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Disappointing lack of transparency in health care debate

Monday, September 28, 2009

Dear Nebraskans,

A very important opportunity was missed in the Senate last Wednesday. Throughout the week, the Senate Finance Committee debated and deliberated over amendments to a health care proposal that, if passed, will have a profound impact on the lives of every American. At stake was something many of you have told me in recent months is absolutely necessary: transparency and accountability of Congress to the American people. An amendment offered by Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky would have taken us toward that goal, but unfortunately this amendment was defeated in the Finance Committee.

Specifically, the amendment would have required the actual legislative text and a final cost analysis from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) be posted on the Finance Committee's website for 72 hours prior to the Committee voting on final passage of the overall health care legislation. This provision should've been a bipartisan effort to reassure the American people that Congress is doing the work they sent us here to do, transparently and deliberately. Nebraskans and indeed all Americans deserve this information, but it was roundly rejected by the majority of Senate Democrats on the Finance Committee. I do not understand what justification there would be for refusing to allow the language of what is likely to be more than 1,000 pages of legislation to be reviewed for three days before calling a vote.

Republicans and Democrats agree on the need to fix the broken pieces of our health care system. Yet it is equally important to get it right. Our health care expenses make up one-sixth of our entire economy. Whatever legislation emerges from the Finance Committee, and from the Senate, will entail drastic changes for all of us. Families, businesses, hospitals, doctors and nurses, the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and indeed our economy as a whole will all be affected. I don't say this to invoke fear, it is simply a fact. If we are going to change the lives of so many, so significantly, shouldn't we be darn certain we're doing it right?

This is why I don't understand the opposition to this amendment. I had the pleasure of visiting with so many Nebraskans throughout the state in August, and these were the most common requests I heard: read the bill; take the time to deliberate; use sound judgment. The Bunning amendment gave us the opportunity to do just that.

In the coming days and weeks there will be many additions and alterations before any health care legislation is ready for a vote on the Senate floor. I will continue to be vigilant and make my concerns known if we continue on the wrong course.


Mike Johanns

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With all due respect, Senator, I'd like to respond to your 9.08 column; How Much Debt is Too Much.

You wrote..."The expansive and impulsive spending demonstrated by the Obama Administration has led our country into uncharted waters."

You lie,Senator, 8 years of Republican runaway spending and poor fiscal management led the US into dangerous economic waters. The facts do not lie. Bush increased government spending more than any of the 6 prior presidents, increasing discretionary spending by 96% from '02 until '09 and by 48.6% in his final year. In 2000 Congressional pork cost $17.78 billion, by 2005 it hit a record $29 billion. Bush also committed 2,321 earmarks to Obama's 2009 budget. Obama logged in with $14 billion in earmarks, lower than any year under Bush and despite the fact that 20% was inherited from Bush!

You referred to the federal debt of $11 trillion and blamed it on Obama. Surely, Senator,you know that under Republican care the Federal Debt doubled, from $5,932,932,561,034.54 on Jan

1, 2002 to $10,699,804,864,612.13 on 12/31/08, no mean accomplishmenter $4 trillion back in 1993 since it was only ov. Probably wasn't so smart to keep on cutting those taxes while simultaneously sending Federal overhead skyrocketing with wasteful spending? Where were you during this time, Senator? Were you speaking out boldly and criticizing the Republican Administration, or were you complicit in the destruction of our economy?

On 1.20.09 when Obama took office, US Federal Debt was $10,626,877,048, and today, 9.28.09, it's at $11,770,698,157,074.20. Presumably you also know that the Federal Debt has increased an average of $3.79 billion per day since September 28, 2007....can't blame Obama, Senator.

Republicans ran up a record-breaking $451 billion of FY '08 budget deficit, up from $162 billion in '07. The previous record of $413 billion was posted in 2004. USA Today wrote on 10.7.08: "The next president is likely to have to scale back campaign pledges as he inherits a likely deficit for 2009 exceeding $500 billion." The annual budget deficit is now the 3rd largest expense in the Federal Budget.

So far, Senator, none of this is Obama's "expansive spending", it's the effect of 8 years of Republican "spending" and it's what Obama inherited, along with 2 wars, a recession, collapsed mortgage, banking and automotive industries.

On Sept 9, the NY Times wrote: "While Mr. Obama has proposed nothing to reduce the nation's red ink, he has also not deepened it...yet....Much of the $9 trillion through fiscal year 2019 is the government's so-called baseline deficit - the shortfall that would result if current law and policies remain unchanged. In effect it is

the deficit that Mr. Obama inherited. Some commentators apparently subtracted the Congressional office's $7.1 trillion baseline deficit from the more than $9 trillion that both agencies say would result from Mr. Obama's policies and concluded that Mr. Obama would add $2 trillion to the decade's debt. But so would any president, Dem or Repub, since the amount

reflects policy adjustments that are costly & almost certain, & that have bi-partisan support:1)Extending Bush tax cuts past scheduled expiration

2)Adjusting the Alternative Minimum Tax to inflation 3)Blocking cuts mandated for doctors' Medicare reimbursements. Those fixes would mean hundreds of billions more in interest on the added


On the other hand, in March 2009 Obama issued a memo outlining plans to reduce the gross amount of money lost on the wasteful and abusive government contracting industry that Republicans love. Since 2001, spending on Government contracts has more than doubled, reaching over $500 billion in 2008.

Medicare fraud - over last decade $600 billion was lost due to Medicare fraud, waste & abuse. In May, Obama signed the Fraud Enforcement & Recovery Act of 2009, the first amendment to the Civil False Claims Act in 20 years, which eliminates loophones and makes it far easier to conduct FCA investigations and to win FCA recoveries. Obama and HHS launched an aggressive nationwide Medicare fraud-busting campaign which has already yielded over $10 billion for Medicare's coffers.

Now, Senator Johanns, would you like to revisit some of the false allegations you made about President Obama's spending and ownership of the Federal Debt? It simply is not ethical to mislead consumers with factually unsupported allegations which, as shown here, simply don't stand up to the truth test.

-- Posted by Truthfairy on Mon, Sep 28, 2009, at 9:45 PM

Democrats not Republicans "ran up a record-breaking $451 billion of FY '08 budget deficit, up from $162 billion in '07". Remember the election in'06? Remember Republicans in Congress wanted Bush to veto that budget but Bush didn't have the numbers to sustain a veto?

Voters were angry with the Repubs over the border issue and spending and as a result, we have had Dem control of Congress since '07.

While the Repubs dealt with the Dems Senate majority beginning about June '01, the Dot Com Bubble, the ENRON scam, 9-11, anthrax attacks, the SARS outbreak, two wars and Katrina, the Repubs never ran up a "record-breaking" budget deficit like the Dems.

-- Posted by dh on Fri, Oct 2, 2009, at 12:42 AM

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Sen. Mike Johanns
Sen. Mike Johanns
U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns is a former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Nebraska governor and Lincoln mayor.

Address: 404 Russell, Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

Phone: (202) 224-4224
Fax: (202) 228-0436

You may contact Senator Johanns by emailing mike_johanns@johanns.senate.gov. If you would like to receive a response from Senator Johanns, please ensure you include your name, full address, and phone number.