Through the roof!
Big Pharma Wins, Consumers Lose as Trump Forgets Promise to Reign in Skyrocketing Drug Prices
There are countess stories of disgraceful and outrageous price gouging by Big Pharma. Back in 2015, a New York pharmaceutical company acquired the rights to a 60 year old drug called Daraprim that treats a common parasite that attacks people with weakened immune systems. They raised the price of the drug by 5,000 percent - from $13.50 a pill to $750.00. Pulitzer Prize finalist Chan Lowe nailed them for it with this cartoon.
After it became apparent that the President’s so-called plan to reduce outrageous prescription drug prices would do nothing of the sort, big pharmaceutical company stocks skyrocketed - and no wonder. Americans pay the highest prescription drug prices in the world. New lifesaving drugs are often launched at prices exceeding $100,000 a year, while older medicines for conditions like diabetes and asthma regularly see prices go up by 10 percent a year. And nothing in the President’s plan would change those facts or put even a dent in pharmaceutical company profits that continue to go through the roof.
As a candidate, he crisscrossed the country promising to allow Medicare to use its enormous buying power – covering 60 million seniors and people with disabilities – to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices. But the Administration’s plan doesn’t so much as mention Medicare drug price negotiations. Instead, they are proposing new rules to require drug companies to disclose their costs – presumably so the American people can be more aware how badly they’re being ripped off.
Moreover, instead of “draining the swamp” of drug company lobbyists, the President has loaded his administration with appointees with strong ties to the pharmaceutical industry, including his Secretary of Health& Human Services Alex Azar, a former top executive at pharmaceutical company giant Eli Lilly and Co.
Meanwhile, the Center for Responsive Politics reports that the drug industry spent nearly $26 million last year on advertising campaigns and lobbying to help convince federal decision makers to look after their stockholders regardless of the cost to consumers. Big Pharma clearly has the President and the Republican majority in Congress exactly where they want them – and that’s why drug prices and pharmaceutical company profits continue to rise at disgracefully high rates.
We will keep you posted as events proceed. Meanwhile, I want to hear your thoughts. Feel free to contact any of our offices listed below or send me an email.
Failed GOP Farm Bill Abandoned Process, Democracy - and Farmers
The Republican Farm Bill failed to pass the House on Friday, and rightly so.
Process matters. When the process fails, the outcome fails. And that’s exactly what happened to the Republican Farm Bill last week in the House.
Instead of following Regular Order, allowing all Members and their amendments and ideas to be heard under an Open Rule in the spirit of bipartisanship, Republican leaders abandoned the democratic process. They wrote the measure behind closed doors in secret, and failed to give their colleagues enough time to adequately read and review the bill before it was rushed to the House floor.
The result was a missed opportunity to take a bold approach to the biggest problems we face in agriculture, conservation, rural development and food policy. In fact, this GOP Farm Bill would do virtually nothing to improve the safety net farmers need to survive these tough economic times – nothing to encourage young farmers – and nothing to bolster rural communities and small businesses.
What the bill does do is launch a partisan assault on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that some 46 million Americans – including thousands of military Veterans and military families – depend on to stave off hunger and malnutrition. And by doing so, this attack on the SNAP program threatens to unravel the historic partnership between rural food producers and urban food consumers that has always been critical to the success of Farm Bills down through the years.
Training and education to help able-bodied people get good paying jobs makes sense. But the so-called “work requirements” in this bill should have been referred to the proper committees for careful consideration in order to complement already successful jobs and training programs in place in Minnesota and many other states. The haphazard work provisions added by Republicans on the Agriculture committee are unnecessary, bureaucratic, and would cost the states hundreds of millions of dollars to administer.
The good news is that we should have an opportunity in the future to craft a measure that accomplishes much more, and does it in a more open, bipartisan, and democratic fashion.
VA Mission Act Bolsters Veterans Choice, Advances Key Reforms at the Veterans Affairs Administration
Among several other things, the VA Mission Act I voted for last week provides a new round of funding for the Veterans Choice program while urgently needed improvements are put in place. Veterans Choice is intended to allow Veterans living far away from VA health care facilities to obtain top quality local care.
