Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- Democrats’ Health Care Plan Scares Seniors, Cuts Medicare

Posted on November 5, 2009

Mr. President, we have a lot of unusual things happening in the Senate, the Congress, and the world today, but apparently we are about to be presented with a rare opportunity that very few Senators ever have a chance to vote on. The Democratic congressional health care bill will present Senators -- it is still being written from behind closed doors, but from what we can tell from the other bills -- with an opportunity to vote for $1/2 trillion in Medicare cuts and $900 billion-plus in new taxes at the same time. It is very rare that any Senator has a chance to vote for Medicare cuts that big and new taxes that big all at once. It is not an opportunity that many, if any, Republicans will take advantage of, but that is the proposal that is coming. It caused my colleague from Tennessee to say on the Senate floor yesterday that if Republicans were to propose the same thing -- a $1/2 trillion cut in Medicare, a 60-percent increase in premium costs, which is the estimated increase to Tennesseans who have insurance premiums, according to Senator Corker, plus taxes of $900 billion when fully implemented, it wouldn't get a single Democratic vote. I think Senator Corker is probably right about that. Whenever we say this, this brings a deep concern from the other side of the aisle. The Senator from Ohio came to the Senate floor and engaged in a colloquy with the assistant Democratic leader yesterday after I left the floor and said: Imagine this, the Republican Senator from Tennessee is saying that Democrats are about to cut Medicare. Why would they say that? It makes me incredulous to hear the Senator say that Democrats are going to cut Medicare and we are going to use Medicare cuts to pay for health care reform. The only reason we and everybody else who reads their bill is saying that is because it is true. The proposal is to cut grandma's Medicare and spend it on their proposal, to cut nearly $1/2 trillion in Medicare spending and not spend it on making Medicare solvent. We know the Medicare trustees have said the program is going to go broke in 2015 to 2017, yet we are going to spend that money on a new government program into which many Americans who now have employer-based insurance will find their way. It is not Republicans who are scaring seniors about Medicare cuts; it is the Democratic health care bills that are scaring seniors about Medicare cuts. They have a right to be concerned. Just in case anybody who might be listening thinks we are making this up on the Republican side of the aisle, I brought with me a few articles from reputable sources that describe the Democratic health care proposals and their proposed Medicare cuts. Here is the New York Times on September 24, an article by Robert Pear, who writes about this subject regularly. It says: To help offset the cost of covering the uninsured, the Senate and House bills would squeeze roughly $400 billion to $500 billion out of the projected growth in Medicare over 10 years. That is the New York Times, Mr. President. From the sanfranciscogate.com, this is an Associated Press article of September 22: Congress' chief budget officer on Tuesday contradicted President Obama's oft-stated claim that seniors wouldn't see their Medicare benefits cut under a health care overhaul. The head of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Elmendorf, told senators that seniors in Medicare's managed care plans could see reduced benefits under a bill in the Finance Committee. The bill would cut payment to Medicare Advantage plans by more than $100 billion over 10 years. Elmendorf said the changes "would reduce the extra benefits that would be made available to beneficiaries through Medicare Advantage plans." Then there is the CBO, which in its October 7 letter to Senator Baucus talked about in detail the proposed Medicare cuts. Then there is the Associated Press article of July 30, 2009, which says: Democrats are pushing for Medicare cuts on a scale not seen in years to underwrite health care for all. Many seniors now covered under the program don't like that one bit. That is not the Republican National Committee. That is the Associated Press reporting on what the bills say. It also says: The House bill -- the congressional proposal that has advanced the most -- would reduce projected increases in Medicare payments to providers by more than $500 billion over 10 years, a gross cut of about 7 percent over the period. But the legislation would also plow nearly $300 billion back into the program, mainly to sweeten payments to doctors. That still leaves a net cut of more than $200 billion -- Says the Associated Press, describing the Democratic health care plan -- which would be used to offset new Federal subsidies for workers and their families now lacking health insurance. In other words, we are taking money from Medicare and spending it on someone else. The Senator from Kansas said it is like writing a check on an overdrawn bank account to buy a big new car. That is a pretty good description. I have a couple more. This is the Los Angeles Times, which is not a Republican publication. The headline on June 14 was, "Obama to Outline $313 Billion in Medicare, Medicaid Spending Cuts." That is what Democratic Senators have always called such proposals, that is what the Los Angeles Times