Videos & Speeches

Mr. President, yesterday, while relaying to the Senate some anecdotes he believed proved the success of Obamacare, the majority leader stated this:

Despite all the good news, there are plenty of horror stories being told. All of them are untrue, but they are being told all over America.

Well, that statement, quite frankly, shocked me, and I am sure it would have shocked millions of Americans, if they had heard it, who are feeling the detrimental effects of this very unpopular law, the Affordable Care Act.

I have heard directly from countless Kansans about the devastating effects Obamacare has had on them and their families. Most of the Kansans I speak with are concerned primarily about what the future will hold for their children and grandchildren. What type of life will we as parents and grandparents be passing on to future generations?

I can assure the majority leader that Kansans are salt-of-the-earth people. They are, most assuredly, not liars. They do not deserve to be called liars by any Member of this body.

Take Philip and his wife from Lenexa who are in their mid-fifties. Philip has been self-employed for the last 20 years but has maintained coverage through his wife's employer for most of that time. She now works for a much smaller company which can only pay a fraction of the cost of their insurance, so it was much cheaper for him to purchase insurance in the individual market starting in 2013. Finding affordable coverage now, in 2014, has been a much greater challenge. He writes:

“With the changes in health insurance due to implementation of the ACA for the next year, we shopped the exchange for 2014 plans. What we found was shocking.”

They found that for the same level of coverage, they would now have to pay a premium more than double what they paid in 2013. On top of the higher premium, they would be faced with double the deductible and nearly double the out-of-pocket maximum.

In his letter Philip says:

“Frankly, we anticipate a decline in income for the next two years, but still won't qualify for subsidies; this simply makes the ‘Affordable Health Care’ unaffordable for us.”

He continues:

“The icing on the cake — my wife’s employer has told her they expect to drop their health care coverage for their employees altogether in 2015 because of the added expenses of the ACA! I honestly don't know what we will do; we are not wealthy by any means and have not been able to fund our retirement plan for a couple of years now. We do not have sufficient money to retire at any time soon and ACA will take everything we could afford to save. We hope Congress can come up with a logical and truly affordable option to the ACA soon!”

This is common criticism I have heard many times, and I can assure the majority leader that Philip's story is true.

I have also heard from members of the Kansas Disabled American Veterans service organization who have shared the difficulty and struggle of veterans having to relinquish their preferred health care plans due to cost increases caused by Obamacare. They are now pursuing care through the VA, which presents a whole other host of new obstacles to receiving the care they deserve. So we have veterans who are unable to afford health care under the Affordable Care Act now coming to the veterans system and being unable to, anytime soon, enroll. In fact, their biggest concern is they will now have to wait three months to six months to get their first appointment.

The bottom line is that veterans will either pay more for their health benefits through Obamacare and lose their preferred doctors or be forced to join the backlog of veterans seeking care. Neither is a good option for veterans. Veterans in Kansas and across the nation are feeling the burdens of Obamacare. They have sacrificed much for our country, and I can assure the majority leader that they are telling the truth.

Another example of how Obamacare is hurting Kansans comes from Salina, a town in the middle of our state. The nonprofit YMCA in Salina will be capping the schedules of part-time employees at 25 hours per week to avoid having to provide them health insurance benefits as part of Obamacare. The administrator says:

“It is unfortunate. We have a lot of good people who we’d love to have working more hours that we're going to have to make the cut. This is hitting nonprofits hard. A for-profit company, this cuts into their profits, but we don't have profits to cut into.”

This YMCA is not alone in their efforts to trim costs. Numerous companies and organizations across Kansas are having to cut back the hours of part-time employees because of Obamacare. And I can tell the majority leader once again that those people and those organizations are telling the truth.

Yesterday afternoon the majority leader came to the floor once again and read an opinion column from The Hill newspaper. This article, authored by Mark Mellman, supported the majority leader’s efforts to discredit the stories being told of Americans who are having very real struggles and those who have lost their health care coverage as a result of Obamacare. The majority leader read this column on the Senate floor literally word for word; however, he stopped just short of the end of the column, and I wanted to finish reading the footnote of the column that he chose not to read. It was about the author.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include the Majority Leader of the Senate and the Democrat whip in the House.

I just wanted to complete the record, that the majority leader is reading an article by a Democratic consultant, employed by the majority leader, to furnish evidence that what he is saying about the untruths of people who are complaining about Obamacare is based upon fact. Mark Mellman really is not the person to be quoting as to whether the Affordable Care Act is working.

I would also point out that Obamacare has been heavily debated for years now. For five years we have been talking about the Affordable Care Act. During this time there have been so many broken promises, so many falsehoods, and so many direct lies. We heard them all.

“Obamacare will lower all of our health care costs.”

“Obamacare won't cut Medicare.”

“Obamacare will create jobs.”

And who can forget “If you like your doctor or health plan, you can keep them.”

These were lies. These were untruths. They were promises made and summarily broken. That is why so many Americans are outraged. It is time for Washington to stop dismissing their concerns and start listening to their concerns.

Another disturbing moment — in fact, I think perhaps the most disturbing part of what the majority leader said — after he read the column from The Hill, he said this:

“It is time the American people spoke out against this terrible dishonesty and about those two brothers who are about as un-American as anyone I can imagine.”

That really bothers me. Accusations about who is un-American are deeply troubling, and to me that is an unfortunate comment when we refer to anyone. From the earliest days of our Republic, it has been a tactic exerted by those in power to humiliate and discredit those who come from different backgrounds or have a different point of view that challenges the people in power, and it is part of a strategy to convince ordinary Americans that sinister forces are working to undermine our country and our institutions. Ironically, by charging some person or group with being un-American or disloyal, the effort to stifle an exchange of ideas erodes the very foundation of our democratic government.