Congress moved the slow and difficult process of reforming the Veterans Affairs Administration (VA) forward last week by passing the VA Mission Act, a bill I supported to continue funding for a streamlined and consolidated Veterans Choice health care program, provide more needy Veterans with in-home care, and make a number of other Veterans services more effective and Veteran friendly.
Almost everyone agrees that Veterans Choice – which is intended to provide Veterans who live far away from VA clinics with the option of being treated at local health care facilities, is a great idea in need of substantial improvements and reforms. With funding extended for another year, the VA must work to add more local health care providers to the system, streamline the billing process, and ensure that Veterans and their doctors are able to decide the best medical options together, without interference from unnecessary third parties.
The fact of the matter is, fixing Veterans Choice and implementing the VA Mission Act will require strong and steady leadership at the VA – an agency with more than 380,000 employees and an annual budget of $180 billion.
And as I’ve pointed out before, the key post of VA Secretary remains unfilled nearly a month after White House doctor Ronny Jackson withdrew his name from consideration. The key jobs of Undersecretary for Health, Undersecretary for Benefits, and Chief Information Officer in charge of medical records have yet to be filled. And the Washington Post is reporting that more than 30,000 clinical staff positions at VA clinics are vacant. These include thousands of doctors, nurses and mental health therapists.
Meanwhile, on average, 22 military Veterans are still committing suicide every day. Millions of Veterans are still waiting months to receive their Veterans ID cards because the online system can’t handle all the requests. And VA medical records are still being transferred on paper while the system awaits a ten-year, $16 billion online upgrade that’s been on hold pending appointment of a permanent VA Secretary.
Diving Into the Swamp - the President's Choice to Run the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation
Our old friend Steve Sack, Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, nails it again with this depiction of what’s really happening in the President’s swamp. All aboard!
Instead of keeping his promise to “drain the swap” of Washington insiders, the President is filling up the swamp with unqualified friends and cronies. The latest is Gordon Hartogensis. He’s the brother-in-law of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell – and the President’s choice to run the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation charged with protecting the hard-earned pensions of millions of Americans. Mr. Hartogensis has no experience running a federal agency, but is currently managing the McConnell family’s financial trusts.
So to be clear, with millions of Americans in danger of losing their hard-earned pensions – with more than 500 of America’s 1,400 multi-employer pension funds in serious trouble – and with Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation running a $75 billion deficit, the President has selected someone with little if any relevant experience to be in charge.
While Mr. Hartogensis attempts to learn his job, I will continue championing “The Butch Lewis Act” in the House. The measure, named after an Ohio Teamster, would establish a mechanism through the U.S. Treasury to ensure that no retiree’s hard-earned pension would ever be cut – not by one dime!
As a co-founder and co-chair of the new Pension Protection for Working Americans Caucus in Congress, I’ve also taken the lead on a complementary bill to prevent companies that merge or go bankrupt from reneging on their obligations to millions of workers and retirees.
Among other things, the “Keep Our Pension Promises Act” ensures that when a company merges or goes bankrupt, their pension obligations to workers are put at the top of the list of things to be paid – not the bottom of the list. Make no mistake about it. We will not rest until every single worker is assured of receiving every single dime and dollar of their hard-earned pensions.
GOP Launches New Attack on Planned Parenthood and Reproductive Rights for Millions of Women
Here in Minnesota and across the country, women are sending a clear message to House and Senate Republicans who are attempting to undermine and defund Planned Parenthood.
Having tried and failed to end federal support for Planned Parenthood in the 2018 spending bill, House and Senate Republicans have launched a new attack on family planning and health care for millions of low-income women.
Specifically, 43 Senate Republicans and more than 150 House Republicans have sent letters to the Administration urging restoration of Reagan era regulations that would deny many Planned Parenthood clinics access to Title Ten Family Planning dollars if doctors offer women a full range of birth control options.
If successful, this action would roll back a half century of progress in women’s health that the American people support. As Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards has pointed out, 86% of all Americans – 91% of Democrats and 86% of Republicans – favor policies that make it easier for women to have a complete range of birth control methods available.
