WASHINGTON, DC - House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (MD) released the following statement today after introducing the President’s Medicare funding bill, as he is required to do by Section 803(a) of the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, which requires the Majority and Minority Leaders of the House to introduce the President's proposal by request. The act of introducing this legislation does not imply that Hoyer supports the bill:
“Today I introduce the ‘Medicare Funding Warning Response Act of 2008' at the request of the President pursuant to Section 803(a) of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 which requires me to do so.
“The Secretary of Health and Human Services submitted this proposed legislation to the House of Representatives on February 15, 2008.
“The Medicare Modernization Act established a process requiring the President to propose and Congress to consider a legislative response to a ‘Medicare funding warning.’ A Medicare funding warning is triggered if the Medicare Board of Trustees makes a determination in two consecutive years that general revenue Medicare funding is expected to exceed 45% of Medicare outlays for the current fiscal year or any of the next six fiscal years.
“The trustees issued a Medicare funding warning in April 2007. Under the statute, the President is required to submit a legislative proposal to Congress that will lower the ratio to the 45% level. The statute further requires the Majority and Minority Leader or their designees to introduce the legislation submitted by the President. Thus today, I am fulfilling my statutory obligation by introducing this legislation.
“Let me stress that introducing a bill ‘by request’ should not be interpreted to imply endorsement of the legislation as submitted. As I mentioned, this introduction by me is required, it is not discretionary. Furthermore, let me be clear: While some of the items in the proposal deserve consideration, the proposal includes provisions that I oppose. For example, I have consistently voted against medical malpractice proposals similar to the proposal included in this package.
“I have strong reservations about the basic approach of the trigger. The trigger establishes an arbitrary limit on general revenues that does not provide a meaningful measure of Medicare’s fiscal health and would take some legitimate options for strengthening Medicare financing off the table. The focus on general revenue spending inherently favors some options over others.
“Ironically, this process was included in the Medicare prescription drug legislation enacted by the then-Republican Majority and signed by President Bush – legislation that increased the liabilities of the Medicare program by $8.5 trillion. In fact, we would not have exceeded the 45% threshold but for the prescription drug benefit financed by general revenues.
“In sharp contrast, the Democratic Majority in this House is committed to ensuring that the Medicare program continues to function effectively for beneficiaries, providers and taxpayers well into the future. Remember, the House enacted reforms to strengthen Medicare as part of the Children`s Health and Medicare Protection (CHAMP) Act of 2007. The CHAMP Act would have extended Medicare solvency by two years. The savings from reforming spending on Medicare Advantage plans in the CHAMP Act would have met the requirements of the trigger.
“Let me say that it is imperative that we get serious about our long-term fiscal challenges. Analysts of diverse ideological perspectives and nonpartisan officials at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have all warned that current fiscal policy is unsustainable over the long term even under the most optimistic projections. Medicare and Medicaid will grow by nearly five times as a share of the economy by 2050 under current projections if the growth of health care costs does not slow. And these programs will absorb as much of our nation’s economy by the late 2040s as the entire federal budget does today.
“Turning a blind eye to our long-term challenges would not only be irresponsible, it would be dangerous to our nation’s continued success. Those of us who believe that the American people want their government to invest in national security, health care, education, infrastructure, scientific research and other priorities have a critical stake in addressing the budgetary pressures that will be created by the growth of entitlement spending.
“Finding a politically viable, equitable and financially sound solution to our fiscal challenges and meeting our responsibility to future generations will require bipartisan discussions in which all options must be on the table. Unfortunately, the Medicare trigger is ill-suited to such a process. Further, I am very skeptical that we can deal with the issue of entitlements in a bipartisan manner in the current environment, especially since the current administration has made it clear that it is not willing to discuss all options.
“I believe it is critical that we begin to lay the foundation for bipartisan action on this issue in the next Congress. I am encouraged that efforts to establish a bipartisan task force with a broad mandate to address our fiscal challenges have been initiated. I believe this issue will be one of the most important that the next Congress and the Administration must address.
“We must have an open, honest debate about the best way to strengthen our entitlement programs that millions of Americans count upon.”