02.02.11

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The McConnell Amendment (To Repeal The Affordable Care Act) To The Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Bill

The 112th Congress began just one month ago, with both sides of the political aisle voicing a renewed commitment to cooperation.  It is not hard to understand why I am disappointed that at the first opportunity, Senate Republicans have chosen to manipulate the open amendment process. The Senate minority is demanding a vote on an amendment to repeal the health care reform law in its entirety -- an issue totally unrelated to the bill we are considering, the FAA Transportation Modernization Safety Improvement Act, which creates jobs, makes airline travel safer and more efficient, and offers consumers a ‘passenger bill of rights.’ 

The Senate’s vote today follows the carefully staged show vote a few weeks ago by the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives.  The American people have the right to know what a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act really means.  Repeal of this law would take away the rights of millions of patients and would eliminate insurance coverage for millions more, from the aging and elderly, to men and women with preexisting conditions, to the most vulnerable children.  

When you boil away the rhetoric, the only alternative offered to the American people by advocates of repeal is:  Don’t get sick.

This amendment would turn back the clock to a time when, once again, women would have to pay more for health insurance than men, insurance companies could rescind a health insurance policy because someone gets sick, and coverage could forever be denied to someone born with a disease or ailment.  In Vermont, repeal would mean nearly 2000 young adults would no longer have coverage through their parents’ insurance plans, more than 5000 Vermont seniors would see an increase in the price of their prescriptions, and 350,000 Vermonters with private insurance could have lifetime limits slapped on how much insurance companies will spend on their health care.

Some in Congress want to drain federal spending on domestic programs while looking the other way in supporting a repeal amendment that will accelerate the health cost spiral and add to our ballooning deficit.  The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that repeal of the Affordable Care Act would boost the federal debt and deficits by $230 billion. The economic turmoil would reach beyond the overall costs of repeal by removing vital anti-fraud provisions I have long advocated that have helped the Obama administration recover billions of taxpayer dollars.  Repealing the Affordable Care Act would remove these fiscal safeguards and reopen the floodgates to insurance discrimination, by putting insurance companies back in charge. 

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act have gone to new lengths to repeat and prolong this political battle.  Not only do they want to replay a two-year long debate on a law that was enacted by a decisive majority, but some opponents are also replaying the debate in the courts.  These political opponents seek to achieve in the courts what they could not in Congress.  They want judges to override legislative decisions properly assigned by the Constitution to Congress, the elected representatives of the American people.

Today, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the constitutionality of the historic Affordable Care Act.  A dozen federal courts have dismissed challenges to the law.  Another four courts have heard arguments about its constitutionality; two have upheld the law as constitutional, and two have not.  Legal challenges to the law are expected to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

As I concluded during the debate on the Affordable Care Act, I have no doubt that Congress acted well within the bounds of its constitutional authority in working to secure affordable health care for all Americans through this plan that is based on the long established health insurance marketplace. The testimony we heard today from constitutional scholars makes clear that the language and spirit of the Constitution provides for such a response to a clearly established national need, as do judicial precedent and prior acts of Congress that also protect hardworking Americans in the national health care market and promote the general welfare. 

The Senate should not be spending its valuable time re-litigating a law that has already helped millions of Americans and will help millions more as the law is fully implemented.  The American people rightly expect us to work together and make progress on so many challenges that we face today. 

I will not support a return to less protection, less coverage, less fairness and higher costs.  The Affordable Care Act extended health insurance to millions of families in Vermont and across the country.  Those who represent the American people in Congress should stand ready to get to work for their constituents.  This is not a time to cobble back together a broken system that has burdened most American households with health coverage uncertainty and crippling costs.

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