calls the proposals, and that is what we call it because that is what they are. The article says: Reporting from Washington -- Under pressure to pay for his ambitious reshaping of the nation's healthcare system, President Obama today will outline $313 billion in Medicare and Medicaid spending cuts over the next decade to help cover the cost of expanding coverage to tens of millions of America's insured. This is from an October 22 NPR report: Over a decade, the committee would cut $117 billion from the Medicare Advantage plans. This is from an article in the Washington Post on October 23: $500 billion in cuts to Medicare over the next decade. That is the Washington Post. This is the Wall Street Journal on September 8: Other sources of funding for the Finance Committee plan include cuts to Medicare. Mr. President, the question is not whether there are going to be cuts to Medicare; that is the proposal. Maybe it is a good idea; maybe it is a bad idea. But we don't need to come to the Senate floor and say that something that is, is not. The proposal in these large expansive health care plans -- the 2,000-page bill coming from the House soon -- is that it is basically half financed by cuts in Medicare -- not to make the program solvent -- a program which has $37 trillion in unfunded liabilities over the next 75 years -- but to spend it on a new government program. Those are the facts. That is why it is important that the American people have an opportunity to read the bill and know what it costs and know how it affects them. The Republican leader and Senator Johanns have talked about taxes in the bill. Rarely does a Senator have an opportunity to vote on so many Medicare cuts and so many new taxes, as we apparently will have when this bill comes to us. The taxes include a tax on individuals who don't buy government-approved health insurance. The Joint Committee on Taxation, our joint committee, and the CBO estimate that at least 71 percent of that penalty, that tax, will hit people earning less than $250,000. So it is not just taxes on rich people. When you impose, as the Senate Finance Committee bill would, $900 billion-plus in new taxes, when fully implemented, on a whole variety of people and businesses that provide health care, what do they do? According to the Director of the CBO, most of those taxes are passed on to the consumers. Who are the consumers? The people who are paying health care premiums -- 250 million Americans. What does that mean? That would mean that instead of reducing the cost of your health care premium, we are more likely to increase it. I ask, Why are we passing a health care reform bill that increases the cost of your health care premiums, raises your taxes, and cuts Medicare to help pay for that? There are increased taxes on health care providers, manufacturers and importers of brand-named drugs, medical device manufacturers -- these will all be passed on to consumers, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation and CBO. The Finance proposal raises the threshold for deducting catastrophic medical expenses, but eighty-seven percent of the 5.1 million taxpayers who claim this deduction earn less than $100,000 a year. They are not millionaires. They earn less than $100,000 a year. In fact, data from the Joint Committee on Taxation and the former Director of the CBO shows, by 2019, 89 percent of the taxes -- these new taxes -- will be paid by taxpayers earning less than $200,000 a year. The 2,000-page proposal from the House of Representatives would raise taxes by $729 million. There is a tax on millionaires, but we know what happens to that when it is not indexed. Forty years ago, we were worried about 155 high-income Americans who were avoiding taxes, so the Congress passed the millionaires tax -- the alternative minimum tax. Today, if we hadn't patched it, as we say, in 2009, that tax would have raised taxes on 28.3 million Americans. The millionaires tax will hit you if you keep earning money. I have said quite a bit about Medicare cuts and taxes. I want to conclude my remarks by quickly saying what Republicans think should be done. We believe the American people do not want this 2,000-page bill that is headed our way. We want, instead, to start over in the right direction, which means reducing costs and re-earning the trust of the American people by reducing the cost of health care step by step. Specifically, we would start with the small business health care plans. That is just 88 pages that would lower premiums, according to the CBO. It could cover up to 1 million new small business employees, and it would reduce spending on Medicaid. Then we could take a step to encourage competition by allowing people to buy health insurance across State lines, and we can take measures to stop junk lawsuits against doctors. More health information technology could be a bipartisan proposal. We can have more health exchanges. The number of pages are very small. Waste, fraud, and abuse are out of control -- $1 out of every $10 spent in Medicaid. Our proposal would offer a choice -- a couple hundred pages, not 2,000 -- reducing premiums and debt and making Medicare solvent instead of cutting it, with no tax increases instead of higher taxes, and reducing costs. That is the kind of health care plan Republicans have offered and the kind we believe Americans will want. We hope over time that will earn bipartisan support. I yield the floor.