President Joe Biden with Juliana Graceffo
President Joe Biden thanks Eastlake High School student Juliana Graceffo for introducing him at Green River College (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

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.”

President Joe Biden delivers an address on making essential drugs more affordable
Pres­i­dent Joe Biden makes the case for a plan that would actu­al­ly address the cost of liv­ing in the Unit­ed States by low­er­ing the cost of essen­tial drugs (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

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.

Students raise their hands and applaud at a White House event in Auburn
Stu­dents who are study­ing nurs­ing or plan to raise their hands as oth­ers applaud, fol­low­ing a prompt from Pres­i­dent Joe Biden (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Juliana Grac­ef­fo got to talk briefly with Biden before intro­duc­ing him.

“Yeah,” she told The Seat­tle Times, “He’s just a gen­uine guy.”

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.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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