense of the Senate? Oh, that is nice, but it is meaningless.

I think we are ready to get back -- I am ready to vote right now for the Crapo amendment because that is the one I think is going to help possibly save my job if I am at home and working. I am worried about unemployment in the country, I am worried about the taxes and the impact that is going to have. Because I worry if we don't get these taxes out of here, it is going to be a job killer for our Nation and for families all across this country, in Idaho, in Wyoming, in Kansas, in Kentucky. I think we have great concerns for the economy and the 10-percent unemployment. We need to get those taxes out of there now.

Mr. CRAPO. The Senator is, in fact, right. If you go back and try to get a little perspective on the entire debate, most Americans would agree that we need health care reform, but when they say that, they are talking about the need to control the skyrocketing costs of their health insurance and the costs of medical care, and they are talking about making sure we have real, meaningful access to quality health care in America.

In his statements, the President has many times commented about different parts of that. We remember when he said, If you like what you have, you can keep it. Well, we have seen that is not true, and there will be and have been already amendments to try to address those questions.
Remember when he said, It is going to drive down the cost of health care and drive down your health care premiums? Well, we have learned now that it doesn't do that either; it actually drives up the cost of health care insurance and it is going to drive up the cost of medical care in this country.

Remember when he said, You will not see your taxes go up? In fact, he pledged that if you were a member of the middle class, whom he defined as those making less than $250,000 as a couple or $200,000 as an individual, you would not see your taxes go up. Well, this motion is focused on that part of the debate. What did we see happen? Instead of letting us fix the bill, send the bill back to the Finance Committee to make the bill comply with the President's pledge, we saw two procedural maneuvers, one to maneuver off the bill, to get off the bill and move to the omnibus appropriations bill; and then secondly, to put up a bait-and-switch amendment that makes it look as though there is some kind of protection being put in place when, in reality, it is nothing more than a sense of the Senate relating to procedural motions that don't exist. I agree with my colleague from Wyoming and with my colleague from Kansas.

I see we have several of our other colleagues joining us here now. We need to keep the focus on health care and we need to keep the focus on those core parts of the bill that are critical to the American people.

Before I ask my colleague from Kansas if he wishes to make any other comments on this, I will reiterate the point that my colleague from Wyoming made with regard to the American people's understanding of this issue. In that CNN poll that I believe showed over 60 percent -- I think it was 61 percent -- of the people in this country who do not want this bill to move forward because they are now understanding what it does, that same poll, 85 percent of the people in this country believe that this pledge of the President is broken by this bill.

Mr. ALEXANDER. I wonder if I might ask the Senator from Idaho and the Senator from Kansas, both the Senators are on the Finance Committee, I believe, and have been working on this health care bill for a long time. It is typical of a big, complex bill such as this that it is difficult to pass, and you get a sense every now and then of whether it is likely to pass or unlikely to pass. This week has been a particularly difficult week for the bill. I have noticed the majority leader trying to create a sense of inevitability about the bill.

But, increasingly, it seems to me, with it becoming clear that with so much of it being paid for by new taxes, and then last night the chief actuary of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services saying the cost is going up, premiums are going up; with the Mayo Clinic saying it is beginning to not take Medicare patients, and the idea of putting millions more Americans into a program already going broke which you are taking $1 trillion out of is a bad idea; I wonder if in all -- and all this talk about history being made and the inevitability of this bill, that the Senator from Idaho might not think, looking back over this whole debate, that maybe there are a lot of different ways to make it -- that maybe a growing number of Senators might be thinking -- not saying yet -- might be thinking that this bill would be an historic mistake and that all the king's horses and all the king's men are not going to be able to push this up over the top.

Mr. CRAPO. The Senator from Tennessee is right, and he has put his finger on one of the key issues that is going on here in the Senate that sometimes isn't highlighted as closely as I think maybe it should be. That is, while we are talking about the need to make sure this bill does not raise taxes on the middle class, to make sure that the bill does not increase the cost of health insurance premiums, and to make sure that we maintain quality of health care and don't cut Medicaid and Medicare, the real battle here is an effort to create a legacy to essentially put the government in control of the health care economy. That is the debate. That is the legacy. That is the history that those who are pushing the bill are seeking to make, and they are seeking to make it at the expense of those on Medicare, of those of the taxpayers in America; and of the costs, the cost curve that they said they want to drive down, dealing with the cost of our health care.
I see our leader is here.

Mr. McCONNELL. I say to my friends from Tennessee and Idaho, December 11, 2009 may be remembered as the seminal moment in the health care debate for those who are writing about what finally happened on this issue. There were two extraordinary messages delivered on this very day on this health care issue. They were delivered from CMS and from CNN. CNN told us how the American people felt about it: 61 percent, as the Senator from Idaho pointed out, telling us please don't pass this bill. A week ago, Quinnipiac said 14 percent more disapproved than approved; the week before Gallup said 9 percent more disapproved than approved. We can see what is happening here: widening public opposition.

