Statesmanship

Here's the transcript of a floor speech given by Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), introducing the reconciliation process to the US Senate. It is a remarkable example of statesmanship. Didn't seem to make the news...

From Page S1844/45: The Congressional Record 3/23/2010

Mr. DODD. Mr. President, let me first of all thank my great friend from Montana, Senator Baucus. We arrived in the Congress of the United States together on the same day, back about 35 years ago. We have been friends for 35 years. We arrived in the Senate at different times. He got here a little before me. We have been in this institution for 30 years. I cannot describe in the limited time I have what a difference he has made--the fact we are here debating, finally, the last piece of this legislative effort to give the Americans what they have sought for more than a century, and that is the basic right to health care.

   I always found it somewhat ironic in a way that we in this country provide for those accused of criminal offenses the right to a lawyer, the right to an attorney. I believe in that. I think it is correct. But isn't it somewhat ironic that the same country that would provide you with a right to a lawyer if you are charged with a criminal defense cannot provide you with a doctor if your child is sick? There is something fundamentally wrong with that, in my view.

   For the first time, we are on a track that will correct that error. Henceforth, in the years to come, they can mark the calendar date of March 23, 2010, when for the first time in American history an American President signed into law a bill that will provide Americans the opportunity to live free from the fear that they or their loved ones will be

   faced with a health care crisis and they will not have the capacity, without bankrupting themselves or watching a loved one lose their life or become chronically or permanently ill or sick because they could not afford it, to see a doctor.

   I rise today on this very historic day to thank my friend from Montana, to thank the terrific staff of the Finance Committee, to thank the members of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, chaired by my great pal and friend Ted Kennedy for so many years. I was asked to take over last summer and to work through the efforts of that committee to participate and contribute to our part of this bill. On July 16 last summer, we completed our work.

   I see my friend Mike Enzi here. We worked together on issues over the years. Lamar Alexander, my friend from Tennessee, as well is part of that committee. While we did not come together on final passage of that bill, I wish to express my gratitude to them and their staffs as well for the contributions they made to this product. Even though they might not be anxious to acknowledge the contributions, they made contributions. I am grateful to them and, of course, my staff as well--Tamar Magarik Haro and Jeremy Sharp, as well, who is with me on the floor today, along with many others who did a fabulous job in providing us with support and assistance.

   We heard the word ``historic'' with regard to this legislation. Sometimes those words are thrown around a little too lightly, in a little too cavalier fashion to describe other events. Today truly is historic. I have been here 30 years, and I cannot think of another day quite like it in the annals of our Nation to provide, at long last, the ability to have a national health care plan. For tens of millions of ordinary citizens, the passage of this bill means more than just a page in history, of course. It means real security for older Americans who rely on Medicare and still need help paying for prescriptions. It means relief for small business owners who are forced to choose between cutting off benefits and laying off the workers they need so much in their operations. It means an end, more than anything else, to the sleepless nights when fathers and mothers worry about how to pay for a cancer treatment or a child's checkup.

   My colleagues know I am a late bloomer in the father business. I have a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old. I started a little late in this business of parenthood.

   Two weeks ago, my little 5-year-old was pretty sick. She got a stomach virus. She was throwing up quite a bit, about every 20 minutes or so. We called our family doctor. He said I should get her up to Children's Hospital emergency room, about 7 o'clock on a Saturday night. She was terribly dehydrated--not uncommon when this happens. She spent the next 18 hours in the hospital getting hydrated.

   I wanted to share with my colleagues what that emergency room was like that evening. Again, I have a health plan. All of us do--8 million Federal workers. We have pretty good coverage. I am grateful for that. I walked in, put that card on the table, and things began to move. My daughter was going to get the kind of treatment she needed.

   But that room was filled with a lot of people that night, people with no health care, people showing up well beyond a point you would want to see a physician because they did not have the resources to do it. That goes on every single night and day all across our country. If anybody has doubts about it, I urge you, in the break coming up, the 2 weeks, if you have a chance, to go by late in the evening to an emergency room in a hospital in your area. You will encounter what I did a few Saturday nights ago when I took my young daughter to receive the kind of help she needed.

   I kept on thinking that night that my daughter was not unique in getting a stomach virus and getting dehydrated. How many other children in this city or across America that night had parents sitting around, sleepless, wondering whether that child was going to get better, knowing they were getting more dehydrated and putting them at great risk of spiraling down, putting them at greater and greater risks, not knowing what to do, not having the resources to do it, not having that kind of health care, not having the money and insurance to pay for it, and wondering when they were going to show up in the emergency room to take care of that child. That goes on every single day in America, in the United States of America, in the 21th century.

   This bill does not solve all of those problems, but the idea that we can lift the burden of fear from those families, those people who work hard--remember, a majority of all the bankruptcies last year occurred because of a health care crisis in that family, and a majority of those people who went bankrupt because of a health care crisis had health insurance. These were not people without insurance; it is just the copays were so high, the deductible so high that they were going to get in financial trouble before the insurance would even kick in. We are not just talking about the uninsured. Even people with some insurance find themselves in that situation.

