By Seth Tamarkin, Contributing Writer
Ask any American for their opinion on healthcare and it will almost certainly sound like Senator Bernie Sander’s Monday night statement “Obamacare isn’t perfect”; Senator Lindsay Graham’s “God help us all”; or somewhere in between. Last Monday, CNN hosted a debate between Sanders and Graham, in addition to two other senators, Amy Klobucher (D-Minn.) and Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana), over Obamacare and their solutions.
The debate was supposed to be Cassidy and Graham’s chance at explaining their healthcare bill, Graham-Cassidy, but ironically, their bill officially lacked the votes to pass mere minutes before the debate aired. Therefore, they did not have to do any defending for a bill that many health experts had labeled “draconian.” Instead, the four senators offered their various outlooks on healthcare while also trying to obtain the most coveted stance in American politics: bipartisanship.
Shortly afterwards, moderators asked what could be done to lower premiums and Sanders did not hesitate to answer, “For a start, what [Graham and Cassidy] didn’t do was take on the pharmaceutical industry and lower the cost of prescription drugs,” the Vermont Senator remarked, “We pay by far the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.” In fact, Americans on average spend up to three times more on pharmaceutical drugs than their British counterparts.
If there was anything the senators should agree on during the debate, lowering the costs of pharmaceutical drugs should hold the title. Sanders even points out the hypocrisy of Republicans who do not support his initiative, since they voted for Donald Trump, a president whom Sanders mentions, “talked a whole lot during his campaign about how the pharmaceutical industry was ripping us off.”
Twisting the knife even further into hesitant Republicans, Klobucher held up her Medicare bill that would “stop pharmaceutical companies from paying off their competitors, [and] the generic companies, from keeping their products off the market,” as a perfect example of “bipartisanship at work” because it would save $3 billion over ten years and was created with a Republican senator.
In another instance of attempted bipartisanship, senator Cassidy agreed with Klobucher when he responded to one of her ideas of Medicaid work with the pharmaceutical industry by asserting that “controlling pharmaceutical cost is a bipartisan issue.”
However, that tone shifted remarkably once senator Sanders had a chance to respond. “One out of five Americans cannot afford the medicine they need” Sanders quipped, darting his eyes at Cassidy as well as the audience, “Are you going to join me in saying that Medicare should negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry, which is what every other major country on Earth does?”
Despite less than thirty seconds ago saying that he would, Cassidy completely ignored Sanders question and instead lamented that “There are solutions, but it is not socialism” to a rapturous applause, before pivoting to another question.
Moments like that underscore why America continues to stay partisan even when lives are at stake. For many senators, simple lip service is enough to appease their core audience so they see no reason to reach across the aisle. This has created a culture where senators are applauded for one-liners with no substance instead of unifying on like-causes. This mindset must be overhauled if we as a country have any chance at bipartisan legislation and healing the divisive nature of Trump’s presidency.