Senator: ‘If a bill is too mean for President Trump, then it’s too mean for New Jersey’
Senator Bob Menendez, a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee that oversees federal healthcare policy, recently spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate to call on Senate Republicans to open up for public debate the healthcare bill that is being crafted behind closed doors.
Sen. Menendez’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
“M. President, I come to the floor, like many of my colleagues, shocked at the Republican majority’s brazen, secretive effort to hijack the legislative process and pass a bill that will hurt millions of Americans. Now, I’ve served in public office for more than four decades and never once in my 45 years as a mayor, a state legislator, a Congressman or a Senator has it been so hard to understand the motivations of an opposing party.
“What kind of problems are Republicans trying to solve with legislation that raises premiums, reduces coverage, decimates Medicaid, and increases costs for everyone? Certainly not any of the concerns I hear about back at home in New Jersey. Never has someone come up to me at the local diner to say that their premiums are too low, or that Medicaid covers too many children, or that cancer patients don’t pay enough out of pocket.
“There’s only one place in America where these bad ideas have any traction. And that’s behind closed doors here in Washington where 13 Republican men are working on a secret bill to take health care away from millions of people and raise costs on millions and millions more. They want no transparency. No bipartisan input. No hearings.
“And these are the same Republicans who back in 2009 and 2010 accused Democrats of ramming health care reform through Congress too quickly. In fact, it was the Majority Leader who said at time: ‘This massive piece of legislation that seeks to restructure one-sixth of our economy is being written behind closed doors without input from anyone.’ Even the Vice President, a Congressman at the time, said its ‘wrong for legislation that’ll affect 100% of the American people to be negotiated behind closed doors.’
“Mind you, all of these complaints came during what was a far more open, transparent process! I sit on the Senate Finance Committee. I remember the process quite well. I remember our Chairman at the time, Senator Baucus, bending over backwards to get Republican input. We held 53 meetings – hearings and roundtables and briefings and negotiations on health care reform.
“And afterwards, we held the longest Finance Committee mark-up in over 20 years. A mark-up that led to the adoption of nearly a dozen Republican amendments, on top of the two dozen amendments we accepted before the mark-up began. Democrats also made huge bipartisan overtures on the HELP Committee. They too held a transparent process – and adopted over 160 GOP amendments.
“Then – and only then – did we bring the bill to the floor. And when we did, we spent 25 consecutive days in session, debating the bill on the Senate floor in front of the American people. In short, Democrats spent months making compromise after compromise in the hopes of getting Republicans on board only to learn that they never had any intention of working with us at all.
“They never cared about expanding access to care, or reducing prescription drug costs for seniors, or making insurance affordable. They didn’t work with us then. And they aren’t working with us now.
“Behind closed doors, 13 Republican men are debating just how many millions of Americans will lose their coverage under this bill – is it 23 million? Is it 20 million? 16 million? Behind closed doors, they’re discussing just how high the age-tax should be on middle-aged workers – $8,000 a year? $10,000 a year? $12,000 a year? Behind closed doors, they’re picking and choosing which consumer protections to gut. Should they bring back lifetime limits on coverage? Which is a real problem if you had a serious illness and hit that ceiling. Let patients with pre-existing conditions to sink or swim in high-risk pools? Allow insurers to once again charge women more than men? Same age, same bracket, same geography?
“It’s easy to see why Republicans want to keep this bill out of the public eye. If it’s anything like the House version passed earlier this year, it’s going to be a terrible, mean-spirited bill. A bill the CBO said would take insurance away from 23 million people, it would raise premiums by 20 percent within a year and price middle-aged consumers out of the market. A bill that, according to reports, even President Trump said is too mean. Well, if a bill is too mean for President Trump, then it’s certainly too mean for New Jersey. I even read that today the President said in a meeting with business leaders that he wants a health care bill with heart. But this legislation is heartless.
“I was glad that most of my New Jersey colleagues in the House rejected this bill in a bipartisan way. Indeed, every House Democrat – and nearly every House Republican – in our delegation understood why this bill would devastate New Jersey. This bill will price thousands of New Jerseyans out of the private health insurance market – especially those nearing retirement. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, premiums for a 60-year old worker who earns $20,000 a year in Monmouth County will see their premiums increase by 900 percent. 900 percent! That’s an increase of nearly $9,000!
“Every day, New Jerseyans are reaching out to tell me what’s at stake in this debate and what this secretive effort will mean for their health and their financial security. Take Dr. Howard Fredrics, a 54-year old constituent from Park Ridge, who emailed to say: ‘Without subsidies provided under the ACA, my 51-year old wife and I would have no insurance… We could not afford premiums in excess of $1100 a month… Without these subsidies millions will go uninsured and many of these people, myself included, will die.’
“Of course, my Republican colleagues like to say their plan will give Americans more choice. But if all the choices are unaffordable, what good are they? What good is it to have more choices if you can’t afford any of them? What good is insurance if the moment I get sick, it’s not there when I need it. They also say their plan will give states more choice over how to run Medicaid. But when you cut Medicaid by $800 billion, you leave states no choice but to scale back the health services they provide. That’s no choice… Leaving nursing home patients out in the cold, ending respite care for children with disabilities and denying low-income kids a fair shot at the American dream. That’s not choice.
