Senator Roberts’ Opening Statement at Senate Finance Committee Health Care Reform Mark-Up

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, a member of the Senate Committee on Finance, and a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, today made the following remarks at the Finance Committee’s Mark-up of the "America’s Health Future Act of 2009:"

"Like my colleagues Senator Enzi, Senator Hatch, and Senator Bingaman, this is my second health care reform markup this year as a member of both this committee and the HELP Committee.

"The HELP Committee already completed its markup- a markup that was one of the most unprecedented, perplexing and partisan exercises that I have been through in my time here in the Senate.

"The resulting bill defies nearly everything that I believe in regarding the proper role of government interference in regular Americans’ everyday lives.

"My experience with the HELP markup gives me a little different perspective on this bill before us today. To be blunt: it has made it impossible for me to support the Finance Chairman’s bill.

"The reason for this is simple: no matter how many good-faith compromises and bipartisan gestures are made here today, no one- not one person in Democratic leadership– has done anything to assure me that those compromises and that bipartisanship will be honored beyond this point.

"In fact, all indications are that this bill will be pulled increasingly toward more cost, more regulations and more rationing as it continues through this process.

"I think this is a real shame, because I really believe that the Chairman was sincere earlier this year when he said that he wanted a bill that could attract 70-80 "yea" votes on the floor.

"Chairman Baucus, being a man from Big Sky country and a Senator for over 30 years, knows that on legislation this huge- which fundamentally alters one-sixth of the American economy, and which affects decisions that are so personal to individuals and families throughout this country- bipartisan support is absolutely essential. Without it, the American people will not accept these reforms.

"Public opinion has already evidenced a serious backlash against the partisan way that the HELP Committee, the House, and this Administration has forced this process.

"More Americans wanted a thoughtful, step-by-step, transparent process.

"At this point more Americans would rather we do nothing than pass this health care bill. And in fact, by wide margins, Americans think we should be focusing on the economy rather than on health care.

"The reason for these opinions cannot be solely attributed to the poor process or fears over the state of our economy. The fact is, once they know about it, people simply do not like the substance of this legislation.

"Now, there are provisions that gain widespread approval like some of the health insurance market reforms– incidentally, the areas where Republicans and Democrats actually do have agreement– but for the most part, Americans who are happy with the health insurance they have do not want to see the types of fundamental changes that this bill will bring.

"I hear from Kansans all of the time who wonder why it is necessary to completely and radically change our system of health care in order to gain insurance coverage for a relatively small number of uninsured Americans.

"They’re not heartless- they just don’t think that we need to sacrifice a system that works well for some three-quarters of this country, and spend trillions of dollars that we don’t have, when there are other, more targeted options to reduce costs and increase insurance coverage.

"Options like tort reform, tax equity, and insurance market de-regulation that make both health care and health insurance more affordable for everyone.

"Instead, under Chairman Baucus’ proposal, many of the people in my great state of Kansas will actually see their health costs go up!

"Here’s just two examples of how this will happen. Under this proposal, American’s costs for health care will increase in part, because the promises that the president and others have made that 1) they will not raise taxes on those Americans earning under $250,000, and 2) if you like your health insurance you can keep it, simply aren’t met in this proposal.

"Despite the rhetoric, the reality is this proposal passes billions of dollars of higher health care costs on to American families and individuals through higher taxes, euphemistically called "fees" on insurers, labs, and medical device manufacturers.

"Hardworking Americans will pay these costs in the form of higher health insurance costs, higher prescription drug costs, higher costs for lab tests, and higher costs for critical medical equipment.

"The former director of the Congressional Budget Office, estimates that these new taxes mean that American families, including those earning well under $250,000, will pay as much as $130 billion MORE in higher insurance premiums over the next 10 years.

"Now, in the Chairman’s Modification of his Mark (which we just received at lunch), we see a new tax increase that raises the amount of medical expenses an individual must have to be able to deduct these expenses from their income taxes.

"Unlike some of the provisions in the Mark that take a roundabout approach to raising taxes on Americans, this is a direct tax that will disproportionately affect seniors and those with chronic illness.

"In addition, this proposal takes away much of the flexibility and choice that more than 35 million Americans currently have to direct how they spend their health care dollars. This is a key benefit for many middle income families that allows them to plan and use their health care dollars as they see fit.

"The Wall Street Journal summed up this proposal last week when it observed: "The Baucus-Obama plan would increase the cost of insurance and then force people to buy it, requiring subsidies. Those subsidies would be paid for by taxes that make health care and thus insurance even more expensive, requiring even more subsidies and still higher taxes. It's a recipe to ruin health care and bankrupt the country."

"And this does not even get us to the really hot-button issues like taxpayer-funded abortions or government rationing of health care.

"Americans are unique. A people and country bred with a strong individual spirit and a distaste for big government.

"In Kansas and throughout this country, people largely just want to be left the heck alone. The last thing they want is the federal government sticking its nose into their personal business.

"Americans don’t want the government taking over the health care system along with the banks and the car manufacturers.

"And so, for all of these reasons- process, timing, substance, and ideology- I will oppose this bill."