And then CMS, the actuary, the independent government employee who is an expert on this, says this bill, the Reid bill, doesn't do any of the things it is being promoted to accomplish. So two important messages on December 11 delivered from CNN and from CMS.

Mr. ROBERTS. Would the Senator yield?

Mr. CRAPO. Yes.

Mr. ROBERTS. I wish to thank our distinguished leader for pointing that out. It has been a seminal event. As I said before, I have the privilege of being chairman of the Rural Health Care Caucus. There are probably 30 of us in a bipartisan caucus to try to protect and improve the rural health care delivery system. I took that report by Mr. Foster, who is the actuary of CMS, and said, this is required reading. I made the point that if you mention CMS to a beleaguered hospital administrator or a member of the board or any medical provider -- doctor, nursing home, home health care, hospice; even hospice is cut in regard to the cuts -- they know if a CMS representative is knocking on the door, that is a lot like sending a cold shiver down their spine and thinking it is Lizzie Borden. Of all of the agencies that now are shining the light of truth into darkness in regard to the nature of this bill in increased costs, and yes, rationing -- no, it is not a scare tactic -- CMS is that agency. It would be amazing if we could get CMS to report back on, if we knew what it was -- the media reports are how we get the information on this new iteration of a bill where allegedly we are going to add in people from 55 years old into the Medicare system. You do that, and now all of a sudden even the national organizations, let alone the State provider associations who have been opposed to this, to say, Whoa, we can't do that. That is going to break the system.

What I wish to point out and what I think is another piece of information that has sort of been overlooked, the CBO has estimated the cost to the Internal Revenue Service to implement taxes and penalties and enforce them -- I am talking about the IRS now, not CMS, but the IRS are the people who are going to implement and administer and enforce taxes and penalties on the bill -- that is $10 billion of it that has been estimated. That would double the budget size of the IRS. We have to train these people, and then you have to figure out what kind of questions they are going to ask of employers and employees in regard to the fines and the fees, you have to read the fine print. Lord knows how many cars they are going to get. Maybe they could get some cash-for-clunker cars and paint them black and go around the countryside and do their thing. The American people understand this tremendous tax increase is going to be administered by the IRS and that is not going to be a happy circumstance. But those two things that the leader has brought out are absolutely primary in this debate.

I think a side-by-side is a straw man. I think it is very clear about that. I am happy to comment on that further. I wish to give others an opportunity to speak.

Mr. ALEXANDER. If I can make a short comment, I thank the Senator from Idaho for his leadership on taxes. But Senator McConnell's comment about those two events on December 9 -- the poll from CNN and the report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services chief actuary -- made me think about the immigration bill 2 years ago, in 2007. There were a lot of our best Senators working to pass comprehensive immigration bill, including Senators McCain, Kennedy, Kyl, Martinez, Members on both sides of the aisle, who worked very hard to do it. There seemed to be a sense of inevitability that that bill might pass. The President was even behind it.

But then it began to have so many problems, and the red flags began to pop up just like they are popping up with this comprehensive health care bill. There came a time, perhaps much like December 10, when the sense of inevitability was replaced by a sense that we were making a historic mistake, and a bill that got on the floor with 64 votes only had 46 to get off.
I have a feeling this bill, the more we learn about it, the wiser thing to do is to let it fall of its own weight. Then we can start over, step by step, to reearn the trust of the American people by reducing health care costs. We can do that. That is the sense I have.

I appreciate the Republican leader's observation about those important events on the 9th.

Mr. CRAPO. Mr. President, I agree with my colleagues. I think the comment of our leader is very insightful. As you start seeing the evidence mount, and the fact that the American public is understanding the weight of this mounting evidence about this legislation, we could be at the tipping point right now, where it has become so evident that the purpose behind health care reform has not only been missed by this legislation, but it has been made worse -- the objectives.
I point to this chart, the cost curve. When you talk to most Americans about what they believe the purpose behind health care reform is, the vast majority say it is to control the skyrocketing costs. Well, those who are promoting the bill say it does that, it bends that cost curve. Which cost curve? Is it the size of government? That goes up $2.5 trillion in the first full 10 years of implementation. The cost of health care -- the CMS report came out, it is about the 10th report, but this is from the actuary of the Medicare and Medicaid system who analyzed this independently, and he says health care costs are going to go up, not down.

The CBO said the cost of insurance is going to go up, not down. The Federal deficit, -- they say the bill doesn't make the Federal deficit go up. In fact, regarding that, the only way they can claim that is if they implement their budget gimmicks of delaying implementation of the bill for 4 years on the spending side, while raising taxes now, or if they raise hundreds of billions in taxes and cut Medicare by hundreds of billions of dollars.

These things are starting to be understood by the American people. That is why I believe we are starting to see those kinds of answers in the polls. It is not just the CNN poll, as the leader knows. Many polls are showing the American people get it.

Mr. ROBERTS. Will the Senator yield for another question?

