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Chairman Yarmuth Opening Statement at Hearing on the President’s 2021 HHS Budget Request

Mar 4, 2020

Washington, D.C.— Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, gave the following opening statement at today’s hearing examining the consequences of President Trump’s 2021 budget request for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Remarks as prepared are below:

Deputy Secretary Hargan – the importance of the Department of Health and Human Services cannot be overstated. But now, amid the deadly coronavirus outbreak, the work of HHS has unmatched importance. Strategic investments in public health systems, research into a vaccine and treatments, availability of accurate testing, and access to high-quality care are critically important.

But the contrast between those needs and the Trump Administration’s budget could not be more stark. Instead of proposing a realistic budget for HHS and taking the health and well-being of Americans seriously, the President has called for draconian cuts, mounted consistent attacks on our health care, undermined the agencies charged with keeping us safe, and starved our communities of critical resources.

President Trump has proposed a nearly $10 billion cut to HHS’ discretionary budget, including debilitating cuts to the CDC and NIH. He slashes mandatory health care spending by $1.6 trillion over 10 years, including a $900 billion cut to Medicaid, a half a trillion-dollar cut to Medicare, and a $200 billion cut to other health programs.

The budget would require all states to enact work requirements for Medicaid enrollees, with no exceptions for pregnant women, parents, the chronically ill, and other vulnerable Americans. This comes despite the fact that no evidence exists to support the Administration’s claim that they increase the financial well-being of Medicaid enrollees. The Administration’s real goal here is to create yet another barrier so that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans lose their Medicaid coverage – and now at the worst possible time.

That’s not the only way this budget makes life harder for millions of families. It includes the elimination of block grants and programs like LIHEAP that help working families fight their way out of poverty.

Despite the President’s promise to prioritize childcare, any investments made in this budget would be nullified by the complete elimination of the Social Services Block Grant and the Community Services Block Grant, and the $21.3 billion cut to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

There are other areas of the budget that don’t add up either – where the message doesn’t match the math. The budget includes a $716 million investment in HIV/AIDS but cuts important NIH research programs dedicated to HIV prevention and treatment by 8 percent. It also cuts programs to treat global HIV/AIDS by $2 billion, or 35 percent.

The budget requests $169 million in new resources to combat the opioid epidemic, but these nominal investments are negated by the nearly $900 billion cut to Medicaid – the source of coverage for 4 in 10 adults with opioid addiction.

When you compare these small funding increases to the huge cuts they are paired with, it’s not hard to see them for what they are – token investments designed to get a good headline. If there is another explanation Deputy Secretary Hargan, we would welcome it.

We would also welcome some details on the President’s so-called “vision” for American health care, since there are none in this budget. Nothing specific about the President’s so-called commitment to lowering prescription drug prices, nothing about expanding access to affordable, quality health care. It’s nothing but a vague promise.

There are many troubling parts of this budget, particularly since the line between massive HHS funding cuts and severe consequences for American families…between policy changes and life or death outcomes, is so direct.

But look. This is not a normal budget hearing. We are potentially facing a public health crisis like we haven’t seen in years, and from everything I’ve seen this President doesn’t get that.

He sought to underfund or eliminate programs to respond to public health emergencies from the get go.

Two years ago, he fired the government’s entire pandemic response chain of command, and never replaced them.

He told the American people that the virus was largely contained. Then he said it will go away in April when temperatures warm-up. Both aren’t true.

He proposed a woefully inadequate coronavirus Supplemental that cannibalized other programs – playing a dangerous game of public health whack-a-mole. 

And the President’s budget has no shortage of broken promises, harsh cuts, and cruel policies that place little importance on public health and jeopardize the health care security of millions of Americans.

Our President is clearly not up to the task, but Deputy Secretary, I hope you have more to offer the American people today. I hope you are able to help reassure all of us that our government is on top this. That the doctors and scientists who really know what they are doing are making the decisions and that everything is being done to protect the American public. We look forward to your testimony, your response to these concerns, and getting some sort of justification for the decisions made in this budget.

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