Videos & Speeches
I am a new Member of the Senate, serving in my first term. I was a Member of the House of Representatives before coming to the Senate, and I had great anticipation and expectation of the opportunity that service in this body presented to me.
The Presiding Officer of the Senate today has had similar experiences. We served in the House of Representatives together. The ability for an individual Senator, particularly a new Senator, and perhaps even more so, someone from a smaller, rural State, our ability to influence the outcome to receive attention and to have the administration's nominees come to pay a call on us to become acquainted is diminished.
Today is, in my view, is the day that reduces the ability for all Senators to have influence in the outcome of the decisions of this body and therefore the outcome of the future of our country. I don't understand why this happened today. The empirical evidence doesn't suggest that Republicans have been abusive, that the minority party has failed in its obligation to be responsible.
We heard the words the Senator from Arizona, Senator McCain spoke about others—President Obama, the majority leader of the Senate, the former Senator from West Virginia, Senator Byrd—about their views on this issue. Yet the outcome today was something different, different from what they said only a short time ago. It is hard to know why we did what we did today, but I know our ability as Senators of the United States to represent the people that hired us to represent them has been diminished.
I am reluctant to attribute motives as to why this occurred. In the absence of evidence that would suggest there is a justifiable reason, a justified reason for doing so, I am fearful that what is reported in the press and elsewhere is the reason that the rules have changed, which makes today even more sad to me because the explanation for why the rules were changed was a political effort to change the topic of conversation here in Washington, D.C. and across the country.
The story is that the White House pressured the Senate to change its rules; not because the rules needed to be changed or there was abuse or because people actually believed this was a good rule change for the benefit of the Senate and the country, but because the Affordable Care Act, ObamaCare, is front and center in the national media and on the minds of the American people. As ObamaCare is being implemented, people are discovering the serious problems it presents them and their families. Therefore, politically, we need to change the dialog, change the topic. For us to use a political reason to do so much damage to the institution of the United States is such a travesty.
I wish to mention the Affordable Care Act and talk just for a moment about that. I am headed home and on Monday I will conduct my 1,000th townhall meeting. From the time I was in the House of Representatives, I held a townhall meeting in every county. In the Senate, I have conducted a townhall meeting in all 105 counties since my election to the United State Senate. I am starting that again and it just happens that Monday will be my 1,000th.
I have no doubt the serious conversations we have will not be about the rules or the institution of the Senate or what happened with something called cloture or filibuster. The real problem people face is what ObamaCare is doing to them and their families. I have this sense that there is this effort or perhaps belief—at least an effort—to convince people this this is just a problem with a website. The website has certainly received a lot of attention over the past few weeks. But, perhaps, unfortunately, the website is not the real problem.
The real problems we have with the Affordable Care Act passed by a Congress on a straight line party vote in the Senate, similar to what we saw today and the consequences of ObamaCare are real and cannot be fixed by fixing the website. I wish those problems were only a simple matter of a technician adjusting the program that has been created for enrollment, but it is not the case. The mess of ObamaCare runs so much deeper. One of the consequences I know I will hear about on Monday and hitting individuals and families across the country right now is their cancelled insurance policies.
President Obama talked about that in the description of what the Affordable Care Act would mean to Americans: If you like your policy, you can keep it. If you like your physician, you can retain him or her. The fact that millions of Americans are now losing their health care coverage is not an unintended consequence. I doubt if it is anything that can be fixed with anything that President Obama said in his press conference a few days ago. The reality is that this cannot be described as something we didn't know about.
In fact, on the Senate floor in 2010, again, a straight party-line vote occurred, just like we saw today, in which the opportunity to do away with the provisions of the grandfather clause—again, the Republicans unanimously supporting an Enzi amendment to change that so this wouldn't occur and a straight party-line vote, with Democrats voting the other way. It wasn't like this was something that wasn't considered or thought about. It wasn't like we just woke up two weeks ago and we saw policies were being canceled and thought: oh, my gosh, that is not what the Affordable Care Act is about.
The reality is it was expected, it was built in, and it is a consequence of the Affordable Care Act.
In order for ObamaCare to work and the exchanges to function, the federal government has to have the power to describe what policies will be available to the American people. ObamaCare takes the freedom to make health care decisions for an individual and their families and rests that authority with the federal government.
