Discover more from Letters from an American
March 1, 2023
Drugmaker Eli Lilly announced today that it will cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month, bringing costs for people with private insurance and those without insurance who sign up for Lilly’s copay assistance program into line with the $35 cap for Medicare recipients Congress imposed with the Inflation Reduction Act last August.
Republicans all voted against the Inflation Reduction Act and explicitly stripped from it a measure that would have capped the cost of insulin at $35 for those not on Medicare. They continue to oppose the measure. On February 2, 2023, newly elected House Republican Andy Ogles (TN) introduced his first bill: a call to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, claiming it “took a gigantic step toward socialized medicine.” The bill had 20 far-right cosponsors.
At the time he introduced the bill, Ogles presented himself as an economist with a degree in international relations from Middle Tennessee State University. Since then, an investigation by NewsChannel 5 in Nashville revealed that he took one course in economics and got a “C” in it, and that his resume was similarly exaggerated across the board. Ogles won a seat in Congress after the Republican state legislature redistricted Nashville to make it easier for a Republican to win there.
Lilly’s announcement in the face of Republican support for big pharmaceutical companies is a bellwether for the country’s politics. Biden has pressured companies to bring down the price of insulin—most notably by calling for such legislation last month during his State of the Union address—and is claiming credit for Lilly’s decision. But there is more to it.
The astronomically high price tags on U.S. insulin compared to the rest of the world have become a symbol of a society where profits trump lives, and there is growing opposition to the control pharmaceutical companies have over life-saving drugs. A number of other entities, including a nonprofit company in Utah called Civica Rx, the state of California, and a company run by billionaire Mark Cuban, have all promised to produce generic insulin at a fraction of what pharmaceutical companies are currently charging. Lilly's announcement is likely a reaction to the changing moment that has brought both political pressure and economic competition. The company’s leaders see the writing on the wall.
The administration continues to work to create positive change in other measures important to ordinary Americans. This month ends temporary increases in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, previously referred to as “food stamps.” At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Congress boosted SNAP payments, keeping as many as 4.2 million people out of poverty. Congress ended those extra benefits late last year through the Consolidated Appropriations Act that funded the government. About 42 million Americans receive SNAP benefits, and the end of that boost will cut those benefits by $90 a month on average.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack wrote an op-ed at CNN today, promising that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP, will do its best to protect families losing the expanded benefits. It will work to adjust benefits to rising prices, expand school lunch programs, and promote access to the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program.
“Our country was founded to support the prosperity and potential of Americans in every corner of the nation,” Vilsack wrote. “Under President Joe Biden’s administration, we’re making good on this promise.”
Yesterday the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing about the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex. Congress passed the amendment in 1972 and sent it off to the states for ratification, but they imposed on that ratification a seven-year deadline. Thirty states ratified it within the next year, but a fierce opposition campaign led by right-wing activist Phyllis Schlafly eroded support among Republicans, and although Congress extended the deadline by three years, only 35 states had signed on by 1977. And, confusing matters, legislatures in five states—Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Tennessee—voted to take back their earlier ratification.
In 2017, Nevada became the first state to ratify the ERA since 1977. Then Illinois stepped up, and finally, in 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the amendment, putting it over the required three quarters of states needed for the amendment to become part of the Constitution. But now there are legal challenges to that ratification over both the original deadline and whether the states’ rescinding of previous ratifications has merit.
The Senate hearing was designed to examine whether the deadline could be separated from the amendment to allow the amendment to be added to the Constitution, but it was far more revealing than that.
Faced with the possibility that the ERA might become part of the Constitution, right-wing leaders insisted that the ERA has “just one purpose left,” as the Heritage Foundation put it: “Abortion.” They claim that since, in their view, women are now effectively equal to men across the board in employment and so on, women’s current demand for equality before the law is simply a way for them to capture abortion rights.
Catholic bishops of the United States have written to senators to express “alarm” at the ERA, warning it would have “far-reaching consequences” with “negative impacts to the common good and to religious freedom.” They claim it would require federal funding for abortions and would prohibit “discrimination based on ‘sexual orientation,’ ‘gender identity,’ and other categories.” “We strongly urge you to oppose it,” they wrote, “and any resolution attempting to declare it ratified.”
This fight highlights that the attempt to stop government protection of individuals is really about imposing the will of a minority. A piece by Megan O’Matz in ProPublica today explored how an anti-abortion law firm has been sowing doubts about the 2020 presidential election as part of a long-term strategy to end abortion rights. Led by former Kansas attorney general Phill Kline, whose law license was suspended a decade ago for ethics violations, lawyers at the Thomas More Society worked to restrict access to the vote and to stall President Joe Biden’s inauguration in order to keep Trump in office.
Their efforts thrived on disinformation, of course, and the echoes from the testimony released recently in the defamation case of Dominion Voting Systems against the Fox Corporation continue to reverberate in the fight against public lies. In that testimony, both Fox News Channel hosts and top executives admitted that they knew Trump’s claims of victory in the 2020 presidential election were lies but spread them anyway to keep their viewers from abandoning them for another channel.
Now House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has given exclusive access to 44,000 hours of video from the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, to one of those hosts, Tucker Carlson.
Today, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) did an end run around McCarthy to address the problem of disinformation directly at the source. They sent a letter to Rupert Murdoch, chair of the Fox Corporation, and other top Fox executives, reminding them of their damning testimony and reminding them that “your network hosts continue to promote, spew, and perpetuate election conspiracy theories to this day.”
They wrote: “We demand that you direct Tucker Carlson and other hosts on your network to stop spreading false election narratives and admit on the air that they were wrong to engage in such negligent behavior.”
It is an important marker, and if the Fox Corporation can read the writing on the wall as well as Eli Lilly can, it might shift the focus of the Fox News Channel, which already seems to be trying to pull its support for Trump and give it to Florida governor Ron DeSantis.
But that protest is unlikely to change the behavior of right-wing members of Congress. Yesterday, Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Mark Green (R-TN) blamed the Biden administration for the deaths of Caleb and Kyler Kiessling from fentanyl poisoning after their mother, an attorney and conservative activist, testified before the House Committee on Homeland Security. But the young men, along with 17-year-old Sophia Harris, died in July 2020, when Trump was president.
When senior CNN reporter Daniel Dale asked Greene’s office why she had blamed Biden for the deaths, her congressional spokesperson, Nick Dyer, “responded by saying lots of people have died from drugs under Biden and ‘do you think they give a f*ck about your bullsh*t fact checking?’” Dale also asked him to comment on Greene’s lies about the 2020 presidential election yesterday. Dyer answered: “F*ck off.”
Thomas Jipping, “The ERA Has Just One Purpose Left: Abortion,” The Heritage Foundation, February 21, 2023.