   So my daughter is fine today and doing well because I didn't have to worry about the cost of her care. I have a good health care plan. But for other families across this country who don't have that security, that sense of confidence that if their loved ones end up ill or need attention or care, that unless they have the kind of coverage and the ability to pay for it, their child might not have had the same outcome that mine did. That shouldn't happen in this country.

   So for us in Congress, the passing of this legislation represents more than just the culmination of a century-long movement for reform. It began with Teddy Roosevelt. I regret today that President Obama didn't mention Richard Nixon. He mentioned Roosevelt and Truman and Bill Clinton, but Richard Nixon tried as well to get national health care. He is not recognized often for it. People only talk about him in a negative sense. But Richard Nixon tried this. It was Democrats and Republicans who tried to get this done.

   What this effort represents is proof that while progress is not easy, neither

is it impossible, and that, maybe more than anything else, is important about what we saw today.

   As President Obama said, we didn't come here to the Senate, to the Congress of the United States to fear the future; we came here to try to shape it. And despite the complexity of the problems, the political power of those stubbornly defending the status quo, and even the refusal of many in this community to acknowledge the urgency of reform, that is exactly what we have done.

   A broken health care system is not the last challenge we are going to face now as a nation or as a Congress. Far from it. Today, our Union became a little more perfect, but is still far from it. There is still much to do to help American families build better lives for themselves. But, Mr. President, I hope when we again find ourselves at moments of great national import--and we will and we are--we can look back not at the polls or the petty partisan fights that too often contaminate our debates and that always seem to stand in the way of progress, but rather at the fact we rose above them and we acted--and we acted, Mr. President.

   We have a chance again to act this evening or tomorrow, as soon as this process comes to an end, by voting up or down on the legislation designed to make this good law even a better one. If you strip away the overheated rhetoric, the false claims that have become commonplace during this debate, this bill is nothing more than a set of commonsense fixes. Let me quickly remind my colleagues and others what they are.

   The commonsense fixes will extend the solvency of Medicare. The bill will fill the so-called prescription drug doughnut hole and lower premiums for seniors. Another commonsense fix will extend to all insurance plans the consumer protections in the newly passed health care reform law. It will end the lifetime caps on benefits to people. It will also provide the guarantees that your coverage would not be taken away if you get sick and includes a prohibition on excessive waiting periods, and the extension of coverage to adult children up to the age of 26. It will ban discrimination against people with preexisting conditions. These commonsense fixes will increase the tax credits that help low- and middle-income families pay for insurance, boost funding for community health centers, strengthen provisions for cracking down on waste and fraud in the Medicare and Medicaid systems.

   Mr. President, these commonsense fixes will improve the shared responsibility of policies, ensuring that employers and individuals do their part to keep the country healthy, both physically and economically. It includes valuable protections as well for hospitals and physicians, and more fairly distributes Federal funding among the States so that State governments aren't overburdened at a time when it is already rather difficult to balance those budgets. It revises revenue provisions in the law to take some of the burden off middle-class families and put it on the pharmaceutical industry, which can afford to bear those burdens.

   On top of all these commonsense fixes, it includes a badly needed, fully-paid-for investment in Pell grants enabling more Americans to go to college and get the education they need to compete in the 21st-century world in which these children will face. The bill increases Pell grants, I know my colleagues know, up to $6,000 by 2017. Hardly enough, in many cases, to pay for the ever-growing cost of education, but it can make a difference. It links scholarship amounts to the cost of living so they never again have to fall behind, and all of us know how valuable that can be. Because the legislation switches to the far less expensive direct loan program, it will also reduce our deficit by more than $10 billion over 10 years.

   Now, that is what is in this bill. Those are the commonsense fixes. If you don't like the health care bill, fine; but don't tell me what we are doing is a bad idea. I think it takes a good law and makes it a better law, and I hope we can get broad-based support for these provisions.

   I know some of our friends have made plans to spend the rest of the week delaying passage of this bill. I would hope they not engage in that. I don't think it serves our interests. Vote against it, if you want, and let us get on with the other business we have before us. To go through some marathon voting for the sake of delaying the process I don't think does a great service to this great institution. That is not what we are sent here to do.

   That is all you are going to witness, unfortunately, Mr. President, if this goes on for a protracted basis over the next couple of days--one cute little amendment after the other to see if it can embarrass colleagues to vote on something that may cause people to worry about their sense of sanity in all of this. Yet all it is designed to do, and nothing else, is but one thing: to delay voting for the provisions included in this commonsense fix.

   Mr. President, I hope, again, that we can move on to other business; that the large issues in front of us require us all to work together. As the chairman of the Banking Committee, I have the responsibility of trying to bring to this floor some reforms in financial services. I am blessed with wonderful members on my committee--Democrats and Republicans. There is a growing desire in our committee, I think, to do just that. My intention is to try to do just that in the coming weeks, working with my friends on the Republican side as well as my colleagues on the Democratic side of the aisle. It is a big set of important issues, and that is what we ought to be doing.

   That is what we did on this bill. Unfortunately, we were forced to do it as one party, not as a Senate acting together, and I am saddened by that fact. But my sadness is overwhelmed by the sense of joy that I have that this Congress, this President, was able to sign into law one of the most historic pieces of legislation ever adopted by any Congress in the 200-plus-year history of our Nation. I urge my colleagues to support this reconciliation bill.


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