Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Scratching Backs

I’ve always been troubled by the old axiom: You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours, especially because that old axiom describes so much of what happens in the seats of power:

•    I’ll support your bid for office if. . . .
•    I’ll vote for your bill if you add an amendment favorable to . . . .
•    I won’t stand in your way if you give me
. . . .

Such tit for tat legislation is, I fear, what many people regard as compromise, collaboration, collegiality, and bipartisan work. Worse, such tit for tat legislation is exactly what deep-pockets donors and lobbyists depend upon for their livelihoods and futures. They expect something in return, and government delivers. While the rest of us held our breath and wondered if Congress would indeed drive the nation over the clichéd fiscal cliff, back-room deals virtually nullified the fiscal savings by inserting a single paragraph that would benefit a single company, Amgen (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/20/us/medicare-pricing-delay-is-political-win-for-amgen-drug-maker.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0), a pharmaceutical company responsible for a drug used by kidney dialysis patients.

The paragraph allows Amgen to dodge price controls imposed by Medicare for two years, its second two-year reprieve, by the way, so that the company can plan for diminished profits before they arrive. Amgen’s CEO estimated that the company will take in $500 billion, money that will come from Medicare. Wall Street seemed to agree because once Amgen announced its reprieve, Amgen’s value in the marketplace rose.

What makes this tale more troubling is that Amgen has a history of making untruthful claims. In fact, Amgen agreed to settle a case brought by the Department of Justice by paying $762 billion dollars, an amount that sets a record for penalties resulting from fraudulent marketing--except, of course, that only days later, the government voted to refund $500 billion of that penalty in the form of that two-year reprieve.

But who would set aside questions of ethics and fairness in order to help a tiny segment of the corporate community, Amgen, the sole proprietor of Sensipar? Most likely, the top recipients of Amgen’s largesse, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican Senator from Kentucky, a key figure in talks to avert the fiscal cliff, making the final legislation look like tit for tat politics. Someone scratched government’s back, and government scratched back. Others who have scratched back are those who have received support from Amgen: the minority and majority leaders on the Senate Finance Committee, Senators Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, and Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat. McConnell, President Obama, Hatch, and Baucus have received campaign donations and advertising favorable to their campaigns, paid for by PACs underwritten by Amgen.  

And this is my fear brought to life, the fear that many Americans harbor in their hearts: the fear that money buys access to power and money speaks to power, but the money may not relay a truthful message--certainly not the whole truth, perhaps only a piece of it. Amgen, for example, claims special circumstances that require four years (remember, they’ve just secured their second two-year exemption) to be ready for the brakes that Medicare will eventually put on the price at which Amgen can provide Sensipar. That those special circumstances may include or exclusively be Amgen’s self-proclaimed desire to bring down great profits is a portion of the truth omitted or played down until it has little effect.

Would that McConnell, Hatch, Baucus, and others cared as much about the big picture, the big truths they espouse, as they seem to care about the message from a lobbyist whispering in their ears just because he had more money to push his way to the head of the line. Would that my phone calls, letters, and electronic messages could capture the ears, hearts, and minds of power. They should, but they don’t, and we know they don’t because

•    Most Americans believe that women should have sovereignty over their bodies but State and federal candidates and elected representatives turn a deaf ear to that truth, instead listening to the small but loud, Right-to-Life primary voter.
•    Most Americans believe we should close Gitmo and respect human rights, the ones that require us not to use enhanced interrogation, but Gitmo remains, primarily because the conservative party decided to oppose any and all Obama-led initiatives and no Senator or Representative stood to argue in favor of imprisoning alleged terrorists in his or her home state’s prisons.
•    Most Americans believe that wealthier individuals should man up and pay a larger percentage of their income without hiding behind privilege, exemptions, or special favors, but the conservative party brought us to the brink of a fiscal cliff more than once in order to protect and serve the wealthy.
•    Most Americans believe that guilty, greedy, self-serving Wall Street men and women and bankers are not too big or important to escape justice or the law but since Enron, Kenneth Lay, Bernie Madoff, and the fall of Eliot Spitzer, one percent has held a Get-Out-of-Jail free card.

I could go on, especially in light of the current Second Amendment debate. The President argued forcefully and effectively in favor of reforms and regulations, but Senator Marco Rubio announced to CBS This Morning (February 13, 2013) that he has yet to see any proposed legislation that would have saved those children at Sandy Hook. He skittered away from any commitment to try to protect life if guns are part of the equation and suggested that gun regulation just does not work. Data suggest otherwise, and one fact in particular lends itself to my claim: “Prior to 1996, the Center for Disease Control funded research into the causes of firearm-related deaths. After a series of articles finding that increased prevalence of guns lead to increased incidents of gun violence, Republicans sought to remove all federal funding for research into gun deaths” (http://www.businessinsider.com/cdc-nra-kills-gun-violence-research-2013-1).

I don’t know about you, but I want to know. I don’t want facts suppressed, denied, or hidden because they happen to be unfavorable to a cause. Wouldn’t we censure an attorney who simply ignored facts to press for a conviction? Wouldn’t we wish full disclosure before entering into a contract for employment, financing, or a relationship? So please, let the CDC conduct research and tabulate results for all to see. What they will show, as they did prior to 1996, is that more guns equals more gun death. (Please refer to the post for this blog on June 5, 2012 where you will find some of the information that the CDC has provided.)

Yet back-scratching may destroy any hope of changing the gun death hazards in this nation. Let’s buy back-scratchers from the Dollar stores and send one to legislators so they can relieve their own itches without being indebted to any one else.