Even before the coronavirus pandemic – and the deep economic recession that it has wrought – nearly 80 percent of workers lived paycheck to paycheck, 34 million Americans were living in poverty, and, shamefully, even at the end of a long economic expansion, we had one of the highest childhood poverty rates of any major country on earth. It is a national tragedy that one out of every seven kids in this country lives in poverty, including one of out every 10 children in Vermont. Even before the pandemic, life expectancy in the U.S. had gone down for the third year in a row and about half of older Americans say that their retirement savings are not on track. Nearly 30 million Americans had no health insurance at all and millions more are underinsured. Nearly one in four Americans were unable to afford their prescriptions.
Even before the pandemic, millions of Americans were in dire straits, even as billionaires saw their wealth grow by the hundreds of billions of dollars each year. As we turn to rebuilding the economy from the pandemic-induced recession, Sen. Sanders will fight to ensure the next economic expansion raises the living standards of all Americans, not just those already at the top.
In order to make that more equitable future a reality, Sen. Sanders is calling for a vote to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and give a raise to nearly 40 million Americans. He will continue pushing for legislation he introduced that would curb the greed of Wall Street by taxing financial speculation and capping credit card interest rates. He will continue to fight for a Medicare for All, single-payer system to treat health care as a human right. And he will keep fighting for a tax system that requires the wealthiest families and largest corporations in this country to pay their fair share so that the workers who helped make these people and companies so rich can share in the success. We must also expand Social Security to ensure no one in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world has to suffer in poverty.
Together, we must work towards an economy that works for all of us, not just the top one percent. We must fight to create a better world for our children and grandchildren based on the principles of economic, social, racial, and environmental justice.
In an increasingly competitive global economy, we must ensure every student has the opportunity to pursue a quality education. Senator Sanders has worked hard to lessen the burden of tuition and student loans, implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and to create an innovative loan forgiveness program by which loans are forgiven for college graduates who work in public service – including nurses, teachers, and law enforcement officers.
For the first time in American history, the total amount of student loan debt now exceeds the amount of credit card debt, totaling more than a trillion dollars. More than two-thirds of college students who graduated in 2019 had outstanding loans, each owed an average of $28,950 in debt. In Vermont, 60 percent of college graduates have student debt, averaging $30,651.
In May 2015, Senator Sanders first introduced the College for All Act to address the crisis of college affordability. This legislation would provide at least $48 billion per year to states and tribes to eliminate undergraduate tuition and fees at public colleges, universities, and institutions of higher education controlled by tribes. Under this bill, students from any family would be able to attend a public four-year college or university, or four-year tribal college or university, tuition- and fee-free. All students, regardless of income, would also be able to attend community colleges, trade schools, or apprenticeship programs tuition- and fee-free.
Senator Sanders has also worked to expand Pell Grants and was an original co-sponsor and key supporter of the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which authorized the most significant expansion of Veterans’ education benefits in more than 50 years. He has advocated for “dual enrollment” programs, which allow high school students to take college courses that count toward both high school and college graduation requirements. Dual enrollment programs are especially beneficial for low-income and first-generation college students, as they introduce participants to college and encourage successful academic careers.
“One of the great crises facing our country today is student indebtedness and the high cost of college. It is obscene that millions of working-class families are finding it extremely difficult to send their kids to college. Colleges must control costs and the federal government must provide the necessary assistance so every person in this country – regardless of income – can get a college education.”
- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
Early Childhood Education
Senator Sanders believes access to quality early learning programs is vitally important, as research has shown that roughly 80 percent of all brain development occurs before a child reaches three years old and 90 percent — nearly full grown — by age five. In fact, all children should have access to high quality learning programs like Head Start and he is an avid supporter.
At a time when the high cost of child care for families has reached crisis levels—costing more than public college tuition in most states, we need Head Start even more. Lack of high-quality, affordable child care and pre-kindergarten hinders the development of children. We cannot allow that to happen. Head Start should be fully funded and expanded to more children and families to provide much needed early learning education opportunities that prepare a child for school. Senator Sanders will do all that he can to fully fund and expand Head Start because he knows that it is vital to young families to have access to the kind of support for parents and care of young children that Head Start provides.