Mr. CRAPO. Yes.

Mr. ROBERTS. I would like to get back to the side-by-side amendment allegedly being offered by the chairman of the Finance Committee, the Senator from Montana. I said straw man, and that is pretty harsh, but I intend it to be. We have seen how, if the language is examined, the amendment, at a minimum, is a red herring. You can fairly say the amendment, rather, has no other purpose than to facilitate a strong argument.

On Tuesday, when the Senator laid down his amendment, the majority didn't show us this side-by-side amendment until shortly before we thought -- and they thought -- we were going to vote. So that very limited notice makes you think it may be more likely to distract from or muddy the clear question the Senator from Idaho brought; that is, the motion to commit before the Senate. The motion was designed to be to be straightforward, and the Senator did that.

A vote for the motion is a vote to send the Reid amendment and underlying bill back to the Finance Committee. Under the motion, the Finance Committee would report back a bill that eliminates the tax increases on middle-income taxpayers. One could not say it anymore simply. That is what the motion does. The other bill is a straw man.

After the remarks by the distinguished leader, I would say this may be a seminal event. He mentioned CNN and CMS. That is almost an oxymoron in regard to understanding that, but that is what happened. It is like Pearl Harbor. This is the day of infamy, a day for a bill we should not be considering. I think that is one of the key votes where the other side could start to realize this and start to finalize this without all the rhetoric and ideology and philosophical support for this bill, and they could start the road back, if you will, of doing it in a step-by-step, thoughtful way -- doing it, meaning real health care reform.

I commend the Senator. Again, this side-by-side is a straw man. The Senator is clear in what he wants to do. Under the Senator's motion, the Finance Committee would report back a bill that eliminates the tax increases for middle-income taxpayers. We can restart the debate in a bipartisan way, where we can agree on many common goals. I thank the Senator.

Mr. CRAPO. I thank my colleague. Mr. President, how much time remains?

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Thirty minutes.

Mr. CRAPO. I thank the Chair.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Under the previous order, the Republican leader is recognized.

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, this follows along further with my colleagues who were discussing the CMS report.

Americans, of course, were told the purpose of reform was to lower costs, to bend the so-called cost curve down. But the report released last night by the administration's own independent scorekeeper, as we have been discussing on the floor of the Senate, shows the Reid bill gets a failing grade.

The chief actuary is the person the administration depends on to give its straightforward, unbiased analysis of the impact the legislation would have. This is an independent expert. It is the official referee, if you will. So this is quite significant.

According to CMS, the Reid bill increases national health spending. According to CMS, there are new fees for drugs, devices and insurance plans in the Reid bill and they will increase prices and health insurance premiums for consumers.

According to CMS, claims about the Reid bill extending the solvency of Medicare are based on the shakiest of assumptions.

According to CMS, the Reid bill creates a new long-term insurance program, commonly referred to around here as the CLASS Act, that CMS actuaries found faces a "very serious risk of becoming unsustainable."

The CMS found that such programs face a significant risk of failure.

The Reid bill pays for a $1 trillion government expansion into health care, with nearly $1 trillion in Medicare payment cuts.

All of this, I continue to be quoting from the CMS report.

The report further says the Reid bill is especially likely to result in providers being unwilling to treat Medicare and Medicaid patients, meaning a significant portion of the increased demands for Medicaid services would be difficult to meet.

The CMS actuary noted the Medicare cuts in the bill could jeopardize Medicare beneficiaries' access to care. The CMS actuary also found that roughly 20 percent of all Part A providers -- that is hospitals and nursing homes, for example -- would become unprofitable within the next 10 years as a result of these cuts. As a result of those Medicare cuts, 20 percent of hospitals and nursing homes would become unprofitable within 10 years.

The CMS actuary found that further reductions in Medicare growth rates through the actions of the independent Medicare advisory board, which advocates have pointed to as a central linchpin in reducing health care spending, "may be difficult to achieve in practice."

The CMS further found the Reid bill would cut payments to Medicare Advantage plans by approximately $110 billion over 10 years, resulting in "less generous benefit packages" and decreasing enrollment in Medicare Advantage plans by about 33 percent. That is a 33-percent decrease in Medicare Advantage enrollment over 10 years.

What should we conclude from this CMS report? The report confirms what we have known all along: The Reid plan will increase costs, raise premiums, and slash Medicare.

That is not reform. The analysis speaks for itself.

This day, this Friday, as we were discussing yesterday, is a seminal moment. We have heard from CMS, the Government's objective actuary, the bill fails to meet any of the objectives we all had in mind. We also heard from CNN about how the American people feel about this package: 61 percent are opposed; only 36 percent are in support.

The American people are asking us not to pass this, and the Center for Medicaid Services' actuary is telling us it doesn't achieve the goals that were desired at the outset. How much more do we need to hear? How much more do we need to hear before we stop this bill and start over and go step by step to deal with the cost issue, which the American people thought we were going to address in this debate?