‘Is this what we believe as a Senate — that this body should debate a trillion-dollar health care bill that affects every American while using the powerful arm of government to shut down speech? Is this how citizens and companies can expect to be treated if health reform passes? That any health provider that disagrees with a powerful Senator will be subject to an investigation and a gag order?’
WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made the following remarks on the Senate floor Tuesday regarding free speech in the health care debate:
“I rise to call my colleagues’ attention to a disturbing development in the health care debate.
“A colleague of ours has called for an investigation into a major health care company because this company informed its customers of its concerns about health care legislation that this colleague of ours introduced.
“As a result, the federal government has now told all companies that provide Medicare Advantage to seniors to stop communicating with their clients about the effects of that legislation — even telling them what they can and cannot post on their websites. This gag order, enforced through an agency of the federal government at the request of a Senator, is wrong.
“It started when a company based in my hometown of Louisville — Humana — had the temerity, in the eyes of some of our colleagues, to explain to its customers that if Medicare Advantage is cut, as the chairman’s mark requires, it may have to reduce benefits, which, of course, is a common sense conclusion.
“Mr. President, this is America: Citizens, either as individuals or grouped together in companies, have a fundamental right to talk about legislation they favor or oppose. That is the core of the First Amendment’s protections on speech. Unfortunately, this is part of a troubling trend of efforts to dismiss the concerns raised by the American people over the past few months.
“Over the summer, we saw American citizens who raised concerns about the health care proposals before Congress dismissed as ‘un-American’ by leaders in Congress. That’s bad enough, but using the full weight of the federal government’s enforcement powers to stifle free speech should trouble all Americans — and all of us — even more.
“We cannot allow government officials to target individuals or companies because they do not like what they have to say.
“This latest effort to squelch free speech raises several serious questions:
“Is this what we have come to as a country — that an individual or company can no longer factually advocate their position on an incredibly important public policy issue?
“Shouldn’t customers have a right to know the potential impact of a Congressional action?
“Is this what we believe as a Senate — that this body should debate a trillion-dollar health care bill that affects every American while using the powerful arm of government to shut down speech?
“Is this how citizens and companies can expect to be treated if health reform passes? That any health provider that disagrees with a powerful Senator will be subject to an investigation and a gag order?
“How is this any different than what the Washington Post and New York Times have done in lobbying for a reporter shield law? Would we stand by if the Judiciary Committee asked the FBI to investigate the media for taking positions on pending legislation we don’t agree with? Of course not.
“Humana is headquartered in my hometown of Louisville, and yes, I care deeply about its 8,000 employees in Kentucky. But this gag order now applies to all Medicare Advantage providers.
“I would remind my colleagues that I have spent my career defending the First Amendment rights of people to criticize their elected officials, including me. I would make the same argument if this were a company based in San Francisco or Helena or Chicago.
“The right to free speech is at the core of our democracy. Free citizens have a First Amendment right to petition their government for a redress of grievances. This gag order on companies like Humana and those in all our states, in my view, is a clear violation of that right. It’s wrong.
“Employers that warn their customers about the effects of legislation aren’t the ones who should be getting warnings here. Senators who threaten Americans’ First Amendment rights are.”