2006
09.24

When I wrote last week’s post, I had the idea of itemizing a list of reasons why we need a change of leadership in Congress. Now, after thinking about that, I realize that this was the wrong approach. Of course, there are issues of ethics, fiscal responsibility, the war on terror, the war in Iraq (yes, they are two separate wars), the impending conflict with Iran, homeland security, immigration policy, warrantless wire-tapping of citizens, violations of the Geneva Convention by our government, abortion rights, gay rights, keeping social security solvent, tax cuts for the rich while the middle class suffers, the Medicare part d donut hole, the oil crisis, investing in alternative fuels, the environment wasting away, the failure of the American education system…

But does any of it matter? Does anyone really care?

In my short time on “The Hill,” I have developed an even deeper passion for the issues than I had before. That’s to be expected, since it is now my job to care. I’ve read probably thousands of letters from constituents on various issues, many of which are listed above, and noticed a few things right away.

First, over 95% of the letters that come in to the office are form letters or e-mails. People either have letters sent on their behalf from a lobbying group (AARP, NRA, etc), or they send “insert your name here” e-mails through websites that say “if you support this, click here” and all they have to do is put in their name and address and a form e-mail is sent to their respective member of Congress. Second, most of these form letters and e-mails come from the same names. There are roughly 635,000 constituents in each congressional district. I’d say maybe 5% of them (and that may be a high estimate) actually contact their congressman, and nearly all of them are auto-generated blurbs.

I have studied political science enough to understand that in contemporary American politics, it isn’t individual constituents who drive policy in government; its lobbying groups, and yes; these groups are supported by constituents who join for a certain reason. Senior citizens join AARP to represent their interests in Congress. AARP, in turn, lobbies for better health care, prescription drug coverage, and other issues that are important to the quality of life of seniors. But when you hear that the AARP supported the Republicans and the Medicare Part D Prescription Plan, which effectively leaves a “donut hole” that forces seniors, many of whom live on public assistance or social security, to pay 100% of the cost of their prescription drugs once they reach $2250 worth of prescriptions in a fiscal year, it makes you wonder what these lobbying groups are really there for…support of the people who need help, or to line their own pockets and those in the government who do their bidding.

Among those thousands of form letters, every now and then, you find a hand-written letter. It comes in a small envelope, scribbled in handwriting that one can tell is wearing with age. You open the envelope and find a few pages written on a small pad. As you start reading, you feel the desperation bleeding through the ink. This woman, a widower, in her 80s, faces tough choices. She desires to live to see her grand-children become adults, to attend their graduation, to see them get married. She wakes up everyday glad to be alive, missing her husband, but loving the family she gets to see every weekend. She goes into her kitchen, opens the cupboard, and finds it empty…half a loaf of bread, some saltine crackers, and a few other miscellaneous items. She then opens her fridge and finds a carton of milk, nearly empty. Some fruits and vegetables remain in the crisper, but it is obvious to her she needs to go shopping. She then turns around and looks on the counter and sees a few bottles of prescriptions. Most of them are nearly empty…one, maybe two pills left. She suffers from various ailments, and takes these to maintain a quality of life that allows her to make it through to the next weekend, both physically and mentally, to see her grandchildren.

She walks over to her kitchen table and looks at her checkbook. Her social security check arrived earlier in the week, but the limited benefit she gains from that each week has nearly run out. She has about $50 left. That amount of food would last her probably two weeks, but she needs her medication. First, she thinks that she can pay her regular co-pay for her medications and still have some money to buy a few things that she can make some meals out of for a few days. Then she realizes that she has surpassed the threshold of the Medicare Part D plan, and now that the government has covered $2250 worth of prescriptions for the year, she will have to bear the entire cost of her medications until the cumulative cost of medications reaches $5100 for the year.

This letter tells a story better than any news agency, any book, or any blog I could write, including this one. It is reality, and it is not the reality I would want my grandparents (or for that matter, my parents) to have to face. Senior citizens deserve to live out their lives with some dignity, and to be forced to make choices between taking the drugs they need to survive and having three meals a day puts them at a greater disadvantage than many pets that people own. It absolutely disgusts me that our government can treat the generation that saved our nation in its real time of need this way. My grandparents were fortunate, as they were financially secure and were able to live out their lives relatively comfortably before they passed on. This is not the case for most, particularly during this decade. They deserve better. All Americans deserve better.

So then, I ask myself once again, does any of it matter?

Even if that woman is the only one out of 300 million who cares…it absolutely does.

  1. I hate walmart…but now they are going to give away many generic drugs for 4 dollars for a 30 day supply. I hope it helps people like that lady.

  2. It’s easy to point out what’s wrong in America – trust me, I do it all the time – but what do we actually do about it? I’m sorry, I just don’t believe that the Dems are the answer. Voting a new party into office will only be a mild shot in the arm, but the Dems are just as bad in many ways as the GOP, and the new boss will be the same as the old boss.

    So how do we fix it?

    My personal plan is to drink heavily until I die prematurely. One less mouth on that Social Security nipple. I’m doing my part, proud drunken patriot that I am.