“All told, New Jersey will face $30 billion in cuts to Medicaid over the next decade. Cuts that will not only leave thousands of families uninsured, but according to the Milken Institute, cost New Jerseyans more than 41,000 jobs. It’s no wonder why Senate Republicans are terrified of having to defend this bill. It’s a terrible, mean bill! And they don’t have the guts to tell the American people what’s in it – even though they want to pass it next week.
“If only they had the courage that so many New Jerseyans have shown me in recent weeks as I’ve toured our state. Hardworking Americans who’ve been willing to share their personal health care stories. People like Irma Rivera, a constituent I recently met in Jersey City. She told me about her battle with uterine cancer nearly a decade ago. She was fortunate to survive. But without the ACA, she’d be blacklisted by health insurance companies for the rest of her life – simply because she’s a survivor. Today, Irma is covered – and receiving world-class care.
“I also met with Samantha Williams, a young mother in Burlington City. She told me about her son’s brush with a life-threatening asthma attack. They were uninsured, so they avoided going to the ER. But eventually his breathing got so bad she had no choice. The doctor said if she had waited any longer, her son might not have made it. She credits Medicaid with saving his life.
“I also want to know how my Republican colleagues can reconcile their concern with the opioid epidemic with their plan to end the Medicaid expansion that’s saving so many lives. Just yesterday, I received an email from Irene in Oakhurst, NJ. She wrote: ‘My daughter is a recovering drug addict on the Medicaid program which pays for mental health care and services. She’s part of the opioid epidemic that has taken the lives of so many young people like her. She’s been drug free for almost a year. Taking money from this program would be disastrous not only for her but for so many people who cannot afford any other health care.’
“This bill leaves millions of low-income Americans who depend on Medicaid expansion with no options at all. And for what? To give health insurance executives, real estate moguls, and hedge fund managers a massive tax cut they don’t need? If there was ever such a thing as class warfare, this is it!
“In my home state of New Jersey, 250 millionaires are slated to get a collective tax cut of $14 million. You heard that right – 250 millionaires get a tax cut, while over half a million New Jerseyans lose their health coverage. What an incredible, mean-spirited thought. Many of them work in some of the toughest low-wage jobs – jobs that don’t come with health benefits. Dish washers. Cashiers. Home health aides. These were my neighbors growing up in a tenement in Union City. People who work tirelessly to give their children a better life – and so often put their own health on the backburner.
“Many of us thought that the cruel legislation Republicans passed through the House would be dead on arrival in the Senate. Instead, an incredibly unpopular bill has a new lease on life. Why? Because padding the pockets of the health insurance industry, capping Medicaid spending and cutting taxes for millionaires have been at the top of Republican wish lists for years.
“The notion the GOP can pass this secret bill with no debate is insulting to our democracy. And the idea they can dismantle this historic law without hurting millions of people is just not true. Because make no mistake, when you take $800 billion out of Medicaid, everyone feels the pain. When you add 23 million people to the ranks of the uninsured, everyone feels the pain. When you send more people to back to emergency rooms, saddle consumers with higher out-of-pocket costs and end protections against insurance company abuses for patients – everyone feels the pain.
“What really boggles my mind – what I just can’t understand – is that there’s no shortage of problems in our health care system, real problems that need real solutions. Ask anyone, and I mean anyone, about our health care system and I guarantee you will get an earful about what’s wrong it. You’ll hear from parents about deductibles that are too high, from workers about how hard it is to find in-network doctors, from seniors about generic drugs that suddenly cost thousands of dollars.
“And police officers about the opioid crisis tearing apart our communities, and hospital staff concerned about the nursing shortage, and business owners – like the group from Cumberland County, New Jersey I met with yesterday – who want Congress to work in a bipartisan way to lower their employees’ health care costs.
“Imagine, just for a moment, how thrilled Americans would be if Republicans actually had a bill that solved some of their problems, instead of bringing back old ones? Imagine how excited my Republican colleagues would be to show off a bill that improved – instead of endangered – people’s lives. But my Republican friends are not excited to show off this bill. And they don’t want to defend it because they know it’s indefensible.
“For seven years, my Republican colleagues put politics over policy. For seven years, they demonized ‘Obamacare’ with no substance behind their rhetoric. Now, their poll-tested platitudes have caught up to them. And they know it. That’s why they’ve let 13 Senators who represent less than a quarter of the country meet behind closed doors. And that’s why they hope to keep this bill a secret until the very last minute.
“So today I come to the floor today with a message to my Republican colleagues. If you want to have a debate about how to improve our health care system, about how to help more families get covered, about how to lower costs and create a healthier, more productive nation – these are issues that Democrats have been ready to debate. As I’ve said in the Finance Committee, we’re ready to have that debate!
“That’s because Democrats know that while the Affordable Care Act was a historic law – a law that stopped insurance companies from dropping your coverage if you got sick, that covered 90 percent of Americans for the first time in our history, that required health plans to cover essential health benefits, like visits with specialists, prenatal care, mental health and addiction treatment, hospital stays, and more.
“Despite all of the positive steps forward, despite all the good the Affordable Care Act did, Democrats have never stopped believing that we could make it even better.
But before we can make our health care system better, we must stop Republicans from making it worse. We cannot go back to a time when health care was a privilege granted only to those who could afford it, when it must always be a right afforded to all Americans!
“The only way we can move forward is by working together. With bipartisan input. With open debate. With full transparency. And in full view of the Americans we were elected to serve. They deserve a lot more than what they are getting from the Majority in this mean bill. If there’s anything I agree on with President Trump, it’s that we need a health care bill with heart. And from what I’ve heard so far, this bill is heartless.”