A New Horizon for the Democratic Party
Many cannot afford health insurance. Some do not have jobs. Some have lost their jobs. Some are people who have jobs yet do not have coverage. You and I know people who do not have healthcare coverage, who do not get diagnosed in time. Who end up dying prematurely. This is what happens with a market-based system. Here again, we are asked to consciously choose our priorities: between the claims of the community and the claims of commerce. Between the requirement for economic justice and the imperative for profit. Between the public interest and private interest.
A market-based approach to healthcare benefits no one except the insurance companies. HMOs are more costly than Medicare. People are getting less care. Fewer people can get a doctor of choice. Fewer people can get the treatment they need. People are waiting longer for appointments. Pre-existing illnesses are being used to deny coverage. Physicians are given monetary incentives to deny care.
On January 1, 1999, 400,000 Medicare patients lost their HMO coverage. HMOs claimed that the reimbursement rate was too low, so seniors were denied coverage. Remember this date. Because it predicts a trend if we allow Congress to privatize Medicare. We must challenge this system. We must change this system. Our Democratic Party can claim universal, single-payer healthcare as our cause, healthcare for all, in a nation that recognizes that a government for the people means all people must have an opportunity to survive.
Today there are senior citizens throughout America who are forced to make cruel choices between paying the high cost of prescription drugs or buying food: between prescription drugs or clothing. Seniors are splitting their pills to make prescriptions last, splitting their budgets with $600 monthly prescription bills, splitting their physical and their economic health.
The pharmaceuticals industry is the most profitable in America, even more profitable than the banking industry. America is a captive market. Americans pay 64 percent more for the same pharmaceuticals than Canadians. Canadians have a system to control prices. Our government should place limits on the price that any manufacturer can charge for prescription drugs. We need a new Prescription for America, a regulatory structure which puts a ceiling on drug company profits the same way credit laws establish what constitutes usury. As with utility rates, our government should be empowered to lower prices and impose windfall-profits taxes to correct excess pricing.
As we look to tomorrow, our government needs to welcome holistic medicine into America's mainstream. Alternative medicine encompasses a focused commitment to personal responsibility for one's health, which is the precursor to a nation of well beings. A nation where people may live qualitatively.
I see an America of retirement security for all. I see a new horizon for Social Security in America, through restoring the age of retirement to 65, instead of the current 67. The normal age for retirement was raised in phases beginning in 1983 from 65 to 67. The reason? People live longer. The economy was transitioning to white-collar jobs. But, while people were living longer, they were not working longer, because their bodies wore out. Medical technology has enhanced longevity. Still, increased longevity sometimes means people are sicker longer.
We need to reclaim the benefits of quality life extension for our seniors by reclaiming Social Security benefits at age 65. America can afford it. Social Security's finances are more secure than ever. The fund is solid through the year 2041, without any changes whatsoever. And America is wealthier than at any previous point in Social Security's history.
Yet, Wall Street advocates of privatization look at Social Security's accumulated surplus as a source of revenue to fuel an erratic market. The present Administration has created a commission which stands for privatization, even in the face of collapsing markets. The proposed privatization of Social Security challenges us once again to consciously choose between the claims of the community and the claims of commerce, between the requirement for economic justice and the imperative for profit, between the public interest and private interest.
As each day's accounting news brings new questions about the true value of a company's stock, about the safety of the individual investor's holdings, it becomes an urgent matter of the highest public priority that we not let the retirement security of our nation be lost to profiteers and speculators. It is the obligation of our Democratic Party to keep the historic commitment which we made to intergenerational security, to economic freedom and to fairness.
Despite the overwhelming influence that corporations have in the life of our nation, I see a new America of corporate accountability. I see a new horizon in America where ethics, sustainability and sensible priorities guide corporate conduct in cooperation and harmony with vigilant, but fair-minded government regulation.
How do we get there? Our Democratic Party cannot stand by idly while the great economic engines of our society trample workers' rights, human rights, ruin the environment, shatter regulations, sweep aside antitrust laws, destroy competition and accelerate the accumulation of wealth into fewer and fewer hands, and control the government itself.
Undue corporate influence has diminished our party. It has distorted our priorities. It has eliminated debate. It has blurred the differences between the political parties.
We need a new relationship between the Democratic Party and corporate America--call it arms-length--so that our party is capable of independently affirming the public interest. We need a new relationship between corporations and our society. Just as our founders understood the need for separation of church and state, we need to institutionalize the separation of corporations and the state. This begins with government taking the responsibility to establish the conditions under which corporations may do business in the United States, including the establishment of a federal corporate charter which describes corporate rights and responsibilities.
Corporations should be compelled to pay a fair share of taxes. If corporations shift profits offshore to avoid paying taxes, they should not be permitted to operate in the United States. The decrease in corporate tax responsibility is an indication of the rise of corporate power. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, after the 2002 tax cuts, corporations will pay in taxes an amount equivalent to 1.3 percent of the US gross domestic product. In the 1950s they paid taxes of 4.5 percent of US GDP. Corporations have less regulations, pay less taxes and yet have greater influence. (Can there be any clearer indication of the urgency of full public financing of our elections?)