Despite the headaches, frustrations, and anger Americans and Kansans are experiencing now, I don't see there is a real relief opportunity for us to solve that problem because undoing what is transpiring with the policies would undermine the foundation of ObamaCare. I consider my task as a Senator from Kansas, in part, to help people. People tell me in person, email, and by phone call about the consequences.
The stories are a wide range of challenges. I talked about this on the Senate floor last week. An example is one conversation with a constituent who said: my wife has breast cancer. Our policy has been canceled. We have nothing to replace it with. Help me. These are things I can't imagine anyone in the Senate wouldn't want to try to help them. I don't know how we do that with the basis of ObamaCare that designs the policies and removes the individual person from making the decisions about what is in their best interests and for their families.
Calling for repeal and replacement of ObamaCare is not an assertion on my part that everything is fine with our health care system. There are problems with our health care delivery system, and they do need addressing.
Long before President Obama was President of the United States, my service in Congress, much of the effort was trying to find ways to make certain health care was available and affordable to places across my State, whether one lived in a community of 2,000 or 20,000 or 2 million—we don't have many communities with 2 million—200,000; people ought to have access to health care. In my view, it is an important task for all of us.
While some hoped ObamaCare would be the solution, it turns out to be the problem. We can replace ObamaCare with practical reforms that promote the promise that the President made, that empower individuals, and give people the options they want. We need to do that. In order to do that we need to set ObamaCare aside and pursue what I would call commonsense, step-by-step initiatives to improve the quality of health care and slow the increase or reduce the cost of health care.
In my view, you cannot not address preexisting conditions. We need protections for people, individual coverage, without a massive expansion of the federal government. We need to make certain millions of individuals retain their current health insurance policies that they know about and they like. We need to make certain we continue that health care coverage by enabling Americans to shop for coverage from coast-to-coast regardless of what state they live in. Competition will help reduce premiums. Increased competition in the insurance market is something that is of great value.
It will extend tax incentives for people to purchase health care coverage, regardless of where they work. To assist low-income Americans, we can offer tax credits for them to obtain private insurance of their choice and to strengthen access to health care in our community health centers. We need to make certain our community health centers are supported so people who have no insurance or no ability to pay have access to the health care delivery system.
Instead of limiting the plans Americans can purchase and carry, we need to give small businesses and other organizations the ability to combine their efforts and get a lower price because of quantity buying. We need to encourage Health Savings Accounts so people are more responsible for their own health.When it comes time to purchase health care coverage or access to health care, we are focused on what it would cost and we don't over utilize the system. People need to be empowered to have ownership of their health care plans and their health.
We spend billions of dollars on health care entitlements. We need to boost our nation's support for the National Institutes of Health by investing in medical research. We can reduce the cost of health care for all, save lives, and improve the quality of life. Our medical workforce needs to be enhanced. We need more doctors, nurses, and other health care providers. They need to be encouraged to serve across the country in urban areas of our country where it is difficult to attract and retain a physician and in rural and small towns where that is a challenge as well.
Finally, we need to reform our medical liability system and reduce frivolous lawsuits that inflate premiums and cause physicians and others to practice defensive medicine.Those are examples of things we can do and we can do incrementally, and they seem, at least in my view, to be common sense. If we don't get it quite right, we have the ability to take a step back and make an alteration and improve it over time, as compared to the consequences—the massive consequences—of this multi-thousand page bill that, as we were told, we had to pass so that we would know what was in it. The fatal flaw of the Affordable Care Act is not its Web site but, rather, the underlying premise that the government can and should determine what is best for Americans regardless of what they want. We must not accept a health care system built upon such a faulty foundation.
ObamaCare stands in stark contrast to the values of individual liberty and freedom that have guided our country since its inception. Americans should be in control of their own health care, and I will continue to fight policies that violate those values and advocate for policies that guard them, but also work to make sure that all Americans have better access to more affordable health care. If you like your health care policy, you should be able to keep it, and if you like your physician, you should be able to retain him or her providing health care for you. Our task is difficult, but it is one that is well worth the battle. We can preserve individual liberty and pursue goals in our country that benefit all Americans.