(Bedford, NH) - U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen delivered the following remarks today on health care reform, the state of our economy, and our nation's energy policy during a New England Council luncheon at the Bedford Village Inn in Bedford. The following remarks are as prepared for delivery:
"All of you are members of the New England Council because you understand the value of working together to promote regional economic interests. Whenever possible during my six years as Governor, I worked closely with the governors of the other five New England states to advance the common interests of the region. This is a practice I have continued in the U.S. Senate, and I think it's fair to say that all 12 of the Senators representing New England are willing to put politics and party aside and work together when regional interests are at stake.
"Let me give you just a few examples from my first nine months in the Senate. We have come together to advocate for New England dairy farmers, who are struggling with the drop in worldwide demand for dairy products and don't have the cushion giant dairy farms in other parts of the country can fall back on. We joined together to stop NOAA from imposing draconian catch limits this year on the New England fishing industry. We are working together to make sure New England gets a fair share of the funding made available in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for expanding passenger rail service. Susan Collins and I introduced legislation that will lower Medicare costs by reducing readmissions of seniors to hospitals. Last month Olympia Snowe and I held joint hearings in Portland and Portsmouth on what the federal government can do to help small businesses survive this recession. Olympia and I are both members of the Senate Small Business Committee, which has a great tradition of bipartisanship. I'm glad to see here today two of the people who were witnesses at the Portsmouth hearing, Joe Reilly and Adria Bagshaw.
"Judd Gregg and I worked well together when I was governor, and we have continued to work across party lines now that I have joined him in the Senate. Judd and his staff were very helpful to me and my staff during our first few weeks in Washington, and I am very grateful for that. One of the first calls I got the day after I was elected was from Judd, and shortly after I was sworn in we teamed up on my very first legislation, a bill to provide New Hampshire veterans with health care services on par with other states.
"As you all well know, these are very difficult economic times, and as I look back on my first nine months in the Senate, I feel very good about what we have accomplished so far. One of the first actions we took was to expand the Children's Health Insurance Program, a program the New England Council has supported because you know how important it is to workers' productivity to have their children get health care when they need it. You also understand the connection between children's health and their ability to succeed when they grow up.
"I believe the Recovery Act we passed in February was critical in keeping us out of a depression, and I want to note here that it would not have passed without the willingness of Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to break with their party leadership. The Recovery Act has helped saved jobs across New England, and I'm very proud that New Hampshire has led the country in putting to work the transportation funding in the bill. The Recovery Act has helped stabilize the economy in the short term, and over the long term makes investments that are very important to New Hampshire and all of New England - clean energy incentives, health information technology, and our aging infrastructure.
"The cash-for-clunkers program has been very successful at helping to jump start the auto industry, and this is another economic stimulus measure where New Hampshire has done very well. Per capita, New Hampshire led the nation in taking advantage of cash-for-clunkers. This is good news for New Hampshire auto dealers, auto parts manufacturers and consumers.
"Just last week we passed legislation I cosponsored to attract more international tourists to the United States. Overseas tourists spend more and stay longer than domestic travelers, something I learned as Governor, and tourism is a very important industry here in New Hampshire and in all of New England. While I am very happy this legislation finally passed the Senate, the surprising difficulty in passing it was for me an example of the partisan games-playing that sometimes makes progress very slow. Even passage of a noncontroversial, pro-business measure like the Travel Promotion Act was held up for several months. I found that very frustrating.
"The next major item on the Senate's agenda is, of course, comprehensive health care reform. For me, health care reform is an economic issue. The escalating cost of health care is simply not sustainable. More and more small businesses are dropping health care coverage for their workers, not because they want to, but because they simply can't afford it. The high cost of health care makes it very difficult for American manufacturers to compete globally and the auto industry is a prime example of that. General Motors spends more on health care than it does on steel for every car it makes. It also makes it hard for companies who provide health care for their employees to compete with companies who don't. At the Small Business Committee field hearing we had in August, Adria Bagshaw told us that her small manufacturing company, W. H. Bagshaw, pays more for health care than it does raw materials. And families are spending more and more of their paychecks on health care rather than on other purchases that stimulate economic activity. Over 60 percent of all personal bankruptcies are due to health care debts. Spending on health care is now accounts for over 18 percent of GDP. We cannot sustain this and hope to have a strong economy in the future.
"As you may know, I was invited to the White House with 15 other moderate Democrats in the Senate to meet with the President last week, the day after he spoke on health care to a Joint Session of Congress and the nation. This was a very productive meeting, I thought. All of the Senators attending believe strongly that health care reform cannot just extend coverage to the uninsured, but that it must also help stabilize health care costs, and it was clear in the meeting that the President is committed to this. I left the White House as optimistic as I'd been in months that we will come together to pass comprehensive health care reform and that we will do it in a way that helps families and businesses, especially small businesses, that are struggling with the cost of health care.
"I believe it is critical that we make some changes in how health care is delivered in this country. Right now we have a sick care system, not a health care system. Most of the money spent on health care in this country is spent on hospitalizations and acute care for chronic illnesses. We've got to do a better job of preventing and treating those chronic illnesses. We also know from the groundbreaking research done at Dartmouth that there is a huge variation in spending on medical care in different parts of the country, and that this increased spending does not lead to better outcomes. If we reform some of the financial incentives and give providers and consumers information about the comparative cost and effectiveness of treatment options, we can bring down health care costs. In 2004 Medicare spent 17 billion dollars due to re-hospitalization of patients because there is no system is place to provide them follow-up care when they are discharged from the hospital. As I mentioned earlier, Susan Collins and I have introduced legislation to fix this. This is a common-sense reform; it will improve the quality of seniors' lives by keeping them from going back into the hospital and it will reduce costs. I'm pleased this initiative has been incorporated into the comprehensive health care reform legislation the Senate Finance Committee is now considering.
"As we know, passing health care reform legislation won't be easy. If it were, it would have been done a long time ago. Change is always difficult and powerful interests that benefit from the status quo are fighting it tooth and nail, and frankly, there are those who simply want to see President Obama fail for political reasons. It won't be easy, but I am confident that we will come together and get it done in the next several weeks. We simply have to. We cannot afford the status quo.
"After health care, I expect the Senate to take up financial regulatory reform and clean energy legislation. Neither of these will be easy to pass, but I think both are critical to our economic future. I serve on the Senate Energy Committee, and we completed work on a bipartisan bill in June to increase incentives for alternative energy. New Hampshire and all of New England stands to benefit from a transition to clean energy, and I know the New England Council shares that belief. It's a win-win-win for our region. One, I believe we can lead in creating good jobs in clean energy industries. Two, it's good for the environment and quality of life that we all value in New England. Three, we can help stabilize the high energy costs we have here and that will be good for all of our industries.
"This is an ambitious agenda, and one I believe is necessary to help get the New England economy back on its feet and creating jobs again. I know that it is business, not government, that creates jobs, but I do believe government has a vital role to play in helping business create jobs again in these very difficult economic times.
"I also believe we must get back on the path to a balanced budget. We inherited record deficits, and the economic stimulus measures we have taken increased them. During a recession, I do think it is necessary for the federal government to stimulate the economy through investments and tax cuts, but we need to be on the road to deficit reduction when this recession ends.
"We may not always agree on every issue, but I want you to know that the door to my Senate office will always be open to you, and I am working every day to make sure the actions we take in Washington will benefit the families and businesses of New Hampshire."