WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., today delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor regarding the need to reform health care without the staggering costs associated with Democrats’ proposals:
Mr. President, we need serious substantive health care reform. The reasons for reform are well known, and they have led to overwhelming consensus in Congress that something needs to be done to make health care more affordable and more accessible.
The desire for action extends well beyond the walls of this great building. The American people also want us to act. But this desire for action shouldn’t give way to legislative haste. Americans don’t want us to rush at the expense of getting it right. They have questions, and they deserve answers.
There are two very basic and important questions with regard to health care reform. Number one, how much is this going to cost? And number two, how will we pay for it?
First, let’s look at the question of cost. The American public is alarmed about the massive debt we are accumulating. They realize that in the past year, on top of the almost trillion-dollar stimulus bill, the federal government has also purchased banks, an insurance company, and an auto company - all using borrowed money that we as taxpayers need to pay back. All of this massive borrowing and spending was done quickly and with little debate. This was done, the public was told, in order to save the economy. Well how has that turned out?
At the beginning of the year, the Obama administration told the American people that massive stimulus spending – if done quickly –would create three to four million jobs and would keep the country’s unemployment rate at 8 percent.
Today, sadly, unemployment is at 9.5 percent - the highest level since 1983. The jobs that were promised have not materialized. In fact, 467,000 additional jobs were lost last month alone.
The administration now says they “misread the economy.” Our government rushed to borrow and spend one trillion dollars, but now we’re basically being told they were wrong, Vice President Biden said as much only a few days ago.
Unfortunately, the American taxpayers won’t be given a do-over on this spending. They are still on the hook for the almost trillion dollars we borrowed, plus interest. Now there is talk of yet another expensive stimulus package to make up for the one that didn’t work.
Considering this, it is no surprise that the American public is skeptical about the rush to spend yet another trillion or more dollars to create a Washington-run health care scheme.
We have a number of proposals in Congress that attempt to fix health care. There are workable reform proposals that go at the problem in a way that doesn’t incur such prohibitive costs for taxpayers.
Unfortunately, however, our Democratic colleagues have plans accompanied by astronomical costs to taxpayers. The Finance Committee is struggling to keep its bill at $1 trillion over 10 years. We’re told that just a portion of the HELP Committee bill will cost over $1 trillion – that’s just a portion – and some have estimated the total cost for that bill will be at over $3 trillion. These are not scare tactics – these are Congressional Budget Office estimates.
On the other side of the Capitol, the House Democrats’ bill is expected to cost closer to $2 trillion, and over and above these federal costs there are frightening costs to states. If the HELP Committee proposal to expand Medicaid is enacted, we can expect a wholesale collapse of state budgets. And of course we are already seeing the collapse of some state budgets. They are already struggling under the unsustainable costs of the current program.
These spending figures are startling by themselves; even more troubling taken on top of the massive amount of debt we have already acquired.
Even more troubling is the expectation that costs of the Democrats’ proposals will continue to rise year after year, well beyond the 10-year budget window used to figure the price tag of these proposals.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated the annual cost of the insurance subsidy program contained in an earlier version of the HELP bill would rise 6.7 percent per year until it is fully phased in. This potential spending explosion shouldn’t come as a surprise. Medicare and Medicaid – two programs we need to help and sustain – are both already on unsustainable paths with enormous unfunded liabilities.
This daunting amount of spending has taxpayers worried, and they are beginning to speak up. One of my Democratic colleagues acknowledged this recently, saying: “The big challenge – and I actually heard this at home during the recess – is the sticker shock.”
Other supporters of the president are also warning him and his Democratic colleagues in Congress to slow down and be more careful with taxpayers’ dollars.
On Sunday, former Secretary of State Colin Powell – an Obama supporter last year – warned the president about the ongoing spending spree, saying: “you can’t have so many things on the table that you can’t absorb it all,” and to quote Secretary Powel, “we can’t pay for it all.”
In addition to the massive cost associated with these proposals, no one can yet tell us where the money will come from to pay for them. All the proposals we have seen are creative in the ways they spend tax dollars, but very short on specifics on how to fund them.
Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle have vaguely outlined some ways they may pay for their plan – including a series of cuts to Medicare and Medicaid - I repeat cuts to Medicare and Medicaid - along with new taxes. But they have not been as honest and forthcoming as they need to be with America’s taxpayers.
There is a reason why more details have yet to be released. Since we don’t have the money to pay for a government takeover of health care, there will need to be massive tax increases or more borrowing – or a combination of the two. In fact, one leading Senate Democrat was quoted in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal as saying they were “broadening the search for revenue” to pay for this massive plan. What that really means, of course, is they are intensifying their search for ways to raise taxes on the American people.
Whether it be taxes on small businesses, which we have been hearing about lately, or on health insurance plans, or on surtaxes on soft drinks or anything else they can think of. Massive tax increases for the American people for plans that admittedly only cover one-third of the uninsured persons in the United States of America.
All the while, this is being done quickly and without the time needed to provide the scrutiny the American public expects and deserves.
All Americans – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents – want health care reform. But they don’t want a government run health care plan, they don’t want to pay for it with Medicare and Medicaid cuts and they don’t want to drive up the debt. Getting it right is more important than getting it done quickly.
Let’s learn from the mistakes that were made in hastily passing the stimulus bill. Massive new amounts of borrowing, spending, and taxes are not the way to successful health care reform.