Weekly Democratic Address
June 9, 2017
Hello, I’m Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon.
Americans across the country are heading into the dog days of summer – the kids are getting out of school, vacations are being planned, and families are firing up the grill. And this year, nobody would blame people who are feeling a little exhausted by politics.
But the fact of the matter is, there are critical, life-changing decisions being made about Americans’ health care right now in the United States Senate that should have Americans on high alert. Before I came to the Senate, I co-founded a senior citizens’ group in Oregon known as the Gray Panthers, and what I learned then is that change happens from the bottom up. It isn’t top-down from here in the stuffy halls of government buildings.
A little more than a month ago, the House of Representatives twisted a lot of arms and cut backroom deals until they passed a deeply unpopular health care bill. It’s very complicated legislation, but at its heart is a basic architecture that takes from middle-class Americans to give enormous tax breaks to the well-to-do.
Nobody ought to be surprised if Republican Senators take the same approach. Earlier this week, Majority Leader McConnell moved to bring a House bill to the floor, and he was able that way to bypass any debate in Committees and set up a rushed, dead-of-night vote on a bill that’s going to effect one-sixth of our economy.
Their approach cuts Medicaid by more than $800 billion dollars. Some may not be familiar with the role Medicaid plays in the lives of millions of Americans. It provides basic health care to vulnerable people paying for seniors’ nursing homecare so old people don’t end up in squalor or even out on the street.
Medicaid provides pregnant women with key maternity care services, and helps with their children’s health care after they’re born.
Medicaid offers health care and support for Americans with disabilities so they can live and work and thrive in their communities, instead of institutions.
And Medicaid gives treatment to those who have mental illnesses or dealing with substance abuse disorders who need a new foundation to stand on so they can lead healthy, productive lives.
Bottom line: Without Medicaid, America moves a giant step backward to the days when health care was reserved for the healthy and the wealthy.
The Republican health care legislation also takes nearly $300 billion in tax cuts away from the middle class. It’s difficult to tell how that’s going to make health care better or bring down premiums.
So working families and seniors on Medicaid and those who’re part of the middle class are hit very hard under this plan. Taken together, it’s understandable why somebody would wonder where those cuts are going and how it’s actually gonna make health care better.
Unfortunately, the answer is the vast majority of the dollars from those cuts are used to pay for massive tax breaks exclusively for the wealthiest Americans and the special interests.
Every working American pays a Medicare tax straight out of each paycheck – but only those at the top are going to get that special break. The tax on unearned income of the wealthiest Americans is eliminated. The big pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies get a substantial tax break as well.
I’ve made health care a priority throughout my time representing Oregon because, to me, if you or your family member don’t have your health, everything else is pretty much by the boards. This legislation is going to put the health of millions of Americans at risk.
To accomplish this ‘Robin Hood in reverse’ approach without bipartisan support, Republicans are using a little-known process known as reconciliation. That’s not a term that’s likely to come up at coffee shops around the country, but it is so important. Reconciliation amounts to a ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ approach, not both parties working together to solve the nation’s problems as the American people expect.
Democrats are ready to work together with our Republican colleagues to make health care better. We’re willing to work together to bring down prescription drug prices; to bring more competition into health insurance markets; to improve treatment for those who have multiple chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and cancer that drive much of America’s health care spending right now.
For now, that’s not what’s on offer, and the country is worse off because of it. I’m still optimistic, though, that principled bipartisanship could win the day after Americans raise their voices to make it clear they don’t support an approach that takes health care from the middle class in order to give large tax breaks to the fortunate few.
Thanks so much.