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Weekly remarks: GOP Sen. George LeMieux and President Obama debate healthcare

October 10, 2009 |  3:00 am

Obama White House at Dawn

(UPDATE: 12:44 p.m. An updated postscript has been added to the end of this item.)

Weekly remarks by President Obama, as prepared by the White House:

The historic movement to bring real, meaningful health insurance reform to the American people gathered momentum this week as we approach the final days of this debate. Having worked on this issue for the better part of a year, the Senate Finance Committee is finishing deliberations on their version of a health insurance reform bill that will soon be merged with other reform bills produced by other Congressional committees.


After evaluating the Finance Committee’s bill, the Congressional Budget Office – an office that provides independent, nonpartisan analysis – concluded that the legislation would make coverage affordable for millions of Americans who don’t have it today.  It will bring greater security to Americans who have coverage, with new insurance protections.  And, by attacking waste and fraud within the system, it will slow the growth in health care costs, without adding a dime to our deficits.

This is another milestone on what has been a long, hard road toward health insurance reform. In recent months, we’ve heard every side of every argument from both sides of the aisle. And rightly so – health insurance reform is a complex and critical issue that deserves a vigorous national debate, and we’ve had one.  The approach that is emerging includes the best ideas from Republicans and Democrats, and people across the political spectrum.


In fact, what’s remarkable is not that we’ve had a spirited debate about health insurance reform, but the unprecedented consensus that has come together behind it. This consensus encompasses everyone from doctors and nurses to hospitals and drug manufacturers.


And earlier this week, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg came out in support of reform, joining two former Republican Senate Majority Leaders: Bob Dole and Dr. Bill Frist, himself a cardiac surgeon. Dr. Louis Sullivan, Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George H.W. Bush, supports reform. As does Republican Tommy Thompson, a former Wisconsin governor and Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush. These distinguished leaders understand


... that health insurance reform isn’t a Democratic issue or a Republican issue, but an American issue that demands a solution.


Still, there are some in Washington today who seem determined to play the same old partisan politics, working to score political points, even if it means burdening this country with an unsustainable status quo. A status quo of rising health care costs that are crushing our families, our businesses, and our government.

A status quo of diminishing coverage that is denying millions of hardworking Americans the insurance they need. A status quo that gives big insurance companies the power to make arbitrary decisions about your health care. That is a status quo I reject. And that is a status quo the American people reject.


The distinguished former Congressional leaders who urged us to act on health insurance reform spoke of the historic moment at hand and reminded us that this moment will not soon come again.  They called on members of both parties seize this opportunity to finally confront a problem that has plagued us for far too long.


That is what we are called to do at this moment. That is the spirit of national purpose that we must summon right now. Now is the time to rise above the politics of the moment. Now is the time to come together as Americans. Now is the time to meet our responsibilities to ourselves and to our children, and secure a better, healthier future for generations to come. That future is within our grasp. So, let’s go finish the job.   ###


Capitol Hill at Night

 Remarks by Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.), as prepared by LeMieux's office:


Hello, I’m Senator George LeMieux of Florida. It’s an honor and privilege to be serving the people of the Sunshine State in the United States Senate.
We’ve all seen the headlines and know that one of the biggest issues pending before Congress is health care.
Families in Florida and across America are struggling with the increasing costs of health insurance, and tens of millions Americans have no health insurance at all.
We in the Congress have a duty to tackle this problem, but the solution we settle upon should not be rushed, and the solution should not be worse than the problem we are trying to solve.
Right now, Senate Democrats and White House officials are behind closed doors crafting their final health care overhaul proposal.
While the Democrats in Congress have not yet provided the actual language of their proposed law, we do know enough for Americans to be concerned.
So far, according to the Senate Budget Committee, we know the true cost of this proposal is at least $1.8 trillion over 10 years.  
We know it takes nearly $500 billion out of Medicare funding for seniors, and requires our states to shoulder billions more in health care costs, which they can ill-afford to do.
The Democrat-sponsored proposal in the Senate cuts nearly $135 billion from Medicare Advantage, over $150 billion from hospitals that care for seniors, more than $51 billion from home health agencies and hospices, and nearly $70 billion in additional cuts or fee increases.
These cuts would arrive at a time when projections show the Medicare program will be insolvent in less than 8 years.
Taking money from a program already in financial trouble is not responsible; it’s not fair to our seniors who paid into the program, and it’s not fair to our children and grandchildren who will be burdened with massive debt obligations.
Another part of this plan would deny millions of people the choice of health plans that best suit their needs by forcing them onto Medicaid. This is contrary to the President’s promise to give the American people choice.
Not to mention, dramatically expanding Medicaid adds a huge burden to state governments at a time when they can least afford it.
Over the last two years in Florida, we had to cut nearly $8 billion from state programs to meet our state’s balanced budget requirement.
Unlike the federal government, our states have to balance their budgets, and they can’t print more money to pay for programs they can’t afford.
Piling on additional obligations would mean even more severe cuts to roads, schools, law enforcement and other essential state services. 
Budget neutral doesn’t mean forcing states to cut vital programs to make up what the federal government isn’t willing to pay.
That is why America’s governors, both Democrat and Republican alike, have voiced their opposition to this plan.
The plan being pushed by Democrats in Congress also adds a new tax burden to our families.  President Obama said families earning less than $250,000 a year would not be subject to any tax increases; but this proposal contains a mandate for families to buy insurance. 
Failing to comply would mean every adult would have to pay a $750 penalty.
The President says this isn’t a tax; I don’t buy it. The penalty is paid directly to the IRS when you pay your taxes, and it’s certainly not optional.
If it looks like a tax, and it’s paid like a tax, then it is a tax, plain and simple.
There are also new taxes on health insurance providers, manufacturers and importers of medicine, and medical device manufacturers.
Two non-partisan groups unequivocally state that these taxes will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher insurance premiums. It is likely that the current proposal will increase your health insurance costs, not reduce them.

