December 01,2015

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Taylor Harvey (202) 224-4515

Wyden Blasts Partisan Reconciliation Bill in Floor Speech

As Prepared for Delivery

It is reassuring news that the reconciliation bill coming before the Senate is guaranteed to get the veto stamp on the President’s desk. That’s because it undermines women’s health, it would mean millions more Americans without insurance, and it threatens to send premiums shooting upward.

With my time today, I want to address a few serious objections I have to this legislation.

The first is that once again, the Senate is looking at a plan that would wreak havoc on women’s health in this country by denying funding for Planned Parenthood.        

It’s important to recognize the horrific act of gun violence that happened at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic last week. It was another in a long string of tragedies that have taken place across the country, including one in Roseburg, Oregon, in October. This time it marked an attack on the American public and women’s health.

Millions of American women have sought routine medical care in Planned Parenthood clinics just like that one in Colorado. More than 70,000 Oregonians are served by the 11 Planned Parenthood centers in my home state.

The bottom line is that Planned Parenthood is a bedrock institution for women’s health. In my view, it is wrong to bring this controversial, misguided proposal before the Senate in the wake of the events in Colorado. 

Here are the services Planned Parenthood offers that would be at risk of disappearing with this reconciliation proposal: pregnancy tests, birth control, prenatal services, HIV tests, cancer screenings, vaccinations, testing and treatment for sexually-transmitted infections, basic physical exams, treatment for chronic conditions, pediatric care, adoption referrals, nutrition programs and more.

This is just the latest stage in an ongoing, coordinated campaign to undermine the fundamental right of all women to make their own reproductive choices and attain affordable, high-quality health care.

When you wipe out Planned Parenthood’s funding, you dramatically and painfully reduce women’s access to services that have absolutely nothing to do with abortion. So it is time for this campaign against women’s health to end.

The second objection I want to address is the harm this bill threatens to do to millions of vulnerable Americans by repealing as much of the Affordable Care Act as Senate procedure would allow. Based on the reports of the bill’s contents, here’s what’s at stake.        

According to the non-partisan experts at the CBO, this proposal would mean 14 million more uninsured Americans.

For people who shop for their own private insurance coverage, premiums would increase by 20 percent. That’s potentially hundreds or thousands of dollars taken out of families’ pockets.

Emergency rooms would once again be the fallback for people without a doctor. Typical Americans with insurance would once again have to pay the hidden tax of higher premiums to cover the costs of those without coverage.

There have been more than 50 votes to repeal or undermine the Affordable Care Act, and still there is no viable plan to replace it. As a member of Congress, you can object to the law and want to make changes. But America cannot and will not return to the dark days when health care was reserved for the healthy and the wealthy. That’s what this destructive plan would do.

And the fact is, despite raising costs for families, causing turmoil in insurance markets, and raising the number of uninsured Americans by 14 million, this bill doesn’t even manage to repeal the Affordable Care Act fully.

That’s because of the way the reconciliation process works, which brings me to the final issue I want to raise today.

Reconciliation is a sharp departure from the usual procedure for Senate debate. Usually, bills being considered on the Senate floor are subject to unlimited debate and unlimited amendment. 

Further, it typically takes sixty votes to pass a bill, assuring that there is at least some bipartisan support.  These “regular order” procedures give the Senate its unique character.

The reconciliation procedure is an exception to this usual approach. Reconciliation imposes tight limits on debate and on amendments, and it allows a vote of a bare majority of Senators – 51 rather than 60 –to pass a bill.

The reconciliation procedure originally was created in order to facilitate the passage of budget-related bills, which can be particularly important and particularly hard to pass.

But reconciliation should not become a “free pass” that allows a majority to pass anything that it wants on a fast track. That would undermine the fundamental character of the Senate.

I am concerned that the reconciliation process is being misused here.  Everybody in this chamber knows what is going on. This bill is not designed to address a legitimate budget-related issue.

It’s designed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, to the maximum extent possible. Repeatedly, the bill’s proponents, in both the House and Senate, have proposed to “repeal Obamacare” or “dismantle Obamacare.”

In fact, the Senate majority has taken a particularly cynical approach. A few weeks ago, the Parliamentarian advised that the reconciliation process could not be used to repeal the individual and employer mandates. She said that would violate the Byrd Rule against extraneous amendments, because the provisions’ budgetary effects would be dwarfed by their health policy effects.

In response, the majority has proposed to formally retain the mandates, but to completely repeal the penalties enforcing them. I am disappointed that the majority has taken such a cynical approach.

The complete elimination of all penalties is, to my mind, tantamount to repeal of the mandates. A mandate without an enforcement system is not a legal requirement. It’s a mere recommendation. It’s like having speed limits but not fines for violating them. By deleting the penalties, the proposal fundamentally alters the character and operation of the law.

I am concerned that this would set a dangerous precedent for the Senate. If these penalties can be eliminated in a reconciliation bill, the door will be open to all kinds of proposals to strip away penalties in a future reconciliation bill. For example, you could keep an environmental law on the books, but strip away the penalties for violating it. That would allow a majority to fundamentally undermine a non-budgetary law in a reconciliation bill. 

I have a great deal of respect for the Parliamentarian and her staff. They work diligently to serve the Senate, and they have to make some very difficult decisions. I am disappointed in this one.

M. President, with so many issues to wrap up before the end of the year and so many big challenges facing the country, the Senate should be embracing bipartisanship. This proposal, at its core, is a rejection of bipartisanship.