Senator Sanders believes supporting public school teachers is a central part of having a great public education system, and that effective school leadership is critical for student success. He agrees that the federal government must do more to ensure effective instruction in our schools. In Senator Sanders’ view, a quality public education is a fundamental civil right, and every child, regardless of their family's income or background, should be given every possible opportunity to succeed. To that end, he has advocated for robust funding for Title II of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which authorizes the Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants. These grants aid in the recruitment, training, and support of teachers, principals and other school leaders, and also incentivize a range of preparation program reforms. Importantly, grants through this program are geared toward high-need schools, and there is a geographic diversity requirement designed to help rural schools get the support they need. Recruitment efforts in rural parts of Vermont can be especially difficult and it is Senator Sanders’ hope that this program will help attract, train, and support the teachers and school leaders our children deserve and require.
As a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, Senator Sanders will continue to fight for public schools and the students, families and communities that depend on them. The Senator is committed to ensuring that all children have a quality education, from birth to higher education, so that Vermonters are able to compete and succeed in school, college, career and life.
As we continue the new school year in Vermont with unprecedented challenges, Senator Sanders remains deeply disturbed by the shameful and inadequate federal response to this crisis. Like you, he believes Congress must do more to support and protect our students, teachers, and communities. We must provide financial support to students to ensure their financial aid is not disrupted and to tuition-dependent public institutions. We must support our libraries, arts and schools to ensure they have the resources they need to support our communities, including access to affordable and reliable internet services. As schools adjust to hybrid learning environments, there is a clear need for a science-based national policy to help our communities go forward and for protections that respect both public health and workers’ rights. That means ensuring that workers – like teachers, cafeteria staff and custodians – have access to personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves. That means guaranteeing premium pay, guaranteed paychecks, and paid leave.
As a longtime advocate of high quality education for all, Senator Sanders will continue to work to ensure that the federal government is mobilizing every tool and resource available in order to tackle this unprecedented challenge to our public health and economy. The future of our nation depends on our commitment to our young people, and providing lifelong educational opportunities for all, from birth to higher education and beyond, is essential to a thriving and prosperous democracy.
As a member of both the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Sanders has long fought for progressive energy policies, strong environmental protection, and aggressively reducing carbon emissions to address global climate change.
Virtually the entire scientific community agrees that human activity is a significant driver of global warming. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that if we do not drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the already-disastrous effects of global warming will get much worse – including crop failures, increasing hunger and illness, more extreme weather, and extinction of species. As the wealthiest country on the planet and the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the United States needs to lead the fight against global climate change. We have a moral obligation to preserve this planet for future generations.
Senator Sanders believes that climate change is one of the greatest existential threats facing the planet. That is why he has introduced a number of bills to address this crisis:
- The Climate Emergency Resolution would declare climate change a national emergency and require a massive-scale mobilization to address it.
- The Energy Efficiency Block Grant Program authored by Senator Sanders provided $3.2 billion through the 2009 economic stimulus to help homeowners, small businesses, and municipalities implement innovative weatherization and energy efficiency projects.
- The End Polluter Welfare Act would end generous tax breaks, loan programs, and subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, while saving American taxpayers up to $150 billion over the next ten years.
- The Fracking Ban Act, which is based on Vermont’s ban on fracking, would prohibit federal agencies from approving any permits that would expand fracking infrastructure, including new pipelines. The bill would also ban fracking completely by the year 2025.
- Senator Sanders’ Residential Energy Savings Act would fund energy efficiency financing programs that help homeowners invest in energy efficiency retrofits.
- The American Clean Energy Investment Act would authorize up to $110 billion to expand, and make permanent, tax incentives to develop energy efficiency and renewable energy generation like wind, solar, and geothermal.
