As the new chair of a powerful Senate committee, the reënergized progressive leader is once again targeting the corporate plutocracy.

by John Cassidy, The New Yorker

Senator Bernie Sanders had a full schedule last Thursday. In the morning, he presided over his first hearing as the chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, his old-school Brooklyn accent ringing out across the hearing room. At lunchtime, he held a press conference with a group of labor-union officials to demand paid sick leave for railway workers, a cause he has long championed. Speaking from his office that afternoon, he told me he was amped up about heading the health committee, a position previously held by Senator Patty Murray, of Washington.

“I think the first thing we have to do is to talk to the American people about what is going on in our economy, and that is something Congress or the media does not do very often,” Sanders said. Then he went into a familiar spiel, similar to the ones he delivered in 2016 and 2020, about how the American health-care system is “dysfunctional and broken,” nearly twice as costly as the systems in other industrialized countries, yet leaving eighty-five million Americans uninsured or underinsured. “Meanwhile,” he went on, “the insurance companies make tens of billions a year in profit.” Sanders also castigated Big Pharma, noting that, earlier in the day, he had spoken to someone from Finland, who had told him that drug prices in that country were, in some cases, a tenth of the prices in the United States. “So we have to pick on the incredible greed of the pharmaceutical industry, who make huge profits every year and pay their C.E.O.s huge salaries and compensation packages,” he said. “That’s something we are going to go into big time.”

Bernie Sanders speaks at 20/20's Criminal Justice Forum which was held at Allen University. Dr. Ben Carson and Martin' O'Malley were also in attendance.

Chairing a Senate committee isn’t new to Sanders, who has been in the Senate since 2007. In 2013 and 2014, he helmed the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, where he worked with the Republican John McCain to successfully reform the health-care system for veterans. From 2021 to 2023, he was the head of the Senate Budget Committee, where he helped to craft the $1.9-trillion American Rescue Act, a bill he has described as the most significant piece of legislation for working-class people since the Great Depression. Subsequently, Sanders played a prominent role in the Democratic effort to enact most of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda in one huge spending bill, and lamented its demise. Chairing the health committee, it seems, has reënergized Sanders and given him a new platform that he relishes, one from which he can address many of the everyday economic issues that he has always felt passionately about.

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