Health Care Remarks

Remarks by Republican Minority Leader John Boehner and Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ahead of the historic vote to give the central government control of the nation's health care system (March 21, 2010). The measure passed by 219 to 212, for Barack Hussein Obama's signature.

Republican Minority Leader John Boehner:

Mr. Speaker and my colleagues, I rise tonight with a sad and heavy heart.

Today, we should be standing together, reflecting on a year of bipartisanship, and working to answer our country's call and their challenge to address the rising costs of health insurance in our country.

Today, this body, this institution, enshrined in the first article of the Constitution by our Founding Fathers as a sign of the importance they placed on this House, should be looking with pride on this legislation and our work.

But it is not so.

No, today we're standing here looking at a health care bill that no one in this body believes is satisfactory.

Today we stand here amidst the wreckage of what was once the respect and honor that this House was held in by our fellow citizens.

And we all know why it is so.

We have failed to listen to America.

And we have failed to reflect the will of our constituents.

And when we fail to reflect that will – we fail ourselves and we fail our country.

Look at this bill.

Ask yourself: do you really believe that if you like the health plan that you have, that you can keep it?

No, you can't.

In this economy, with this unemployment, with our desperate need for jobs and economic growth, is this really the time to raise taxes, to create bureaucracies, and burden every job creator in our land?

The answer is no.

Can you go home and tell your senior citizens that these cuts in Medicare will not limit their access to doctors or further weaken the program instead of strengthening it?

No, you cannot.

Can you go home and tell your constituents with confidence that this bill respects the sanctity of all human life, and that it won't allow for taxpayer funding of abortion for the first time in 30 years?

No, you cannot.

And look at how this bill was written.

Can you say it was done openly, with transparency and accountability? Without backroom deals, and struck behind closed doors, hidden from the people?

Hell no, you can't!

Have you read the bill? Have you read the reconciliation bill? Have you read the manager's amendment?

Hell no, you haven't!

Mr. Speaker, in a few minutes, we will cast some of the most consequential votes that any of us will ever cast in this chamber.

The decision we make will affect every man, woman and child in this nation for generations to come.

If we're going to vote to defy the will of the American people, then we ought to have the courage to stand before them and announce our votes, one at a time.

I sent a letter to the Speaker this week asking that the 'call of the roll' be ordered for this vote.

Madame Speaker, I ask you. Will you, in the interest of this institution, grant my request?

Will you, Mr. Speaker, grant my request that we have a call of the roll?

Mr. Speaker, will you grant my request that we have a call of the roll?

My colleagues, this is the People's House.

When we came here, we each swore an oath to uphold and abide by the Constitution as representatives of the people.

But the process here is broken.

The institution is broken.

And as a result, this bill is not what the American people need, nor what our constituents want.

Americans are out there are making sacrifices and struggling to build a better future for their kids.

And over the last year as the damn-the-torpedoes outline of this legislation became more clear, millions lifted their voices, and many for the first time, asking us to slow down, not try to cram through more than the system could handle.

Not to spend money that we didn't have.

In this time of recession, they wanted us to focus on jobs, not more spending, not more government, certainly not more taxes.

But what they see today frightens them.

They're frightened because they don't know what comes next.

They're disgusted, because they see one political party closing out the other from what should be a national solution.

And they are angry. They are angry that no matter how they engage in this debate, this body moves forward against their will.

Shame on us.

Shame on this body.

Shame on each and every one of you who substitutes your will and your desires above those of your fellow countrymen.

Around this chamber, looking upon us are the lawgivers – from Moses, to Gaius, to Blackstone, to Thomas Jefferson.

By our actions today, we disgrace their values.

We break the ties of history in this chamber.

We break our trust with Americans.

When I handed the Speaker the gavel in 2007, I said: "this is the people's House – and the moment a majority forgets this, it starts writing itself a ticket to minority status."

If we pass this bill, there will be no turning back. It will be the last straw for the American people.

And In a democracy, you can only ignore the will of the people for so long and get away with it.

And if we defy the will of our fellow citizens and pass this bill, we are going to be held to account by those who have placed us in their trust.

We will have shattered those bonds of trust.

I beg you. I beg each and every one of you on both sides of the aisle:

Do not further strike at the heart of this country and this institution with arrogance, for surely you will not strike with impunity.

I ask each of you to vow never to let this happen again – this process, this defiance of our citizens.

It is not too late to begin to restore the bonds of trust with our Nation and return comity to this institution.

And so, join me.

Join me in voting against this bill, so that we may come together anew, and address this challenge of health care in a manner that brings credit to this body, and brings credit to the ideals of this nation, and most importantly, it reflects the will our people.

Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

Thank you, my colleagues. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I thank the gentleman for yielding. I thank all of you for bringing us to this moment.

It is with great humility and with great pride that we tonight will make history for our country and progress for the American people. Just think—we will be joining those who established Social Security, Medicare, and now tonight health care for all Americans.

In doing so, we will honor the vows of our founders, who in the Declaration of Independence said that we are 'endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' This legislation will lead to healthier lives, more liberty to pursue hopes and dreams and happiness for the American people. This is an American proposal that honors the traditions of our country.

We would not be here tonight, for sure, without the extraordinary leadership and vision of President Barack Obama. We thank him for his unwavering commitment to health care for all Americans.

And this began over a year ago under his leadership in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, where we had very significant investments in science, technology, and innovation for health care reform. It continued in the President's budget a few months later, a budget which was a statement of our national values, which allocated resources that were part of our value system. And in a way that stabilized our economy, created jobs, lowered taxes for the middle class and did so, and reduced the deficit, and did so in a way that had pillars of investment, including education and health care reform—health care reform and education, equal opportunity for the American people.

