Do You Feel Like You Live In A Democracy?
DORGAN AMENDMENT FAILED, VOTE ON LAUTENBERG NEXT Today, a drug importation amendment from Sen. Dorgan D-ND failed by a vote of 51 – 48. Next is an alternative importation amendment from Sen. Lautenberg D-NJ. All amendments require 60 votes to pass.
Do you feel like you live in a democracy? And no, that “but we’re a democratic republic!” stuff isn’t what I mean. What I mean is, do you feel like those who govern you care what you think? Do you think they generally do what you want them to do?
After all, that’s the entire theory behind a representative democracy. We go to the polls and elect people who can vote on all sorts of issues the way we would want them to; because we’re such a massive nation and our legislative issues are so vast, we really can’t have national referendums on every issue. So we have these folks in Congress to vote for us.
I really don’t feel like I live in a properly functioning modern democracy today.
Today, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) made an impassioned effort to pass an amendment to the Senate health care bill that would allow for reimportation. What that means is that drugs — mostly made in our own factories and shipped overseas — that are sold overseas can be reimported back here to the States. Countries like Canada use their single-payer systems and their massive bargaining power to lower drug prices. Which means they pay 3 or 4 times less for their drugs than we do. So reimportation is a pretty basic issue — it’s basically free trade.
For many years, our federal government has blocked reimportation at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry. The official excuse is that the drugs aren’t safe — which is nonsense, of course, because most of them are actually American-made right here in our factories and are simply being sold back into the United States after being exported out of our country. Heck, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) — no grand leftist and a huge reimportation advocate — likes to ask people who point to the safety canard, “Where are the dead Canadians?” The answer: there aren’t any, because reimportation of course is not dangerous.
Yet the drug industry has done everything it can to keep its protectionist racket going.
But then Barack Obama came around. He proudly campaigned on reversing our protectionist rules and allowing drug reimportation. Doing so could save up to $100 billion over ten years — which would amount to truly massive savings for American consumers who are being gouged by these companies. In fact, drug reimportation was one of Obama’s promises that I was most excited about. It had long been a plank of Democratic Party politics, and most people assumed that we’d finally get it done, despite the fact that the Clinton administration repeatedly caved to the drug industry on this issue.
Unfortunately, this past summer the administration made a deal with PhRMA — the trade group of the pharmaceutical industry — that involved them offering $80 billion in savings voluntarily over the next decade (who wants to take bets on whether they hold up their side of the bargain?) and aired $150 million in ads in favor of the broader health care package in return for administration opposition to drug reimportation and using Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices.
Dorgan knew about this saddening deal, but he’s not someone who’s going to be quieted by party leadership. He quietly assembled a bipartisan coalition of 30 senators to cosponsor his reimportation legislation, and even enlisted the help of former GOP presidential candidate John McCain to make a passionate case for his amendment this afternoon. Yet, in the end, it was voted down 48-51 — you read that right. See, that isn’t enough to break a filibuster, that would take 60 votes — isn’t it awesome that the Senate doesn’t rule by simple majority like a sane legislature? The drug industry won. How did it win? A great article from the Huffington Post explains:
A Democratic aide said that the threat of PhRMA ads is being used by opponents of Dorgan’s amendment as a reason to sink it. Similarly, if Republicans end up providing the winning margin for the importation amendment, a source involved in the negotiations said the drug makers will come after the GOP “with a vengeance — and not just on health care.”
That’s right. A private industry that’s been gouging Americans for years successfully threatened the government against ending its protectionist racket of the said industry — against the will of the vast majority of Americans of all political stripes, according to the most credible polling. And by the way, it seems like we’re about to have to choose between handing over hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to the private insurance industry cartel or letting 45,000 Americans die every year because they lack proper health care coverage — all thanks to our arcane Senate structure and the lobbyist-soaked campaign finance system.
So I’ll ask you again: do you feel like you live in a democracy? I don’t.