Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders

In America today, the very rich are becoming richer while millions of working families are struggling to put food on the table or pay their bills. We now have the absurd situation in which two multi-billionaires own more wealth than the bottom 40% of Americans; the top 1% owns more wealth than the bottom 92%; and the gap between rich and poor is wider than at any time in the last 100 years.

The $3.5 trillion Build Back Better bill, supported by President Biden and almost all Democrats in Congress, is an unprecedented effort to finally address the long-neglected crises facing working families and demand that the wealthiest people and largest corporations in the country start paying their fair share of taxes. In fact, this legislation would be paid for by ending loopholes and raising taxes on the 1% and large profitable corporations.

This bill would take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry and lower the cost of prescription drugs in America by having Medicare negotiate prices with drug companies, something the VA already does. It is unacceptable that we continue to pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs — sometimes 10 times more than the people in other countries.

Last year alone, while nearly one out of four Americans could not afford to fill the prescriptions their doctors wrote, six of the largest pharmaceutical companies made nearly $50 billion in profits and the 10 highest-paid executives in the industry made over $500 million in compensation. In order to preserve this corrupt and greedy pricing system, the drug companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fight our legislation and have hired nearly 1,500 lobbyists, including former leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties, to represent their interests. Enough is enough. We must lower prescription drug prices.

This bill would expand Medicare to cover dental care, hearing aids and eye glasses. Today, in the wealthiest nation on earth, many millions of seniors are unable to afford to go to a dentist, or buy the hearing aids and eye glasses they need. In the richest country on earth older Americans should not have teeth rotting in their mouths. That is unacceptable.

The United States, and states like West Virginia and Vermont in particular, are seeing their populations age. The result: more and more older Americans and people with disabilities need home health care. They would much prefer to be around their loved ones at home rather than be forced into expensive nursing homes. This bill greatly expands home health care and makes sure that these jobs are adequately paid.

The Build Back Better plan is not only vitally important for seniors, but it is enormously important for working families and their children. As a result of the $300 direct payments to working class parents which began in the American Rescue Plan, we have cut childhood poverty in our country by half. It would be unconscionable to see those payments end, which is exactly what will happen if we do not pass this bill.

This legislation also ends the dysfunction of our childcare system which forces millions of working families to spend 20% to 30% of their limited incomes on childcare and keeps over a million women out of the workforce. Under Build Back Better no family would pay more than 7% of their income for child care, and pre-K education for 3- and 4-year-olds would be universal and free. This is a huge step forward for working parents and their kids.

This legislation would make community college tuition free and enable our young people to acquire the skills they need to get good paying jobs and meaningful careers.

This legislation will end the embarrassment of the United States being the only major country on earth not to guarantee paid family and medical leave.

This legislation will make a massive investment in low-income and affordable housing so that we no longer have 600,000 homeless Americans and millions more who spend half their incomes or more on housing.

And then there is the existential threat of climate change. With the planet becoming warmer and warmer, with unprecedented forest fires, drought, floods and extreme weather disturbances, and when scientists tell us that we only have a few years to avoid irreparable damage to our country and planet, this legislation begins the process of cutting carbon emissions and transforming our energy systems away from fossil fuel and into energy efficiency and sustainable energy.

And when we do all of these things, and more, we create millions of good paying jobs and offer a brighter future for our young people.

This reconciliation bill is being opposed by every Republican in Congress as well as the drug companies, the insurance companies, the fossil fuel industry and the billionaire class. They want to maintain the status quo in which the very rich get richer while ordinary Americans continue to struggle to make ends meet.

I believe that now is the time, finally, for Congress to stand up for working families and have the courage to take on the big money interests and wealthy campaign contributors who have so much power over the economic and political life of our country.

Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for this legislation. Yet, the political problem we face is that in a 50-50 Senate we need every Democratic senator to vote “yes.” We now have only 48. Two Democratic senators remain in opposition, including Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

This is a pivotal moment in modern American history. We now have a historic opportunity to support the working families of West Virginia, Vermont and the entire country and create policy which works for all, not just the few.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is in his third term in the U.S. Senate. Prior to his election in 2006, he represented Vermont for 16 years in the U.S. House. An independent, Sanders caucuses with the Democratic Party, and currently serves as the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.