Speeches & Floor Statements

Senate floor speech: Repealing and Replacing Obamacare

Posted on September 25, 2013

Once after I made a speech my late friend Alex Haley, the author of “Roots,” came up to me and said:  “Lamar, may I make a suggestion?” 

            I said:  “Of course.” 

            He said:  When you speak--instead of “making a speech,” would you say, “let me tell you a story,” and someone might actually listen to what you have to say.  So I do have a little speech on the new health care law to make.  But before I make a speech, let me tell a story that I think applies to the new health care law.  It is a story about two famous and patriotic Tennesseans who went to Texas.

            The two men are Sam Houston and Davy Crockett.  In the early part of the 19th century, Sam Houston was the Governor of Tennessee.  He resigned that position because of a problem with his marriage.  He went to Arkansas, lived with Indians, and he went to Texas. 

            Congressman Davy Crockett went for a different reason.  He got crossways with President Andrew Jackson, who recruited a one-legged veteran of the War of 1812 to run against him and he lost his race for Congress in 1834.  He later went to the courthouse steps in Madison County, Tennessee, and said what every defeated candidate has always wanted to say to such voters.  He said:  “I am going to Texas and you can go to hell,” and he went to Texas.  That is historic fact.  I am not using bad words here.

            So we had these two famous Tennesseans, patriotic, brave men, both of whom went to Texas.  They had the same goal in mind, the independence of Texas, but they had different tactics.  Former Congressman Davy Crockett said:  “I think I will go to the Alamo.”  Some people said:  “Davy, if you go to the Alamo, you will get killed.”  He went to the Alamo anyway and he did get killed, but we remember him for his bravery and we remember the Alamo.

            Sam Houston took a different tack.  He withdrew with his men to San Jacinto.  He was heavily criticized by some people in Texas at that time for withdrawing.  Some said it was a retreat, but he waited until the Mexican General Santa Anna was in a siesta with his troops, he attacked, defeated his troops, and he won the war.

            Today we celebrate both men.  We think of them both as patriots, as great Americans, and we remember the Alamo.  But we celebrate Texas Independence Day on March 2, 1836, when Sam Houston won the war. 

            The moral of the story is that sometimes in a long battle, patience is a valuable tactic.  That is why I am in Sam Houston's camp on this one.  I am not in the shut down the government crowd, I am in the take over the government crowd. Americans should elect more Republican senators and then ultimately a Republican president and then I am going to delay, dismantle, and replace the new health care law which we call Obamacare with a law that actually reduces health care costs for Americans.

            My first reason for not shutting down the government is that it will not work.  The problem is even if we were to vote to shut down the government, according to the way some people argue -- and I understand their passion and I respect it -- Obamacare would just keep going like the Energizer bunny.  The reason Senator Coburn, the senator from Oklahoma, has pointed out is that 85 percent of the funding for Obamacare is mandatory spending.  Mandatory spending is the type of spending that just keeps going.  So money for the exchanges, money for the subsidies, and the individual mandate would continue. What would we have achieved?  We would have shut down the government, but most of Obamacare would keep going.  If that is not enough, the president has authority in the law to declare some services essential.  I assume, since this is his signature issue and he is president for another three years, that he would declare most of Obamacare essential services.

            So where would we be?  As long as we have a Democratic majority in the Senate and President Obama in the White House, it takes 67 votes in the Senate to repeal Obamacare and we have 46 on the Republican side.  Every one of us has voted against Obamacare repeatedly.  Every one of us would do so again.  Every one of us would vote to repeal it.  But in my view, the right tactic is not to shut down the government. It won’t work, Obamacare would just keep going, and we would have shut down the government.

            What does that mean?  What does a government shutdown mean?  Not everything would shut down, but here are some of the things that would or could happen:  The 3.4 million active-duty military who would have to report to work-- whether at Fort Campbell in Kentucky and Tennessee or in Afghanistan--would not be paid for their service as long as the government is shut down.  At home, their spouses could suddenly find the Department of Defense schools closed.  What are they going to do for childcare, or with a check arriving too late to pay the mortgage? Social Security checks would continue to be paid, but the offices might be closed.  Same for more than 20 million of our veterans who receive benefits; they might come late.  Two million Americans fly every day.  There would likely be fewer TSA agents, fewer air traffic controllers, leading to long lines at the airports in Nashville and New York and Chicago.  How do you think those 2 million people are going to feel about that? 

            The national parks would close.  Head Start might close and many of the 110,000 people at our national laboratories could be furloughed.

