Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- Honoring Army Specialist Frederick Greene and Health Care Reform

Posted on November 10, 2009

Earlier today the assistant Democratic leader, who is now presiding, delivered some eloquent remarks about the murders at Fort Hood. I believe there were two soldiers from Illinois who were there. One was from Tennessee, from Mountain City, TN, which is a beautiful little part of our State, way up in the northeastern corner near Virginia. Some people have said it looks like Switzerland and that the people there talk in Elizabethan phrases and tones. Spc Frederick Greene, according to an article in the Washington Post:...was a Tennessee native so quiet and laid back that he earned the nickname "Silent Soldier" while stationed at Fort Hood preparing to go overseas. He hoped to spend the months before his deployment to Afghanistan with his wife of less than 2 years. She had made arrangements to leave their home in Mountain City, TN, next week and move to Fort Hood until January, when Greene was to ship out. Instead, [they] are planning his burial in the northeast corner of the state where he grew up. This is what Specialist Greene's family had to say about him, and I think it speaks as eloquently about his life and service to our country as anything could. In their words: Fred was a loved and loving son, husband and father, and often acted as the protector of his family. Even before joining the Army, he exemplified the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. Many of his fellow soldiers told us he was the quiet professional of the unit, never complaining about a job, and often volunteering when needed. Our family is grateful for the thoughts and prayers from people around the country. We would like to ask for privacy during this emotional time because Fred, too, was a very private person. We will honor the request for privacy of the family, but we will also honor Fred Greene for his service to our country. Speaking just for myself, but I am sure most Tennesseans, most Americans, feel the same way - for 8 years now, tens of thousands of men and women from Tennessee have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan to keep terrorism from spreading here. It is tragic enough when any one of them is wounded or killed in that fight; it is beyond belief when one of them is wounded or killed at home in a terrorist act at Fort Hood. That is hard for us to accept. But in accepting it and asking questions that we inevitably must ask about how this could have happened, we certainly can honor each of those who were killed, each of those who were wounded. We can respect their service, and I especially want to show my respect for the family of SPC Frederick Greene and for his service. I ask unanimous consent to have printed following the remarks I just made a brief article from the Washington Post and an article from the Johnson City, TN, Press of Tuesday, November 10. HEALTH CARE REFORM We are in the middle of the health care debate. We have different points of view. I am sure people are confused by what they hear. I think that would be inevitable with a 2,000-page bill, which is the House-passed bill. That is all we have today while the Democratic majority leader writes his version of whatever we are expecting to act on, behind closed doors. Earlier this week I talked to a woman in my home town. She expressed what I suppose many people believe. She said: I am very confused by what I hear, but I do not like what I hear. My husband lost his job. He was one of the lucky ones; he got a new job. But it only pays 60 percent of what he was earning doing the same work, and he does not have any benefits. So, she said: I went back to work. I am a small business woman. We needed the benefits, so I went back to work. But she said: These proposals I am hearing about do not seem to be working out the way they are supposed to. They are putting more costs on us when we buy our insurance and when, as a small business person, I have to buy insurance. She said: I do not like what I hear. I think she is expressing a real concern -- it is a complicated bill. There is a lot of concern on both sides. We heard the other side talking about myths and reality. I see the Senator from South Dakota. It looks as though he has the 2,000-page bill with him. It is good that he is young and strong and can carry such things. His eyes are good, and he can read it. It will take a while to do that, which is why, when this bill gets to the Senate floor, we want to make sure we read the bill, we know what it costs, and we help the American people understand how it affects them. What I would like to suggest this morning is that we ought to focus on a forgotten word, and the word is "cost." This is supposed to be about reducing the cost of health care not increasing the cost of health care; reducing the cost of our premiums, which 250 million of us have. We have health care plans upon which we or somebody else pays premiums for us. We would like for those to go down or at least stabilize. That is what this reform is supposed to be about -- and reducing the cost of health care to our government because all of us, including our President, have seen that we are going to go broke if we do not do that. Here is the President speaking at the White House health summit on March 5 in words I thoroughly agree with: If people think we simply can take everybody who is not insured and load them up in a system where costs are out of control, it is not going to happen. We will run out of money. The Federal Government will be bankrupt. State governments will be bankrupt. That is President Obama using the B-word. Yet the bill we have coming toward us is indeed historic. But it is historic in its combination of higher premiums not lower premiums, of higher taxes, of Medicare cuts, and of more Federal debt. Millions of Americans will be forced into government plans, perhaps including a new one, when their employers look at the option and say: We are out of here. They will write their employees: Congratulations. We are going to write a check to the government. That is better for us as a company, our bottom line, and you are in the government health care plan. That is going to come as a shock to millions of Americans. We do not hear as much about it here. But one way the House of Representatives plans to pay for this expensive bill, that’s going to cost between $2 trillion and $3 trillion, according to various estimates when it is fully implemented over 10 years, is to shift some of the cost to the States. The numbers we throw around here after a while do not have any reality to them, but if you are a Governor -- and our Governor, a Democratic Governor, has said that the House-passed bill -- now that is not the Senate bill because the Senate bill is still behind closed doors; we have not seen it -- but the House-passed bill will add about $1.3 billion cost to the State of Tennessee over the next 5 years for its share of the Medicaid costs, including reimbursement of physicians. I have been the Governor of Tennessee. I know how much money that is, and I cannot see how the State of Tennessee can afford to pay for its share of these proposed Medicaid costs unless it institutes a new State income tax or seriously damages higher education or both. So we should take a different approach. Instead of a 2,000-page bill with higher premiums -- people say: Well, that is a myth. Well, it is not a myth. I mean, if you add $900 billion in taxes over 10 years to insurance companies and medical devices, who do you think is going to pay it? The people who pay for insurance premiums are going to pay it. If you tax the oil companies, who do you think is going to pay the tax? The people who buy gasoline. Taxes are not paid out of thin air; companies pass them on. So premiums are going to go up. They are also going to go up because of government requirements for an "approved government policy." Senator Collins of Maine said 87 percent of people in Maine would be paying more for the premiums they have today if they had to buy them new under the House-passed plan. So why do we not take a different direction? Instead of these 2,000-page bills, that cost $2 or $3 trillion, and are full of surprises and confusion, why do we not just set a goal of reducing costs? Why do we not go step by step in reducing those costs? I bet we could agree on a lot of things. Going step by step in the right direction is one good way of getting where we want to go. It also provides bipartisan support which would provide bipartisan support of the country, which the President and the majority will need to sustain the program. We want the President to succeed because we want our country to succeed. He is our President. But this bill will not help him succeed. It will not help our country succeed. Just to conclude with one example of what a step would be is the small business health care plan, which we worked on for a long time. Senator Enzi from Wyoming has been the principal sponsor. It would allow small businesses to combine and offer insurance to a larger number of employees. According to the Congressional Budget Office, such a plan, as I just described, would add nearly 1 million, 750,000 people would become insured. Three out of four people who are employees of small business would have lower rates, and we would reduce the cost of Medicaid by $1.4 billion. That is just a step, but it is a step in the right direction. So I would hope we can focus on costs, reducing costs. Republicans have a series of steps we would like to take in that direction. We reject these 2,000-page bills that raise taxes and premiums and Medicare cuts. We hope we can come to some agreement before we conclude the debate. I yield the floor.