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Schumer Floor Remarks On Making Health Care A Priority For August And Trade Negotiations With China

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer spoke on the Senate floor regarding the Democrats’ health care agenda for August and the need to be tough on China on trade.  Below are his remarks which can also be viewed here:

Mr. President, yesterday, the Majority Leader announced that the Senate would remain in session during much of the planned August recess. President Trump tweeted: “Great, maybe the Democrats will finally get something done other than their acceptance of High Crime and High Taxes.”

As usual, the president’s tweet makes little sense, given that Republicans control both houses of Congress.

But I agree with the president on one thing: canceling recess is a great opportunity to get something done. In fact, I have a suggestion for what Congress should do. How about this, Mr. President? Why don’t we get something done on the issue that numerous polls say is the number one priority for Americans: healthcare?

We Democrats, our entire caucus, believes this previously unscheduled session time can be put to good use to finally help Americans secure the affordable health care that President Trump and congressional Republicans have thus far failed to deliver.

Before being sworn in, President Trump promised to deliver health care that was “far less expensive and far better”– those are his words – but since he’s taken office, President Trump has completely dropped the ball on health care. Instead of shoring up our health care system and driving down costs, President Trump and Republicans have sabotaged our health care system and driven up costs.

Yesterday, Maine and Pennsylvania joined a growing list of states that will see higher health care rates thanks to the policies of the Trump administration and congressional Republicans. In states like Virginia, Maryland, New York, and Washington, rate increases are in the double digits. One PPO plan in Maryland requested a rate increase of 91%, and when you ask the CEOs of companies why their rates are going up many cite Trump administration policies and congressional Republican policies. Again, the number one issue affecting Americans is the high cost of health care. My Republican colleagues are busy touting the tax break. Well, if you’re very wealthy you got a big break. If you’re a middle-class person, far too often your increase in your premiums exceeds your tax break. So, let’s do something to put more money – net more money – in the pockets of working-class people. Let’s spend August working on health care.

Folks were already paying too much for health care, in the form of premiums, out-of-pocket expenses, and the eye-popping cost of so many prescription drugs. Now, all of those costs are going up because the “unified Republican government” has done little to bring down the high cost of health care, and what it has done has made the situation worse. Again, President Trump has dropped the ball on health care, and the August recess is the time to recover it and do something good.

President Trump deliberately sowed uncertainty in the health care marketplace as a way to make a political point against Obamacare, and then congressional Republicans repealed the coverage requirement in their tax bill. Health insurers from coast to coast cite the repeal of the coverage requirement as one of the major reasons they’re increasing rates next year.

Just last night, a report issued by the Trump administration itself showed that Medicare is going insolvent faster than expected. And what caused it? In part because of the Republican tax bill AND “the repeal of the individual mandate, which increased the estimate of the number of uninsured, in turn leading to a large increase in uncompensated care payments.” Again, the tax bill helped – or the tax bill led to Medicare being less solvent, it running out of money sooner.

And in short order, the Trump administration will make things even worse. They’ll begin offering junk insurance plans that will bring back the dark days when Americans with pre-existing conditions faced higher premiums, denied care, and medical bankruptcy.

So, we now have a few extra weeks in August. What would be number one on the American peoples’ list? Not the things Leader McConnell mentioned: falsely blaming Democrats when appropriations are moving along well, and he brags about how many appointments he’s made to the bench. No. The number one thing Americans want is health care, and we Democrats will spend August recess focusing on that issue, and forcing Republicans to cast votes or deny votes on those important issues. It’s a great opportunity, not just for Democrats, not just for Republicans, but for America. We are going to do it.

We already have an agenda ready to go, and we’re going to push for votes on these measures in August:

1)     We want to expand access to Medicare. Many of us Democrats in this caucus believe 55 should be the age you can buy-in - loads of Americans support that.

2)     We want to increase tax credits to help families afford the cost of health care.

3)     We want to create a National Insurance Program to lower premiums.

4)     We want to ensure that people with pre-existing conditions don’t get denied or priced out of insurance, due to an expansion of junk insurance. And –

5)     We want to lower the sky-rocketing costs of drugs.

President Trump should stay in Washington. No Mar-a-Lago, Mr. President, no golf all the time. You’ve taken so many vacations, while you criticize others; typical, double-standard that you seem to exhibit every ten minutes. President Trump should stay in Washington with us, roll up his sleeves, and get to work on making health care great again.

Now on another matter, one I’ve talked to you about, Mr. President, our trade negotiations with China. As I’ve said many times before, I’m closer to President Trump on trade with China than I was to either President Obama or President Bush. I want our president to succeed in winning real concessions from the Chinese on longstanding issues like intellectual property theft and market access. I believed that unlike previous presidents, President Trump was serious about being tough on China to achieve our goals.

But week after week, I keep reading reports that President Trump and his team are not being tough with China, they're conciliatory, accommodating, whether it comes to our national security or our economic security where China is now eating our lunch.

Yesterday, it was reported that the Trump administration would agree to relax penalties on the Chinese telecom giant ZTE. If the reports are true about a sweetheart deal for ZTE, President Trump has put China first, not America first. If these reports are true, once again President Xi has outfoxed President Trump, the so-called great dealmaker.

ZTE has repeatedly violated US sanctions and lied to US officials about their efforts to rectify those violations. Their technology has been deemed a national security threat by the FCC, the FBI, and the Pentagon. Again, let me repeat that. Their technology is a national security threat, according to our defense and law enforcement authorities. Why on earth is the Trump administration considering relaxing penalties on such a bad actor?

Some reports suggest that the Trump administration is forgiving ZTE to set up an exchange for a short-term, limited purchase of US goods from China. If that’s the case, what a terrible deal for America. Our number one priority should be reducing the threat of intellectual property theft. Intellectual property theft not only threatens our short-term economic outlook, it threatens our long-term leadership in high-tech industries, middle-class jobs for the future, and the security of our country. To relax penalties on ZTE, a proven threat to American IP, in a possible exchange for something as small as a one-time purchase of goods is like trading away your star player for a last-round draft pick.

By backing off and letting ZTE off the hook, China wins. If the reports are true, Congress should move in a bipartisan fashion to block this deal right away.

On top of the ZTE matter, there is no apparent path forward with the ongoing trade negotiations. Nothing concerning intellectual property theft. Nothing concerning market access. Not even a framework. The two recent negotiations with China, led by Secretary Mnuchin, and then Secretary Ross, have failed to produce anything that’s concrete, real, lasting, and important to America.

The administration keeps sending different officials with different priorities to lead discussions with China. Some are tough are China and others are soft. Some have the president's instincts in mind, others do not. Secretary Mnuchin and Ambassador Lighthizer are in totally different camps. I’m in the Lighthizer camp, but the dissension is causing tremendous confusion and making our bargaining position so much the weaker.

President Trump ought to direct our negotiators – all of our negotiators – to be tough with China, and stick with it.