Establishment favorite neo-liberal Hillary Clinton faced an unexpectedly strong challenge from self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries. Ultimately, Clinton lost disastrously in November to historically unpopular billionaire Donald Trump who posed as an economic populist. Sanders is now probably the most well-liked politician in America. Under these circumstances, you could be forgiven for expecting a chastened shrunken Democratic Senate minority to unite behind an unabashedly progressive economic agenda, but you’d be wrong.
As Republican Senators were pushing through legislation to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA) last week, various amendments were introduced and voted on. Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar proposed allowing insurance companies, local governments, and individuals to import prescription drugs from Canada. Like nearly every country in the world with a name that doesn’t begin with “United” and end with “States,” Canada negotiates aggressively with the drug manufacturers. The result is that Canadians pay 82% less than Americans pay for some treatments.
Of course the drug manufacturers are still doing profitable business outside the United States. Otherwise, they would simply shutter operations in those countries where ultra-low prices don’t cover expenses. There are also no legitimate concerns about the safety of drugs sold in Canada where the government is as stringent as our own and most medications are manufactured in the United States in any event.
Indeed, the logic behind permitting importation from Canada is so compelling that twelve Republicans voted for the Sanders-Klobuchar amendment. But thirteen Democrats voted no while California’s Dianne Feinstein did not vote at all and the amendment went down 46-52. That’s right. Were it not for the decision of
fourteen these senators to side with drug manufacturers, we might have the option to purchase medications at a fraction of their current cost. [1/17 Addendum at 7:26pm – Senator Feinstein was recovering from surgery and therefore missed the vote.]
The only plausible explanation for this betrayal of the American healthcare consumer, in other words us, is corruption by corporation. Led by Patty Murray, Bob Casey, and Michael Bennet, every one of the fourteen Democrats receives financing from big pharma. Pure and simple, these Senators put their own selfish interest in having full campaign coffers ahead of the American people. To his credit, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin voted to allow drug imports even though his daughter is famously the CEO of a pharmaceutical company that stands to lose significant income if it has to survive on the narrower margins Canadian sales generate
Beyond self-interest, the Senators embodying the Democratic establishment were also probably motivated by a desire not to hand Bernie Sanders a legislative victory. Like every Democratic Senator, except Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, the fourteen enthusiastically endorsed Hillary Clinton. Undoubtedly, her “elect me and you’ll get lots more of the same” campaign gratified them since they are winners under the current system. By contrast, Bernie Sanders called out the Democratic establishment on a number of occasions and promised to crack down on lobbyists and influence peddlers. The last thing these insiders want is to hand a victory to the man who shamed them during the primaries.
The Democratic fourteen didn’t just shaft the American people, they screwed their own party. As the election dust settles, it is becoming ever clearer that neither white nor black working-class voters believe that Democrats are on their side. By aligning with multi-national corporations against Americans, the fourteen confirmed the truth in that sentiment and undermined the one argument that Democrats must make convincingly in order to regain power.
There is no question that Republicans have a number of advantages in elections. They have more of the media at their disposal because so many radio and TV stations are owned by conservatives. Even socially progressive newspaper publishers are not economic progressives. By definition business owners, they have a material interest in supporting pro-corporatist anti-labor policies or, at a minimum, to give excessive deference in their pages to the opinions of business leaders and academics who champion such policies.
The GOP has other advantages. Because Democratic voters are concentrated along the coasts, Republicans control Congress even with a minority of the absolute vote. Given our ethnically and racially diverse society, Republicans can and cynically do use our differences to stymie the emergence of a multi-racial populist political coalition.
In light of these built-in disadvantages, Democrats must always govern with the best interests of the working-class in mind. Only when they prioritize good working and middle-class jobs, strong unions, affordable housing, healthcare, education, and a secure retirement will they win elections consistently. Only then will our society renew its focus on civil and reproductive rights, environmental justice, and peaceful resolution of international disputes.
For setting back the progressive cause and guaranteeing more election losses, Senators Murray, Case, Bennet, Booker, Menendez, Donnelly, Coons, Carper, Warner, Heinrich, Tester, Heitkamp, Cantwell, and Feinstein, the conservative movement thanks you.