Republicans in Congress are willing to work toward targeted steps to broaden health care access and affordability, but we should take some more time get it right, rather than move quickly and get it wrong.

Real reform ought to focus on stopping the estimated $60 billion in Medicare waste, fraud and abuse, and using those funds to care for seniors.
Real reform ought to address portability – allowing people to keep their health insurance whether they change jobs or move to a different state.
Real reform ought to reduce the incidence of doctors having to practice defensive medicine – ordering a litany of unnecessary and expensive tests in order to avoid frivolous lawsuits.
President Obama has said he wants a budget-neutral, bipartisan bill.

Republicans welcome that effort. 
As we prepare to debate the plan in the United States Senate, I remain hopeful we can reach consensus on a proposal that will reduce costs and increase access to health care for those who are uninsured, while protecting the quality of care for all Americans.  I’m Senator George LeMieux. Thank you for listening.  

(UPDATE: Sen. Mitch McConnell, noting the president's remarks here this morning, sends the following postscript:

Since the President mentioned Sen. Dole, Sen. Frist, Gov. Schwarzenegger, Sec. Thompson and others in his weekly address this morning, I thought it might be instructive to show some more recent quotes that the White House hasn’t cited (though I can’t imagine why…):

•    Former Majority Leader Bob Dole: "Well, I think I agree with everything Mitch (McConnell) said. They’re not going to buy on to all the excise taxes that Senator Baucus put on the bill. It’s going to drive insurance companies out of business. We believe in the private sector. I do. Mitch McConnell does… everybody is for health care reform. Mitch McConnell is. Bob Dole is…"

•    Former Majority Leader Bill Frist: “I wouldn’t vote for any of them (Democrat health bills)”

•    Former HHS Sec. Tommy Thompson: “Clearly, there are some issues that remain troublesome and unresolved.”

•    Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: “It is absolutely unaffordable for states”

1)    SEN. BOB DOLE, (“Your World with Neil Cavuto,” Fox News, 10/9/09)
2)    BILL FRIST: “We’ve got five bills on the Senate…” CNBC’s JOE KERNEN: “You wouldn’t vote for any of them?” BILL FRIST: “Right now, in the shape that each of those are in I wouldn’t vote for any of them.” (CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” 10/6/09)
3)    FORMER HHS SECRETARY TOMMY THOMPSON: "Clearly, there are some issues that remain troublesome and unresolved in the Senate Finance Committee’s bill, but there are opportunities to debate these issues further as Congress moves in both Houses toward enactment of health reform this session.” (“Tommy Thompson Pushes For Health Reform,” Politico, 10/05/09)
4)    GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R-CA): “I Cannot And Will Not Support Federal Health Care Reform Proposals That Impose Billions Of Dollars In New Costs On California Each Year.” (“Gov. Schwarzenegger Sends Letter On Health Care Reform To Capitol Hill,” 07/31/09)
GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R-CA): “I will be clear on this particular proposal: if Congress thinks the Medicaid expansion is too expensive for the federal government, it is absolutely unaffordable for states.” (Republican Governors Association, Press Release, 9/30/09)
“California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), For One, Estimated That The Medicaid Expansion Could Cost His State $8 Billion A Year.” (“States Resist Medicaid Growth,” The Washington Post, 10/5/09)


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Photos: Ron Edmonds / Associated Press; Associated Press.