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Weekly remarks: Pat Roberts on evils of recess appointments, Obama on GOP obstruction

July 17, 2010 |  3:00 am

Capitol Hill at Night

Republican remarks by Sen. Pat Roberts, as provided by Republican congressional leadership

I’m Pat Roberts – and I am very proud to represent Kansas in the U.S. Senate. I’ve had the privilege of serving the people of my state as both a senator and a congressman.

And much of my work in Congress has focused on healthcare, and especially the needs and concerns of patients -- whether in a rural hospital in my hometown of Dodge City or in a major metropolitan area like Kansas City.

And no matter where I go, patients tell me they are very worried that the new healthcare law – Obamacare -- will cost more, hurt their quality of care, and keep them from seeing their doctor that they know and trust.

Now as you know, Republicans fought against holding the healthcare debate behind closed doors. We fought against the parliamentary gimmicks used to pass the bill against the wishes of a majority of Kansans and Americans. Now, as we all return to work after our Independence Day celebrations, we learn President Obama – again – has gone behind closed doors to appoint a healthcare czar without public debate.

President Obama gave a recess appointment – avoiding a public hearing and a.... in the Senate – to Dr. Donald Berwick, making him the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

It is ironic that the president chose Independence Day for this action, avoiding the Senate’s constitutional check on executive power, to appoint Dr. Berwick.

Now, upon learning of this move, the chairman of the Finance Committee, Sen. Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana, said, "I’m troubled that, rather than going through the standard nomination process, Dr. Berwick was recess appointed."

I could not agree more with my Democrat colleague.

Without a public confirmation hearing on Dr. Berwick’s nomination, the Senate and the American people do not have the opportunity to learn about the man who will control one-third of all healthcare spending in America.

So a lot is at stake.

His influence will extend beyond Medicare and Medicaid, affecting nearly every American’s care, because Medicare sets the course for private insurers.

As part of the new healthcare law, Dr. Berwick will have to a cut half a trillion dollars from Medicare, obviously limiting seniors’ choices.

Now, as a result of the recess appointment, Dr. Berwick will take office through the back door without any formal public vetting as prescribed by the Constitution.

Now this flies in the face of what was promised to be the most transparent administration in our nation's history.

So – what do we know about how Dr. Berwick will administer your healthcare? Lets look at his own statements.
Kansas Republican Senator Pat Roberts
He said, "Any healthcare funding plan...must—must—redistribute wealth from the richer among us to the poorer and less fortunate."

Well, the obvious fear is Dr. Berwick will in fact use this position to redistribute the wealth in our country, cementing Obamacare as a giant, but stealthy, income transfer machine.

Dr. Berwick has spoken very favorably about the British national health service, calling it ‘not just a national treasure, [but] a global treasure’ as well.

Unfortunately, the British system rations care to contain costs.

The following disturbing statement of Dr. Berwick speaks for itself: "Most people who have serious pain do not need advanced methods; they just need the morphine and counseling that has been around for centuries."

Now is this the person we want making healthcare decisions for us, for our parents, our grandparents, our children, grandchildren?

Dr. Berwick has proposed similar rationing ideas for the American healthcare system, saying, "The decision is not whether or not we will ration care– the decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open."

Clearly the president’s plan is to have Dr. Berwick’s use of rationing cut that half a trillion dollars from Medicare.

Americans will not know how much saving a life is worth until Dr. Berwick is calling the shots. There should be a public forum where he must address who should make medical decisions-- your doctor? The patient? The family? Or the government?

We urge the president to reconsider his recess appointment of Dr. Berwick and encourage the Finance Committee to at least hold a public hearing now.

The president’s healthcare plan – the most sweeping overhaul of healthcare in our lifetime – cannot be implemented behind closed doors. This is a warning! Your healthcare and the care of your loved ones now hangs in the balance. Americans deserve answers.    ####

Democrat President Barack Obama in the Oval Office with his feet on the historic desk

Weekly remarks by President Obama, as provided by the White House

This week, many of our largest corporations reported robust earnings – a positive sign of growth.

But too many of our small-business owners and those who aspire to start their own small businesses continue to struggle, in part because they can’t get the credit they need to start up, grow, and hire. And too many Americans whose livelihoods have fallen prey to the worst recession in our lifetimes – a recession that cost our economy 8 million jobs – still wonder how they’ll make ends meet.

That’s why we need to take new, common-sense steps to help small businesses, grow our economy, and create jobs – and we need to take them now.

For months, that’s what we’ve been trying to do. But too often, the Republican leadership in the United States Senate chooses to filibuster our recovery and obstruct our progress. And that has very real consequences.

Consider what that obstruction means for our small businesses – the growth engines that create two of every three new jobs in this country. A lot of small businesses still have trouble getting the loans and capital they need to keep their doors open and hire new workers. So we proposed steps to get them that help: Eliminating capital gains taxes on investments. Establishing a fund for small lenders to help small businesses. Enhancing successful SBA programs that help them access the capital they need.

But again and again, a partisan minority in the Senate said “no,” and used procedural tactics to block a simple, up-or-down vote.

Think about what these stalling tactics mean for the millions of Americans who’ve lost their jobs since the recession began. Over the past several weeks, more than 2 million of them have seen their unemployment insurance expire. For many, it was the only way to make ends meet while searching for work – the only way to cover rent, utilities, even food.

Three times, the Senate has tried to temporarily extend that emergency assistance. And three times, a minority of senators – basically the same crowd who said “no” to small businesses – said “no” to folks looking for work, and blocked a straight up-or-down vote. 

Some Republican leaders actually treat this unemployment insurance as if it’s a form of welfare. They say it discourages folks from looking for work. Well, I’ve met a lot of folks looking for work these past few years, and I can tell you, I haven’t met any Americans who would rather have an unemployment check than a meaningful job that lets you provide for your family. And we all have friends, neighbors, or family members who already know how hard it is to land a job when five workers are competing for every opening.

Now in the past, presidents and Congresses of both parties have treated unemployment insurance for what it is – an emergency expenditure. That’s because an economic disaster can devastate families and communities just as surely as a flood or tornado. 

Suddenly, Republican leaders want to change that. They say we shouldn’t provide unemployment insurance because it costs money.  So after years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, including a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, they’ve finally decided to make their stand on the backs of the unemployed. They’ve got no problem spending money on tax breaks for folks at the top who don’t need them and didn’t even ask for them; but they object to helping folks laid off in this recession who really do need help.  And every day this goes on, another 50,000 Americans lose that badly needed lifeline.

Well, I think these senators are wrong. We can’t afford to go back to the same misguided policies that led us into this mess.  We need to move forward with the policies that are leading us out of this mess.

The fact is, most economists agree that extending unemployment insurance is one of the single most cost-effective ways to help jump-start the economy. It puts money into the pockets of folks who not only need it most, but who also are most likely to spend it quickly. That boosts local economies. And that means jobs.

Increasing loans to small business. Renewing unemployment insurance. These steps aren’t just the right thing to do for those hardest hit by the recession – they’re the right thing to do for all of us. And I’m calling on Congress once more to take these steps on behalf of America’s workers, and families, and small-business owners – the people we were sent here to serve.

Because when storms strike Main Street, we don’t play politics with emergency aid. We don’t desert our fellow Americans when they fall on hard times. We come together. We do what we can to help. We rebuild stronger, and we move forward. That’s what we’re doing today. And I’m absolutely convinced that’s how we’re going to come through this storm to better days ahead. Thanks.    ####

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Photos: Associated Press; Pete Souza / White House; Roberts' office.