Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014 - Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech


Mr. WICKER. Mr. President, I rise briefly this afternoon to join my colleagues in expressing deep disappointment with yet another decision by the Obama administration to undermine the health care options of millions of Americans.

As we all know, the President promised, ``If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.'' But his law's drastic cuts to Medicare and Medicare Advantage are creating an impossible environment for Americans to keep their insurance plans or to keep their doctors. Even more troubling is that funds raided from Medicare will be spent on the President's flawed health care law.

In particular, Medicare Advantage serves more than 15 million American senior citizens, including some 56,000 Mississippians. It is a program that incentivizes market-based competition and patient choice. These are two elements that have made it both popular and successful. Nearly one-third of all Medicare patients voluntarily enroll in this type of health care plan, and 95 percent of Medicare Advantage members rate their quality of care as ``very high.''

Independent reports show that seniors will see their plans canceled. They will see higher premiums and fewer choices because of these severe cuts to Medicare and Medicare Advantage. I have heard from health care professionals in Mississippi who are concerned about the law's negative impact on patient care.

I came to the floor earlier this week to speak about the profound human cost of the President's health care law. It is past time for the President and his allies in Congress to recognize the devastating consequences of ObamaCare. Delaying and changing the law, which the administration has done some two dozen times--with questionable legal authority, I might add--will not fix the damage. This is a law that just doesn't work.

The solution is to repeal and replace ObamaCare with market-driven reforms that empower Americans to decide which health care options are best for them. We can do better than this law, and we owe it to the American people to do so.

Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor and note the absence of a quorum.



Mr. WICKER. I rise today to speak about a recently introduced bill regarding the future of Puerto Rico's political status. Known as the Puerto Rico Status Resolution Act, this legislation would call for an up-or-down referendum on Puerto Rican statehood, excluding the option of Puerto Rico's current status of Commonwealth. The President and Congress would have to proceed with legislation if statehood receives a majority of votes.

I support Puerto Rico's right of self-determination. This is an issue I have closely followed and been involved in for the better part of two decades. Concern about the way we do statehood determination votes in Puerto Rico is an issue that has crossed party lines in the Congress.

I would say to my colleagues, Congress needs to make sure, at a minimum, that any process used to measure the intent of Puerto Rican voters is objective; otherwise, the outcome will be neither fair nor a meaningful test of public opinion. That is why it is so important not to exclude the option of the current Commonwealth status.

The status resolution act does not rise to the threshold of fairness or a meaningful test of public opinion. There are two reasons:

First, legislation has already been enacted that calls for a plebiscite on Puerto Rico's political status. The 2014 omnibus already includes funding for a plebiscite that would include all available options for political status. Allowing Puerto Ricans the opportunity to choose a status besides statehood is in keeping with a recommendation from the White House Task Force Report released in 2011.

Second, the referendum proposed by the status resolution act would have the same shortcomings as the plebiscite held on November 6, 2012. The results of that referendum were widely criticized, as well as the tortured ballot designed by the pro-statehood party. Of the 1.9 million Puerto Ricans who participated in the referendum, only 834,191--or about 44 percent--favored statehood. Only 44 percent favored statehood. Close to half a million voters declined to respond to the second question on the ballot, evidencing their dissatisfaction with the choices offered. We need to offer better choices. The percentage of statehood supporters has not changed significantly over the past 20 years and certainly does not serve as an impetus for Congress to entertain yet another admissions process now.

Elsewhere on the November 6 ballot that I referred to, public support was clear for the pro-Commonwealth Popular Democratic Party and the election of pro-Commonwealth and anti-statehood candidate Alejandro Garcia Padilla as Puerto Rico's new Governor. In fact, the Commonwealth's legislature, as a result of that election, is now controlled by the pro-Commonwealth party, as is the mayorship of San Juan, the capital of the Commonwealth.

Statehood advocates may attempt to manipulate ballots and election results to support their preferred outcome, but they do so at the expense of the democratic process and the right of every Puerto Rican to have a say in the island's political future.

The referendum process should be conducted in a fair and transparent manner that reflects the true will of the people. In the past, I have introduced legislation that would recognize Puerto Rico's right to convene a constitutional convention--a process that could help build consensus rather than advance the exclusive agenda of one political party over the other.

For Commonwealth supporters, Puerto Rico's current status is instrumental to preserving the island's rich heritage and maintaining the authority needed to address specific needs. The status resolution act not only has the potential to trample on people's rights, but it also distracts from the island's pressing economic and security concerns.

In conclusion, Congress and the Obama administration should continue to strengthen the partnership between Puerto Rico and the United States in constructive ways instead of encouraging a shortsighted and flawed referendum. Puerto Rico faces economic, energy, and public safety challenges that have a direct impact on the quality of life of its residents. Joint efforts to restore economic growth, modernize energy resources, and reinforce strategies for combating drug trafficking could have a big impact. I am encouraged by proposed reforms, and I wish the best to Gov. Garcia Padilla in the early days of his term in office.

I hope the Senate will not attempt to impose a solution from Washington, DC, on Puerto Rican voters--a solution that would be contrary to the public opinion of inhabitants of the island.

I am glad my colleague from West Virginia, who serves on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee which exercises jurisdiction over matters relating to Puerto Rico, has joined me on the floor, and I would now yield for him--Senator Manchin--to comment on a recent study by the GAO on Puerto Rico's economy and the potential effects of statehood.

I yield the floor.


Mr. WICKER. Mr. President, if I might, let me congratulate my colleague from West Virginia on his remarks and in closing make three observations.

Despite the economic hardships of the region, the economy of Puerto Rico is the strongest of any of the Caribbean islands, and this has occurred under Commonwealth status--the special relationship that Puerto Ricans have with the United States as U.S. citizens but with their separate identity on the island.

Secondly, I would point out that some of the most vocal pro-Commonwealth voices in this Congress are Puerto Rican Americans who happened to have been elected to the Congress from the States, and they speak also and have spoken also with authority in favor of the Commonwealth concept but also in favor of a fair and accurate election.

Finally, I wish to just drive home a point Senator Manchin and I have made. On election day in 2012, 1.9 million Puerto Ricans showed up to vote in that election. The pro-Commonwealth candidate for Governor was elected, the pro-Commonwealth candidate for mayor of San Juan was elected, and a majority of the legislature of the island that day turned out to be pro-Commonwealth.

As flawed as the plebiscite was, the fact remains, of the 1.9 million American citizens in Puerto Rico who voted--who showed up to vote--only 44 percent of them cast a ballot in favor of statehood. That is a figure that cannot be controverted: 1.9 million people showed up to vote--American citizens in Puerto Rico--and only 44 percent of them checked the box for statehood.

So as we go forward and as we implement the provisions of the omnibus act, let us make sure that whatever we do we have the facts, as Senator Manchin has pointed out, and also we have a process to accurately reflect the will of the Puerto Rican people.

I thank the Chair, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.