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Disclaimer: The author of this site maintained the campaign weblog of John Kline's opponent in the 2006 election, which made Congressman Kline a bit testy.

As with all blogs, review the facts carefully and draw your own conclusions.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Kline's Congressional Record: March 2006

The House of Representatives convened on only 13 days in March. And John Kline only shows up in the Congressional Record on one of those days, March 29, talking about Medicare Part D. His speech is fairly lengthy, but it boils down to making the following two points repeatedly:

  1. We don't have time to debate the merits of the bill because there are confused seniors out there who need help signing up.

    And
     
  2. This was a good bill


To demonstrate what a great thing Medicare Part D is, Kline gives anecdotal evidence from some information sessions he's held for seniors. And it's great that he's making an effort to help seniors figure out Part D, considering he could have stopped this disaster from happening if he'd stood up for his principles in 2003. Also, Kline's mother is happy with the plan. I wonder how happy she and these other seniors will be in a few months when they fall into the donut hole?

As to Kline's first point, this is a well-honed Republican gambit by now. First they screw things up, then they avoid responsibility by insisting that the situation is too dire to waste time pointing fingers. Don't bother investigating why the 9/11 attacks happened; it distracts us from the War on Terror. Don't criticize the administration's great disaster in Iraq while troops are in harm's way. Don't point out that short-sighted budget cutbacks left New Orleans vulnerable to the devastation of Katrina; the important thing is to help the survivors. And so on. I suppose we could wait until all the messes were cleaned up before we asked Republicans to take responsibility for their actions, but that would require Republicans to stop making messes.

Moreover, Kline is intentionally misleading his audience when he claims "27 million seniors now have coverage under Medicare Part D". While this is true, he states it in a way to suggest that all of those 27 million folks signed up because they eventually realized what a good deal the program is. But the majority of those 27 million people were enrolled in Medicare Part D automatically on January 1 (or would have been if the system hadn't been so poorly implemented). Only 7.2 million of that total are people who have signed up for the program voluntarily.

One last telling detail: Note how Kline states that "65,000 senior citizens" in MN-02 have registered for the prescription drug benefit, yet later on he touts the "hundreds of people in Minnesota's Second District" who are saving money with the plan.

Here's the full transcript, with occasional interruption by Republican Phil Gingrey of Georgia:

Mr. KLINE. I thank the gentleman for yielding and for his bringing this issue to the floor tonight and certainly his leadership over these months.

I just wanted to touch on a couple of points. I think it is important, as the gentleman from Georgia said, that we recognize there was a spirited debate on this bill, and not everyone in this House voted for it. There are still people today who think that it was a mistake when we added the prescription drug benefit to Medicare.

But I think the point to my colleagues, and I know that my good friend Dr. Gingrey would agree with me, and I hope that senior citizens across the country understand that we need to set that debate aside right now. We have a law in place that provides a tremendous benefit for our senior citizens, particularly our lower-income senior citizens.

I think that chart that Dr. Gingrey showed that says a total of 27 million seniors, 27 million seniors now have coverage under Medicare Part D, says an awful lot about the acceptance of this program, regardless of the heat and the debate that took place when this bill was passed.

I know that we now have registered for the Medicare prescription drug plan in Minnesota, in the Second District, 65,000 senior citizens, and that is a very, very good thing. We found early on, and I think my colleague probably did, that as we moved from the discount cards, which I thought were a tremendous benefit themselves, I know that my mother, who lives on Social Security and Medicare, has saved literally thousands of dollars with that interim program. When we moved from those cards to the sign up for Medicare Part D there was certainly confusion. Seniors were confused. Pharmacists were confused. Doctors were confused. It was not what we would call a smooth start.

Having said that, we have now moved past that rocky start, and seniors that have had the chance to look at this understand that it is really an important benefit for them.

We wanted to help, in my office, and I know many of my colleagues did this on both sides of the aisle. They held town hall meetings and workshops. We chose to have what we call sign-up workshops. We got some tremendous support from the Minnesota Board of Aging Senior Linkage Line provided volunteers to come and help us, help the senior citizens in Minnesota's Second District understand what their options were. We advertised the workshops. We had seniors call my office to make an appointment to come in for one-on-one counseling. And as these seniors came in and they sat down with experienced volunteers and members of my staff who have become quite expert on this, and they looked at the program that was offered in front of them and they looked at their list of medications that they are taking and that the options that were there, in case after case after case, they were able to make wise choices, and I don't know anyone who came to our workshops who didn't leave feeling that they had gotten the information they needed and were able to make a wise choice.

I have some quotes here that I just thought I would share with my colleagues here, and I know that Dr. Gingrey can empathize with this, and he experienced much of the same, I am sure, when he was working with the folks in Georgia. But just a couple of quotes. There is a man from Shakopee came to the workshop and he said, quote, "I got an honest comparison and found out the plan I was leaning toward would cost twice what I could get. Now I can save $2,000 on a different plan." That is quite a bit.

