Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bush and Republican Party Perscription Drug benefit scandal

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on August 30th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Last week I mentioned a domestic spending bill that the Republican majority in Congress passed, which also contributed to President Bush’s re-election. I was referring to the December 2003 bill President Bush persuaded the Republican Congressional majority to pass which expanded the US Medicare program to include prescription drug benefits. But before I delve into this issue, did I ever mention that tomorrow August 31st is my birthday? Probably not, because I’m old enough now that I try to forget them. But I do plan to go out and celebrate it this year. Why? Well I’m actually doing so in honour of Karl Rove’s passing from the corridors of power in Washington DC tomorrow. What a great birthday present this is for me and many other Americans. Karl is off to his ranch in Ingram Texas, for those of you who might ever wish to visit him there, or those who might wish to avoid this place. Either way I will be penning a column devoted to his , uh er, umh legacy while I’m back in Texas next month. Until then let it suffice to say that Karl did a whole lot to (not for) his country during his time at the White House. God rest his soul, but may he NOT rest in Peace!
Bush and the Republicans in Congress chose to ignore the warnings of respected economists and the US Government’s own top accountant, Comptroller David Walker, that the nation couldn’t afford to pay for the existing Medicare entitlement program, much less a multi-trillion dollar expansion of it. As a result I believe this was probably the single most fiscally irresponsible measure ever passed by any US Congress and then signed into law by any US President.
I am not opposed to the federal government taking action to address the healthcare or prescription drug needs of its population. What I am opposed to is doing so in a manner which ignores both the statistical and economic realities facing our country. Baby boomers will begin to turn 62 beginning January 1st 2008 when they will first become eligible for Social Security benefits and then three years later on January 1st 2011 they will also become eligible for Medicare benefits. Then over the next 20 years more than 78 million more Americans will become pensioners and medical dependents of U.S. taxpayers.
Most politicians including President Bush and many other Republicans are well aware of the cold hard fact that the US will not have enough wage earners in the future to pay the taxes which will be used to support the benefits all of these baby boomers are entitled to. It is one thing to bury your head in the sand, do nothing and ignore this looming statistical reality, but it is quite another to compound a problem you know already exists by passing and signing into law legislation that makes the situation much worse than it already is.
The essence of the problem is not so much the social security benefits, but the ever rising cost of healthcare (which is currently growing at a rate double to that of inflation) for baby boomers that will live much longer than previous or current Medicare beneficiaries. The economic reality is that if nothing is done and soon, then in 20 or 30 years all of the federal government’s tax revenues will be going to pay for interest on the national debt credit card and the cost of social security and Medicare benefits. There will be no money left for education, national defence or any other federal government programs. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nothing.
So what do my fellow Republican President and his congressional allies do? They pass a law that with the stroke of his pen adds another 40% to the cost of Medicare benefits over the next 75 years. What a brilliant solution. Unfortunately it gets even better when you closely examine why this particular bill was so heavily supported by the lobbyists for the drug industry. Unbeknownst to many Americans, a majority of House representatives consisting of most Democrats and a number of Republicans actually voted against this bill when it finally came to a vote on the floor of the US House of Representatives. But Republican congressional leaders led by Tom DeLay and Billy Tauzin took the unprecedented step of leaving the voting box open for an additional 2 ½ hours beyond the normal 15 minutes used on all other floor votes. So what happened to change the minds of enough voters that the measure was finally narrowly passed almost 3 hours later?
Well a Republican who was there and held his ground and stood by his vote against the bill, told me that it was the nastiest political experience he had ever witnessed in all his years as a state or federal legislator. He wouldn’t talk about what was said to him but he did say that the bill’s Republican floor leaders used a combination of inducements, threats and old fashioned arm twisting (that brought at least one female legislator to tears), in order to get enough members to change their votes so the measure would finally pass and that it took them 2 ½ hours to do this.
The drug companies role? Well for one thing it was their lobbyists who basically wrote that bill, which is actually a fairly common practice when complex legislation that affects a particular industry is concerned. Now they don’t want or take the credit for doing this, they leave that honour to the legislator’s congressional staffers who deliver the final drafts to their bosses. Once their bills have successfully passed and been signed into law, many of them join their former bosses for the proverbial trip through the revolving door.
There was also a certain provision in this drug bill that drug company lobbyists viewed as most important. It prohibited the US government from negotiating the price Medicare would pay for prescription drugs the way the US Veterans Administration (VA) already had done for its military veterans and their dependents. This resulted in Lipitor, a popular cholesterol drug, having a Medicare price of $785 for a year's supply, which was 50 percent more than the VA’s price of $520. But for another cholesterol drug called Zocor, the best Medicare price was a whopping $1,485 for a year's supply compared to $127 a year under the VA's negotiated plan. Think these profits might result in a few more jobs at drug companies? Read on.
Here is just a sample of where some of the congressmen and staffers who helped push this drug bill through Congress ended up. Representative Billy Tauzin left Congress and that same day became the President of the drug industry’s trade group PhRMA for a salary of 2.5 million dollars a year. Linda Fishman a Republican committee staffer became a lobbyist for drug manufacturer Amgen while Jim Barnette left to lobby for Hoffman-La Roche. Yes indeed, Bush and Cheney had many willing accomplices.

No comments: