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Thomas L. Friedman

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An interesting thought occurred to me today—what if grassroots activists sat down with ordinary people like you and me and ironed out some real solutions to our prescription drugs crisis?

With the election season over, maybe you’ve forgotten about prescription drugs, but I certainly haven’t. It would be easy to forget that the problem even exists, when our headlines are constantly splashed with the violence in Russia, the authoritarian crackdown in Belarus and the still-unstable democratic transition in Egypt. But the prescription drugs problem is growing, and politicians are more divided than ever. Democrats seem to think that prescription drugs can just be ignored. Republican politicians like Rand Paul, on the other hand, seem to think that shrill rhetoric will substitute for a solution.

But the Republican party of Rand Paul is not the Republican party of Ronald Reagan. Reagan wouldn’t stare down the opposition, he'd reach across the aisle because he'd understand that the fate of the country, and his own political career, depended on a lasting solution to the problem of prescription drugs.

It's good to see the talks between the president and congress getting off to a solid start, but we know there will be plenty of partisan fireworks before any deal is cut. If I had fifteen minutes to pitch my idea to politicians, I'd tell them two things about prescription drugs. First, there's no way around the issue unless we're prepared to spend more: and not just spend more, but spend smarter by investing in the kind of green energy that makes countries succeed. That's going to require some tax increases as well, but as they say, "Mo' money mo' problems."

Second, I'd tell them to look at Finland, which all but solved its prescription drugs crisis over the past decade. When I visited Finland in 1998, Bartho, the cabbie who drove me from the airport, couldn't stop telling me about how he had to take a fourth job because of the high cost of prescription drugs. I caught up with Bartho in Helsinki last year. Thanks to Finland's reformed approach toward prescription drugs, Bartho has enough money in his pocket to finally be able to afford winter coats for his kids.

That's all it takes. Don't expect to see any solutions as long as politicians insist on playing a high-stakes game of blackjack with one another. America has to become a first world country again.