Biden pitches to the middle class as Democrats fight for support in advance of midterms
President Joe Biden speaks on Saturday at the East Portland Community Center in Portland, Oregon. (Jacob Fischler | States Newsroom)
PORTLAND, Ore. – President Joe Biden at a community center in Portland, Oregon, Saturday promoted Democrats’ efforts to bring down health care costs, in a visit to a normally Democratic state three weeks before midterm elections that will determine control of Congress for the next two years.
Speaking on the first day of Medicare open enrollment, Biden touted a $750 billion climate, tax, and health care package Democrats in Congress passed along party lines earlier this year, giving particular attention to provisions to cap the price of insulin at $35 per month for Medicare patients and to allow federal programs to negotiate the prices of certain high-price drugs.
Middle-class families deserved the security of having additional spending money after paying monthly bills, he said. And bringing down health care costs was key to providing that.
“My dad used to say that everyone deserves a little bit of breathing room,” Biden told roughly 200 supporters at the community center on the city’s east side. “That’s all this is about. You know, a lot of people don’t have any breathing room. It’s especially the case when it comes to health care and prescription drugs.”
Democrats in Congress – including Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon’s delegation, who were in attendance – pushed for those provisions and voted unanimously for the bill, while all Republicans opposed it, Biden said.
The bill’s passage represented a rare victory over the pharmaceutical industry, he said.
“This year, the American people won and, for the first time, Big Pharma lost,” he said.
Costs for users of Medicaid and Medicare were set to decrease, while Social Security payments would rise, Biden said.
Biden’s visit came as Oregon’s Democratic nominee for governor, Tina Kotek, struggles in an unexpectedly challenging election, the Oregon Capital Chronicle reported, against a nonaffiliated candidate, former Democratic state Sen. Betsy Johnson, and Republican Christine Drazan. Biden was scheduled to attend a $500-a-head reception for Kotek later Saturday before departing to return to the East Coast.
On Friday night, he took part in an event with Oregon Democrats where coverage was restricted to a press pool. The pool reported that he brought doughnuts and joined volunteers at a table to make calls to voters.
Democratic congressional candidates in the state also are facing tough races, though incumbent Wyden’s seat is rated as “solid” for Democrats by the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter.
But in other races across the country, Biden’s low approval ratings could portend a rough November for Democrats. In a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, 55 percent of respondents disapproved of his job while only 40 percent approved.
Singling out GOP senators
Republicans in Congress want to weaken Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security by requiring the programs be reauthorized annually or every few years, Biden told the crowd at the community center.
He singled out Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who leads Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, and Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, who is in a close re-election race against Democrat Mandela Barnes.
Scott “proposed a plan to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block every five years,” Biden said. “Well guess what, one guy thought it was too lenient, the guy – the senator from Wisconsin named Johnson. He thinks it should be every year.”
Democrats control both chambers of Congress by narrow margins, though the party faces strong headwinds in keeping its majorities. Close races in states including Georgia, Nevada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania could tip the Senate toward either party, while most forecasters consider Republicans heavily favored to take the House despite leading Democrats’ insistence they could still keep control.
On Friday, Biden told local Democrats that continued progress for their agenda depended on keeping majorities in Congress, according to a White House transcript.
“If we are able to keep the House and keep the Senate, we can continue to do the things we’ve been doing, which are really going to … change the country,” he said. “We’re at a real inflection point in this country. What happens in the next four to six years is going to determine what happens for the next three or four generations.”
Biden at the community center framed Democrats’ agenda as supporting the middle class, while Republican policies would favor the wealthy.
“I’ve never been a big fan of trickle-down economics,” he said, referring to a longtime Republican policy of cutting corporate taxes in an effort to create jobs.
Biden also promoted a provision in the health care, taxes and climate bill that would set a corporate minimum tax at 15 percent. Top companies made $40 billion this year but didn’t pay anything in taxes, he said, as the crowd jeered.
Biden’s biggest applause line for an audience dotted with the purple of the Service Employees International Union, a large labor union representing workers in health care and other service industries, was a direct appeal to middle-class workers.
“The middle class built this country,” he said. “And unions built the middle class.”
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