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Time is running out when it comes to reforming health care and passing legislation to curb damage to the environment, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., told a crowd of about 100 in a talk at Salomon 101 Friday.

The talk was the second of a two-part series organized by the Brown Democrats.

One of the biggest challenges facing health care reform is a filibuster by Senate Republicans, Whitehouse said. By demanding 300 amendments to the bill, each of which requires a vote, Republicans are burning the floor time remaining "to get things done," he added.

Whitehouse noted a "new and different level of vitriol" directed at President Obama since he was elected, which he said negatively affects the policies he tries to bring forward.

"What it boils down to is the petty procedural obstruction in one institution," Whitehouse said. "It's important for us to call the Republicans out on that."

The main objectives of the public option, Whitehouse explained, are to establish an electronic health record system, create a national integrated platform to foster transparency and to pay doctors and hospitals for results, not for procedures.

"The only way we turn this health care mess around is to change the business model for health care insurance," Whitehouse said. A public option needs to be competitive with the private plans and "responsive to each state's circumstances," he added.

"One thing to promise is that the public option will have no effect whatsoever on the deficit," he said.

Along with health care reform, climate change must be addressed for the sake of the country's fiscal future as well as its "ability to take care of the people," Whitehouse said.

He discussed the major consequences that climate change will have, such as the intoxication of the atmosphere and the loss of natural habitats.

"We are in the stage where the evidence (regarding climate change) is blindingly clear," Whitehouse said.

To move bills that address climate change through Congress, the economic ramifications must be clear, he said — lawmakers should be able to "assure any of our people that economic consequences (of such bills) will be beneficial rather than harmful."

The long-term effects of legislation making companies pay for the harmful waste they release, for instance, will improve the quality of life, he said.

Students' questions for Whitehouse ranged from health care reform and climate change to the current investigation of  "interrogation techniques" conducted under the Bush administration. Another question focused on a bill aimed at preventing employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

Whitehouse said he has "reassuring feelings" that things will be put "back in constitutional order" with the investigation on torture.

"I don't think Obama will veto it," he said. Rather, "it's a matter of getting to it," since priorities of floor space at the moment are "getting health care fixed" and "getting the economy going," he said.

Students said they were satisfied with what they learned from Whitehouse's speech.
Austen Mack-Crane '13 said he enjoyed hearing the "perspective of a politician."

"It's nice to see the realities of decision-making even though it's not always a sunny outlook," he added.


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