The Green New Deal
United States must lead the world in transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels to sustainable energy. But let’s be clear, the Green New Deal is not just about climate change. It is also an economic plan to create millions of good-paying jobs, strengthen our infrastructure, and invest in our country’s frontline and vulnerable communities. That is why Senator Sanders is a proud original cosponsor of The Green New Deal resolution, which is a ten-year effort that outlines a transition to a zero-emissions transportation and energy sector, sustainable farms and ranches, a high-quality health care system, and stronger labor standards. Perhaps most importantly, the Green New Deal recognizes the importance of including everyone in the transition – from Coal Country to Indian Country.
Senator Sanders also introduced the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act, which would transition the country’s entire public housing stock into zero-carbon, highly energy-efficient developments that produce on-site renewable energy, expand workforce capacity and family self-sufficiency, and focus on community development. This bill ensures that everyone has a shot at economic and social empowerment.
Outdoor recreation is critical to Vermont’s quality of life and economy. In fact, 72 percent of Vermonters participate in outdoor activities like trail running, biking, skiing, and snowmobiling each year. The Vermont Department of Labor estimates that one in seven Vermont jobs depends on the outdoor recreation economy, which generates $2.5 billion in annual consumer spending. The benefits outdoor recreation provides in terms of public health and the economy make public lands conservation a clear win-win.
In addition to supporting important outdoor recreation bills, Senator Sanders is also a longtime supporter of funding for the Recreational Trails Program, which has been critical in developing some of Vermont’s premier trails. Senator Sanders is proud to have secured a $5.2 million grant for the 93-mile Lamoille Valley Rail Trail, a world-class, four-season, multi-use trail that, when complete, will run from Swanton to St. Johnsbury.
Furthermore, Senator Sanders, Senator Leahy, and Representative Welch previously introduced legislation to add the Upper Missisquoi and Trout Rivers to the Wild and Scenic Rivers System; the rivers received that designation in 2014, and it will ensure Vermonters are able to enjoy them for years to come.
Senator Sanders is one of the most vocal critics of continuing government subsidies and special tax breaks for the nuclear industry, and has called for an end to the Price-Anderson government liability insurance program for nuclear reactors.
The closure of the Vermont Yankee power plant will help the state move toward safer and more sustainable sources of energy like wind, solar, and geothermal. Senator Sanders is working aggressively to make sure the decommissioning process for the plant happens quickly and safely, while giving Vermonters a seat at the table. His experiences with the Vermont Yankee plant led him to introduce the Nuclear Plant Decommissioning Act to give states and local communities a meaningful role in decisions regarding plant decommissioning. A provision of this bill was passed into law and brought the NRC to Vermont for a public meeting in 2019.
Sen. Sanders believes that small, family farms are fundamentally important for Vermont and America as a whole. In his years representing the Green Mountain State, Sen. Sanders has worked to help Vermont’s struggling dairy industry, support sustainable and organic farming, and ensure good nutrition for every American.
Moreover, Sen Sanders believes that, in the richest country in the history of the world, hunger is a political choice. We need to increase nutrition assistance and ensure all kids have healthy school meals.
Sen. Sanders believes that dairy is a vital part of the fabric of Vermont’s communities and a central part of the state’s rural economy. In fact, dairy accounts for $2.2 billion of economic activity and 80% of agricultural land in Vermont. Sadly, dairy farmers have faced years for low milk prices and many are struggling to survive on the same prices they received in the 1980s. Vermont has lost almost 400 dairies in the past decade—a 40 percent decline. He is committed to finding a sustainable future for dairy farms.
In 2018, Sen. Sanders introduced legislation to address the dairy crisis and provide much-needed emergency relief to dairy farmers in Vermont and throughout the United States. This was a short-term measure that mirrored his successful inclusion of emergency dairy payments in the 2009 appropriations bill. Sen. Sanders believes farmers deserve a fair price for their milk, and he supports a supply-management system.
“This is a crisis. Hard-working farmers are losing their livelihoods, their homes and their way of life. And, as farms disappear, so do the businesses and jobs they support. And so does Vermont’s iconic working landscape.”
– Sen. Sanders.