            The last time the government shut down was nearly 20 years ago. Back then, 200,000 people applied for passports and couldn't get them during the shutdown.  There are 200,000 Tennesseans going to college this fall who want or are in the process of getting a new student loan and they might not get it on time.

            Your gun permit might not come through, neither might your FHA loan.  The last time we had a government shutdown, it cost the taxpayers $1.4 billion extra dollars, according to the Congressional Research Service. 

            So I am in the Sam Houston camp on this issue in that I want to show a little patience in trying to win the war. If we shut down the government, Obamacare keeps going, it costs the taxpayers a lot of money, and inconveniences a lot of Americans. Who do you suspect is going to get blamed for this? We will have succeeded in shifting the blame for passing Obamacare from the Democrats, who did it unanimously, to the Republicans for shutting down the government. You would think the Democratic National Committee might have come up with that idea, not the Republican National Committee.

            That might not be a good public policy position, but it is a fact and people are observing it. 

            Then there are people who say to be a good conservative, you have to vote to shut down the government.  I have been listening to these people who define who is a good conservative and who is not a good conservative.  It is a little bit like being in Sunday school and somebody new comes into class and says:  I am a better Christian than you are and if you don't agree with me get out of the church. 

            You might say:  Grandma is a Quaker and Uncle Sam is a Baptist and we all try pretty hard in our faith.  It is not up to us to judge which one of us on the Republican side is a better conservative than another.  Everyone who looks around knows among Republicans, most of us are conservatives, but we have different kinds.  We have neoconservatives, we have paleoconservatives, we have fiscal conservatives, we have social conservatives, we have cultural conservatives, we have Ross Perot conservatives -- we have opened the door over the last 40 years to every kind of conservative, and it has made our party bigger and more successful because we have tolerated different points of view. 

            So I am not for shutting down the government for all those reasons.  It will not work.  When the government has been shut down before the congressmen could not buy their plane tickets back to Washington fast enough to open the government because the voters were absolutely outraged.  It would shift the blame for Obamacare, which ought to be the referendum in 2014, to should you shut down the government or not shut down the government? We should not be in this business of saying I am a better Christian than you are or I am a better Jew than you are or I am a better conservative than you are.  We ought to respect each other's point of view.

            Instead, what should we do?  First, we ought to delay implementation of the new health care law.  My colleague from Tennessee, Representative Marsha Blackburn whose conservative credentials I’ve never heard anybody question, and Senator Jeff Flake from Arizona wrote an editorial the other day -- I ask unanimous consent for it be printed in the Record following my remarks -- saying the health care law must be delayed.

            There is good reason for that.  It is coming too fast and the chairman of the Finance Committee said it is going to be a train wreck.  The logical thing to do is delay it for one year. The president has already delayed many provisions of the health care law.  The employer mandate has been delayed for one year.  The requirement that insurance companies report to the IRS information about health insurance products has been delayed for one year.  The ability for small employers to provide employees with multiple health insurance plan options in something we call the small business SHOP exchange has been delayed for one year.  The ability for state Medicaid programs to send electronic notices to beneficiaries, that is delayed for one year.  The start of the Basic Health Program, delayed for one year.

            Other provisions have been delayed for one year and there are regulations that the administration has simply not had time to issue.  So why not delay the entire law for one year?  That would give the administration time to at least get ready, it would give the American people a chance to have a referendum on the law in 2014.  So that is the first thing we could do.

            The second thing we could do is begin to dismantle the law.  By that I mean we should repeal all of the job-killing, premium-hiking taxes, especially the medical device tax. This is a particularly onerous tax that is 2.3 percent on the revenues of those companies and it drives up the cost of medical devices that tens of millions of Americans use. We should also and repeal the mandates on individuals, families, and job creators that drive up premiums.  But that is not all we should do. 

            We have a responsibility to say what we would do as Republicans if the voters were to trust us with the government.  If they were to give us more senators who would vote to delay, dismantle, and repeal Obamacare, what would we do with it? Or if in a couple of years they were to give us a Republican president, what would we propose? 

            We can do a pretty good job of saying what we don't like in Obamacare.  Three years ago, I was asked by Senator McConnell and Speaker Boehner to lead off for the Republicans at the president's Health Care Summit.  I took the opportunity to outline for the president some of the problems with his proposal that we saw at that time.  It turned out that we were pretty prescient in what we were saying because most of the problems we predicted have happened: increased premiums, more spending, more taxes. We said a 2,700-page bill, more or less, probably has a lot of surprises in it.  The bill cut Medicare by one-half trillion dollars, not to make Medicare solvent, but to spend on a new entitlement even though Medicare is going broke within several years according to the Medicare trustees. If Medicare goes broke, people will not be able to depend on it.

