‘You’re deprived of your dignity, how do you look at your child?’
Joe Biden has delivered what he said he was a promise to help lower the cost of living for struggling Americans – six months or so ahead of crucial elections that will determine the fate of his party.
At a community college in Auburn, Washington, where the average age of the student body was 21, the 79-year-old president said he understood that too many people were struggling to make ends meet.
In particular, he underscored the need to reduce the cost of prescription medicines, and said with the help of Congress, he would seek to peg the cost of insulin – essential for the estimated one-in-10 Americans who suffer from diabetes – to no more than $35 a month.
He said there should be a $2,000 annual limit on how much seniors on Medicare get charged to pay for prescriptions out of their own pockets.
“Prescription drugs are outrageously expensive,” Mr Biden said
He said that “thousands and thousands” of Americans lay awake at night, staring at the ceiling and fearing what would happen if they or one of their children became ill, because they could not afford the cost of healthcare, or did not have sufficient insurance.
“Imagine what it’s like if you don’t have insurance, and you don’t have the cash, to look at your child knowing what they need and knowing there’s not a damn thing you can do about it,” Mr Biden said at one point, his voice becoming forceful. “You’re deprived of your dignity, how do you look at your child?”
He added: “There’s no excuse, none, we’re not asking the drug companies to do anything they can’t afford.”
The often extortionate cost of prescription medicines, and healthcare in general, was a topic seized on with laser precision by Senator Bernie Sanders during his two runs for president.
Yet, when Mr Sanders ended his campaign in the summer of 2020 and endorsed Mr Biden, there was an agreement that the more centrist candidate would support a more progressive stance on health care, not quite Medicare For All, but an expansion of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
“The Affordable Care Act is stronger than it’s ever been,” he said on Friday afternoon. “We need to keep this fight up.”
The president, who the day before had been in neighbouring Oregon, came to the Pacific Northwest with an approval rating as low as 41 per cent, according to trackers such as FiveThirtyEight. Many commentators believe Democrats are all but certain to lose control of the House, if not the Senate as well in November.
Polls show the most pressing issues for most Americans, 16 months into Mr Biden’s presidency is the rising cost of living, underscored by a leap in the price of gasoline and groceries.
The president’s critics say he has been too consumed with trying to handle the crisis in Ukraine in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion, something that Americans do care about, but not as passionately as the cost of living. His visit to places such as Auburn, 35 miles south of Seattle and where the larger metropolitan area is marked by smaller towns and communities, was part of an attempt to prove to Americans that he feels their pain.
Indeed, the title of his speech, emblazoned on the flags at Green River Community College, was “Lowering costs for American Families”.
The student body is 14,000 strong, half of which was funded by Washington State. Around 40 per cent of the students are white, and 23 per cent Asian. Black students make up seven per cent, and Hispanic students represent 13 per cent, according to college officials.
A flyer distributed for the media also highlighted that the average age of the students was 21.
Mr Biden came onto the stage after the college played Bobby Darrin’s “Splish Splash” from 1958, “California Dreamin’”, by the Mamas and Papas and released in 1965, and “Sherry” by The Four Seasons, released in 1962.
For all Mr Biden’s championing of community colleges – indeed, as he pointed out, his wife Dr Jill Biden continues to teach at at a community – were the students not concerned he was a bit old?
“His age does not concern me,” said Desani Robinson, a 20-year-old, studying business and public relations. “And I like that he came here and shone a light on the young person with the diabetes problem. That is something people can relate to.”
Noah Sanchez, 18, who is studying physical education, said he remembered Mr Biden when he was Barack Obama’s vice president. “One of the things I like is the fact he has that experience,” he said.
Many of the students among the small crowd were enrolled in nursing programmes, and at one point the president applauded their efforts, saying how crucial they were.
Of four nursing students The Independent spoke to, two said they did not have a political opinion. One, Kurtis Howe, said he voted for Mr Biden and thought he was doing a good job.
Another, Colton Hyatt, said he voted for Donald Trump and would do so again if there election were to be held tomorrow. “Having said that, if the president is going to do something to help America I want it to succeed,” he said.
Mr Biden finished off, as he often does, with his exhortation that America’s greatest days are ahead of it, even if there was difficult times in the shorter term because of rising fuel costs, something he blamed on “Putin” and “the war”.
“I say to all the folks who are students here, I wish you well, we need you badly,” he said.
“And the reason I’m so optimistic thinking about it, is you’re the least prejudiced, the most involved, most concerned generation in American history.”