These accusations have been leveled during times of war, but they are just as prevalent during times of peace. We know of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1797, the Know-Nothing Party taking aim at immigrants in the 1800s, and the Red Scare after the First World War.

In the process leading up to women’s suffrage, critics of giving women the vote belittled them. One even suggested that women were too emotionally delicate to take on the task of voting. Thankfully, these ridiculous assertions could not derail the passage of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote.

Yet perhaps the most famous example is a Senator using his position to charge people as diverse as Hollywood actors and Army generals and Secretary of State George C. Marshall of political views which differed with the Senator's. In fact, the Senator believed their views were traitorous. He referred to such people as “enemies from within.” Why would a Senator reach such a conclusion? Because those political views disagreed with his own. Maybe it was also for the headlines and attention he craved or perhaps he was just paranoid, in search of a bogeyman. For more than five years this Senator leveled the charges of “disloyalty” without any real evidence. Because of his flippant claims, he did untold damage to so many lives, with very little consequence to himself. Not until enough of his colleagues had enough and put an end to his campaign against other citizens did this unfortunate episode in our nation’s history come to an end.

This tactic didn't end in 1950 and, indeed, it continues today.

I am disappointed by those who impugn President Obama, questioning his legitimacy and sincerity as he seeks to do what he believes is his best for the country. Yet it is undoubtedly a two-way street. The President dismissed those who opposed his candidacy in 2008 as people who “cling to guns or religion” or have “antipathy toward people who are not like them.”

When I served in the House of Representatives in 2009, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in the town hall meeting in August of that year that those with concerns about Obamacare were “un-American.”

No one has the right to determine whose beliefs are American or un-American — certainly no one in the United States House of Representatives or the Senate.

It is troubling that there is a reflexive reaction in Congress to label political critics as un-American or disloyal. Recognizing disagreement is part of the decision-making process of our democracy, and a respectful dialogue between all Americans is critical to a well-functioning Republic. Certainly anything short of that is not worthy of the Senate floor.

I'm weary of repeated attempts to distract the American people from the rollout and poor performance of Obamacare.

This week a New York Times/CBS poll found that only 6 percent of Americans believe that Obamacare is “working well and should be kept in place as is.” I ask the majority leader: Does that mean that the other 94 percent of Americans surveyed are liars?

In fact, Obamacare is a disaster to our Nation's health care system, and it is a disaster to our country's economy. The American people have made their opinions known, and rather than remedy the situation and address their concerns, the majority leader and others are trying to change the conversation and attack the very Americans who have real, life-impacting concerns about their access to health care.

My friends on the other side of the aisle act as though the majority of Americans support Obamacare. They do not. They never have. We didn't listen to them when Obamacare was passed. We have not listened to them since. In fact, the same New York Times/CBS poll found that Americans “feel things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track” by a margin of nearly two to one. This poll was comprised of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, of which 63 percent feel things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track.

I agree that we are headed in the wrong direction, and I fear — like most Americans — that instead of righting the course, we have a Senate leadership who will want to distract the hard-working Americans busy with their families, struggling, and living their lives.

Speaking of dysfunction, the majority leader is speaking about dysfunction in the Senate that he alone has the ability to control. The pilot of the plane cannot and should not blame the passengers for the turbulence.

I'm glad the majority leader mentioned the Senate feels like “Groundhog Day” or groundhog year. He is absolutely right. Over and over, time and time again, how many times has the majority leader obstructed the Senate debate and votes on amendments? Over and over again, we see the same strategy from the majority leader to run the Senate according to his rules and his alone. He controls the Senate operations. He controls the ability to move past “Groundhog Day,” and he controls whether or not his colleagues can advocate for amendments and have votes.

Republican Senators are not alone in this thinking — although I’m sure the majority leader wishes that it was just the Republicans complaining. Many Senate Democrats also feel the same way. They too have legislation. They too have amendments they would like to see in front of the Senate that would see the light of day.

One such amendment that the majority leader is using in his blame game is a bipartisan amendment offered by Senators Menendez and Kirk, a Republican and Democrat, with 59 Senate cosponsors. There is an overwhelming amount of Senate support for this amendment. So why can't we get the issue of Iran's nuclear capabilities to the Senate floor? Why does the Senate majority leader continue to obstruct the Senate process rather than return to regular order and allow the Senate to operate the way it was intended?

The dysfunction of the Senate ultimately hurts the American people, and the majority leader has the ability to change that. My hope is that we move beyond this time in the Senate's history, that we move beyond the same old, same old, and that we have the opportunity to chart a new path forward to restore the Senate to function as it should.

I have no interest in serving in a United States Senate that doesn’t do its work. Neither the majority leader nor any other Member of this body has the ability to represent individual Americans' interest at any given moment.

We each represent people from our respective states who have different points of view. I understand that people have a different point of view depending upon where they live, their background, their experience, and their philosophy. This diversity of opinion is what makes this country and, by extension, the United States Senate such a force for good in the world.

These opposing viewpoints are by their very definition American. The diversity and disagreement among ourselves is actually American, not un-American. Whether it is the Kansas small business owner who fears losing health insurance or the brave participants in the Seneca Falls Convention, Americans have the right to be heard and the right to play a part in the American political process. No one has the right to call those people un-American.

The litmus test for what is or is not American behavior cannot be administered or measured in partisan terms. Yet the bulk of the comments made by the majority leader attempted to do just that.

I am disappointed that it is even necessary for me to be on the Senate floor to talk about these disparaging comments, but the American people deserve an accountable legislature.

Whether you agree or disagree with the direction of our country — if you disagree with the direction it is heading in or you think we are doing OK, you are still an American, and you have the right to voice that opinion without having your allegiance to the United States called into question.