Videos & Speeches
I come here this evening with no notes, so hopefully I will be able to communicate my feelings and concerns from the heart and from the brain about the tasks we are about. We have been focused so much on the Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare, and rightfully so. I consider it one of the most damaging pieces of legislation ever to pass a Congress and be signed by a President. I want to start by pointing out something that is receiving, in my view, inadequate attention. We are back on the Senate floor with a continuing resolution. It is almost as if passing a continuing resolution has become the norm, and has almost become a way of life.
I have the privilege of serving on the Appropriations Committee. Our task—and what I would consider a very basic task--is to pass a budget. This is the first time the Senate in 3—almost 4 years—has passed a budget. The House passed a budget. Yet there is no reconciliation and no success in the effort to conference that bill, and so we have no budget framework to go by. The other requirement—again, one that ought to be so basic—is to pass appropriations bills within that budgetary framework. We are here—almost on September 30—and I would remind my colleagues that not 1 appropriations bill out of the 13 appropriations bills that should be passed by September 30 has passed the Senate. It seems to me that it is important to highlight the fact that this place, once again, is failing to do its job. There has not been 1 appropriations bill out of 13.
Why is passing a continuing resolution important? Without it—or if we just do it at will—the Appropriations Committee and the Senate, on behalf of the American people, are never required to prioritize our spending. Does anyone not think the priorities of this Congress should have changed from last year to this year? Have things not changed in our country, in which, if we were doing our work, we would decide how much money each program should receive based upon its effectiveness, its efficiency, whether it is a proper role for the Federal Government, the changing nature, the economic environment of our country? Yet, no, one more time we are here to pass a continuing resolution.
The thing that troubles me perhaps the most about this topic is that it is just a given. We are not complaining about the passage of a continuing resolution; we are focused on a very significant provision in that continuing resolution that very well may be removed tomorrow when the Senate acts. The Appropriations Committee needs to work. Just as we always raise the debt ceiling every time the debt ceiling is met, if we always agree to raise the debt ceiling, what is the effect of a debt ceiling? If we always, every year, pass a continuing resolution, why have an appropriations process in which we are to establish priorities on behalf of the American people as far as how their tax dollars are spent? We are failing miserably, once again, the American people, and it is just happening as if it is of no consequence.
I want the appropriations process to work. I want to eliminate funding for some programs that aren't our business, that the Federal Government should never have been involved in in the first place. I want us to establish the amount of money we can afford to spend on programs within the Federal agencies and departments. It may be true that there are some things on which we might want to spend more money. I would remind our colleagues that, in my view, the primary responsibility of the Federal Government is to defend our country, and what we do in regard to defense spending has a huge consequence upon our ability to fill that vital mission, that constitutional responsibility. We take on too much to deal with.
I have always believed the view that if the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution had ever been enforced in the way I or most Kansans would consider its words to mean, our Federal Government and our lives—more importantly, our lives—would be so much different in the United States. The 10th Amendment says that all those powers not specifically granted to the Federal Government are hereby reserved to the States and people. Yet government continues to grow, and we have an appropriations process that has failed to do anything about curbing that spending.
The issue that is front and center is the President's health care reform measure that passed 3 years ago and is being implemented on October 1, when many of its provisions will kick in, become viable, and the American people will begin to feel the consequences even more so than they have to date. There is no question the Affordable Care Act, as I said earlier, is the most damaging piece of legislation passed, certainly in my time in Congress. Not a surprise: I voted against it. Perhaps not a surprise: I offered the first legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act after it was passed.
The House is often criticized for time and time again passing legislation to repeal or to defund the Affordable Care Act. Yet, if one believes it is so damaging to the country, isn't it our responsibility to do everything within our power to change the policies of Washington, DC? We have before us tomorrow the opportunity to defund the Affordable Care Act. Those who count votes around here say that is not going to happen, that it is a lost cause. But it is important for us to do everything we can to make certain the consequences that are so damaging to America and to Americans are avoided.
For most of my time in the House of Representatives and now the U.S. Senate, I have chaired the Rural Health Care Coalition. I care about the access to health care by citizens across our country who happen to live in rural areas and core centers of cities and urban centers of our country—high Medicare populations, high Medicaid populations. Yet I have no doubt that with the passage and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, hospitals who serve rural communities will be greatly damaged and we will lose many hospitals. When we lose a hospital, we lose the doctor, the pharmacy; we may lose the nursing home or the assisted living center--huge consequences to people who have paid taxes all of their lives through their employment to support Social Security and Medicare. Yet, because they choose to live in a rural community, the chances of them being able to access the health care that to a large degree they pay for disappears.
It seems to me that the stories being told on the Senate floor—and I listened to the Senator from Nebraska moments ago talk about examples within her State and her constituents, describing the problems created by the Affordable Care Act. We all have those examples. I have no doubt that Democrats hear the same stories Republicans hear. Yet we can't seem to be responsible enough to make the changes. We will have the opportunity to repeal—to defund, I guess is the better way of saying it--the Affordable Care Act, and we ought to do it.
The focus today and yesterday and the day before has been on Republicans and the strategy of how to defund the Affordable Care Act. It is pretty irrelevant in the overall scheme of things how we do it; it is whether we get it done. And we ought to be expecting Democratic Senators, my colleagues from the other side of the aisle, to be just as helpful in trying to change, defund, repeal, alter the Affordable Care Act on behalf of our country.
The focus ought not to just be on how we do it among Republicans; it ought to be on questioning my colleagues about whether they are willing to step forward and admit there are problems with legislation they supported. It is not just a Democratic problem. I remember legislation that I voted against that was supported by Republicans overwhelmingly—in fact, broadly supported. After it passed—I was on the losing side, a very small minority—I spent my next few years trying to get it amended. No one likes to admit it when they vote for a bill and then it is a problem. But who would be surprised? What American would not think—Americans have great common sense and judgment. What American wouldn't think that the passage of a bill with thousands of pages late at night by the slimmest of margins, with no bipartisan support, wouldn't have some problems that need to be addressed?
I talked about how our process here is dysfunctional when it comes to the appropriations process. I heard colleagues earlier this afternoon saying we ought to work together and come to the floor and offer amendments. Here is the problem: There will be no opportunity for any amendment to be offered other than the amendment offered by the majority leader. So we are saying that we could maybe cooperate to find some solutions to the problems that come from the Affordable Care Act, but, oh, by the way, the only amendment that is really going to be made in order is changing the expiration date of the continuing resolution and removing the provision that provides for no funding for ObamaCare.
This is one of the most important votes I will ever face—or one of the most important issues, is probably a better way of saying it, I will ever deal with as a Member of the Senate. How we deal with the health care of millions of Americans has a huge consequence—economic, their health, their well-being, their family, their ability to get a job. Yet we are going to dispense with this issue in a matter of minutes tomorrow with one vote on an amendment to remove the defunding of the Affordable Care Act.
Wouldn't the Senate and wouldn't America be better served if we were given the opportunity—again, if there are Senators on the Democratic side who agree there are problems, aren't there issues we could raise that would allow us to have a debate and a vote and determine where we could find some way to get rid of the ominous, threatening nature of the Affordable Care Act?
The Senator from Nebraska talked about her examples. Time and time again we hear about the amount of money the Affordable Care Act is going to cost, about the premiums going up. We have seen the numbers that have just been released. For my State of Kansas, there will be significant increases in the premiums for anyone who is participating in the exchange.