Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) on Healthcare

Posted on February 27, 2008

I wish to thank my colleague from Tennessee for his comments on health care, for his leadership. He has been, on our side of the aisle, one of the principal actors in the effort to try to combine the idea of, as some say, ``universal access,'' with two other words, ``private sector.'' Four words that usually do not go together. I agree with him. If there was one agenda item on the Republican side of the aisle we could all agree on this year as a goal that we would like to start this year, it would be having every American insured. We would like to make it possible for every American family to have access to and to be able to afford health insurance. I would like to speak to that. First, I would like to comment on the majority leader's comments and those of the Republican leader. We respect the majority leader's right to set the agenda on the Senate floor, and he decided to bring up the Iraq debate this week. But if he brought it up, why doesn't he want to talk about it? We were here yesterday. We are here today. I came down last night and talked about the fact that even though I have had differences with the President on Iraq, we are moving in the right direction. We should say that to our enemy, to our troops, and to the world. Troops are coming out instead of going in; the mission is shifting province by province; we are identifying a long-term but diminishing role in Iraq; and diplomatic efforts are stepped up. Those are basically the three recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, which I wish the President had embraced. He didn't embrace the report itself, but he is headed in that direction. So we are glad to talk about it. Although I agree it would have been better to talk about the economy and housing, we are ready to talk about that as well. But if we are going to talk about housing and the economy, we are ready to take action this year, and we have some pretty big differences of opinion across the aisle. We were able to agree on a stimulus package. First, we had to stop $40 billion in extra spending, but we were able to agree on allowing individuals, largely, to keep their own money. Mr. President, 2.7 million Tennesseans will receive a so-called rebate this spring. There were provisions I liked so well that I am going to introduce legislation to make them permanent. These are the small business provisions that in Tennessee counties, such as Cheatham County where 400 different small businesses will be eligible for accelerated depreciation and expensing. This allows those businesses to keep more money, create more jobs, and stimulate the economy. In Washington County, it is several thousand small businesses. These are good provisions and a good start. I agree we should get on with the next steps to make sure we have a strong, vibrant economy. This is the economy that produces about a third of the money in the world for just 5 percent of all the people in the world. We are in a slowdown right now, but there are steps we can take to step it up. We would say, on this side of the aisle, that would be a bigger, bolder, broader pro-growth economic plan including such things as lower taxes. For example, making permanent the dividend, capital gains, and estate tax rate at 15 percent. Or lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 to 25 percent, so our companies can be competitive with the world and keep their jobs here instead of going overseas. Or a simpler flatter tax giving taxpayers the option of filing a one-page return with a 17-percent or so flat rate. We would support doubling funding on the physical sciences to keep our brain power advantage and can continue to grow jobs here, so these jobs would not go to India and China. That is part of a pro-growth Republican economic plan that would also attract significant independent and Democratic support. We would like to continue to in-source brain power by giving green cards to foreign students who are legally here and who want to stay here and work, creating jobs here instead of going back to India, Ireland, or China and creating jobs there. We would like to make the research and development tax credit permanent, so companies can create more jobs here. We would like to reward outstanding teachers and outstanding school leaders. We can debate that. We would like to give Pell grants to low-income kids so they can have more choices of schools. We would like to implement the America COMPETES Act which we agreed on in a bipartisan way. We would like to lower energy costs by more conservation and nuclear power. We would like to lower the cost of Government by fewer rules and regulations. As Senator Corker was talking about, we would like to lower health care costs. The words that we could most easily agree on on this side of the aisle--and there might not be so much objection over there either--are ``every American insured.'' There is a step-by-step process to get to that. We have over 800,000 Tennesseans without health insurance. We have about 47 million Americans without health insurance. We are at a time in our history where reports by distinguished journals of medicine, such as the New England Journal of Medicine, the Institute of Medicine, and the Trust for America's Health say today's children are likely to be the first generation to live shorter, less healthier lives than their parents. That is a health care crisis. At the same time, the most rapidly growing part of the Federal budget is spending for Medicare and Medicaid. It is growing so rapidly we can't sustain it, so we need an overhaul of our health care system. We need to lower health care costs for the average family so each family can be able to afford at least a basic health insurance policy that doesn't go away when they lose their job. On the way to lowering health care costs and giving every American access to such a health care insurance policy are several pieces of legislation, many of them bipartisan, which we could pass this year. For example, the Kerry-Ensign e-prescribing bill would provide for electronic transmittal of prescription information from the doctor to the pharmacists. In addition, we could pass legislation to allow small business health plans this year. Senator Enzi has been the leader on this issue, and he has worked on legislation that basically would allow small businesses to pool their resources in order to offer health insurance to their employees at an affordable rate--to let them do the same thing big businesses can do. Senator Enzi estimates that could provide insurance to more than 1 million Americans who are not now insured. Senator Martinez has introduced legislation to help get rid of fraud and abuse in Medicare and Medicaid. Tens of billions of dollars are wasted there, and it would lower health care costs to pass the Martinez legislation. Senator Gregg has offered legislation which isn't bipartisan but deserves to be. I hope it can be. It would put limits on punitive damages from lawsuits against doctors who serve pregnant women. Medical malpractice insurance has gone sky high, over $100,000 a year because of lawsuits in some States. As a result, the doctors are leaving the rural areas, and pregnant women are having to drive 40, 50, 60 miles for prenatal health care or to deliver their babies, because the doctors aren't there anymore. In a few places such as Mississippi, Texas, and Kentucky, steps have been taken to say: As long as you are damaged, you can collect, but there is a limit on the punitive damages in those States. Where the rules have been changed, doctors are moving back into those States and back into rural areas. That also lowers health care costs. I am here today as a cosponsor of three different health insurance bills which I hope will move us toward the idea of every American insured, and I would like to talk about two of them today. Senator Coburn, Senator Burr, and Senator Corker have one of those bills, and I am a cosponsor. Senator Wyden and Senator Bennett have another of those bills, and I am a cosponsor of that as well. It has six Republicans and six Democrats. I don't agree with every part of the Wyden-Bennett bill, specifically the mandates from the beginning, but I agree with the spirit of what they are trying to do. Most Americans like the fact that they are working across the aisle to try to make real the idea that every American can have access to health insurance, and they are willing to include--and we would emphasize--the private sector in that solution. We have a whole year. This is a Presidential year. That doesn't mean we should take a vacation. We got off to a pretty good start with the stimulus package. We got off to a very good start with the FISA bill. Unfortunately, the House took a vacation without acting on it. I suggest that Republicans are ready to join with Democrats and take steps this year toward the goal of every American insured.