COMMENTARY - FDR understood that we must fight for what we believe in and not worry about angering powerful special interests.
President Joe Biden and his agenda are appropriately inspiring comparisons to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. Biden himself has welcomed the comparisons, even traveling to Warm Springs, Ga., FDR's famous getaway, to give a speech just one week before the 2020 election.
Biden is on the verge of proving those comparisons correct—if he, like FDR, stands strong against wealthy special interests. If Biden is successful in enacting a bold Build Back Better package, he will cement his place in history. Future historians will explain that Biden effectively built on Roosevelt's legacy in important and ambitious ways.
Like FDR, Biden is seeking to have the wealthiest pay their fair share to fund these crucial improvements.
Like FDR, Biden is committed to expanding our economic security. Among many other improvements, he plans to expand Social Security, Medicare, Supplemental Security Income, and home and community-based services, as well as adding paid family and medical leave, universal preschool, and free community college.
Like FDR, Biden is seeking to have the wealthiest pay their fair share to fund these crucial improvements. Congress is in the process of undertaking sweeping tax reform to offset the cost of the Build Back Better agenda. Even irrespective of the important benefit improvements, meaningful tax reform is long overdue. Too many multinational corporations and billionaires pay little or nothing toward the common good. It is well past time for Congress to rein in tax giveaways to pay for essential programs that will benefit all of us.
Some of those receiving corporate welfare not only don't pay their fair share; they actively harm all of us. They exacerbate destructive climate change, undermine good paying jobs, engage in union busting, ship jobs overseas and more. Thankfully, a key proposal simultaneously expands economic security and reduces the profits of giant corporations: Biden's plan to lower drug prices for everyone.
Americans currently pay the world's highest drug prices, even while funding the development of those life-saving drugs through our tax dollars. Among other important reforms, the plan empowers Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, not only for its tens of millions of beneficiaries, but also for everyone who receives health insurance from private companies and employers.
Affordable drug prices are essential for economic and health security. No one should exploit that fact for exorbitant profit. Insulin, essential to the treatment of diabetes, illustrates what the Build Back Better agenda must fix.
The three researchers who discovered insulin in 1923 refused to profit off the health of others. One declined to put his name on the patent. The other two sold the patent to the University of Toronto, where they worked, for just $1. Unfortunately, the pharmaceutical companies that produce insulin today have no such qualms.
They have a huge captive market: Over one in ten Americans has diabetes. One in three is pre-diabetic. And they take full advantage of that fact. Unlike other countries, where the price of a vial of insulin remains affordable, the price of a vial in the United States has gone up 1000 percent in the last two decades! Too frequently, we read stories of people who have died because they couldn't afford their insulin.
No one should have to pay hundreds of dollars for a single vial of insulin. No one should have to pay thousands of dollars each month to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Biden understands this. He and his siblings had to help pay their own mother's outrageously high prescription drug bills.
Congress must include robust proposals to control drug prices in the reconciliation package. But it won't happen without a fight.
Between 2000 and 2018, thirty-five pharmaceutical companies had cumulative revenue of $11.5 trillion. And Big Pharma is willing to do whatever it takes to keep those profits. Between 1999 and 2018 the pharmaceutical and health product industry spent more than any other industry to lobby the federal government, as well as huge sums on campaign contributions. And they are out in force now.
FDR understood that we must fight for what we believe in and not worry about angering powerful special interests. In a speech he gave shortly before the 1936 election, he explained what he had accomplished in his first term and the work that still remained:
"For nearly four years you have had an Administration which…had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.
Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me--and I welcome their hatred."
These are words President Biden should proudly repeat today as he takes on Big Pharma and the other wealthy, powerful special interests. And when Biden signs his Build Back Better package into law, he can paraphrase FDR who, after welcoming their hatred, set forth his goal:
"I should like to have it said of my first Administration [in Biden's case, first year], that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration [in Biden's case, the second year and beyond], that in it these forces met their master."
(Nancy J. Altman is president of Social Security Works and chair of the Strengthen Social Security coalition. She has a 40-year background in the areas of Social Security and private pensions. Her latest book is "The Truth About Social Security: The Founders' Words Refute Revisionist History, Zombie Lies, and Common Misunderstandings" (2018). She is also the author of "The Battle for Social Security" (2005) and co-author of "Social Security Works!" (2015).)