Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) - Congress Needs to Slow Down and Takes Things Step by Step

Posted on September 13, 2009

It is obvious we need health care reform, but it is also obvious that most Americans aren't comfortable with the direction in which we are going. So since health care amounts 17 or 18 percent of our economy, since it affects the 250 million Americans who have health insurance, this has gone from being another issue to being something personal for every American. And as we say in Tennessee, Washington has “gone from preaching to meddling.” That is why at many town-hall meetings, which would normally attract 30 people, we have had a thousand people show up. Their health is at issue and they want to know what is going on. We have to fix the system, they say, but we have to fix it right. And I say they’re exactly right, and in order to do that, we must start over. We need to start with cost—the cost to you and the cost to your government. Health care costs too much for you to buy your policy, and it is about to bankrupt the government unless we do something about it. One of the lessons I think we have learned—not just during the last several months, but in President Bush's time and before that—is that Congress doesn’t do “comprehensive” very well. We were reminded of that during the immigration debate where there was a bipartisan effort to solve a problem only the Congress can solve—and yet it failed. By the time it came up for a vote, the plan was too heavy and just fell around our necks. We tried it with health care in the 90s. We tried to bite off the whole thing at once then, and we’re trying again now, and I think it is more than we can chew. But health care is not the only issue. It’s part of a much larger issue, which is characterized by too many Washington takeovers and too much debt. The American people would like for us to settle down and deal with these issues. Some people have said over the last few weeks that the American people didn't know what they were talking about; that they thought there weren't any real issues out there. I am afraid that is wrong. When you have the Mayo Clinic and the Democratic Governors and the Congressional Budget Office telling you that you are headed in the wrong direction, maybe you are. When you read about a new trillion-dollar health-care plan added to a debt that is already going to double in the next four or five years, you are going in the wrong direction. When the New York Times editorial page says the new program would be paid for—about half of it—through cuts in Medicare, that is a serious issue for the 40 million people on Medicare. There are 177 million people with employer insurance, and they worry they might lose it. Low-income people are worried that they might be dumped into Medicaid, which 40 percent of the doctors won't serve because Medicaid underpays them for the services they provide, and middle-class folks are worried they might be dumped into the new “government option.” There is worry, especially among older Americans, that someone running this government option might say, “You are 70 years old and you can't have a hip replacement.” And there are employers who in a recession aren't interested in paying more taxes than they already do. These are all valid, fair concerns. And finally, Democratic and Republican Governors alike have basically said, “Don't impose more Medicaid costs or we won't be able to afford it here. We will have to raise taxes. And Federal taxes will have to go up.” We have heard the American people, so let's see if Congress can agree on a few things. Let's go step by step in the right direction, which is one good way to get where you want to go—step by step to re-earn the trust of the American people, starting with health care.