Warren: Obama ‘dropped the ball’ on website rollout
Addresses research spending, immigration, chained CPI
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
Sen. Elizabeth Warren said on Monday that President Obama’s administration “dropped the ball” on the rollout of the federal health care website, but added that the Affordable Care Act offers a “good product” and expressed confidence the web problems would be fixed.
“Getting people in is crucial. I know that’s why it’s so deeply upsetting that the government just dropped the ball on getting the website launched, but the answer is double down and get it fixed,” Warren said. “Get it fixed and get people in the door.”
The senator’s office did not respond to questions posed by the News Service after her speech about whether she would support a delay in the mandate to purchase insurance.
“Right now, the bad rollout is obviously making a huge difference. There are families who can’t get the health insurance that they want. But it looks like progress is being made. We’ll just see how long it takes,” Warren said after speaking with business leaders at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.
Warren agreed with Tufts Health Plan CEO James Roosevelt who said delaying the individual mandate could shrink the pool of insurance subscribers and “undercut” the ability of the Affordable Care Act to make health care affordable. In Massachusetts, the state operates its own exchange and is not relying on the federal website.
“We need some real accountability for what’s gone wrong, but we also need to remember it’s a good thing that’s being offered here,” Warren said. “It’s health insurance and it’s health insurance now that’s available to everyone, no pre-existing conditions. It’s health insurance that doesn’t have caps on it so if you get really sick you’re still covered. In other words, it’s a good product, we’re just having trouble getting it rolled out and available to people.”
Obama will be at Faneuil Hall on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the Affordable Care Act, visiting the same site where former Gov. Mitt Romney signed the 2006 state health care access law that became a model for Obamacare.
Warren said once people are signed up for coverage under the ACA and begin to realize the benefits, Congressional lawmakers will have the ability to debate ways to improve the law, rather than just fight over repeal.
With negotiations for a budget deal set to start Wednesday in Congress, Warren used her speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce to call for the doubling of scientific and biomedical research spending through the National Institutes of Health.
After being frustrated by the “breathless partisanship” that led to the 16-day government shutdown, Warren said she senses an opportunity to push priorities that could generate bipartisan support, including scientific research.
“I’m a little bit optimistic because I think the pressure is now on Congress, on both sides, both parties. Do something sensible. Just prove that you can get your rating out of the range of four or five. Shoot for the big 10 percent of people that think you’re doing something,” she said, drawing laughter from the audience.
Warren said investments in basic scientific research lead to new drugs and cures for diseases that reduce health care costs. If the United States doesn’t invest, she said, other countries like China will step in to fill the void. In Massachusetts, $128 million in medical and scientific research funding “has simply disappeared” due to spending cuts from sequestration, she said.
“When it comes to the economy and the budget, refusing to invest in the NIH is the budgetary equivalent of cutting off your feet to save on shoes,” Warren told a packed audience at the Seaport Boston Hotel.
Addressing an issue that the chamber has made a hallmark of its Congressional agenda, Warren also said she does not support breaking apart the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill to try to pass individual measures piecemeal. She said the bill that cleared the Senate has enough support to pass in the House, and she urged supporters to exert pressure on House Republican leadership to allow a vote on the Senate immigration plan.
The annual budget for the NIH is about $31 billion, while the National Science Foundation receives $7 billion a year. Warren said the federal government can afford to double that spending by cutting back on oil and agricultural subsidies and tax breaks for the wealthy.
According to Warren, the number of research products that apply for and receive funding through the NIH has dropped from 30 percent in 2003 to 18 percent last year, and spending has failed to keep up with inflation.
“Not because our scientists have fewer extraordinary ideas, but because we refuse to water those ideas and make them grow. There are serious consequences to abdicating our commitment to the NIH. While the United States walks away from its legacy as the world’s undisputed leader in scientific innovation, other nations are willing to step up and take our place,” Warren said.
Warren said China over the next five years has pledged to spend a significantly larger proportion of its gross domestic product than the United States on scientific research. She said 80,000 western-trained Ph.Ds in science have returned to work in China.
“We are running out of time. If we continue on our current path, we will lose a whole generation of young scientists and all the discoveries they could have brought to us,” Warren said.
A bipartisan budget committee, created as part of the deal to lift the debt ceiling, will begin meeting Wednesday, and Warren said she hopes the conversation will be not just about how to reduce the deficit, but also what types of programs should be invested in to create jobs. She opposes President Obama’s offer to Republicans to adjust the formula for Social Security benefits, known as “chained CPI,” that would reduce cost of living adjustments.“Our seniors got out there and earned that money and we made a commitment as a people and we have to honor that commitment,” Warren said. “I do not support the chained CPI.”
She also dismissed the continued national speculation that she could be a contender for president in 2016, perhaps if Hillary Clinton decides against running. “Oh, stop,” she said, walking away without answering. When pressed, she added, “That’s a no.”