And this legislation tonight, if I had one word to describe it would be 'opportunity,' with its investments in education and health care as a continuation of the President's budget. We all know, and it has been said over and over again, that our economy needs something new, a jolt. And I believe that this legislation will unleash tremendous entrepreneurial power into our economy. Imagine a society and an economy where a person could change jobs without losing health insurance, where they could be self-employed or start a small business. Imagine an economy where people could follow their passions and their talent without having to worry that their children would not have health insurance, that if they had a child with diabetes who was bipolar or pre-existing medical condition in their family, that they would be job-locked. Under this bill, their entrepreneurial spirit will be unleashed.

We all know, we all know that the present health care system and insurance system, health insurance system in our country is unsustainable. We simply cannot afford it. It simply does not work for enough people in terms of delivery of service and it is bankrupting the country with the upward spiral of increasing medical costs.

The best action that we can take on behalf of America's family budgets and on behalf of the federal budget, is to pass health care reform.

The best action we can take to strengthen Medicare and improve care and benefits for our seniors is to pass this legislation tonight, pass health care reform.

The best action we can do to create jobs and strengthen our economic security is pass health care reform.

The best action we can take to keep America competitive, ignite innovation, again unleash entrepreneurial spirit is to pass health care reform.

With this action tonight, with this health care reform, 32 million more Americans will have health care insurance. And those who have insurance now will be spared being at the mercy of the health insurance industry with their obscene increases in premiums, their rescinding of policies at the time of illness, their cutting off of policies even if you have been fully paying but become sick, the list goes on and on about the health care reforms that are in this legislation: insure 32 million more people, make it more affordable for the middle class, end insurance company discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, improve care and benefits under Medicare, and extending Medicare's solvency for almost a decade, creating a healthier America through prevention, through wellness and innovation, create 4 million jobs in the life of the bill and doing all of that by saving the taxpayer $1.3 trillion dollars.

Another Speaker, Tip O'Neill once said: 'All politics is local.' And I say to you tonight that when it comes to health care for all Americans, 'All politics is personal.'

It's personal for the family that wrote to me who had to choose between buying groceries and seeing a doctor. It's personal to the family who was refused coverage because their child had a pre-existing condition — no coverage, the child got worse, sicker. It's personal for women — after we pass this bill, being a woman will no longer be a pre-existing medical condition.

It's personal for a senior gentleman whom I met in Michigan, who told me about his wife who had been bed-ridden for 16 years. He told me he didn't know how he was going to be able to pay his medical bills. As I said to you before, I saw a grown man cry. He was worried that he might lose his home — that they might lose their home because of his medical bills and he didn't know how he was going to pay them. And most of all, he was too embarrassed to tell his children and ask them for help. How many times have you heard a story like that?

And it's personal for millions of families who've gone into bankruptcy under the weight of rising health care costs. In fact, many, many, many — a high percentage of bankruptcies in our country are caused by medical bills that people cannot pay. And it's personal for 45,000 Americans and their — families who have lost a loved one each year because they didn't and couldn't get health insurance.

That is why we're proud and also humbled today to act with the support of millions of Americans who recognize the urgency of passing health care reform. And more than 350 organizations, representing Americans of every age, every background, every part of the country, who have endorsed this legislation. Our coalition ranges from the AARP, who said that our legislation 'improves efforts to crack down on fraud and waste in Medicare, strengthening Medicare for today's seniors and future generations.' I repeat: 'Improves efforts to crack down on fraud and waste in Medicare, strengthening the program for today's and future generations of seniors.' To the American Medical Association, the Catholic Health Association, the United Medical — the United Methodist Church, and Voices of America's Children. From A to Z — they are sending a clear message to Members of Congress: Say yes to health care reform.

We have also reached this historic moment because of the extraordinary leadership and hard work and dedication of all the Members of Congress, but I want to especially recognize our esteemed Chairs — Mr. Waxman, Mr. Rangel, Mr. Levin, Mr. Miller, Mr. Spratt, Ms. Slaughter — for bringing this bill to the floor today. Let us acknowledge them.

And I want to acknowledge the staff of the committees and of the leadership — they have done a remarkable job — dazzling us with their knowledge and their know-how. I would like to thank on my own staff: Amy Rosenbaum, Wendell Primus, and Arshi Siddiqui.

And now, I want to just close by saying this. It would not be possible to talk about health care without acknowledging the great leadership of Senator Edward Kennedy, who made health care his life's work.

In a letter to President Obama before he passed away — he left the letter to be read after he died. Senator Kennedy wrote that: 'Access to health care is the great unfinished business of our society.' That is until today.

After more than a year of debate, and by the way, the legislation that will go forth from here has over 200 Republican amendments, and while it may not get Republican votes and be bipartisan in that respect, it is bipartisan in having over 200 Republican amendments.

After a year of debate and hearing the calls of millions of Americans, we have come to this historic moment. Today, we have the opportunity to complete the great unfinished business of our society and pass health insurance reform for all Americans that is a right and not a privilege.

In that same letter to the President, Senator Kennedy wrote, what is 'at stake' he said, 'At stake are not just the details of policy but…the character of our country.'

Americans will look back on this day as one which we honored the character of our country and honored our commitment to our nation's founders for a commitment to 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'

As our colleague John Lewis has said, 'We may not have chosen the time, but the time has chosen us.' We have been given this opportunity. I urge our — an opportunity — stay right up there with again, Social Security, Medicare, health care for all Americans. I urge my colleagues in joining together in passing health insurance reform — making history, making progress, and restoring the American dream.

I urge an aye vote. Thank you.