I've told my colleagues that we should not leave Washington for the August break if that's what it takes to get a good health care reform package passed. Mainers know that this is too big and too important to rush. But the need for reform is now, and we must act.
The House of Representatives is set to adjourn for a "recess" at the end of July. The U.S. Senate is set to adjourn after the first week of August. Normally during these breaks, Members of Congress travel back to their home districts and visit with constituents and participate in local events. Some take off for overseas trips, while others simply take a vacation.
But this is no time for a vacation. The problem with leaving Capitol Hill at this time is that there is so much that we need to accomplish. In addition to doing what we can to promote an economic recovery, the issue of health care reform is at the top of the agenda.
During a recent live national press conference, the President made a strong case for health care reform. I support the President's goals of passing comprehensive reform that is deficit-neutral and that lowers costs for our families and businesses, increases the quality of care provided, and expands access for every American. I also support a public insurance option, but I believe that it is important that it be affordable and properly structured to address the needs of states like Maine. I have urged congressional leaders to make sure that small businesses and rural areas are treated fairly in any reform efforts. We have to make health care reform work for them and not increase current burdens.
I recently held a telephone town hall on health care, and many of the Mainers on the call reinforced the need for reform. They want Congress to act now, but they want Congress to get it right.
I can't stress enough the importance of getting this right. The last major health care bill that was passed by Congress was rushed though, arms were twisted to get votes to pass it, and we ended up with a bill that contained huge giveaways to big pharmaceutical companies. The bill also contained loopholes that forced enormous out-of-pocket costs on Maine seniors who fell into the Medicare drug benefit's unconscionable "doughnut hole."
We can't let history repeat itself. We must make sure that as we move forward with reform legislation, that we operate under an open and bipartisan process. It should allow Members of Congress and the American people sufficient time to review the bill and add their input.
Trouble sets in when things are rushed. That is when the special interest exceptions, giveaways and lobbyist goodies are slipped into bills.
I remain optimistic that we can pass a well structured reform bill that increases access, reduces costs and improves the quality of health care for everyone. But we must be thoughtful in the process and not squander this historic opportunity to bring the reality of affordable health care to all Americans. Working through August until we build consensus and a bill that is good for Maine is the right way to go.