Wyden Delivers Floor Remarks Honoring Senator Orrin Hatch's Legacy on the Senate Finance Committee
As Prepared for Delivery
Madam President, I come to the Senate floor today to speak about Senator Orrin Hatch, my partner leading the Senate Finance Committee for five years. The Senate deeply mourns his passing. I would like to take some time today to reflect on the important work he did serving Utahns and all Americans, particularly as it relates to his work on the Finance Committee.
It’s no state secret that Senator Hatch and I were about as ideologically opposed as senators can get. We didn’t agree on taxes. We didn’t agree on reproductive rights. We didn’t agree on immigration.
One thing Senator Hatch and I did agree on was the value of seeking bipartisanship where it could be found. And during our partnership leading the Senate Finance Committee, we did just that on several occasions. So I am going to briefly recount some of those accomplishments in honor of his memory.
First is the landmark reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program for 10 years - the longest ever commitment to children’s health since CHIP was created in 1997. Senator Hatch was the co-author of the original bill with his Democratic partner, Ted Kennedy.
CHIP has proven to be a remarkably successful example of state-federal partnerships in health care. More than 9 million children have affordable, quality health care thanks to CHIP. Within two years of becoming law, 47 states had set up a CHIP program, and today, every state participates in CHIP. Most importantly, research has shown that CHIP helps keep kids covered and healthy. In fact, just five years after the program was enacted, CHIP reduced the uninsurance rate for kids by half.
The road to achieving a 10 year reauthorization was not a smooth one. In fact, its authorization even expired for nearly four months. Despite setbacks, Senator Hatch and I kept at it - focusing on the impact this historic legislation would have on children and their families. It was clear that there was a real opportunity to make a lasting investment in the health of America’s children, and Senator Hatch and I were committed to the effort together.
Now, health care for millions of American children is secure until 2027, thanks to Senator Hatch’s willingness to make this bold commitment on a bipartisan basis. I’m going to continue working to honor that legacy by pushing to make CHIP a permanent part of American health care.
Next, chronic care. The effort to strengthen the Medicare guarantee to serve the needs of today’s seniors began as another bipartisan effort with Senator Johnny Isakson and I. During my brief first tour as Chairman of the Finance Committee, I held the committee’s first hearing on updating Medicare to place the focus squarely on managing chronic illness.
When Senator Hatch became Chairman in the next Congress, he graciously agreed to continue the effort and enlarge it to be a Finance Committee priority. It took the better part of two years to craft a bill, but the Chronic Care Act laid the foundation for a number of groundbreaking developments that have already changed how Americans get health care.
Throughout the pandemic, telehealth was a key tool to help seniors and other Americans access health services without putting themselves at risk during the early days of the pandemic. The flexibilities that allowed Medicare to expand telehealth services so quickly were aided significantly by the chronic care law.
During his career, Senator Hatch was always quick to identify forthcoming innovations and foster them - telehealth is as good an example of any of that instinct. Today, Congress continues to expand telehealth, both to help manage chronic illness and other purposes such as mental health care.
Finally, our work together to overhaul child welfare in America with passage of the Family First Prevention Services Act in 2018. Senator Hatch and I first introduced our bill in 2016. It passed the House that same month, but we faced obstacles here in the Senate. And together, we stayed at it.
That’s because Senator Hatch and I knew that the old system wasn’t working. Families were broken apart by default. Our bill recognized that young people grow better at home, and families have incredible capacity to heal with the proper support.
Family First was designed to help families stay together whenever it’s safe and possible. Maybe a parent needs substance abuse or mental health treatment, and getting better would make the home safe. Maybe a grandparent is able to step in as caretaker for their grandkids.
This new approach built that smart flexibility into the system so that kids and families get the support they need. And in my view, Senator Hatch and my bipartisan persistence and ultimate success in getting this bill passed in 2018 is especially important right now to help address mental health and substance abuse and strengthen families at the same time.
There is more I could say about the work Senator Hatch did on the Finance Committee to help children and seniors, but suffice it to say, it was an honor to work with him on these critical issues.
Before concluding, let me add a few personal notes. Orrin was delightful to work with. We met practically every week, alternating between our offices, to discuss committee business. He was unfailingly courteous and generous. He was quick with a joke. He would tell his stories, including about such things as his childhood in Pittsburgh, saving up money to take the trolley to the symphony, about his interesting friendship with Muhammad Ali, and about his extraordinary side career as a platinum record selling musician and composer.
And we would talk about books. Especially history books. Orrin was constantly reading. I gave him a few books that my father wrote, and he read them closely and had interesting insights. I recall watching him, during late nights on the Senate floor, reading a thick history volume at his desk.
Orrin Hatch was an accomplished Senator and a very good man, and he will be missed. Nancy and I send our condolences to Elaine, to their children and grandchildren, and to the many staffers who worked with Senator Hatch over the years.
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