Lady from Eagan said: It was wonderful. I wouldn't have known what to do or where to begin without that session. The woman that worked with me was very knowledgeable and did all the computer work for me. She printed up the nine cheapest prescription drug coverages for me, and I can see already that I am going to save $100 a month. I was very, very pleased. And so forth.

Lady from Inver Grove Heights said: They were wonderful. They were extremely informative. In 45 minutes, they probably saved 8 hours of work and confusion.

These programs, if you just take the time to sit down with somebody who knows what they are doing, it is actually pretty easy to decide what plan is best for you. And we have seen that in case after case after case. And I very much regret that there are, in fact, some of our colleagues who are still perhaps upset over the bill itself and are not providing this kind of help and encouragement to the seniors in their district.

I know my mother, as I mentioned before, she was a beneficiary of the interim plan with the cards, and now we have got her signed up for this Medicare Part D and she is going to save thousands of dollars a year.

You can save a lot of money, and I hope that our colleagues will help the constituents in their districts, the senior citizens, understand the value of this program, set aside the bitterness of the debate that took place over the bill itself and recognize that this is a tremendous benefit, it can save their senior citizens hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars, and help those seniors to sign up.

I don't know if the gentleman from Georgia is continuing with his workshops. I know we are. We have a couple more scheduled next month. We are looking at the schedule deadline. May 15 is the deadline for signing up for this prescription drug benefit, the Part D, without paying a penalty, suffering a penalty. So we are encouraging our seniors to sign up. We are scheduling some more of these workshops and encouraging them to come. The wonderful volunteers from Senior Linkage Line are going to be there to help us again. We hope that every senior will take a look at this option and decide whether it is for them or not. If they have any questions, we would love to help. I will yield back to the gentleman from Georgia here. I know that he has spent a lot of time helping seniors in his district in much the same way.

Mr. GINGREY. Well, if the gentleman would yield.

Mr. KLINE. I am happy to yield.

Mr. GINGREY. Actually, just for a question. And I wanted to ask the question, if he has had an experience really similar to what I have. We have been working on this program, like I say, for a year and half during the transitional phase, and Representative Kline has held a lot of town hall meetings; I have certainly held a lot of town hall meetings. You sort of lose count after a while.

But what I wanted to ask Mr. Kline, Colonel Kline, is, in your experience, when you first started doing these programs, and there was so much angst and rhetoric and doom and gloom possibly from certain Members of the body, did you feel that what you heard then and what you are hearing now was a little bit different? Has that changed a little bit?

Mr. KLINE. If the gentleman would yield. I think it is fair to say so. We took a different approach in how we were going to reach out to the seniors. We sent them mail to alert them to what they were doing. We invited them to call our office and make appointments so they could get that one-on-one attention. But I am sure the gentleman will agree that back in January and early February, when there was a great deal of confusion, many seniors were afraid to get started. They didn't know where to start. And we found that by continually offering the opportunity for seniors to come in and get one-on-one help, that we moved through that. And I know that the gentleman from Georgia and most of my colleagues who have been working on this issue for some time have seen a change in the understanding and the attitude of not just seniors, but I think many of us who are at that stage in life where we are helping to take care of seniors.

You know, the gentleman from Georgia, I don't know if he has advertised what his age is. It is a matter of public record, as you know. But those of us that are in our 50s, many of us are in the position of having parents who are not as able to take care of themselves, and we are anxious to make sure that we are providing the best for them. And so I found that not just the seniors, but a lot of times, their children, I hesitate to think of myself as a child anymore, but those people who are responsible for the health care for their parents and elderly relatives have also come to understand that, with just a little bit of attention to this, it has proven to be a very good program that can save them hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. And I know that Dr. Gingrey knows that not only is it saving individuals money, but this whole process, the competition in this process, which was hotly debated and much discussed, has actually started to drive down the cost of those prescription drugs and the cost of the whole program to the taxpayer. So we are seeing competition work in the large scheme of things, a sort of macro economics. But we are also seeing a payoff in these examples that I read from constituents in my district of where it is helping the individual seniors, the elderly couple and those who are helping to take care of them. So a change in attitude, I think we are seeing everybody who has come to our workshop, whether they have signed up on the spot or just taken the information and gone home, has left very relieved that this is a program that can help them, and it is not nearly as scary as they thought a few months ago. And I will yield back to the gentleman.

Mr. GINGREY. I thank the gentleman. And that really is an experience, Mr. Speaker and my fellow colleagues, that I have had as well. Early on, we, almost every town hall meeting on the subject it seemed like there was someone there that was reading the talking points from the opposition in regard to oh, you know, you have done nothing but let the pharmaceutical industry write a bill, or this is just a giant giveaway to the drug companies. And you heard that kind of rhetoric almost every time. But what I am hearing, and I think Representative Kline as well, that people now understand that in this process that we go through, nothing that we do, no bill, Mr. Speaker, is perfect. I wish that it were. But that the product that we delivered in November of 2003 is a very, very good product, and our seniors are beginning to understand that. They are seeing through a lot of this negative rhetoric, mostly from the other side of the aisle. And what is said is they are even in the last throes of the implementation of this program, we are down to the last 5 or 6 weeks, it is my understanding, and I know this because I have actually seen this, Members are holding town hall meetings and in some instances discouraging people, continuing to discourage them.

