By editorial board • 

Let’s stop letting the monied have their way

Virtually every American supports legislation to curb soaring prescription drug prices, and a majority to curb rampant gun violence. Virtually every Oregonian supports fixing unfunded liability in the Public Employees Retirement System.

There are plenty of workable options. Why does action seem so hard?

Unfortunately, potential solutions all appear at cross-purposes to powerful, well-heeled special interests. In response, they pour massive sums into political lobbying and campaign finance.

In the case of Big Phama, specialty drugs like Opdivo, costing $150,000 per treatment, account for one-third of American spending. But they often produce paltry results — with Opdivo, only three more months, on average, for the terminal lung cancer patient.

Enjoying domestic profit margins ranging from handsome to obscene, the top 10 producers claim after-tax income of more than $65 billion a year. To protect such favored status not accorded anywhere abroad, Big Pharma spends about $300 million a year on domestic lobbying, supplemented with copious campaign spending.

We could curb direct-to-consumer advertising, allow agencies to negotiate prices downward, reduce the monopoly period for branded drugs, allow regulated importation, impose limits on prices and price hikes, reduce industry influence on regulators, demand justification for pricing decisions, punish industry collusion and restrict direct physician lobbying. If we had the will.

The Gun Lobby — embodied largely in the National Rifle Association — also benefits from uniquely unfettered and handsomely profitable status unique to the U.S.
To protect it, the NRA spent almost $11.5 million supporting Donald Trump and $20 million opposing Hillary Clinton in 2016. It spent more than $25 million on its five chief Senate supporters, and millions more on other favored candidates, almost exclusively Republican.

We lose more Americans to gun violence than highway tragedies, yet regulate cars to a much greater extent. We face regular outbreaks of lethal violence in our schools, by weaponry developed for military use, but so far the response has been little more than thoughts and prayers.

We could extend background checks to gun shows and private sales, prohibit sales to teens and the mentally ill, restore the 1994-2004 assault rifle ban, establish a computerized national gun registry, tighten concealed carry requirements and bar sale of armor-piercing ammunition, high-capacity magazines, body armor and rapid-fire bump stocks. If we had the will.

The PERS roadblock is Oregon’s dominant Democratic Party and the public employee unions that finance its campaigns — notably the OEA, AFT, SEIU and AFSCME. They spent more than $15 million supporting a favorable tax measure in the 2016 cycle, in addition to contributing generously toward almost $70 million in total candidate spending.

After a long history of unsustainable and over-generous pension benefits, which now has us paying some retirees more each month than most Oregonians earn per year, we are about $20 billion, or 40 percent, short of having sufficient reserves to cover our obligations.

We could redirect the IAP contributions into a reserve fund, cap the final salary factoring into benefit awards, apply market rates to money-match annuities and eliminate pension spiking abuses. If we had the will.

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