Want to know who owns your member of Congress? Just look at how they vote.
For example, this week Representatives Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Scott Peters (D-CA), Kathleen Rice (D-NY) and, on another committee, Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) all voted with 100% of their Republican colleagues to kill the ability of Medicare to negotiate drug prices.
To put this into context, the VA and every insurance company and hospital group in America negotiates prescription drug prices. Only Medicare is forced to pay around $60 billion a year more than they should. Which echos as higher retail drug prices through our entire healthcare system.
And this time it isn’t just about pharmaceuticals. As Rep. Schrader’s hometown newspaper, The Oregonian, noted in their headline: “Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon Helps Kill Drug Pricing Bill, Endangering Biden Infrastructure Plan.”
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It’s a safe bet that none of them did it because they were representing the interest of the people in their districts who helped put them in office. A national poll published just last week found:
An 87% majority of voters over age 65 favor allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices... Among Democratic seniors, 89% are in favor, as are 87% of Republican seniors and 81% of independent seniors.
Instead, these Democrats are enthusiastically and publicly representing the interest of the pharmaceutical industry, which, Senator Bernie Sanders notes, “[H]as spent over $4.5 billion on lobbying and campaign contributions over the past 20 years and has hired some 1,200 lobbyists to get Congress to do its bidding.”
Americans pay an average of $1500 a year more for prescription drugs than citizens of any other nation. But the crisis isn’t just the rip-off that’s making Big Pharma executives rich: it’s quite literally killing us.
Dr. Nicky J. Mehtani, a resident physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital, writes about the pain of having to tell a family that their mother and grandmother has died when the most likely reason was because her patient couldn’t afford the heart medication she’d been prescribed.
“[I]n this patient's case, there was no truer underlying cause of death than the blatant unaffordability of her prescription medications,” writes Dr. Mentani.
This is an everyday story all across America. Last year 2.3 million seniors (and 15.5 million people under 65) couldn’t afford to pay for doctor-prescribed medication. One in four Americans say they “have difficulty” paying for pharmaceuticals, and one-in-eight “ration” their own pills.
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Dr. Mentani notes that the patient who died in her hospital had a prescription for the heart medications she needed.
“But upon arrival to her pharmacy,” Dr. Mentani writes, “she learned that, despite being insured, one of her heart medications would cost over $200 per month. Though she had $200 in her bank account, she also had eight grandchildren to care for and feed. She figured she could skip a few days of medication and fill the prescription two days later, when she was due to receive her Social Security check.
“But two days without these expensive medications was enough to cause her to have a second heart attack — one that would ultimately take her life and drastically change those of her eight grandchildren, some of whom would later enter the foster care system.”
Meanwhile, members of Congress rake in the Big Pharma cash, laughing all the way to the bank as people in their districts cut pills in half and die.
It’s easy to dismiss Reps Schrader, Peters, Rice and Murphy as corrupt sellouts and, certainly in this case, the label fits. And it’s frankly surprising that they were the only ones who publicly sold out their constituents’ grandparents: Big Pharma is throwing money around Congress and on TV ads like a kid with a Super Soaker at the beach.
You’ve probably by now seen the dueling TV ads from AARP and the pharmaceutical lobby about negotiating Medicare drug prices; the industry is trying to provide cover for the members of Congress who said, “How high?” when the big drug companies said, “Jump!”
But the cancer of money in our politics is much deeper than these four corrupted Democrats (and 100% of the Republicans), and it goes back to a corrupted and sold-out US Supreme Court.
In their 5-4 split 2010 Citizens United decision, they concluded not only that corporations are persons and thus able to exercise their Constitutional right to “free speech” by owning pet politicians but that, because corporations don’t have mouths, the form of speech they (and the morbidly rich) can use is money.
That’s right: that stuff you have in your pocket is “free speech.”
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At the time there were five Republican appointees on the Court and four Democratic appointees. Justice John Paul Stevens, a Democratic appointee, wrote the main dissent, noting:
“The fact that corporations are different from human beings might seem to need no elaboration, except that the majority opinion almost completely elides it… corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. … They are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”
Writing as if he were seeing the “swamp” the Roberts Court’s decision left us with today, he added:
“Politicians who fear that a certain corporation can make or break their reelection chances may be cowed into silence about that corporation. On a variety of levels, unregulated corporate electioneering might diminish the ability of citizens to ‘hold officials accountable to the people,’ and disserve the goal of a public debate that is ‘uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.’”
Our problem isn’t just a few corrupt, for-sale Democrats; it’s pervasive across our political system and mostly because five conservatives on the US Supreme Court chose to corrupt the system to benefit that corporations and billionaires who helped put them on the Court in the first place.
It’s why our politics are more polarized than ever before in living memory; corporations and rightwing billionaires are pouring money down the throats of increasingly radicalized Republicans and a few sellout Democrats across the country.
As I document at length in my book The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America, until we overturn these corrupt Court decisions and get money out of politics, every effort to save lives and move this nation forward will face often-insurmountable resistance.
Originally posted at The Hartmann Report
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