Cantwell Speaks on Senate Floor as ACA-Repeal Vote Looms

Senator to Republicans: “don't play politics with health care”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) took the Senate floor to deliver remarks defending Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. With a key procedural vote expected to be called by Republican leaders Tuesday afternoon, the final bill to be voted on still has not been seen by any Senator from either party.

A transcript of Senator Cantwell’s remarks is below:

Sen. Cantwell: Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Pennsylvania for being here. He and I have been out here many nights talking about the importance of Medicaid. And I so appreciate his leadership in the Senate on this very, very important issue. He has been a champion of the Children's Health Insurance Program and has been a voice amongst all senators on making sure that people have access to health care. I so appreciate being out here with him tonight.

I don't really appreciate being here right at this moment. I am really flabbergasted, why are we here at this moment? Why are we here? I'm sure that President Trump, when he was Candidate Trump, put in a tweet, “I will not cut Medicaid.” And yet, that's the proposal we're talking about, a proposal -- no matter what the proposal is – repeal,  the House bill, the proposal scored by CBO, or some Senate alternative on junk insurance, they all are a cut to Medicaid.

So I’m not sure how we're here. I'm not sure how we're here when the Vice President at the time campaigned, I'm sure against the Affordable Care Act and then became governor of Indiana and implemented Medicaid Expansion. He implemented it in his own state. After saying he was against the affordable care act, he implemented Medicaid expansion. I am sure people in his home state said “if you want to take care of people, if you want to raise their standard of living, if you want to keep the costs down of health care delivery and private insurance, put people on coverage so they aren't driving up the cost of uncompensated care.”

So how are we here? How are we here when our House colleagues come up with a proposal that basically cuts 22 million people off of health care – including 15 million people on Medicaid – after working with the President who said he didn't want to cut Medicaid and a Vice President who basically campaigned against it and then went ahead and expanded it?

We're here -- I can't believe how many times I’ve been here on the Senate floor, and I haven't seen one of my colleagues come down here and talk about solutions that they're proposing. I just hear them come and talk about the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and kicking millions of people off of the health care that they currently have.

So tonight, I can imagine that there are many people across the United States of America that are like me, thinking how could this be happening? How could we be sitting here tonight not knowing what the Senate's going to vote on, not knowing whether they're going to repeal their health insurance, not knowing where their senators stand or even if the senator knows what proposal they're voting on. And yet I can tell you this, more than 70% of the American people think the ideas that have now been put forth by the House and the Senate Republicans and the President do not work. They are not the way to increase access to health care and drive down the costs of private insurance in the insurance market.

But don't have to take my word for it. I'm looking at Republican Governor John Kasich, and you know, I have to admit, probably, you know, something that people don't -- I worked with John Kasich in the House of Representatives. He was a budget hawk. He wanted to figure out how to make things work, so I trust as governor that he is a fiscal steward about how to get things done. So when he says, quote, “until Congress can step back from political gamesmanship and come together with a workable bipartisan plan, it is a mistake for the Senate to proceed to vote on Tuesday and force a one-sided deal that the American people are clearly against,” end quote.

So why are we here? Why are we here when a president promised that he wasn't going to cut Medicaid, a vice president said he was against the bill but then did Medicaid expansion. The people here have, in the United States, responded very clearly that they're not interested in cutting millions of people off of health insurance because they know [even] if it doesn't affect their family, they know it doesn't make common sense for keeping down the cost of health care. So I ask my colleagues to stop and think about the people in the United States of America who are clearly scared to death about what is going to happen tomorrow. They are scared that someone in their family or they, the provider of their family, is not going to be able to provide insurance. If you're [plan is] so great, come down here and volunteer as an amendment to cut all of us. Cut the United States Senate off of our access to health insurance until we come up with some idea that you think is so terrific. I doubt that you will come and propose that. You wouldn't want your family cut off of health care.

But when I meet people like Emily Talbot, who came to visit me from Seattle Children’s, at age 6 diagnosed with a condition which affected her brain tissues and spinal canal. She was from Idaho, and she was referred to Seattle Children's because we are the regional hospital. But thanks to Medicaid, she saw 11 different pediatric sub specialists, had 13 brain surgeries and seven back surgeries, and her mom told me that without Medicaid and the prohibition on lifetime caps, she wouldn't have access to health care today.  That’s what you want to say tomorrow? ‘That ‘we’re not really sure how we’re going to do this, don't really know what works, but even though we said we weren't going to cut Medicaid, we're going to cut people off of health insurance who currently right now have coverage.’

 I think the reason why people like these governors from Republican states have been willing to speak out against this proposal and raise their concerns is because they have to be a steward of Medicaid, they have to be the provider in their states, and they have to be fiscally responsible so they know there are better ways. And when I talked to the regional hospitals -- talk to the regional hospitals in my state, they will tell you covering more people under Medicaid has created downward pressure on price in the individual market. It has helped us.

So our solution cannot be decimating the Medicaid market. Our solution has to look at those in the individual market who don't have as much clout as a big employer or somebody who can buy in bulk and drive down the costs of their price. There are ways to address that issue. I look forward to working with my colleagues on those solutions, but that's not what's being recommended tomorrow. Those solutions haven't been put forth, nor are they part of any of these proposals. So I ask my colleagues to not proceed where the president has promised he was not going to cut Medicaid, and now it's like you want somebody to jump off the cliff tomorrow and you're saying ‘oh, by the way, I'll throw you a parachute on the way down.’ It doesn't work. As my colleagues have said here tonight, it is time to give certainty to this population that we have a proposal that will help continue to give them access to care. I would say to my colleagues that taking a vote on politics when it's the lives and the health care access that so many millions of Americans seek, don't play politics with health care. Let's get a solution that works and works on both sides of the aisle. I thank the president, and I yield the floor.