January 05,2017

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Taylor Harvey (202) 224-4515

Wyden: ACA Repeal Scheme is a ‘Trojan Horse’ that Threatens Americans’ Health Care

As Prepared for Delivery

I want to begin my remarks today by taking stock of how the 115th Congress, led by my Republican colleagues, is coming out of the gate. Here’s what’s coming if the budget process that began this week plays out:

Thirty million Americans, from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, in danger of being kicked off their health care plans.

Sharply rising health care costs for everybody else – even those who get their insurance through work. 

Broken campaign promises about a replacement coming on day one.

With this resolution, Republicans in Congress are building a Trojan horse of tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations.

I want to address each of those issues and more today, but let’s first recognize the bottom line. What’s at stake in this debate is whether to turn back to the dark days when health care in America was reserved for the healthy and the wealthy.

For nearly seven years, and through four punishing campaigns, Americans have heard and felt the steady, partisan drumbeat of “repeal and replace” from the other side. Dozens and dozens of show votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act have been held in either chamber. Countless press conferences, speeches and hearings, even a government shutdown, and the message was always the same. The president-elect himself said repeal and replace would happen “simultaneously.”

The replacement plan was coming. It would be fully written and ready to plug in – no gap, no harm done to anybody. The same words, “coming soon,” have sat on the marquee for seven years. It’s time to admit this show won’t open.

This is a broken promise, plain and simple. Americans are no longer looking at repeal and replace. Now it’s “repeal and run.” And the consequences will be serious and immediate for tens of millions of people – both in access to health care and the bottom lines on family budgets. It’s a plan that will make America sick again.

According to independent analysis, nearly 30 million Americans will lose health insurance quickly after repeal. The first act of a new Congress – kicking 30 million people off the insurance rolls. That’s seven times the population of my home state.

The overwhelming majority of those 30 million Americans are not wealthy individuals who can afford to go out and pick an expensive plan once insurance companies are back in charge. Millions come from working families that will lose tax cuts for health insurance.

Millions of others toil through hard work, even multiple jobs, but what they bring home is barely enough to keep them out of poverty. For many, signing up for Medicaid brought an end to the years when they had to choose between visiting the doctor and putting food on the table. If repeal goes forward, they’ll face that dilemma once again. 

But let’s remember that the danger of repeal doesn’t end with Americans getting kicked off their insurance plans. Repeal will send costs skyrocketing for everybody, across the board. Even Americans who get their insurance through work – including a lot of folks who say the Affordable Care Act hasn’t touched them at all – are going to take a gut punch with higher premiums and out of pocket costs.

When you kick tens of millions off the insurance rolls and send the markets into chaos, everybody’s going to feel the harmful effects – even those who’ve had the same plan through their employer for years or decades. Rising costs will eat into paychecks, crowding out the pay-raises Americans need so desperately.

Somebody watching this budget debate at home might ask why any lawmaker would go forward with this plan.  I’ll go back to something I mentioned a few minutes ago. In my view, this is a Trojan horse of tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. When you look at both sides of the ledger, you see how extraordinary unfair this scheme really is.

On one side, tens of millions of Americans losing insurance and economic pain for typical families. On the other side, massive tax breaks for those at the top of the income scale.

One of the questions I’m asked nearly every day in these halls is whether Senate Democrats will take part in this effort, and what ideas we’ll put forward. I want to take a moment to address why that question is off the mark.

First, you have to look at the nature of the reconciliation process itself. Budget reconciliation is inherently partisan. A typical proposal that comes to the Senate floor is subject to unlimited debate and unlimited amendment. Usually it takes 60 Senators, members from both parties, to come together and pass legislation. It’s extraordinarily rare that a party builds that kind of supermajority on its own, so the two sides have to work together. Reconciliation throws those unique characteristics of the Senate out the window.

In my view, when you use reconciliation the way it’s being used here, you’re telling the other party you neither need nor want their votes. It puts a one-sided proposal on the fast-track to passage. Tight limits on debate and amendments. A bare majority of votes required for to pass.

I’m extremely concerned that this is a serious misuse of the reconciliation process. This is not a simplified procedure to address a budgetary issue. This is an effort to ram through “repeal and run.”

Second, this is not your run-of-the-mill Congressional debate – both sides bringing their best ideas forward to tackle a policy issue.

For years my Democratic colleagues and I have said we are ready to work on a bipartisan basis to solve this country’s health care challenges. Let’s find ways to bring costs down for families. Let’s make prescription drugs more affordable. Let’s uphold the promise of Medicare and strengthen its guaranteed benefits.

From the other side, what we heard again and again was “repeal and replace.” There were dozens of partisan votes producing legislation that burned out in the Senate or met the veto pen. Now with the Trump administration coming in, Republicans are kicking off a procedural scheme that slashes taxes for the wealthy, raises costs for typical Americans, and takes insurance coverage away from tens of millions of people. No Democrat will buy into that proposition.

This scheme will bring on a manufactured crisis that rocks our health care industry and does harm to millions of people across the country. One side is pushing it. The other side is saying no, let’s not create this catastrophe. That’s why, in my view, the questions about Democrats signing onto bad proposals miss the point.

Everyone recognizes that the strict and immovable political strategy adopted by the other side eight years ago paid dividends in elections. But politicking is different from governing. There are serious, life and death consequences to actions that deprive Americans of health insurance. Families will feel economic pain when premiums and deductibles jump.

Americans will rally against an unfair, unbalanced bill that cuts taxes for the wealthy while putting insurance companies back in charge.

I’ll return to something I said at the outset of my remarks. What’s at stake in this debate is whether to turn back to the dark days when health care in America was reserved for the healthy and the wealthy. My colleagues and I say no, and we will fight in every way we can.