Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Final Passage

The House of Representatives and the Senate have both passed their own versions of health care reform legislation. The president is meeting with Democratic leaders from both houses to discuss how best to merge the two bills into one final reform. I'd like very much to know how those negotiations are going, but unfortunately, they're "behind closed doors", as they say.

That's never really worked well for us, has it? The biggest, brightest flashing red light in my mind is last year's economic stimulus package. During the final conference committee, which took place less than a day before final passage, allowing no one time to read the final bill before voting on it, a number of last-minute provisions were added, including the infamous "bonus guarantees" for AIG. Congress scrambled for weeks trying to recover (the money and their dignity) after that fiasco.

Now, it's health care. We can only guess how much time Congress and the American public will be given to review the final language and provisions before a vote is held. I don't know about you, but I feel comfortable opposing the final bill already. Whether you support it or oppose it, though, don't wait any longer to make your opinion known.

This is a copy of the letter I sent to Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner and Congressman Glenn Nye asking for their "no" votes when the bill is brought to Congress for final passage. Given how quickly the stimulus bill was passed, I didn't want to waste any more time. If you haven't written, called, or visited your congressman or senators yet, then do so now; you may not have the chance to later.


Dear Senator,

The president is meeting this week with top Democratic lawmakers to reconcile the House and Senate bills. I've written to you several times this last year, asking for additions, subtractions, and amendments to the various health care bills being considered by Congress; not once have my concerns been adequately addressed, I feel. I understand that this is a serious matter and that not all considerations can be met. I do have one more request, though, Senator: I want you to vote no on the final bill.

There are far too many disturbing proposals in these health care bills, Senator. The House version calls for a public option; the Senate version doesn't have strong enough proscriptions against abortion funding; neither one contains significant tort reform; and both seek to impose federal mandates on the American people.

The proposed payment methods are troubling enough by themselves. No matter how you characterize or categorize them, there are new taxes throughout the House and Senate bills, and there is evidence that even more may be added in conference. If a mandate is included, then the IRS will likely be the venue through which penalties and fines for not purchasing insurance will be collected. This may seem reasonable to some, Senator, but not to me.

The president, in his address to the nation last September, pledged to sign no bill "that adds one dime to our deficit, either now or in the future". At this time, Senator, he is mediating two bills, either one of which would add to the deficit by significantly more than a dime. Congress recently voted to raise the amount of money the federal government can owe, no doubt in preparation for the new deficits these bills would produce. Senator, voting to raise the debt ceiling is like handing someone a credit card and saying when they max it out to just keep spending.

But staying with the topic of health care, these bills represent terrible burdens to the American people. You may be tempted to say that something is better than nothing, as others have said; but I expect better of you, Senator. I want you to vote no when the bill comes to the Senate floor.

Sincerely,

Stephen Monteith

Update: Congressman Nye's reply

Dear Mr. Monteith,

Thank you for contacting me in opposition to the proposed health care legislation before Congress. It is helpful to learn the views of my neighbors in Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore, and I value your input.

You will be pleased to know I voted against the House health care reform bill, H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act.

I believe it is absolutely imperative that any health care reform bill reduces costs for families and small businesses, allows Americans to keep their existing plan and choose their doctor, is bipartisan, is deficit neutral,does not force Americans to use a certain type of health insurance, maintains Medicare benefits for seniors, and lowers the overall costs of health care. H.R. 3962 does not meet these criteria.

First and foremost I believe we must reduce the cost of health care both for the individual and small businesses - and this bill does not accomplish that goal. In fact, the Director of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Doug Elmendorf, recently stated that this bill will not effectively bring down the growing cost of health care - and that it is unsustainable over the long term. Even though the bill will reduce the deficit in the short term, CBO also asserted that it will increase the cost of health care to taxpayers by nearly $600 billion over the next ten years.

Another example is the bill's surtax provision, which taxes individuals with over $500,000 in annual income - or joint-filers with over $1,000,000 in income. The problem is that this income cap is not indexed for inflation - meaning it will stay at $500,000 or $1,000,000 - so over time it will begin to tax middle-class families, as well as small business owners. In fact, because of the structure of most small businesses, many our most successful small businesses would face double taxation, diminishing their ability to maintain capital used to reinvest in their business and weakening their ability to continue to push our economy forward. Any reform must be fiscally responsible and not place an undue burden on small businesses, which are a large part of the economic engine that drives our economy.

Additionally, we must fix our current system before we add more people into it, which will only exacerbate any current problems. We need to fix current utilization, create real money saving efficiencies, and through a coordinated effort we must incentivize good health practices and preventive care.

The recently passed legislation from the House and Senate are now being reconciled by House and Senate leadership in consultation with President Obama. Once this is complete Congress will vote on final passage of the bill. When Congress considers health reform legislation, know that I will carefully track its evolution and make certain to protect American families.

Thank you again for taking the time to let me know your thoughts. I am proud to serve Virginia's Second Congressional District, and I am committed to working hard for you. If you would like more information about the issues I am working on in Congress, or if you would like to sign up to receive my monthly e-newsletter, I encourage you to visit my website at http://www.nye.house.gov/.

Sincerely,

Glenn Nye
Member of Congress

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