Opinion: Weekly Remarks: McConnell on health reforms, Obama wants a new federal agency


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Time for the weekly party yada-yada from Washington with Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell speaking for his party and President Obama speaking for his Democratic administration.

McConnell says both parties agree on the need for serious healthcare reforms, but questions the Democrats’ rush, which he sees as repeating the mistaken rush to pass economic stimulation in January that caused some problems.


McConnell also warns against healthcare reforms that actually increase the costs of medical care, instead of helping to control.them and preserving valuable jobs, especially for hard-pressed small business owners.

Obama argues in support of his call for a new federal agency -- the Consumer Financial Protection Agency -- to monitor financial systems and protect consumers against agreements they may not have understood when signing. And the former Illinois senator argues that unnamed special interests are sure to resist him on this.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Weekly Remarks by Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell

Hello. I’m Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky.

Republicans and Democrats agree that health care is in serious need of reform. Americans are frustrated with the high cost of even basic treatments and procedures; millions are without coverage; and millions are worried about losing the care they have. That’s why many of us are calling for reforms that would bring down the cost of care and ensure that those who need coverage can afford and obtain it.

Republicans have put forward common sense solutions like reforming our medical liability laws to discourage junk lawsuits that make health care more expensive for everyone; strengthening wellness and prevention programs that encourage people to make healthy choices, such as quitting smoking and fighting obesity; and addressing the needs of small business without imposing new taxes that kill jobs.

Unfortunately, some in Washington are insistent on a different set of proposals that could make our current problems even worse — driving costs higher than they already are and forcing even those who are happy with their current coverage into a government-run system that could lead to the same denial, delay, and rationing of care that we’ve seen in other countries.


Now I give them credit for trying to address the problem. But their proposals just aren’t the kind of reforms Americans are looking for. And this morning, I’d like to focus on just one area where their proposals fall seriously short: cost.

Throughout this debate, the administration’s central argument has been that America needs health care reform for the sake of the economy. Yet according to independent estimates, every health care proposal Democrats on Capitol Hill have offered would only hurt the economy.

This week, the independent Congressional Budget Office priced just a portion of these proposals at well over a trillion dollars. The total cost would be much higher, burying us in deeper and deeper debt. And yet Democrats still want to rush the process. When it comes to health care reform, the Democratic motto is clear: rush and spend, rush and spend.

If all this sounds familiar, it should.

Remember that the economic stimulus bill from earlier this year was sold along the same lines. The administration said the stimulus was necessary to jump-start the economy, even though.... would plunge the country deeper into debt. They even predicted that if we passed it quickly, unemployment wouldn’t go higher than eight percent.

Well, here we are just a few months later and the unemployment rate is approaching 10 percent.


You might remember that the administration also promised it would keep an eye on every dollar spent. Well, now we’re learning about projects so ridiculous only the government could make them up:

A $578,000 grant that a town in New York didn’t even request for a homeless problem it says it doesn’t even have. $3.4 million to build a 13-foot long turtle tunnel at a lake in Florida — that’s more than a quarter of a million dollars per foot for turtles. And this one takes the cake: in North Carolina, more than $40,000 in stimulus funds will go to pay the salary of someone whose job is to apply for more stimulus funds.

Now faced with rising unemployment and reports of stimulus waste, the administration concedes it made a mistake on its predictions about the stimulus. But that hasn’t kept it from pushing a government takeover of health care that America’s doctors oppose.

Before, the administration said that government spending would keep unemployment low. Now they say a new government health plan will keep costs low. Well, expecting a government-run system to help the economy is like praying for rain in the middle of a flood. The thing you’re asking for is the last thing you need. And so far, that’s pretty much been the message of every independent analyst who’s looked at the Democratic plans for health care.

If the stimulus bill taught us anything, it’s that we should be wary anytime someone in Washington says the sky’s going to fall unless Congress approves trillions of dollars immediately. Yet once again in the health care debate, it’s rush and spend, rush and spend. Americans want health care reform, but they want the right health care reform. And that means taking the time and the care necessary to get it right.

Against Republican advice, they rushed the stimulus. We shouldn’t rush again on something as important, and costly, as health care. ###


Weekly Remarks by President Barack Obama

As we continue to recover from an historic economic crisis, it is clear to everyone that one of its major causes was a breakdown in oversight that led to widespread abuses in the financial system. An epidemic of irresponsibility took hold from Wall Street to Washington to Main Street. And the consequences have been disastrous.

Millions of Americans have seen their life savings erode; families have been devastated by job losses; businesses large and small have closed their doors. In response, this week, my administration proposed a set of major reforms to the rules that govern our financial system; to attack the causes of this crisis and to prevent future crises from taking place; to ensure that our markets can work fairly and freely for businesses and consumers alike.

We are going to promote markets that work for those who play by the rules. We’re going to stand up for a system in which fair dealing and honest competition are the only way to win. We’re going to level the playing field for consumers.

And we’re going to have the kinds of rules that encourage innovations that make our economy stronger – not those that allow insiders to exploit its weaknesses for their own gain. And one of the most important proposals is a new oversight agency called the Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

It’s charged with just one job: looking out for the interests of ordinary Americans in the financial system. This is essential, for this crisis may have started on Wall Street. But its impacts have been felt by ordinary Americans who rely on credit cards, home loans and other financial instruments. It is true that this crisis was caused in part by Americans who took on too much debt and took out loans they simply could not afford.

But there are also millions of Americans who signed contracts they did not always understand offered by lenders who did not always tell the truth. Today, folks signing up for a mortgage, student loan or credit card face a bewildering array of incomprehensible options.


Companies compete not by offering better products, but more complicated ones – with more fine print and hidden terms. It’s no coincidence that the lack of strong consumer protections led to abuses against consumers; the lack of rules to stop deceptive lending practices led to abuses against borrowers.

This new agency will have the responsibility to change that. It will have the power to set tough new rules so that companies compete by offering innovative products that consumers actually want – and actually understand. Those ridiculous contracts – pages of fine print that no one can figure out – will be a thing of the past. You’ll be able to compare products – with descriptions in plain language – to see what is best for you. The most unfair practices will be banned. The rules will be enforced.

Some argue that these changes – and the many others we’ve called for – go too far. And I welcome a debate about how we can make sure our regulations work for businesses and consumers. But what I will not accept – what I will vigorously oppose – are those who do not argue in good faith.

Those who would defend the status quo at any cost. Those who put their narrow interests ahead of the interests of ordinary Americans. We’ve already begun to see special interests mobilizing against change. That’s not surprising. That’s Washington.

For these are interests that have benefited from a system which allowed ordinary Americans to be exploited. These interests argue against reform even as millions of people are facing the consequences of this crisis in their own lives. These interests defend business-as-usual even though we know that it was business-as-usual that allowed this crisis to take place.

Well, the American people did not send me to Washington to give in to the special interests; the American people sent me to Washington to stand up for their interests. And while I’m not spoiling for a fight, I’m ready for one. The most important thing we can do to put this era of irresponsibility in the past is to take responsibility now.

That is why my administration will accept no less than real and lasting change to the way business is done – on Wall Street and in Washington. We will do what is necessary to end this crisis – and we will do what it takes to prevent this kind of crisis from ever happening again. Thank you. ###

Photo credits: Office of Sen. Mitch McConnell; Ron Edmonds / Associated Press