National Committee president Max Richtman sat down with Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) for a Facebook Live interview on Capitol Hill Wednesday. Merkley, a staunch defender and promoter of Social Security and Medicare, weighed-in on two key issues: prescription drug prices and the funding increases needed to improve customer service from the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Decries High Prescription Drug Costs
Sen. Merkley slammed President Trump’s prescription drug pricing proposals as being too soft on Big Pharma, noting that pharmaceutical companies’ stocks shot up after the plan was unveiled. Richtman added that Big Pharma was “popping the champagne corks” in response to the president’s pricing proposals.
The Senator decried high drug prices, especially when the federal government funds research that the industry uses to manufacture its products. “We finance the science, do the research, then pay the highest drug prices in the world,” he said.
The Senator re-affirmed that Medicare should have the authority to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, noting that the U.S. is the only Western democracy that does not allow its federal government to do so.
Social Security Administration is Underfunded
Senator Merkley says he does one town hall with constituents in each Oregon county every year. One of the top issues that constituents ask about, he says, is declining customer service from the Social Security Administration (SSA) – which sustained 11% in cuts to its operating budget between 2011-2017.
Adding insult to injury, President Trump’s 2019 budget calls for some $500 million in cuts (over 2018 appropriation levels) to SSA’s operating budget. No doubt such cuts would exacerbate understaffing at field offices, interminable hold times and busy signals on the toll-free phone line, and long waits for disability hearings (now averaging nearly two years).
“I’m not sure what the Trump administration is up to,” says Senator Merkley regarding the president’s proposed cuts, suggesting that it may be part of an effort “to discredit the Social Security program” by creating service problems.
Merkley calls on Congress to “set aside” the president’s budget proposal and restore SSA funding to aSdequate levels. The 2018 Omnibus appropriations act did, in fact, provide a more than $400 million increase to SSA’s operating budget over 2017 levels, but the agency will need additional funding to restore deteriorating customer service.