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Olympia Snowe

This was not Congress's finest hour
By Senator Olympia J. Snowe
Mar 24, 2010 - 12:09:17 AM

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"As one who has been intimately involved in the multiple facets of health care reform for well over a year and the only Republican to vote for the Finance Committee's reform bill, and at this time when Americans are facing the enormous challenges of access to affordable coverage, it is disappointing to consider what might have been if the process had focused on addressing fundamental problems with the bill to develop a more balanced, effective, and credible approach that would be embraced broadly by the American people. Instead, energy and ingenuity that could have been applied to making key adjustments on the critical issues of the affordability of plans and the negative effect of the bill on small businesses and job growth was directed toward executing an arcane process that ultimately denied Congress the opportunity to pass the best possible package. Today was regrettably the manifestation of legislative and political expediency trumping responsible policy.

 "Representing the State of Maine which has been bludgeoned by premium costs representing a 349 percent increase over the last decade alone, it is inherently clear that the status quo is unacceptable. At the same time, I believe that process dictates substance, and the bill that the Senate voted on last December was the result of a defective process that could not produce the kind of legislation that would garner widespread support and credibility.

 "Now, here we are today - with the majority leadership doing an 'end run' around the regular order of legislative procedures with a 'reconciliation' process that severely curtails the scope of potential amendments that could improve the underlying bill, which I find profoundly troubling as one who has said throughout this debate that I would work to improve the legislation regardless of whether I could ultimately support it. The fact is, reconciliation was designed to address budget deficits, not to enact the reordering of more than $33 trillion on health care expenditures over the next ten years and one-sixth of our economy. Given this legislation would essentially not take effect until 2014, Congress could have taken the opportunity to address the underlying concerns with the bill rather than resort to legislative machinations.

 "Indeed, at this precarious time when we must reestablish our economy, this is precisely the wrong moment to be increasing penalties in the bill from $750 to $2,000 for employers, with more than 50 workers, who do not offer health insurance. Moreover, retaining the Medicare tax increases from the Senate version of the bill will disproportionally affect our nation's small businesses which will hinder, rather than help, small business job growth. The House also failed to remove the Class Act, a new entitlement which has been criticized by the non-partisan Medicare Actuary, who pointed out that it has serious problems with adverse risk selection that would make it 'unsustainable.' And I am troubled that the House also cut more deeply into Medicare, which moves us further in the wrong direction.

 "While the House reconciliation bill would increase subsidies for low-income and middle-class individuals, I remain concerned the bill does not ensure affordable premium options for all Americans. That is why I wrote to the Congressional Budget Office on December 3 to request a state-specific analysis of the impact on premiums, however I did not receive an answer to that question before the Senate vote in December and as of today we still don't have that critical information.

 "This was not Congress's finest hour -- we could have produced bipartisan legislation supported by a strong majority of Americans but the process by which we considered this enormous task failed to allow for that outcome, to the detriment of the American people."


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