Senate Minority Leader on the President's Address to Congress

U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made the following remarks Wednesday regarding the President’s address to a joint session of Congress and the importance of getting it right on health care reform:

“As we all know, the President will be here tonight, and he’ll get a warm reception, as Presidents always do when they address the nation from the Capitol. It’s a short trip from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but it’s always meaningful whenever a president from either political party speaks to a joint session. So we welcome him.

“He picked a good topic. Americans are extremely skeptical about the health care proposals the administration and Democrats in Congress have been talking about over the past several months. And they’re understandably baffled by some of the arguments that have been used to promote them.

“Americans don’t understand how a massive expansion of government will lower costs, as the administration claims. They don’t understand how $500 billion in cuts to Medicare won’t affect the millions of seniors who depend on it. Americans don’t understand how they’ll be able to keep the health plans they have if government is allowed to undermine the private market. And they don’t understand why the administration doesn’t seem to be listening to these and many other concerns.

“Americans want specifics. They want solid assurances about what health care reform would mean for themselves and for their families and, just as importantly, what it won’t mean. Americans have been clear about what they don’t want to see in health care reform. Now they want the administration to be clear with them.

“One thing that’s already apparent in this debate is that the problem isn’t the administration’s sales pitch. The problem is what they’re selling. Americans are rightly concerned about a rush to hike taxes on small businesses, cut seniors’ Medicare benefits, and add trillions of dollars in more government spending and debt. For months, the President and Democrats in Congress have been describing their plans for reform. The status quo is unacceptable. But if August showed us anything, it’s that so are the alternatives that the administration and Democrats in Congress have proposed.

“Tonight, the President has an opportunity to reframe the debate, but only if he recognizes that the Democrats’ original plan for health care reform doesn’t wash with the American people. When it comes to health care, Americans don’t want government to tear down the house we have. They want it to repair the one we’ve got. That means sensible, step-by-step reforms, not more trillion dollar grand schemes. It means preserving what people like about our health care system, not destroying it all at once or starving it over time.

“A government takeover on the installment plan — or a ‘trigger’ as some are calling it — is still a government takeover. It’s a bad idea now. It’ll be a bad idea whenever the trigger kicks in. Proponents of a trigger say that it might not be needed. But you can be sure of this: if Democrats are in charge, they’ll pull the trigger at some point. Let’s be honest. Letting Democrats decide whether to pull the trigger on government-run health care is like asking the pitcher, not the umpire, to call the balls and strikes.

“Proponents of a trigger also say that Republicans approved one for the Medicare drug benefit. What they don’t say is that ours was designed to ensure competition, not to stifle it. That trigger would have prohibited the government from being a fallback plan. This trigger would make the government the regulator, the payer, and a competitor, and put the taxpayer on the hook for its cost. Don’t be fooled: proponents of government-run health care realized last month that ‘government plan’ had become a dirty word, so they latched onto a new way to describe the same thing: a trigger. Americans aren’t confused by the Democrats’ reform proposal. They’re not asking for a new sales pitch. How many ways do they need to say it: Americans oppose a government takeover of health care, regardless of what it’s called.

 “Over the past several weeks, I’ve visited with doctors, nurses, seniors, hospital workers, small businessmen and women, and countless others citizens across Kentucky and throughout the country — none of whom would call our current health care system perfect. But all of them are worried about so-called reforms that would undermine the things they like about the American health care system.

“People are concerned about a proposal that would raid Medicare rather than strengthening and preserving it. Most of the Democratic proposals we’ve seen would increase taxes on small businesses. People don’t understand why the administration would even entertain the idea of raising taxes on the businesses that create jobs in a country that’s already lost millions of jobs since January.

“Every Democrat proposal we’ve seen expands Medicaid — a program that’s administered by the federal government but largely paid for by the states. Republican and Democratic governors alike can’t believe the administration is proposing massive new expenses at a moment when many of these states can’t even pay the bills they’ve got. Many of these states are struggling just to survive in the current economy. And yet Democratic lawmakers in Washington want to spend billions to expand Medicaid and then send the bill to them.

“No wonder so many Americans think lawmakers in Washington are completely out of touch. Most states are constitutionally required to have balanced budgets. This means that if the federal government forces them to increase spending on Medicaid, they’ll have no choice but to either cut services or raise taxes. And that means Americans would be hit twice: first by the taxes on small businesses, then by higher taxes from state government — all for massive overhauls they don’t want.

“People don’t want risky, sweeping changes that increase the national debt and don’t solve the problems we have. That’s why I’ve been calling instead for common-sense reforms that build on the current system — for things like ending junk lawsuits on doctors and hospitals that drive up health care costs, lowering the costs for individual consumers by equalizing the tax treatment for individuals and businesses, and incentivizing healthy living to prevent diseases and to treat health problems early.

“For years, Republicans have sought reforms that would increase access to care — reforms that had the strong support of the American people, whether it was proposing to let small businesses pool their resources together to get the same competitive rates as big businesses, or by establishing health savings accounts that give people greater control over their care and their dollars. For years, we’ve pushed for medical liability reform and called on Congress to strengthen Medicare and Medicaid by fixing these necessary but financially-strapped programs.

“Most Democrats have resisted most of these incremental changes, hoping the day would come when they could create a whole new dramatic scheme from the ground up under government control. This summer they actually tried to do just that, and the American people told them to try again. Their message has been loud and it’s been clear: no more spending money we don’t have on programs we don’t need. No more debt. No more government expansion. And no government takeover of health care.

“Americans don’t want us to walk off the field. They want us to recommit ourselves to the reforms they want. If Democrats agree, we’ll be their partners. If they resist the pleas of Americans to start over, we won’t. All of us heard a lot from the American people last month. Now’s the time to show we were listening.”