Republicans urge to scrap health care bill
For more than six hours, President Barack Obama and Congressional delegates debated yesterday at a health care summit about the health care bill, hoping to come to a bipartisan agreement but instead the results differed based on party affiliation.
The president said there were key points of agreement on bills being considered, while Republican Party members said it was time to start over.
"We have to start by taking the current bill and putting it on the shelf and starting from a clean sheet of paper," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. "Our view, with all respect, is that this is a car that can't be recalled and fixed, and that we ought to start over. But we'd like to start over."
Obama extended the debate, which was originally scheduled to last only 4 hours. The major topics discussed include health care costs, insurance reforms, deficit reduction and extending coverage.
While the intention of the debate was to be completely bipartisan and to focus on coming to an agreement, the speakers grew contentious, constantly cutting off other speakers and calling some of each other's remarks contradicting.
"Part of the goal … is to figure out what are the areas that we do agree on, what are the areas where we don't agree, and at the end of that process then make an honest assessment as to whether we can bridge these differences," Obama said. "I don't know yet whether we can. My hope is that we can."
Alexander said Obama's proposal could potentially spend about $2.5 trillion a year.
"It has more taxes, more subsidies, more spending," he said. "It means it will cut Medicare by about half a trillion dollars, and spend most of that on new programs, not on Medicare and making it stronger. It means that for millions of Americans, premiums will go up."
Alexander said it would force 15 to 18 million low-income Americans into a Medicaid program that most people would not want to be a part of because 50 percent of doctors do not accept it.
"It's like giving someone a ticket to a bus line where the buses only run half the time," he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said health care reform could not be delayed any longer.
"As we sit around this table, I think we should be mindful of what [families] do when they sit around their kitchen table," she said. "What we do here must be relevant to their lives. And for them, they don't have time for us to start over."
Pelosi said the bill would not only secure health care for Americans, but it would create about four million jobs and 400,000 jobs almost immediately.
"Imagine an economy where people could change jobs, start businesses, become self-employed — whether to pursue their artistic aspirations or be entrepreneurial — and start new businesses if they were not job-locked, because they have a child who's bipolar or a family member who's diabetic, with a pre-existing condition, and all of the other constraints that having health care [could prevent]," she said.
One of the most controversial debates regarded the cost of federal regulation for setting detailed standards for insurance nationwide.
Representative Dave Camp, R-Mich., and Senator Jon Kyl, R- Ariz., said that according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office, under the Senate bill, the average premium in the individual insurance market would be 10 to 13 percent higher by 2016 than it would be under current law.
Obama said these standards are needed to form a baseline level of protection, and while some policies may cost more, they will cover more than the cheaper policies would.
"Yes, I am paying 10 to 13 percent more because instead of buying an apple, I'm getting an orange," he said. "They're two different things."
Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid said in 2008, more than 700,000 bankruptcies were filed, 70 percent of which were due to health care costs. He said 80 percent of the people who filed bankruptcy because of these costs actually had health insurance.
"America is the only country in the world where if you get sick or hurt, you're going to have to file bankruptcy," Reid said.
He said while Republicans have the right to disagree with the bill, they should provide better explanations of how to make it better.
"It becomes your responsibility to propose ideas for making it better," he said. "So if you have a better plan for making health insurance more affordable, let's hear it."
One of the most contentious parts of the debate was when Obama clashed with his former presidential election opponent — Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz.
McCain argued that Obama promised to change Washington during the election campaign but is doing things behind closed doors instead despite promising to televise his previous negotiating sessions, which he did not do.
"John, we're not campaigning anymore — the election is over," Obama said, cutting McCain off.
McCain responded, laughing, and said, "I'm reminded of that every day."
Obama highlighted some of the key positive factors of the bill.
"The basic concept is that we would set up an exchange, meaning a place where individuals and small businesses could go and get choice and competition for private health care plans, the same way that members of Congress get choice and competition for their health care plans," he said.
The government will provide subsidies for people who cannot afford private plans, Obama said. The overall costs would be lower, because people would be in a stronger position to negotiate.
"We think it is a plan that works with the existing system, the employer-based system, the private health care system, but allows a lot of people who currently don't have health care to get health care, and more importantly, for the vast majority of people who do have some health care, it allows them to get a better deal," he said.
Obama said premiums for families with health insurance would more than likely double over the next decade.
"This is an issue that is affecting everybody. It's affecting not only those without insurance, but it's affecting those with insurance," he said. "And … everybody understands that the problem is not getting better, it's getting worse."
Obama also plans to come up with ways to make the Medicare system more effective and to provide better quality care to those with Medicare.
Rutgers University College Republicans President Ron Holden said it is a shame that a six-hour debate did not change anything.
"I don't think there's any kind of willingness to cooperate or reach a common ground," said Holden, a Rutgers College senior. "I don't think the summit [was] used to the best of its ability."
Rutgers Democrats President Alex Holodak said while the Republicans got a chance to express their views, he feels the debate did not change much, and he thinks the health care bill needs to be passed.
"It was good for the American people to see a clearer version of where everyone stands, said Holodak, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. "Now they just need to pass it."