A continent removed from the resentment and accusation of Washington, D.C., Joe Biden came to South King County, put aside trappings as leader of the free world and resumed his longtime role as a warrior for middle class America.
The 46th President spoke not for the ages, but of years as a widowed parent of two little boys who could not afford childcare even as a U.S. Senator, as an aneurysm patient cared for by nurses – “They make you want to live” – and as a boy who sensed one night that his father was distressed and restless.
He learned why from his mother in route to school the next day: “They told him, honey, they’re not going to cover his insurance anymore in his job.”
The gut message, Biden told an audience of students and elected officials at Green River College on Friday: “In America, healthcare is a right, not a privilege.”
Whether campaigning in Iowa’s presidential caucuses, or as vice president visiting vocational students in Renton, Biden has always enjoyed community colleges and the students they draw. “They’re coming back because they want to better their lives, breaking their necks to get here,” he said here. Of Green River, he added: “This is a great college.” First Lady Jill Biden teaches at a college in northern Virginia. In the words of her husband, “the only First Lady ever to work full time.”
Yesterday, the President was the headliner at pricey Democratic fundraisers in Seattle and Portland. He used Seward Park to sign an Earth Day executive order for greater study, fire prevention and protection of forests on federal lands.
He lamented the sour polarization of a Senate in which he served for thirty-six years, and Trump-inspired radicalism of its Republicans.
“This is the MAGA Party,” he said at Seward Park. “It’s, you know, and you got the Senator from Texas (Ted Cruz) and these guys are a different breed of cat.”
The President’s central message, however, was that corporate America is getting the gold mine while most American families get the shaft — and are paying higher prices while profits soar. It was a message grounded in social obligation.
“I’m a capitalist, and I think if you can make a billion dollars or a million dollars or a hundred million, you should be able to do it,” said Biden. Raising his voice, the President added: “But pay your fair share! Pay your fair share!”
“Of the Fortune 500 companies, forty of them last year, they made $40 billion, and they didn’t pay a single, solitary penny in taxes.” At this point, lowering his voice, Biden declared, “It’s not right. It’s just not fair.”
He zoned in by citing a punch to the finances of many an American family.
An Eastlake High School senior, Juliana Graceffo, introduced Biden with her story of a family coping with health crisis in the new Gilded Age.
She was rushed to Children’s Hospital on Christmas Eve at age four and diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. She held up a capsule, saying: “Here is the insulin pump that delivers the essential insulin hormone which I need to survive.”
The treatment cost $40 a vial, fourteen years ago. That cost has since risen to $300. Biden took it from there. The message of the day was that the country should cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month, action already taken at the state level (with Republican co-sponsorship in the Legislature) in Washington.
“Today, nearly one in four Americans who need prescription drugs struggle to afford them,” said the President. “Nearly thirty percent of people needing essential drugs – doses that they’re supposed to take – thirty percent skipped their doses because they want to extend life of the drug that they need.”
“For God’s sake, this is the United States of America! What are we doing? It’s simply wrong, especially since it doesn’t cost the drug companies nearly as much to make the drug or the research that went into it.”
Of bills like those faced by Juliana’s family, asked Biden, “How do you look at your child and deal with it? There’s no excuse. None. We are not asking the drug companies to do anything they can’t afford.”
The President proposed four steps to hold down costs.
First, cap insulin costs at $35 a month.
“It still means, it costs them (families) three and a half times as much as it costs them (pharmaceutical manufacturers),” said Biden.
Second, the 46th President would impose a “steep tax” if companies boost drug prices higher than the rate of inflation.
He noted that we regulate what utilities can charge for their essential services. “You should still be able to make a significant profit, not gouge.”
Third, Biden called for capping at $2,000 the amount seniors on Medicare pay for prescription drugs. “If you’re on Medicare,” he explained, “you won’t have to spend more than $2,000 out of pocket, which is a lot of money.” The remaining costs would be split between Medicare, drug companies and insurers.
And finally, in a call heard for years, Biden would like to give Medicare the power to negotiate prescription drug prices.
A Republican-run Congress left this out when it enacted a prescription drug plan under Medicare. (The House committee chair who wrote the bill quit Congress to become chief lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry.)
Republicans are demanding that the Biden administration offer plans to curb major sources of inflation. Biden offered one at Green River College, including measures being blocked by Republicans in the Senate where he served.
The proposal comes from a guy who rode the train daily to D.C. from his home in Delaware, because he had two little boys at home. (Biden’s sister bore much of the care burden.) The plan was offered by a guy whose father lost his health insurance. The President was speaking to an audience of students, including nursing students, whose families feel the burdens of which he spoke.
Juliana Graceffo got to talk briefly with Biden before introducing him.
It’s a Joe Biden the national media is not allowing us to see much of.
He ought to get around more. The Democrats can avoid a bloodbath if they take to the country the message delivered today at Green River College.