Mr. CORNYN. Mr. President, I join my colleague from Tennessee in discussing health care, which, as the Presiding Officer knows, has been the subject for several weeks now in the Finance Committee and across the entire country for the last few months.
Currently, we are waiting for the CBO to come back to the Finance Committee and tell us what the preliminary cost estimate is of the Finance Committee bill, as voted with amendments that were passed in the Finance Committee. Soon, if we can believe the reports, the majority leader will bring to the floor a so-called merged bill from the two Senate committees--the HELP Committee and the Finance Committee--and then we will be asked to offer amendments and vote on that bill.
While we are waiting for the process to unfold, I think it is very important to carefully ask the questions that the American people--including my constituents in Texas--are asking me, questions I believe Senators should ask themselves as we debate health care reform on the Senate floor.
The first question I would like to propose is: Will we have a transparent debate? The American people want transparency. I cannot tell you how many of them have contacted me from my State and elsewhere and have said: We want to read the bill language. Amazingly enough, many have cited back to me pages--references either from the House bills or the HELP Committee bill or otherwise--and said: What does this mean? I have concerns about that.
The second question is: Will Congress actually listen to the concerns of our constituents once they learn more about what is in these bills? In other words, ultimately, the question is: Will we know what is in the bill before we are required to vote on it? Will we know how much it is going to cost before we vote on it, both in committee and on the floor of the Senate? If you will remember, way back in August of 2008--that seems like a long time ago, but it is almost yesterday--President Obama pledged that our debates on health care reform would be transparent. I applauded him for that at that time. He said negotiations should take place on C-SPAN, so anybody and everybody who cared about it could see it. I remember, on January 20 of this year, sitting up there near the dais when our President spoke, and he said things I agreed with, such as: ``We need greater transparency in government.'' He said: ``Transparency promotes accountability and it promotes public confidence in what we do here.'' Well, the converse is also true; secrecy breeds suspicion and ultimately promotes cynicism about what we do here. That is why this is such an important issue. Unfortunately, those Americans who have been counting on a transparent process in Washington have been disappointed so far. We have seen special deals negotiated by the White House with lobbyists which have not been disclosed to the American people, some which we have learned about and some which we may not yet know about. One is the deal with the pharmaceutical industry--holding their exposure to $80 billion under this legislation. That deal was reinforced last week by a vote in the Finance Committee.
I wasn't a party to that deal. I am sure the Presiding Officer was not. I wonder how many other deals have been cut between the White House and various interest groups that we don't know about. We also learned about a deal cut with some hospitals--some but not all. A CBO score on an amendment last week had to be redone because it was $11 billion off because the CBO, the nonpartisan office charged with telling us how much this bill will cost, didn't know about this hold harmless agreement with the hospital association.
We need to know of these deals because they will not necessarily be reflected in the bill language, and only the White House, presumably, and the special interest groups that cut these deals know about them.
But I think it is important the American people know about them so they can evaluate whether we are appropriately doing our job.
I have heard it time and time again, particularly since the passage of the stimulus bill that we got roughly at 11 o'clock on a Thursday night and were required to vote on in less than 24 hours--my constituents are saying: Is it asking too much to have you read the bill before you vote on it? I voted no on that bill for a lot of reasons, but I didn't have the time, nor I suspect did many Members of Congress have the time, to read it before we were required to vote on it.
We don't set the voting schedule; the majority leader does. I think that is another reason they want us to slow down. Let's find out what is in the bill. Let's let the American people read what is in the bill. Tell us what it is going to cost, and let's have a good, old-fashioned debate about what is in the best interests of the American people.
The third special deal that was disclosed had to do with Medicaid. You remember the majority leader from Nevada said: The unfunded mandate for Medicaid expansion is too much for my State to absorb. Lo and behold, a new deal was cut with new language that would give four States a better deal than they would have had in the original proposal by the chairman of the Finance Committee, Senator Baucus. One of those four States, lo and behold, happens to be the State represented by our distinguished majority leader. I think these examples reveal why transparency is so important.
As the distinguished Senator from Tennessee pointed out, we are going to have this mysterious merger of the Finance Committee proposals with the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee bill behind closed doors, presumably--I heard reports it is occurring now, maybe even as we speak, in the conference room of the majority leader without any of us being present. I think it is a perilous, indeed, a dangerous way for us to do business.
As the distinguished Presiding Officer knows, the first amendment offered by our side of the aisle last week in the Finance Committee was offered by the Senator from Kentucky, Mr. Bunning. His amendment would have required a 72-hour waiting period before we would vote on the Finance Committee bill. During those 72 hours, we would, hopefully, have had actual legislative text not just conceptual language available to us and available to the American people so they could read it. We would also insist, under his amendment, on a score; that is, a cost of the Congressional Budget Office telling us how much Medicare was going to be cut, how much taxes would be raised, and how the bill would be paid for. That seemed like an eminently reasonable amendment to me. But, unfortunately, a majority did not carry the day in the committee, and it failed.
I hope we have another chance to come back to that issue, perhaps even as one of the first amendments as we take up this bill on the floor because I think it is incredibly important to public confidence, to accountability, to try to do something about the cynicism that has crept into the public's perception of what we are doing. That is reflected in 16 percent of respondents in a recent Rasmussen poll saying they rate Congress as either good or excellent--16 percent. We need to do better than that. We need to restore confidence in what we are doing, and I think transparency will help; otherwise, what are we left with? We are left with people wondering whether there is some reason we don't want the public to read the bill. Maybe there is a reason that they don't think the public should read the language because maybe they don't intend to read the language before they vote on it.
Some have said the language is just simply too complicated; that an average person cannot understand it if they read it, and that even some Senators would not be able to understand it if they read it before they voted on it.
I ask us all to take a deep breath and one step back and think about the consequences. If some staffer is the one writing the language, and Members of Congress, members of committees, Members of the Senate do not read it and it perhaps is not written in understandable language so we know what the impact will be, how does that promote public confidence? It is something that ought to give us pause, and [Page: S10140] we ought to reconsider as we reflect on what the message sends.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent for 2 additional minutes.