Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid makes opening remarks at the White House health summit

CQ Transcriptions
Thursday, February 25, 2010; 11:52 AM

REID: Mr. President, my friends in the House and in the Senate, I want to spend a few minutes talking about Nevada, about our country, and not what's going on here in Washington.

I want to start by talking about a young man by the name of Jesus Gutierrez. He works hard. He has a restaurant in Reno, Nevada. He had everything that he wanted except a baby. He had health insurance. He had employees that liked him. But he was fortunate. They were going to have a baby. It was going to be a little girl.

And the baby was born. And in just a few minutes after the birth of that baby, he was told that the baby had a cleft palate. "But that's OK," he was told, "We can take care of that," and they did.

They did some surgery on the baby, and he was happy, that is, Jesus was happy until he got his mail four months later, opened the envelope and the insurance company said, "We didn't realize that your baby had a pre-existing disability. We're not covering the $90,000 in hospital and doctor bills you've already run up."

So he's trying to pay that off. The baby needs a couple more surgeries.

This shouldn't happen to anyone in America. He had health insurance. He paid his premiums.

I say to my friend Lamar, who I have great respect and admiration for, you're entitled to your opinions but not your own facts. Your opinion is something that is yours, and you're entitled to that, but not your own set of facts.

Senator Moynihan said that many years ago. And that's what we have to do here today. Let's make sure that we talk about facts.

Last Monday, a week ago Monday, all over America, the results were run from a poll done by the Kaiser Foundation. It was interesting what that poll said. Fifty-eight percent of Americans would be disappointed or angry if we did not do health care reform this year -- 58 percent.

Across America, more than 60 percent of Republicans, Democrats and independents want us to reform the way health care works. Is it any wonder?

They want it so that businesses can afford health care. They want to give consumers more choices and insurance companies more competition.

And the doughnut hole -- what is the doughnut hole? Well, a senior citizen will tell you what the doughnut hole is. Under the Medicare law that is in existence, you can be sick and you can get your medication paid for, for a while. After you spend $2,000, approximately, in medication, you are finished until you spend $3,500 more out of your own pocket.

And what happens during that hole that we've called the doughnut hole?

Seniors in America are splitting pills in half, not getting their prescriptions filled, taking them every other day.

Again, Lamar, you're entitled to your opinion but not your own facts. No one has said -- I read what the president has online. No one has talked about reconciliation, but that's what you folks have talked about ever since that came out, as if it's something that has never been done before.

Now, we as leaders here, the speaker and I, have not talked about doing reconciliation as the only way out of all this. Of course it's not the only way out. But remember, since 1981, reconciliation has been used 21 times. Most of it's been used by Republicans for major things, like much of the Contract for America, Medicare reform, the tax cuts for rich people in America. So reconciliation isn't something that's never been done before.

It's as if there's a different mindset, a different set of facts than the reality. Remember, Chairman Dodd, in the HELP Committee, held weeks of markups, and in the bill that he reported out of that committee, there's more than 150 Republican amendments that are part of that legislation. The same happened with Chairman Baucus in the Finance Committee. And those were put together. That's what we brought to the floor.

So the bill on the floor that my friend Lamar is lamenting here has significant input from the Republicans.

So let's look at the facts a little bit more. Because they can be stubborn, you know.

Harvard just completed a study that shows 45,000 Americans die every year because they don't have health insurance, almost 1,000 a week in America.

In 2008, about 750,000 bankruptcies were filed. About 70 percent of those bankruptcies were filed because of health care costs. Eighty percent of the people that filed for bankruptcy because of health care costs had health insurance. America is the only country in the world where, if you get sick or hurt, you're going to have to file bankruptcy -- 750,000 bankruptcies in 2008.

These facts show that the story that I told about Jesus is not just a story of some young businessman in Reno, Nevada, running a restaurant, that gets jerked around by an insurance company. It happens all over.

Health reform shouldn't be about political parties fighting each other.

REID: It should be about people fighting for their lives and fighting for a better quality of life; people like (inaudible) and that little girl.

This debate shouldn't be about whether an idea came from Democrats or Republicans or one side of the aisle or the other side of the aisle, but whether the idea will improve the health care delivery system in our country.

I know, it's obvious, we've heard it, my Republican friends oppose our legislation and that is your right. But also it becomes your responsibility to propose ideas for making it better. So if you have a better plan for making health insurance more affordable, let's hear it. If you have a better plan for making health insurance companies more accountable, let's face it, let's work on it.

If you have a better plan for doing this while cutting the deficit, as our bill did -- during the first 10 years, our bill cuts the deficit by $132 billion; the second 10 years up to $1.3 trillion. Those aren't my numbers. They come from the Congressional Budget Office.

So we're ready to listen. I so appreciate the president getting us together. And I want the American people to know that we need to work together, and I want to do everything I can as a senator to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get this done. We need to do health care reform.

I've spoken with Madam Speaker on many occasions, numerous times about health care. We spent most of the last year talking about health care. I so admire her tenacity, her legislative brilliance, and I will do everything I can, Mr. President, to get this health care reform over the goal line.

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