Jack Reed spoke on the floor of the Senate yesterday, calling for the President to support health insurance for children in the US. Behind him in the picture are John Kerry (D-MA) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
Floor Statement by U.S. Senator Jack Reed
September 26, 2007
MR. REED: Thank you, Mr. President.
Mr. President, I rise to speak in strong support for the renewal of the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
It is an issue that is fast upon us. The House of Representatives passed this legislation last evening. We will, I hope, do the same and send it to the president.
This is an issue that is not just an economic issue, it is also a moral imperative.
If we cannot assure children in this country have the access to good health care, then we cannot assure that we keep faith with the basic notion of this country — opportunity for all.
Health care and education together is the engine that moves this country forward — it gives children the chance to use their talents, develop their talents, then go on to contribute to this great country.
It also makes tremendously sound economic sense.
As we invest in children’s health care we hopefully will ensure throughout their life they have healthy lifestyles and the advantage of a good start so their efforts can be directed toward contributing to their community, contributing to this economy.
We understand the cost of health care is skyrocketing. For many families, they have to make the choice to forego it, to leave their children vulnerable, without access to good primary care, without access to specialized care when they need it.
We also understand that these children, when they get sick, they ultimately find their way to the emergency room, and we end up paying much more.
Because a child that can be seen on a regular basis, that can have access to preventative care, arriving at the emergency room with a serious condition requires a great deal more resources than seeing a child before that condition becomes serious, becomes an emergency.
So, we should be, I think, smart as well as morally responsive to the issue before us. That directs me to my strong support of the legislation.
The final bill that will come before us will invest $35 billion in our nation’s children and their future.
It preserves coverage for 6.6 million children. But it will also reduce the number of uninsured children by 4 million.
In fact, the final bill improves upon the senate bill I supported weeks ago. It provides quality dental coverage to all children enrolled. That is critical.
I can recall listening to a foster mother with six different foster children. What was her big complaint? Couldn’t get a dentist. Not enough. They would not see her because she did not have dental coverage. Her complaint to me was, really, just a repetition of what her child said to her in so many words which is “what do I do, how do I take care of a toothache or go to school when I cannot concentrate because of the pain?”
For most of us, that is a simple call to the dentist and a trip to the dentist and immediate relief. And for their children also. But for many that is not the case.
I think it’s going to be an important step forward.
I am particularly proud because the architect of this program ten careers ago was Senator John Chafee of Rhode Island who pushed for the adoption of the children’s health care program and it is a legacy to him. A vibrant legacy which we in Rhode Island cherish and hope we can extend through this legislation.
The final bill that will result, we hope, in passage and signature by the president, will give Rhode Island an increase of federal funding. From $18 million to $93 million. It will prevent future shortfalls.
Just last November on the floor of the Senate before we went out I was insistent we could not leave until we provided help to states that already ran out of their SCHIP funding. We did that. But those stop-gap measures at the 11th hour don’t provide for the kind of planning and predictability that is essential to keep the costs down and keep the program going.
I do think, again, that this is a bill that is worth all of our efforts and all of our support.
If we can afford to spend $12 billion a month in Iraq, we must be able to afford to spend a fraction of that to give children health care in this country.
I just left the Appropriations Committee hearing. Secretary Gates urges $50 billion more funding for Iraq. That is quite a bit more than we’re asking over five years to the children’s health care program â€“ and that is just for several months in Iraq.
The American people, I believe, will demand we pass this legislation.
If we can find the resources overseas, we have got to be able to find the resources here for this compelling issue.
The other aspect of this, is this legislation is fully paid for.
Unlike the spending in Iraq which is a deficit spending which we are, literally, sending forward to the next generation of Americans to deal with, this is fully paid for by an increase in the cigarette tax. Sound fiscal policy as well as sound public policy.
Now, we have heard a lot from the president, particularly about why he is proposing to veto this legislation.
Frankly, I find it hard to discover any logic at all. And it’s full of misrepresentations. The bill does not cover children up to 400% of poverty. In fact, about 80% of the newly insured children are from families below 200% of poverty, the new children to be enrolled. This bill is well targeted and provides incentives to ensure the lowest income children are insured first and it doesn’t federalize health care or socialize it.
In fact, in Rhode Island the health care program is run by private health insurance companies. And that is a very effective and efficient approach this health care.
What I have noticed in the last few years, is not that private health insurance has expanded dramatically in this country and this legislation would constrain that, quite the opposite.
Private health insurance, the number of insured Americans have increased. They are losing private insurance. It is too expensive. So the idea this somehow is going to throttle the attempts of the private insurance industry to ensure these children is, on its face, I think preposterous.
These children will not be insured because their parents can not afford to pay the coverage and because private companies work on a profit and do not extend coverage if they don’t feel like it. This expands coverage and protects children and the way to invest in our future.
This is the way to do it in a fiscally responsible manner by offsetting the cost, by increasing the cigarette tax. It makes sense on every ground.
So, the president’s suggestion that he is vetoing it has to be something other than common sense. In fact, it strikes me as slightly spiteful.
This is something on a bipartisan basis we have done for 10 years. Something on a bipartisan basis that we will continue to do. And to be frustrated by a presidential veto I think would add insult to the injury of not having children insured in this country.
So, I call on the president to reconsider this veto threat.
I call on the president to join us to insure the children of America, provide them health insurance, provide them a foundation for their education, provide them the foundation to proceed forward as good citizens, good workers in this economy, contributing members.
Health care for children makes sense for the basic prosperity of our nation.