Thursday, August 08, 2013

Hawaii Senate Race Highlights The Difference Between Progressives And Conservatives In Terms Of Social Security


Today a number of progressive groups are doing a press conference in Honolulu to formally announce the introduction of the Harkin-Schatz Enhancing Social Security Bill. Interestingly, Senator Schatz in being challenged for reelection by conservative Democrat Colleen Hanabusa whose positions are more corporate-friendly and less family-friendly. Earlier this year she voted for a budget incorporating the Bowles-Simpson budget principals, which encapsulate the failed European Austerity Agenda that's being pushed by the GOP. She is also in the middle of a serious and growing scandal, which people in Hawai'i are calling PhRMAbusa. Yesterday her Deputy Chief of Staff, Christopher Raymond, was forced to resign after being caught up in a bribery scam during which Big PhRMA has promised independent cash for Hanabusa's campaign against Brian Schatz in return for her backing of Republican proposals to keep drug prices high for consumers. Daniel Hempey, a Kauai attorney, has filed a complaint against the Hanabusa campaign with the Federal Election Commission. The complaint alleges significant reason to investigate improper coordination between between Hanabusa's congressional office, her campaign and the PhRMA lobby.

When asked, Hanabusa avows that she opposes chained CPI if it's a stand-alone measure, but she is "open" to including chained CPI and other Social Security cuts-- like further increasing the retirement age-- if it's part of a larger budget compromise. It's always very easy for wealthy crooked politicians like Hanabusa to compromise away earned benefits for ordinary working families that mean a lot more to them than to insider elites like herself. This week the Honolulu Star Advertiser contrasted the differences between Hanabusa and Schatz on Medicare Part D, the issue that's leading Big PhRMA to spend independent money on behalf of Hanabusa in the Democratic primary.
Drug companies were spared from mandatory rebates when Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit for seniors and the disabled, took effect in 2006.

Rather than being forced by federal law to offer rebates, drug companies can negotiate discounts with private insurers and pharmacy benefit managers, a competitive environment that many contend has helped keep premiums low and contained spending growth.

But the federal government has found that the rebates drug companies offer for brand-name drugs in Medicare Part D are substantially lower than rebates for the same drugs in Medicaid, the federal and state health insurance program for the poor, where rebates are set by law.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz is among the Demo­crats-- including President Barack Obama-- who want to end what they consider a windfall for the drug industry. Schatz and others would require drug companies to offer more generous rebates to the government for low-income seniors and the disabled in Medicare Part D, including the 9 million eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. In Hawaii about 32,000 are eligible for both programs.

U.S. Rep. Colleen Hana­busa, who is challenging Schatz in the Demo­cratic primary, fears that mandating larger rebates could backfire. She expressed [Republican Party] concerns that requiring such rebates could drive up the price of drugs, lead to higher premiums for seniors and cause instability in Medicare Part D, a program that has been successful.

...The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that requiring larger rebates in Medicare Part D could save the government about $140 billion over a decade.

"I believe we should end that windfall and use that savings to strengthen Medicare and enhance benefits," Schatz said by telephone from Washington, D.C. "I think this is a pretty straightforward solution that will enhance the viability of the Medicare program without costing the taxpayers any money... I'm all for the industry making a healthy profit. But when it comes to utilizing taxpayer dollars, I believe in using the leverage of the purchasing power of the federal government to get the best possible deal for the program and to spend as little as we can to try to get the maximum benefit for Medicare recipients."

...The AARP, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, the AFL-CIO and others have supported a requirement for larger drug rebates in Medicare Part D.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, known as PhRMA, which represents the leading drug companies, has led the opposition. PhRMA has warned of the potential for higher premiums for seniors, restricted access to drugs and diminished research into new medicines.
Schatz and co-sponsor Tom Harkin (D-IA) are thinking less about multimillion dollar bonus checks for the pharmaceutical executives who help fund Hanabusa's corrupt and shameful career than the do about average American families who are worried if they'll ever be able to retire in dignity. Cutting key elements in the social safety net, particularly Social Security, which is what conservatives like Hanabusa are always proposing, makes the dangers to working families far greater.

Schatz and a handful of progressive Democrats don't want to just hold the line against Republicans and ConservaDems like Hanabusa; they want to expand Social Security to better reflect increased cost of living for seniors. One in six Hawaiians-- close to 300,000 people (and growing) receive Social Security benefits. If Hanabusa compromises their well-being away, their twilight years could become a real nightmare that the progressives who originally passed Social Security sought to prevent.

The legislation proposed by Schatz and Harkin changes the benefit formula to increase benefits by about $65 per month, the exact opposite of what Paul Ryan, John Boehner and Colleen Hanabusa are trying to do. In changing the way annual cost of living adjustments are calculated so that they better reflect the real costs seniors face they will turn the Chained CPI ahenda on its head, which has Hanabusa's political benefactors freaking out but will prevent seniors from falling into poverty. And they will pay for this by removing the cap on wages so that payroll taxes apply fairly to every American, rich and poor alike. The wealthy's free rise ends when this bill is signed into law.

The difference between Brian Schatz and Colleen Hanabusa couldn't be clearer. It's the difference between a progressive Democrat and a corrupt conservative calling herself a Democrat for the sake of opportunism. If you's like to help retire Hanabusa from public office and keep Brian Schatz in the Senate, you can do that here.

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