WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, delivered the following remarks in the first executive session of the 118th Congress:
Thank you, Chair Sanders and the rest of the members of the committee.
In this committee, we have a jurisdiction to tackle a broad range of issues facing American families. We will not always agree on a course of action, but we have the opportunity to have good faith debate and meet where we do agree. This committee has a long history of bipartisanship for us to live up to.
First and foremost, Congress needs to return to good governance. There is an extensive list of authorizations set to expire during this Congress. It is important that we fulfil our responsibility to get reauthorizations done and done on time.
The Committee has also let authorizations lapse for a laundry list of bills that continue to be funded through the appropriations process. The money keeps going out the door, but we aren’t checking to see if the programs are working well or could be refined and improved to better serve Americans. For example, the Higher Education Act hasn’t been reauthorized since 2014. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act lapsed in 2020. Previous leaders of this Committee hit snags trying to get their work across the finish line. I don’t mean to suggest it will be easy. But we should do our jobs and work to get current on our reauthorizations.
Child care and the financing of student loans are two issues that are sure to come before this committee. Both are far too expensive for the families who need them and both have only gotten more expensive the more federal funding that has been made available. There is certainly bipartisan interest on these issues. If we choose to take them on, we need to end the cycle of throwing money at problems and work to address the reasons that education and child care are so expensive.
President Biden’s student loan cancellation policy before the Supreme Court is estimated to cost taxpayers $400 billion. This is on top of the student loan repayment pause, that has been extended six times under the Biden administration, and has so far cost taxpayers $195 billion.
Just last month the administration filed a proposed rule on Income Driven Repayment that would eliminate the expectation for student loan borrowers to pay back even the principal on their loans and fundamentally break our higher education financing system. The administration estimates the plan will cost taxpayers at least $138 billion over the next ten years, but the Penn Warton Budget model and other non-partisan experts have estimated that this plan could cost anywhere from almost three times that amount to upwards of $1 trillion.
Make no mistake, these loan cancellation schemes do not “forgive” student debt, but transfers at least $1 trillion in debt over the next ten years from those who willingly took it on, to taxpayers who chose not to go to college or worked hard and made sacrifices to pay off their loans. This is not only fiscally irresponsible, it is deeply unfair to Americans whose debts look different from the favored group the Biden administration has selected. Where is the forgiveness for the guy who didn’t go to college but is working to pay off the loan on his work truck? What about the woman who was responsible and prioritized paying off her student loans? Is this administration going to try and give her 10,000 dollars for her mortgage? Of course not.
If President Biden’s goal is to solve the problem that college costs too much, I must point out that this massive government spending does nothing to address the reasons that college is so expensive. According to U.S. News and World Report, tuition and fees at private National Universities over the last 20 years have jumped 134 percent. Out-of-state tuition and fees at public National Universities have risen 141 percent. And in-state tuition and fees at public National Universities have grown the most, increasing 175%.
The more federal aid that Congress makes available, the higher secondary institutions have increased their tuitions. The administration hurling hundreds of billions of dollars at the problem is not going to solve it. In fact, it only incentivizes schools to increase their tuitions even more.
We owe it to the American people to provide oversight, not rubber stamps to the actions of the administration.
An example: was proud to join my colleague and member of this committee, Senator Braun from Indiana, as he introduced a Congressional Review Act to overturn the Biden administration’s Environmental, social and corporate governance fiduciary rule that would authorize asset managers to prioritize funding political causes over the success of their client's retirement savings. This administration is jeopardizing the retirement of 152 million Americans and using their money to fund a political agenda.
We are talking about the workers’ money, that they own and worked hard for. This committee needs to stand with these workers who are counting on their fiduciary to secure the best return as possible for them to have a financially secure retirement. This is exactly the opposite of what the word fiduciary means.
An area where we all agree on the problem and have many avenues to find common ground on a solution is lowering the price of prescription drugs.
We have to reduce the price Americans pay for their medications. This is a priority. We need good policy that considers all factors to come to the right solution.
As a physician who treated patients in a hospital for the uninsured for over 25 years, you have to be conscious of the tension between affordability and innovation. People are alive today that would not be alive were it not for medical innovation. We must understand that there is a component of innovation driven by profit—while also recognizing that if a patient cannot afford the drug, to them it is as if that innovation never occurred.
As ranking member of the HELP Committee and as a doctor, it is a priority to not only protect Americans’ financial health, but ensure the access and innovations that benefit their physical health. This is an area where Democrats and Republicans can work together to benefit patients.
The next two years of the 118th Congress has great potential for this committee. I look forward to the debate we will have and hopefully the policy solutions that will be better for it.