Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- Health Care Reform

Posted on July 28, 2009

Madam President, some friendly person is exercising his or her constitutional first amendment rights in Memphis these days running television ads urging me to vote for the health care proposal that is currently pending before Congress. That person may be wasting their money, because we are getting a fair number of calls in my Memphis office congratulating me for suggesting that we ought to slow it down and come up with a better plan. We should start over in terms of what we are doing to try to find the right way to provide health care for the American people at a cost they can afford and, at the same time, provide a government they can afford. We are going in the wrong direction. I know a lot of good effort has been put into the plan that came out of the Senate HELP Committee, and to the plans that have come out of two of the House committees and currently are being discussed in the third. But the most charitable thing I can say about it is, very well-intentioned people are working hard to try to find the best way to go in the wrong direction. When you are going in the wrong direction, is it not the best course to start over, especially when we are dealing with something as big and complex and as personal and as important as the health care of every one of 300 million of us? We all know we will only have one opportunity to get it right. And that opportunity is before us. So if we are headed in the wrong direction, let us start over and let us get it right. Who says we are headed in the wrong direction besides one Senator from Tennessee or maybe several members of the Republican Caucus? The Mayo Clinic said that in an opinion it released about 10 days ago. The Mayo Clinic is often cited as an example of what we ought to be doing more of -- good results, lower costs. But it said, we are headed in the wrong direction. It did release an addenda after someone obviously called, probably from the White House, and said, what is going on here? So they Mayo Clinic said one thing the White House said did seem to be helpful, but fundamentally it said we are going in the wrong direction with the idea of a public option. A public option, as the President has said, is to help keep the insurance companies honest. That is like the President saying he is going to buy the rest of General Motors to keep Ford Motor Company honest, or to buy a drugstore to keep Walgreen's honest, or to have a government restaurant to keep O'Charley's honest. That is not the way our country works. Who else says we are headed in the wrong direction? Democratic Governors as well as Republican Governors as I mentioned here on the floor last week - the Governors of Colorado, Montana. My State Governor said, this is the mother of all unfunded mandates. These Governors are looking at the idea of dumping -- I use that word carefully -- another 20 million low-income Americans into a failing government-run program called Medicaid, when 40 percent of the doctors will not see Medicaid patients. The proponents of these proposals call it health reform, and then they are going to shift the cost to the States after about 5 years. The Governors are appalled by this plan. The Congressional Budget Office says we are going in the wrong direction. Senator McConnell, the Republican leader, has said that the only bipartisanship thing about the health care debate is the opposition to it. So let me take each of those points one by one. There are seven big problems with the two health care plans, one in the Senate, one in the House, that are before us. One is it flunks the first test which is reducing cost. Two, it cuts grandma's Medicare and spends it on another program. Three, it would pass big, new Medicaid costs on to the States, causing big increases in State taxes. Four, despite what the President has said -- or because the President said it, there is another reason to step back and take a different direction -- millions would lose their employer-provided insurance. No. 5, millions more Americans would find themselves in government-run health programs. No. 6, during a recession, we would impose new taxes and new fines on employers in order to encourage more health care. And, No. 7, with those government programs, you are more likely to wait in line and you are more likely to have your health care rationed. Let's take them one by one. Flunking the first test, reducing costs. We should start with the 250 million Americans who already have health care and make it more affordable. We know there are 47 million Americans who do not, but 5 million are college students, 10 million are noncitizens, 11 million are people making $75,000 a year or more who can probably afford it, 11 million are eligible for an existing program. Those are important things to do, but the idea here is to try to reduce the growing costs of Medicaid so you can afford your health care, and so that you can afford your government. The Congressional Budget Office said on the 17th of this month that the legislation before us significantly expands Federal responsibility for health care costs. Over the weekend, in looking at the next 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office -- that is our Congressional Budget Office -- said: The proposal would probably generate substantial increases in Federal budget deficits during the decade beyond the current 10-year budget window. No. 2, it cuts grandma's Medicare. The New York Times yesterday, in describing the proposal in an editorial, said: Reformers are planning to finance universal coverage in large part saving money in the traditional Medicare Program, raising the question of whether all beneficiaries will face a reduction in benefits. If we are going to cut grandma's Medicare, we ought to spend it on grandma and grandpa. We ought not to take that money from that program, which the Medicare Trustees have told us may be broke by 2017, and spend it on a new program. Then there is the third issue, expanding Medicaid and increasing State taxes. As a former Governor, I am concerned that Congress hasn't got a real sense of how this will affect States -- this plan to expand one government program, a failing, embarrassing program called Medicaid, into which we dump low-income Americans, and where we are going to dump another 20 million more. This is the reason the Democratic and Republican Governors, at their meeting in Biloxi a couple weeks ago, were up in arms about this. And after 5 years, we will shift the cost of that to the States. To expand it that much, to 133 percent of the Federal poverty level, would cost our State about $423 million a year for the State share. If we really want to give people a bus ticket to a bus line that actually has buses, we will have to pay doctors more because today doctors, 40 percent of the time, don't see Medicaid patients. As a result, that adds another $600 million. That equals a 10-percent new State income tax. It is inhumane to dump low-income Americans into a failing government program. Then there are the employer taxes and fines. I have talked to a number of businesspeople. If given the choice between paying $750 per person, which the Senate plan does, or providing every single full-time and part-time employee health care, they will take the $750 a person. And where are the employees going to be? They will be out of employer health care. That is not what the President said he wanted. Where are they likely to be? A lot of them will be in these government programs, one of which is being extended and one of which is being created. Then there is the problem of waiting in line and rationing. If we create government programs with government people in between ourselves and doctors, there is more of a chance that we will be waiting in line and that we will have our health care rationed. Republicans have offered a number of plans that make more sense. A number of us have joined with Senator Wyden in a bipartisan plan that makes common sense. That plan, to be specific, would take the subsidies which we now spend on health care and spend them in a fairer way, giving low-income Americans a chance to buy health care like the rest of us have. It wouldn't create any new government programs. According to the Congressional Budget Office, it wouldn't add to the debt. If we are starting over, that framework would be a good place to start. People at home in Tennessee, the Mayo Clinic, 1,000 local chambers of commerce that have made their announcement today, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Democratic Governors all say: Whoa, let's get it right. This has too many problems. Let's start over with something that Americans can afford in terms of their own health care plan and a government they can afford. I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record an article by Martin Feldstein, President Reagan's former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, from the Washington Post of today. ###