Mr. KLINE. If the gentleman would yield.

Mr. GINGREY. I will be happy to yield to the gentleman from Minnesota.

Mr. KLINE. I thank the gentleman for yielding. You know I find that absolutely remarkable. I was just thinking, I could not help but smile to myself when the gentleman was pointing out that there is no such thing as a perfect bill. And I would argue that many times there is a perfect bill. It is perfect to me, but it is not perfect to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, or I dare say sometimes not even to the gentleman from Georgia and vice versa. So we work these things out. We try to do the very best we can. Every large bill is going to have a flaw in it from one of our perspectives. There are some flaws in this bill from my perspective and I am sure from the gentleman's and from our colleagues. But I think what is very important, that we all understand, that our constituents understand and that our colleagues here understand is that debate is for now behind us. What we have now is the opportunity, with a deadline of May 15, for our constituents to see what is available to them and see if it can't save them money. And we are seeing in case after case after case of the now hundreds of people in Minnesota's Second District that it can save them money. It is saving them money. And if you are discouraging one of your constituents from looking into this program because you are unhappy with the bill, I would argue that you are doing them a great disservice. And I would argue that you are not doing your job as their Member of Congress because that debate may come again another day. There will no doubt be changes in Medicare legislation as we go down the road. But for now, it is very important that we set that acrimony aside and make sure that our constituents know that they have a program here that can save them an awful lot of money. And I will be happy to yield back.

Mr. GINGREY. If the gentleman would yield. And the gentleman said, you know, doing your job, and that is exactly what we should be doing. In fact, I think what we are hearing from the other side as they continue to oppose everything that this majority has tried to do in the 109th Congress, and of course the rhetoric gets worse and worse as we approach November, and we all know it is an election year. But it is not only, I think, not doing your job for your constituents, but it is kind of like one of my favorite Garth Brooks songs, it's shameless. It is absolutely shameless to think that someone would hold a town hall meeting and discourage, as the gentleman from Minnesota said, seniors from signing up for something that is going to save everybody some money, but it is an absolute Godsend to those of our seniors who are low income, low assets, the very neediest in our society. And I think most of the legislation that we try to pass, and I think the attitude should be the same whether we are Republicans or Democrats, is to try to help those in the greatest need who really can't help themselves through no fault of their own (((Indeed, it is the fault of Republicans, especially Kline. But it's considered bad form to mention that right now.)))

We need to put some wind beneath their wings to kind of uplift them.

And I know there may be a few in the gentleman from Minnesota's district and I know there are some in the 11th of Georgia who still need to get the message, and maybe they do not know and they do not realize. They have not gone to the Social Security Web site and found out that they qualify because their income is only $14,450, or if they are married, $19,250 a year; and they do not have assets worth more than $11,500 if they are single, or $23,000 if they are married.

We need to get them signed up, and I know the gentleman would agree with me on that.

Mr. KLINE. If the gentleman would yield, I think that is an excellent point. We sometimes forget that when we passed that bill, the one we have been discussing which was debated with some spirit, it was designed, it was designed to help seniors who are low income first; and I think that the implementation of this part D is showing that to be true. When we have low-income seniors come to one of our workshops and they are taking sometimes a passel of prescription drugs, they are saving thousands of dollars. That is what the bill was designed to do.

I remember a lot of the debate and discussion, and we talked about seniors who were forced into the terrible position of choosing whether to take a prescription drug or having the next meal or paying rent or perhaps arbitrarily choosing to cut their tablets in half. This part D for low-income seniors removes that. There is no low-income senior who should not be getting their prescription drugs with tremendous savings, virtually free in some cases, but saving lots and lots of money.

What we are finding very interesting is that there are thousands of middle-income seniors who, when they come to our workshop and look at the choices and they sit in front of that computer terminal where you can very quickly rate the different choices, they are seeing that they can save an awful lot of money and it is to their benefit.

If it is not to their benefit, certainly they can choose some other form. Perhaps they have private insurance or they have VA benefits or something. It may not be for them. But many are finding out that they can save money.

And so it goes back to the point the gentleman was making earlier. It is incumbent upon all of us, certainly the administration; some organizations like the AARP are working very hard to get this word out, and Members of Congress, our colleagues, to make sure that the citizens know that this is something that they ought to investigate.

And I know that we found early on and even last year when we were looking at the interim discount card that there are seniors who are not comfortable, frankly, sitting in front of a computer and going on line. Many are and I am always very heartened to see that. Some of them, in fact, are much more computer literate than I am. But in many cases they are intimidated, and that is why it is important that this help be offered to them, either in one of our workshops or yours, or there are other ways that you can get help.

Medicare, CMS itself, will be happy to provide help. Seniors can call 1-800-Medicare. There are ways that they can get help without having a computer and without having to sit down by themselves and try to figure this out.

So I encourage all of my colleagues to do everything they can to make sure that their constituents, their senior citizens, know that even if they are not low income, this is a program they ought to investigate.

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