Moreover, the widespread availability of birth control has expanded educational and career opportunities for women. According to one highly credible study, the pill alone is responsible for one-third of women’s wage gains relative to men since the 1960’s. And Bloomberg Businessweek magazine has ranked the invention of the pill as one of the top ten most transformative developments in the business sector over the last 85 years. We need to keep building on reproductive rights and progress for women – not rolling it back as House and Senate Republicans are attempting to do.
8th Grader Davania Gangl of Chisholm Wins Our 2018 Congressional Arts Competition
Congratulations to Chisholm Eighth Grader Davania Gangl, whose beautiful work entitled simply “The Flower” is the winner of our 2018 Congressional Arts Competition here in Minnesota’s 8th District. Davania will be flown to Washington later this summer to see her work, along with several hundred others from around the country, displayed in the tunnel between the U.S. Capitol and the House office buildings. Thousands of people will see it every day over the next 12 months.
Our Week in DC
Members of the Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota stopped in my office to discuss issues such as immigration among other topics important to the mission of their organization.
The Minnesota Realtors, the largest professional trade association in the state, stopped by my office to discuss important issues regarding equal access to housing opportunities, supporting strong Net Neutrality protections, the National Flood Insurance Program, and tax policy.
Representatives of the City of Rogers, although outside of my district, stopped by my office to discuss the importance of continuing to invest in infrastructure throughout Minnesota.
Our Week in Grand Marais
The North Shore Health held a rededication and ribbon cutting ceremony for the newly remodeled Community Health Center in Grand Marais. I was pleased to lead Minnesota’s Congressional Delegation urging the House Energy and Commerce Committee to make funding for Community Health Centers a top priority in the 2018 federal spending bill. Congressional Field Representative, Hannah Alstead, read a letter on my behalf.
Our Week in Cambridge
The North 65 Chamber Board held an event to recognize Industries Incorporated of Cambridge for 50 years of serving people with disabilities. Nolan Congressional Field Representative Rick Olseen attended the meeting and snapped this photo.
Our Week in Chisholm
Habitat for Humanity celebrated the new home of Carolin McDonell and her son Easton during a dedication event in Chisholm last week. This new home, which Carolin helped build and will now purchase, brings a significantly positive change for this family’s life. The house was built in partnership with the Applied Learning Institute, with the students and teachers of Hibbing and Chisholm High Schools’ construction classes, the electrical class of Hibbing Community College and the masonry class of Mesabi Community College. Nolan Congressional Field Representative Tom Whiteside attended the meeting on my behalf.
Our Week in Eveleth
As a part of a school assignment, 4th graders from the Franklin Elementary School in Eveleth wrote me letters. The letters focused on school safety, investing in science and math, and obtaining new playground equipment. As a response, I sent a video response to their teacher, Mrs. Hill, answering their questions directly. Nolan Congressional Field Representative Tom Whiteside attended and snapped this photo.
Our Week in Hibbing
Last week was the Mining Minnesota 2018 Annual Membership Meeting in Hibbing. I was unable to attend, but I was able to send the organization a video greeting expressing that we can create mining jobs AND protect the environment. Nolan Congressional Field Representative Tom Whiteside attended the meeting on my behalf.
Coming Up in Washington
- The House takes up a series of bills being brought to the floor this week in recognition of Memorial Day and in support of servicemembers and military Veterans. The House will also consider the FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act. We’ve filed five different amendments to the bill to improve it, including one to reaffirm the importance of iron ore and steel to our national defense.
Bernie and the Gang
Fellow Minnesotan Keith Ellison and I joined Senator Bernie Sanders and several other colleagues last week for dinner and a good discussion of how we can continue to work together to advance universal single payer health care, college for all and a host of other progressive bills to help middle class working Americans. From left to right are Yours Truly, Representative Keith Ellison, Representative Nanette D. Barragan, Senator Bernie Sanders, Representative Tulsi Gabbard, Representative Pramila Jayapal, and Representative Ro Khanna.