Mr. President, on the eve of what I hope will be a victory for the children and families in Minnesota and the nation: passage of the children's health insurance reauthorization bill. I come to remind my colleagues of the weight of the situation presented to us. We have the opportunity to better the lives for millions of children, children in low-income families. We can do it by lifting the burden and lessening the struggle that confronts those who are uninsured.

Today, 45 million Americans are living without access to affordable health care. The worst part of it, the saddest part of it, is that nine million of them are children, and they're uninsured. Kids without access to affordable health care are at an enormous risk, an enormous disadvantage as they grow up and start to make their life in this world. Children without health coverage are less likely to get basic preventive care, less likely to see a doctor regularly, and less likely to perform well in school. Children without health coverage are also more likely to show up at the hospital sicker and more likely to develop costly, chronic diseases. You know, I used to represent the biggest emergency health care center in our state, Hennepin county medical center. I can tell you this. When people don't have health care, when children don't have health care, they do have a doctor. The doctor is the emergency room, and we all pay for it. And that's why making sure that people have health insurance, that these children have health insurance, is actually in the end better for all of us, better for taxpayers and certainly better for these kids.

The children's health insurance program was established to reverse the troubling problem of uninsured youth. It's a successful program that deserves to reach even more children. This is important because, first of all, it's the decent thing to do for America’s kids, who through no fault of their own are growing up in families that simply can't afford health care. But it's also important because it's something that's good for all of us, and something that's important because it's a smart investment. It's a smart investment to make sure these kids get preventive medical care. It’s a smart investment to help America’s children grow up as healthy as they can be. I was at a senior center the other day and I told the seniors, the reasons that you should care about this is that you need someone that's going to pay your social security in the end. We need kids that grow up that can participate in our economy, and work. It is a smart investment to have America’s children in school focused on learning rather than distracted by sickness or injury. And it's a smart investment to have America’s children get medical care through a sensible system of health insurance rather than having them end up in the hospital emergency room at the taxpayers' expense.

You know, when my daughter was born, Mr. President, she was very sick. She couldn't swallow. We didn't know how long she was going to be in the hospital. She actually couldn't swallow for about a year and a half and she was fed through a tube. And so I saw firsthand the struggle that these families go through. And she is doing so well today. And it was because she had good, excellent health care at Minneapolis children's hospital. Well, not all families have access to that health care, Mr. President. When I think of what happened to her and how she was able to get stronger and stronger even though she was this tiny little baby on this x-ray machine, I think all kids should have that right. Unfortunately, President Bush and his administration continue to fight efforts to expand CHIP, a popular, effective program. The administration recently put in place a restrictive rule that makes it nearly impossible for states like Minnesota to expand their programs. I want to remind the president that this issue isn't about scoring political points or pushing an ideology. It's about bettering the lives of America’s future generations.

Today we are making a choice, either to support a proven, effective program that has helped children in all states or supporting the status quo, which could lead to more kids losing health care coverage, as states struggle to make ends meet. If the children's health insurance program fails to pass the senate or the president chooses to veto this reauthorization and deny children access to this vital program, the consequences could prove dire for Minnesota’s children and families. It's estimated that an additional 35,000 Minnesotans who would otherwise be uninsured, would be enrolled in this program should this bill be signed into law. If the president uses his veto power, he will deny health care to 86,000 uninsured Minnesotan children who may have been enrolled with the passage of this bill. From a fiscal standpoint, our state once again loses out if this bill fails to pass; with changes in the allotment program and the formula, Minnesota would receive an increase of over $50 million in fiscal year 2008 to fund our children's health insurance and Medicaid programs. If the bill fails, Minnesota would be left with a shortfall leaving low-income families in a frightening situation. This program is very important to our state, our governor—Republican governor—supports it. As head of the Republican governors association, he has written us asking us to approve this bill.

We're proud to have one of the lowest rates of the uninsured in our state in the nation, partly because of this program and partly because we have been innovative in bolstering coverage for low-income kids and their parents. Since Minnesota was ahead of the curve in covering kids before this program was created, Minnesota uses a portion of these federal dollars to provide coverage to their parents. This is because ample evidence proves that when parents get coverage, kids are more likely to have health coverage. I'm glad to see that the compromise bill that we reached largely retains this parental coverage in these special cases.

Many of my colleagues have expressed concern about the CHIP program replacing private insurance. I'm reminded, though, of the testimony of CBO director Orzag who reported to the finance committee this summer that this program is about as efficient as a program can be. That being said, this bipartisan legislation makes an effort to mitigate the replacement of private insurance by requiring GAO and the institute of medicine to report on best practices for enrolling low-income children who need assistance the most, and it requires the secretary to help states implement those methods. I believe that this rational approach will prove to be effective in reducing crowd-out and will protect state flexibility, contrary to the Bush administration's overly restrictive rules that essentially bar states from expanding their program. I do not know why you want to bar states from expanding their programs when we are living at a time when more and more children have less and less health coverage.

You know, when I would go around my state in the last two years, I would go to cafes and we'd think maybe ten people would show up so we'd set the table up with ten chairs. One hundred people would show up. These were middle-income people, lower-income people, and I finally realized: you know, when you've got less money in your pocket and your health care premiums go up 100%, like they have in our state in the last decade, you feel it first in your pocket. And when it costs 100% more to go to college, like it does at the University of Minnesota in the last ten years, and you're a middle-income person, a low-income person, you can hardly make it, you feel it first in your pocket. That's what's been going on in this country. There has been an enormous shift of resources, away from the great majority of people in this country that are just trying to get by to the very top echelon of the people in this country.

We're trying to reverse that with this congress. We're trying to change that with this congress. We need vital programs like children's health insurance more than ever, especially as these rising health care costs force families to tighten their budget. The president should reconsider his threat to veto. And my colleagues, who say they're against this bipartisan compromise legislation, should reconsider their opposition.

I thank the finance committee for their efforts to bring this bill to the floor and to expand this important successful initiative. It's not only good for America’s kids: it's good for our families, it's good for all of us. And when I think of that health care that my daughter got when she couldn't even swallow, and all the doctors that were there to help her, and the nurses that were there to help her, all kids should have that kind of beginning. That's what this bill is about. Thank you, Mr. President, and I yield the floor.