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Weekly remarks: McCain sees more healthcare costs, new taxes, Obama sees evil insurers fighting reform

December 19, 2009 |  3:00 am

Capitol Hill Night with no one talking

If you read both these weekly political statements by the two senators who 13 months ago faced off over whose dog gets walked on the White House South Lawn, you might well think they are talking about two different pieces of legislation.

The subject, of course, still again is healthcare, more specifically the massive, costly bill that now sits in the Senate waiting for debate and a vote and then confrontation with a House-passed version and then conference committee meetings behind closed doors because this is, after all, a transparent, democratic government, and then votes again in both house on the rewritten version.

And then, likely, a grandiose presidential signing because President Obama has staked so much of his fading first year and popularity on this one issue. Even late-night comics are suggesting a great Christmas gift for the American people would be not talking about healthcare anymore. Maybe that's the strategy: Talk about it till enough folks vote to just make it go away.

So don't put off your holiday shopping waiting for anything final. Or you'll be into the Winter Clearance sales by then.

It's the GOP's turn to go first here this week and John McCain wastes no time in blistering the Senate bill as being written by Democrats to the exclusion of Republicans, that it will not only raise healthcare costs and cut some people off but will raise taxes and produce hundreds of billions in Medicare cuts while....

...representing a grab for federal control over one-sixth of the American economy and creation of an unsustainable new federal government entitlement.

Other than that, he likes Harry Reid's pile of legislative pages.

On the other hand, Obama, who spent much of Friday night aboard Air Force One creating a long carbon footprint across the Atlantic Ocean after the climate global warming change conference in Copenhagen, where it snowed as they talked up an indoor storm, speaks vehemently about those opposing the legislation.

The good news for him: Soon, he and his entire entourage will be winging off to Hawaii for the holidays. (Sarah Palin, whose favorable poll numbers have been climbing while the president's job approval has been sliding, has already had her family beach vacation over there.)

Obama aims his weekly pitch mostly at insurance companies who he says have too long blocked effective reform and protection for sick Americans. Remember how Republican legislators sought an up-or-down vote on President Bush's judicial nominees stalled by Democrats?

Well, now Obama wants an up-or-down Senate vote on healthcare reform, but much of the effective opposition is coming not from the party of Lincoln but from fellow Democrats who think Obama and Reid have given up too much to people like Joe "The Independent" Lieberman in the administration's desperation for a bill after all these months.

The subject has dominated these weekly remarks for many weeks throughout this fall. This week's two statements draw particularly clear lines. First up, McCain.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Weekly Remarks by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, as provided by the Republican National Committee

Hi, I’m John McCain.  Today, after nearly a year, the Senate Democrats are still trying to scramble together their latest proposal to ‘reform’ America’s health care system, which constitutes one-sixth of the American economy. 

Millions of Americans are very worried that whatever bill emerges from the confused and secretive process Democrats used to cobble this legislation together will ultimately do more harm than good.  And, they have every right to be.  

The biggest problem in our health care system, and the greatest concern of a majority of Americans, are its out of control cost increases.  For years, health care costs have grown far faster than the rate of inflation, making health care insurance increasingly expensive and unaffordable for more and more Americans and their employers.  

The best thing government could do to ensure more Americans have access to health care insurance is to institute reforms that would rein in costs and make health care more affordable for more Americans.  Regrettably, there’s nothing in this legislation that effectively addresses the problem of health care hyperinflation – in fact, experts tells us the Democrat legislation makes matters worse.

Instead, Democrats are proposing – in an era of high unemployment, record deficits, and national debt – to spend $2.5 trillion on another unsustainable entitlement program. To pay part of the costs of this enormous new burden on American taxpayers, $500 billion in new tax increases will be authorized almost immediately. 

An additional half a trillion dollars in so-called ‘savings’ will come from cutting Medicare, including from home health care services and the popular Medicare Advantage program that 11 million seniors currently use.  However, reforms of the system, such as they are, will be delayed for four years.
Arizona Republican Senator John McCain
According to the government’s own health care scorekeepers, the bill will increase the cost of health care as well as the health insurance premiums Americans pay to cover health care inflation. 

That’s why thousands of physicians, large and small American businesses and, according to a recent poll, 61 percent of the American people oppose this ill-considered and ruinously expensive government failure to address the biggest threat to the viability of America’s health care system. 

Contrary to assurances from the White House and the Democratic leadership in Congress, the process Democrats used to write the bill was anything but open and bipartisan.  It was an exercise in legislative sausage-making conducted behind closed doors without the participation of Republicans.

The administration cut deals with the drug companies to get their support, which ensured increased profits for them and increased costs for consumers.  As part of the deal, the White House even opposed an amendment authored by a senior Democratic Senator -- which I and other Republicans supported -- which would have made it easier for Americans to safely import their prescription drugs at substantially lower costs from Canada and other approved exporters.  