            We said the new law would mean there will be about one-half trillion dollars of new taxes, and millions of Americans’ premiums would go up. Today, the newspapers are filled with stories of rising premiums.  So that is what we said at the President's Health Care summit three years ago. Now we have an obligation to say what we would like to do instead.

            I said to the president at that time:  Mr. President, the president's -- your – proposed health care law is an historic mistake because it expands a health care delivery system that already costs too much instead of taking steps to reduce its costs.  The law is a mistake because it attempts to be comprehensive, and it is too big a bite to chew, too much to swallow, and too much to digest at one time. 

            That is turning out to be right.  That is why we have all these delays.  So we suggested why don't we go step-by-step to begin to reduce health care costs?  We suggested at the president's health care summit working with him in a bipartisan way to do that.

            We can still do that.  We can delay it.  We can dismantle the parts of it I talked about.  Then what do we do? 

            Step No. 1, make Medicare solvent so seniors can depend on it.  Senator Corker and I have a proposal which will do that, offer seniors more choices and at the same time reduce the Federal debt by nearly one trillion dollars over the next 10 years.  Medicare needs to be solvent because we have many Tennesseans who depend on it to pay their hospital bills, and it is going broke in a few years if we don't take steps to do that.

            No. 2, give Governors more flexibility with their state Medicaid programs.  Medicaid has gone from 8 percent of the State budget when I was Governor in the 1980s to 26 percent today.  It is soaking up money that ought to go to higher education.  Governors would like to keep tuitions from going higher, but they cannot and the main reason is Federal Medicaid mandates get in the way so we need to make Medicaid more flexible.

            I said when the health care debate was going on that every Senator who votes for it ought to be sentenced to go home and serve as Governor for 2 years to implement it.

That may be one reason we have so many Governors who are having a hard time balancing their budgets with all these federal mandates.

            No. 3, strengthen innovative workplace wellness programs.  The administration has a regulation that needs to be repealed that restricts the ability of employers to say to employees: If you live a healthy lifestyle, you can have lower insurance premiums.

            No. 4, let small businesses pool their resources and offer a lower cost insurance plan for their employees.                         

            No. 5, provide families the opportunity to purchase insurance across State lines. 

            No. 6, expand access to health savings accounts and catastrophic health insurance plans, which would give people an opportunity to buy cheaper insurance rather than more expensive insurance. 

            No. 7, incentivize the growth of private health insurance exchanges.

            No. 8, make it easier for patients to compare prices and the qualities of doctors.

            No. 9, incentivize States to reform junk medical malpractice lawsuits.           

I have talked about one way to delay Obamacare, two ways to dismantle it, and nine steps to move from expanding a health care delivery system that already costs too much. By  introducing more choice and competition into our health care delivery system, we can achieve the goal of reducing costs for most Americans.  That is a strategy, an agenda and a plan that will earn the confidence of enough independent voters in Tennessee and other States across this country to elect more Republican Senators, or Democratic Senators who agree with us, and that will give us a chance to dismantle, delay, and repeal the health care law, which was an historic mistake.

            This is nothing new.  We counted it up.  Republicans mentioned 173 times in the health care debate our step-by-step plan to reduce health care costs.  We still stand ready to put it into place. 

            The best way to repeal Obamacare is not to shut down the government.  The best way to do it is to take over the government, elect some more Senators, and elect a President.  Put it in a bill.  That is our constitutional system.  We all admire the Constitution.  We carry it in our pockets, and we talk about it.  We have a constitutional system, and we have to follow those rules if we want to make legislative changes. 

            I greatly respect the passion and the endurance of those Senators who argue that we should shut down the government if we don't get our way immediately on the health care law.  I respect that just as I remember the Alamo and respect our great Tennessean Davy Crockett who went to Texas.  But on this one, when it comes to tactics, I am in General Sam Houston's camp.  I think we will have to show patience to win the war.  In the meantime, let's delay Obamacare, let's dismantle it, and let's show the American people that we have a better plan with better steps to replace what is in the law now with a step-by-step plan to reduce the cost of Americans' health care.  That is the plan I am voting for today and the rest of this week and the rest of this year and next year, until we get the job done.

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