Image for Bernie Sanders Gains Powerful Bully Pulpit
In what could be his last political hurrah, Senator Bernie Sanders has assumed the chairmanship of a powerful Senate committee that will give him an influential bully pulpit on issues relating to healthcare, labor an education. With the House GOP majority presenting a legislative roadblock, Sanders plans to take his committee on the road, coinciding with publication of his latest book.

Sanders Will Hit the Road for Hearings and New Book Promotion

Senator Bernie Sanders now chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, a powerful legislative position and even more consequential political bully pulpit, which could be the last hurrah for the outspoken Vermont independent.

At 81 and facing re-election in 2024, Sanders has the ideal role to showcase his progressive views and call on the carpet some of the billionaires he has blasted in the past, including Stephane Bancel of Moderna, Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Howard Schultz of Starbucks.

Sanders believes Moderna cashed in on federal funding for its coronavirus vaccines and views Bezos as a union buster and Schultz as anti-labor. He referred to NASA as an “ATM machine” for Bezos and Elon Musk and supports, along with Senator Elizabeth Warren, a wealth tax.

In 2020, Sanders proposed a one-time 60 percent tax on billionaires to pay for healthcare during the pandemic. He teased the media by projecting the tax on Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg and Oracle founder Larry Eillison would net $87.1 billion. “The legislation I am introducing today,” he said, “will tax the obscene wealth gains billionaires have made during this extraordinary crisis to guarantee healthcare as a right to all for an entire year.”

Oregon Congresswoman Val Hoyle cosponsored Senator Sanders bill to expand Social Security benefits and extend Social Security taxes to higher-income workers.

On cue, Sanders introduced the Social Security Expansion Act that would improve the Special Minimum Benefit, restore student benefits up to age 22 for children of disabled or deceased workers, strengthen benefits for senior citizens and people with disabilities, increase cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs) and expand program benefits across-the-board. The benefits would be paid for by removing the income limit on paying Social Security taxes.

One of the lead cosponsors is Oregon Democratic Congresswoman Val Hoyle who said, “With the rising cost of living, it’s time to modernize and expand the program. I’m proud to co-lead the Social Security Expansion Act, my first bill in Congress.” Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley also is a cosponsor.

Sanders Delays Announcing Next Political Move
The two-time presidential contender hasn’t revealed his intentions next year, in part because President Biden hasn’t made it official he is seeking re-election. Sanders has confirmed he wouldn’t challenge Biden.

His new committee chairmanship will give Sanders ample running room to chase some of his signature issues, at least in hearings. With the House under Republican control, Sanders admits the chance to move progressive legislation is slim.

That may explain his recent move to cosponsor, along with Indiana GOP Senator Mike Braun, a measure calling on rail companies to grant workers seven days of paid leave, despite the failure last year of the Senate to approve the benefit as part of the rail strike settlement. Braun is on the committee Sanders chairs. Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, who voted to convict President Trump in his second impeachment trial, is the ranking Republican.

Sanders wants his committee to hit the road to “listen to ordinary Americans” about the price of prescription drugs, families struggling to pay for child care and suffocating college student debt and potentially forge the basis for bipartisan legislation.

Sanders Joins the Ranks of Millionaires
Along the way, Sanders joined the ranks of millionaires from a combination of real estate, investments, government pensions and earnings from three books, including his Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In published in 2016. “I wrote a best-selling book.,” Sanders told the media. “If you write a best-selling book, you can be a millionaire, too.”

Sanders’ latest book, It’s OK to Be Angry About Capitalism, will be published this month. His publisher calls it a “scorching denunciation of a system that is manifestly failing the vast majority of people along with the planet itself”. The venerable senator is expected to devote time on the road, perhaps in between congressional hearings, to promote his new book.

Sanders entered Congress in 1991 and moved to the Senate in 2007. He mounted unsuccessful presidential bids in 2016 and 2020. He is the longest serving independent in congressional history. He previously chaired the Senate Veterans and Budget committees. Sander co-founded the Progressive Caucus. Before taking his congressional seat, Sanders served four terms as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, his adopted home after growing up in Brooklyn, New York. He won his first election by 10 votes.

Sanders credits his time in Chicago, where he finished his college education, for creating his “intellectual ferment”. He joined the Young People’s Socialist League and was active in the civil rights movement by opposing segregated housing at the University of Chicago and segregation in Chicago public schools. Later Sanders became involved in the anti-Vietnam war movement.