Schumer Floor Remarks on Aid to Puerto Rico and the Revised Version of the Graham-Cassidy Healthcare Bill

September 25, 2017

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today delivered remarks on the Senate floor regarding the need to provide aid to Puerto Rico and the revised version of the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill. Below are his remarks:

Mr. President, Puerto Rico – and the nearby US Virgin Islands -- have been buffeted by not one but two successive hurricanes, including a direct hit by the powerful Hurricane Maria. Many citizens have had their homes and businesses destroyed. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands are living without electricity, husbanding gas and food and water and their remaining cash. The situation is desperate. Puerto Rico has taken a serious punch to the gut and they need our help. They need it now.

These are our fellow Americans. 3.5 million of them. It is our duty here in the Senate to speedily send aid to the people of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands just as we did for the people of Texas and Louisiana who were hit by Hurricane Harvey, and the people of my own state when we suffered from Hurricane Sandy – as we will do for the people of Florida who were hit by Hurricane Irma.

So let’s all work together to help the Island of Puerto Rico rebuild and recover just as we would anywhere else in America.

At the same time, we must bear in the mind that much of the western part of our country is besieged by wildfires. The Senators from Oregon have come here to the floor to remind us of our duty to help those parts of the country also.

So, Mr. President, the Administration must quickly prepare an appropriate aid package for Florida, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and the Western States for Congress to act on in the near future. We Democrats will insist that any package of supplemental aid for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma also include aid for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the western states ravaged by forest fires. We owe it to every state and community impacted by these devastating hurricanes and these horrible fire storms.

One beautiful thing about this country, Mr. President, is that, though we are fifty states with different ideas and politics and accents, we are also one nation, bound together, and we will come to the aid of any individual state or territory whenever one of them is in need.

Now, Mr. President, on healthcare.

Last night we began to see reports of a new version of the Graham-Cassidy bill. Faced with stern resistance from several members of their own caucus, it appears that the authors of the legislation have tweaked the bill in an attempt to gain the support of the holdouts. Despite sending more money to the states of those members, this new bill, if anything, is worse in many ways than before and in the long run will STILL result in a net cut for every state in our country.

It still contains a massive cut to Medicaid, it still defunds Planned Parenthood, and it actually further weakens consumer protections and almost completely does away with protections for those with pre-existing conditions – even worse than in the first version.

The S&P has just come out with a study that estimates that Graham-Cassidy would result in 580,000 lost jobs and $240 billion in lost economic activity by 2027. Now that’s not a democratic propaganda machine.  That’s Standard and Poors, down the middle. 580,000 jobs lost, $240 billion in lost economic activity, if Graham-Cassidy is enacted. 

Under the latest version, states would be able to lift the regulation that caps out-of-pocket costs, meaning insurance companies could offer bare bones policies with sky-high deductibles and co-pays.

Under the latest version, states could do away with lifetime limits, meaning insurance companies could cap the amount of coverage you receive for a given illness. Imagine the parent of a child with cancer being told ‘Hmm, policy only covers four months of treatment.  You’re on your own after that.’ Devastating to too many families in this country.

Under the latest version, states could remove the benefit of getting preventive services at no cost such as birth control, cancer screens or immunizations.

Under the latest version, states could opt out of the pre-existing condition without even applying for a waiver. So even more so than in the old bill, pre-existing conditions are not protected.

States just have to submit a “plan” that allows for “adequate and affordable” insurance. In other words, the new Graham-Cassidy makes it even easier, even more likely that states will allow insurance companies to discriminate against Americans with pre-existing conditions.  Again, that parent of a child aching with cancer is in real jeopardy.  Maybe they can’t even get insurance at all. 

In short, the new Graham-Cassidy tells every American with potentially high medical costs: you’re on your own. If you have diabetes, cancer, a congenital illness, asthma: Graham-Cassidy says you’re on your own. It eviscerates the protections that make healthcare affordable for those who need it the most.  It’s no wonder it’s so unpopular with Americans.  Recently, even though the bill has just been introduced, a majority of Americans say they don’t like it.  The more they learn, just like with the old Trumpcare, the less they like it.  Americans want good health care: lower premiums, more coverage.  This bill does the opposite: higher premiums, fewer people covered, harder to get good insurance. 

And, guess what, Mr. President, we’re expected to vote on this bill in just two or three days. There will have been only a single hearing, which Republicans scheduled almost as an afterthought, just to say that they had one. Certainly there will not be any amendments added to the bill. It will not go through the committee process. There will not be a shred of input from the minority, despite all the complaints that Obamacare, which did have input from the minority, was passed by one party’s vote. The Senate’s former historian said he could not think of “anything comparable” to the process the Republicans are employing…in the entire history of the Senate. Senate Historian, scholar, “nothing comparable” to the process being employed now.  One sixth of the economy, no amendments, one hearing, no changes.        

And add to that the fact that the CBO won’t have enough time to properly analyze the legislation. We won’t know how it actually impacts our healthcare system. At most, we’ll get a bare-bones analysis sometime today that may not tell us a thing about how Graham-Cassidy would impact coverage, the cost of care, the quality of care, or the stability of the marketplaces. That is shocking, shockingly incomplete. To not have our CBO tell the American people, tell us, tell the representatives of each state how it affects their state.  Rush it through.  Even after the CBO report today, Republicans Senators will still be voting on a healthcare bill with a thick blindfold on their eyes. They won’t be able to see it.  My guess, Mr. President, I don’t think they want to see it. When the American people learn what is in this bill, they’re going to dislike it intensely, intensely.                     

So the new Trumpcare is bad policy and it is being jammed through this body at an alarming, ludicrous pace. To say it’s hastily constructed and considered barely scratches the surface. New versions are coming out every few hours. The websites for the Senators from Louisiana and South Carolina keep saying ‘Oh, we’re changing this, we’re changing that.’  It’s Monday. We’re voting this week.  The Republicans are basically scrawling a healthcare law for 300 million people on the back of a bar napkin.

This bill should go down. I believe my Republican colleagues who are skeptical about this policy and this process are too principled to be swayed by last-minute formula tweaks. Governor Walker of Alaska, an independent, has said that he won’t support a healthcare bill that’s bad for the country even if it might be good for his state, which the bill isn’t, he says. That’s principled leadership. I believe that same kind of principled leadership exists in this body as well. I know it does.

So I’d say to all of my Republican colleagues directly: vote down this bill. If it goes down, we Democrats are pledged to work in a bipartisan way to improve our healthcare system. We’re pledged to work through committee and support the efforts of Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray to find bipartisan consensus on a healthcare package. We welcome bipartisan change. We know there’s always give and take when that happens, but usually the product is better. A bipartisan process led by Alexander and Murray to make the present system better will be a whole lot better for both the process of this body and for the health of the American people than this rushed through, half-baked proposal. 

We disagree here in the Senate. A lot. Very rare are the times when there is a clear right and a clear wrong, but this bill, and the process it’s gone through, are clearly wrong.

The bill could hurt so many people in our great country. The process has damaged this institution it would do much greater damage if it were to pass. We have a chance to legislate the right way, through regular order, by resuming the bipartisan work already started by the HELP Committee, which has had hearings and tends to, at least as I understand it, go through a process with amendments.

We Democrats are at the table. We ask our Republican friends to join us at the table once again.