September 27, 2022
Today, President Joe Biden held an event in the Rose Garden at the White House to celebrate the lower drug costs possible thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, which passed without any Republican votes in either the House or the Senate. Phasing in over the next few years, the measure will cap the out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs at $2000 a year and make vaccinations free for seniors on Medicare. If the price of drugs rises faster than inflation, drug companies will have to rebate the difference to Medicare. And Biden noted that today, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that the premium for Medicare Part B, which pays for doctor visits, will decrease this year.
All of this was possible, he said, because the biggest corporations in America will have to pay a minimum corporate tax of 15%. “The days of billion-dollar companies paying zero taxes are over.” “And,” he added, “we’re doing all this by bringing down the deficit at the same time. You hear about us being ‘big spenders’? Well, they raised the debt by $2 trillion. We’ve reduced the deficit in my first year, 2021, by $350 billion.”
Biden called out the Republican budget plan, written by Florida senator Rick Scott, to sunset all federal legislation in five years, promising that Congress will reauthorize it if it is worthwhile. This means that every five years, Congress will have to vote to reauthorize Social Security and Medicare or they will end. Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson has gone further, calling for moving Social Security and Medicare spending from mandatory spending, which is protected, to discretionary spending, which must be reapproved every year, thus making it vulnerable to cuts or even elimination.
“I have a different idea,” Biden said. “I’ll protect those programs. I’ll make them stronger. And I’ll lower your cost to be able to keep them.”
Biden likely made this stand, at least in part, because Republican attack ads have been telling seniors that the Democrats have made cuts to Medicare. It is technically true that costs will drop: the government should save $237 billion between 2022 and 2031 from the Inflation Reduction Act’s drug policies. But these savings come from the fact that the IRA lets the federal government negotiate with pharmaceutical companies over prices, not because it will cut the benefits seniors receive.
Disinformation seems to be the hallmark of the midterm campaign.
In June, Republicans championed the overturning of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision protecting the right to abortion, at first insisting that the Dobbs v. Jackson Womens’ Health decision would simply send the question of abortion rights back to the states. Now, with Republican lawmakers calling for a national law outlawing abortion everywhere, those running for election are scrubbing their websites of their abortion stances and downplaying the issue.
But today a 2019 radio interview with Pennsylvania state senator Doug Mastriano, now the Republican nominee for Pennsylvania governor, emerged. In it, Mastriano said that women obtaining abortions should be charged with murder. Mastriano has tried to say that his personal views are “irrelevant” because the legislature is in charge of rewriting the laws, but last week at Pennsylvania’s March for Life he called abortion rights “the single most important issue…in our lifetime,” and he has said he looks forward to signing restrictive measures into law.
Mastriano has called his Democratic opponent, Pennsylvania attorney general Josh Shapiro, extreme, although Shapiro supports current state law.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis has also gotten in on the disinformation game. Texas governor Greg Abbott has been ferrying migrants from the southern border north, appealing to the right-wing base with the argument that such movement will illustrate to “liberal” cities the burdens such migrants impose on the border states. On September 14, DeSantis got into the act, flying 48 unsuspecting migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts. As DeSantis said: “The minute even a small fraction of what those border towns deal with every day are brought to their front door, they all go berserk.”
In fact, the people of Martha’s Vineyard welcomed the migrants, fed and sheltered them, and got them back to the mainland where they could have access to housing and human services. More to the point, it is a myth that Republican-dominated border states are bearing the brunt of migrants seeking asylum. Greg Sargent of the Washington Post asked the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University (TRAC) to figure out where the asylum seekers in the U.S. are.
From court records, TRAC calculated that 750,000 people are awaiting asylum hearings. More than 125,000 of them are in California. More than 110,000 are in New York. About 98,000 are scheduled for hearings in Florida, while about 75,000 are waiting in Texas. Most of the rest are scheduled for court hearings in Democratic-dominated states, such as New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Maryland.
DeSantis’s political performance has drawn attention not only from those who like the cruelty he has displayed, but also from those who have asked questions about the $1.6 million contract his administration signed with air charter company Vertol Systems to move the migrants. NBC’s Marc Caputo noted that Vertol has contributed to DeSantis’s top allies and is well connected to Republican Florida lawmakers. A later plan to fly migrants to Delaware near Biden’s beach home was canceled, and the DeSantis administration refused to release a copy of the Vertol contract.
The Florida state budget that authorized $12 million for moving migrants specified that “unauthorized aliens” were to be flown from “this state”: Florida. The migrants taken to Martha’s Vineyard were not “illegal immigrants” as DeSantis’s office says; they were legally seeking asylum—and thus were “authorized” to be in the U.S.—and were flown not from Florida but simply touched down there on their trip from Texas to Massachusetts.
Shortly before midnight on the day DeSantis shipped the migrants, his deputy press secretary, Jeremy Redfern, tweeted a photograph of former president Barack Obama’s Martha’s Vineyard home, saying “7 bedrooms with 8 and a half bathrooms in a 6,892-square-foot house on nearly 30 acres. Plenty of space.”
Now, Hurricane Ian is about to make landfall in Florida either tomorrow or early Thursday and threatens to be one of the most dangerous and costliest storms in U.S. history. Tonight, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center warned that it would hit land as a Category 4 storm. In addition to hurricane-force winds, they predict a storm surge of up to 12 feet between Fort Myers and Sarasota, and up to 2 feet of rain.
In the Rose Garden today, Biden assured people that his administration “is on alert and in action to help the people of Florida.” Biden approved DeSantis’s request for emergency assistance as soon as he received it, sent in federal assistance before the storm hit, and spoke with the mayors of Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater, the areas most likely to be in the storm’s path.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has already sent 700 personnel to Florida, along with 3.5 million liters of water, 3.7 million meals, and hundreds of generators. Biden urged people to obey the instructions of local officials: “Your safety is more important than anything.”
Tonight, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tweeted that President Biden spoke with DeSantis this evening about “the steps the Federal government is taking to help Florida prepare for Hurricane Ian. The President and the Governor committed to continued close coordination.”
Because of the storm, the public hearing of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol scheduled for Wednesday has been postponed.