Every major reform in American history has been a bipartisan effort.  I’ve worked with Democrats on many occasions to solve some of the country’s most urgent problems.  Never in my experience has one party attempted to increase the government’s influence in one-sixth of the American economy over the nearly unanimous opposition of the other party.  

Despite having the best quality health care in the world, Republicans recognize it’s too expensive and too many Americans don’t have access to affordable health care.  And, we are committed to doing something about it.  

We would welcome the opportunity to work with Democrats to make health care more affordable and accessible by addressing the underlying problems that drive health care cost increases.  We could bring down these costs by reforming litigation abuses of the system; the junk lawsuits that result in the practice of wasteful defensive medicine and drive up insurance premiums.  We could lower costs and improve the quality of health care if we transformed the way we pay health care providers to emphasize the quality of the treatment and outcomes.

We could lower insurance premiums by allowing insurance companies to compete for your business across state lines.  And, we could institute insurance reforms that would make sure people with existing medical conditions could get insurance and the care they need without imposing massive new burdens on taxpayers.

These reforms and others would go a long way toward addressing the most urgent problems in our health care system.  They would have bipartisan support, and I believe the support of a majority of Americans. 

Democrats have chosen to go another way.  The result will be a health care system that costs more and still leaves millions without coverage.  The hour is late, but there’s still time to stop Congress from making this terrible mistake. I’m John McCain. Happy holidays and thank you for listening.    ###

Democrat Barack Obama's White House at Dawn

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

Over the past few decades, there has been an intense struggle in Washington between the lobbyists for the insurance industry and the interests of the American people over what has been called a Patient’s Bill of Rights – a set of rules to protect Americans from some of the worst practices of the health insurance industry; rules to ensure that all Americans are getting the care they need from their doctors and the care they deserve from their insurance companies.

The last time a Patient’s Bill of Rights was within reach was roughly a decade ago, and it was supported by Democrats and Republicans alike, from Ted Kennedy to John McCain. It included the right to an appeals process so you could challenge an unfair decision by an insurance company before a third party.

It included the right to choose your own doctor. It included the right to access information about what your health insurance plan means for you. And it called for a new level of transparency so that patients would know if their doctors had a conflict of interest when providing services. 

Now, this Patient’s Bill of Rights never made it into law. It fell victim – again and again – to the same special interest lobbying that has blocked passage of health insurance reform for so many decades. But today, we are being given another chance to make it a reality, because each of these rights, and many more, are incorporated in the health insurance reform bill that recently passed the House of Representatives and in the bill that is currently making its way through the Senate.

Both the House and Senate bills would make it against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage on the basis of a pre-existing condition or illness. Both would stop insurers from charging exorbitant premiums on the basis of age, health, or gender.  Both would prevent insurance companies from dropping your coverage when you get sick. And both would put a limit on how much you have to pay out of pocket for the treatments you need in a year or lifetime.

Simply put, the protections currently included in both the health insurance reform bill passed by the House and the version currently on the Senate floor would represent the toughest measures we’ve ever taken to hold the insurance industry accountable. 

Anyone who says otherwise simply hasn’t read the bills. Just open these proposals at random and you’ll find on almost any page patient protections that dwarf any of those passed by Congress in at least a decade.

These protections are just one part of a landmark reform that will finally reduce the cost of health care. When it becomes law, families will save on their premiums. Small businesses and Americans who don’t get any insurance today through their employers will no longer be forced to pay punishingly high rates to get coverage.

This legislation will also strengthen Medicare and extend the life of the program, while saving senior citizens hundreds of dollars a year in prescription costs. And reforms to target waste, inefficiency, and price-gouging by the insurance industry will help make this the largest deficit reduction plan in over a decade.

The insurance industry knows all this. That’s why they’re at it again, using their muscle in Washington to try to block a vote they know they will lose. They’re lobbying. They’re running ads. They’re spending millions of dollars to kill health insurance reform, just like they’ve done so many times before.  They want to preserve a system that works better for the insurance industry than it does for the American people.

But now – for the first time – there is a clear majority in the Senate that’s willing to stand up to the insurance lobby and embrace lasting health insurance reforms that have eluded us for generations. The question is whether the minority that opposes these reforms will continue to use parliamentary maneuvers to try and stop the Senate from voting on them.

Whatever their position on health insurance reform, Senators ought to allow an up or down vote. Let’s bring this long and vigorous debate to an end. Let’s deliver on the promise of health insurance reforms that will make our people healthier, our economy stronger, and our future more secure. And as this difficult year comes to a close, let’s show the American people that we are equal to the task of meeting our great challenges. Thanks for listening, and on behalf of Michelle, Malia, Sasha, and Bo, happy holidays, from our family to yours.     ###

Photo: Associated Press; Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times (McCain); Ron Edmonds / Associated Press