Sen. Sanders believes that we are not effectively enforcing important antitrust laws to prevent the consolidation of our food, beverage, and agribusiness industries. Too often mergers only boost the profits of executives and shareholders, while leaving consumers and producers with fewer choices and higher prices. These industries are too important to be in the hands of only a few companies.
Moreover, consolidation of the agricultural sector is contributing to the degradation of economic vitality in rural America. The top four largest pork packers control 71 percent of the market; the top four beef packers control 81 percent of the market; and the top four corn seed sellers control 85 percent of the market. Just 4 percent of farms produce two-thirds of the agricultural output in America and these big farms do less business in their communities. Sen. Sanders believes that we need to find a solution that helps small farmers remain profitable if we are committed to preserving a vibrant rural America.
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the critical nature of farmworkers’ labor. Over 3 million farm workers are employed across the United States and work in very difficult conditions. Many of these farmworkers lack documentation and any legal protection. Although these workers play a vital role in feeding our country and contributing to our economy, agricultural work is one of the most dangerous and lowest paid jobs available. Individual farm workers, on average, earn less than $15,000 per year and yet are subject to terrible working conditions including exposure to dangerously high temperatures, pesticides, poor housing conditions, and unfair labor practices. In the wealthiest country in the world, no worker should struggle to feed his or her family or work long hours without adequate compensation.
“We cannot continue to run an economy where millions are made so vulnerable because of their undocumented status”
– Sen. Sanders
Sen. Sanders is proud of Vermonters’ pioneering work in the local and sustainable food movement. He has successfully advocated making local food part of school lunches and nutrition assistance programs. Sen. Sanders strongly supports farmers’ markets, value added agriculture, and agri-tourism.
Moreover, many of Vermont's small, family farms thrive by selling organic food that is raised to exacting standards, and Sen. Sanders has long believed that protecting and promoting Vermont's small family farms - both vegetable and dairy - is essential to maintaining Vermont’s rural economy.
Sen. Sanders strongly supports access to good nutrition for every American, and believes we need to dramatically increase funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or Food Stamps). With unemployment, under-employment, and low wages plaguing the middle class, many working families rely on nutrition assistance to make ends meet. Sen. Sanders believes that “it is unconscionable that the federal government would cut back on food and nutrition assistance to states as our nation struggles to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression.”
He has introduced the Universal School Meals Program Act to help provide free breakfast, lunch, and dinner to every student in America. He also led the Equitable Nutrition Assistance for the Territories Act to ensure the people of Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa receive equal access to SNAP.
Ending Endless War
In the nearly two decades since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United States has made a series of costly blunders that have not only weakened our democracy but also undermined our leadership. Senator Sanders believes we need a foreign policy that focuses on core U.S. interests, clarifies our commitment to democratic values both at home and abroad, and prioritizes diplomacy and working collectively with allies to address shared security concerns instead of military force.
Afghanistan is the longest war in American history After nearly two decades, thousands of American service members killed, tens of thousands more wounded, and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, it is past time to bring home the American servicemen and women still serving in Afghanistan. While the United States may have entered this war with significant clarity of purpose and moral authority, Senator Sanders believes we must now end America’s longest war.
The war in Iraq has taken the lives of 4,910 American troops, killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens, displaced millions of people, and cost U.S. taxpayers more than $2 trillion. The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 based on false information, and the evidence is clear that the war has been counterproductive in terms of fighting international terrorism and promoting regional stability. As someone who voted against military action in Iraq in the first place, Senator Sanders believes it is important that the United States withdraw troops from Iraq while continuing to assist them in building a stable government and economy.
Video: Rep. Bernie Sanders opposes Iraq War before key vote.
“The cost of war is great, and it is far more than the hundreds of billions of dollars we spend on planes, tanks, missiles and guns.
The cost of war is more than 6,800 service members who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. The cost of war is caring for the spouses and children who have to rebuild their lives after the loss of their loved ones. It’s about hundreds of thousands of men and women coming home from war with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, many of them having difficulty keeping jobs in order to pay their bills. It’s about high divorce rates. It’s about the terrible tragedy of veterans committing suicide.”
- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
Israel and Palestine
Senator Sanders believes that the United States must play a leading role in ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine and creating a permanent two-state solution. He believes the United States must work with the international community to support a sustainable solution that respects the legitimate claims and right to self-determination of both peoples, lifts the blockade of Gaza, resolves the borders of the West Bank, and allows both the Israeli and Palestinian people to live in peace.
Reasserting Congress’s War Power
Article I of the United States Constitution is very clear that it is the Congress, not the president, which has the power to declare war. Over many years, administrations of both parties have steadily eroded that power, and Senator Sanders has long believed that Congress must take steps to reclaim and reassert it. That is why Senator Sanders was proud to introduce Senate Joint Resolution 7, which required an immediate end to U.S. participation in the catastrophic Saudi-led war in Yemen, which has become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. For the first time in history, Congress utilized the procedures laid out in the 1973 War Powers Resolution to compel the president to remove U.S. forces from that had not been authorized by Congress. This was resolution was eventually passed by a bipartisan vote in both chambers of Congress.
Video: Senator Bernie Sanders speaks before vote on Yemen War Powers resolution.
Senator Sanders believes that at this pivotal moment in American history we have to make a fundamental decision: Do we want to spend trillions of dollars more on endless wars in the Middle East, or do we want to provide decent jobs to millions of unemployed Americans here at home? Do we want to spend more money on nuclear weapons or do we want to invest in decent jobs and childcare and healthcare for the American people most in need? That is why in June 2020 he offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act calling for a 10% cut in annual Pentagon spending to invest in education, health care and poverty reduction in America’s most marginalized communities.
Video: Senator Bernie Sanders speaks on the need to reduce our bloated military budget and invest in communities that need it most
Senator Sanders is proud to be the lead sponsor introducing the Raise the Wage Act to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024. Someone working full time should not live in poverty, but that is too often the case. In fact, one in nine workers are paid wages that can leave them in poverty even though they work full time. It is unacceptable that millions of families do not know how they would get by if their car broke down, a relative became sick, or they experienced some other financial emergency. The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 is a starvation wage, it needs to be raised to $15 an hour and indexed to inflation.
Senator Sanders is also fighting to implement policies that protect and expand worker's rights throughout the country, including the right to form unions and collectively bargain for better wages and policies in the workplace. The Senator has introduced the Workplace Democracy Act, which would allow unions to organize through a majority sign-up process. It would also eliminate so-called "right to work" laws, which have allowed states to prohibit unions from collecting fees from non-union workers who benefit from union bargaining. Furthermore, it would expand the definition of "employer" to include independent contractors and other non-traditional employees in union activities.
During the health and economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator Sanders has fought for comprehensive unemployment insurance benefits for the tens of millions of workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Senator Sanders took to the Senate floor to defend the $600 extra weekly unemployment benefit from Republicans who threatened to hold up a pandemic relief bill over the provision. Senator Sanders will continue to advocate for policies that protect American workers and make our economy work for everyone, not just the top 1 percent.
More than 70 years ago, the Supreme Court declared that a free press is not only “essential to the condition of a free society,” but also that "the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public." Unfortunately, the diversity of information sources has greatly dwindled in traditional media, as a few enormous multinational media conglomerates have consolidated ownership of more and more television networks, cable channels, publishing, radio and Internet services and sites.
Senator Sanders has been a leader in the fight to stop media consolidation and to strengthen the public interest obligations of broadcasters. In the Senate, he is working hard to make sure that we hold all media companies responsible for providing content that serves the public and offers a diverse range of opinions. For instance, he strongly opposed attempts to gut the FCC ban on corporations from owning a local newspaper, TV station and radio station in the same market. That misguided effort would have further consolidated local media markets and take away independent voices in areas already woefully short on local news and substantive journalism.
Access to high-speed Internet is no longer a luxury – it is crucially important to participate fully in twenty-first century education, business development, health care, and so much more. Yet, over 20 million Americans, predominantly in rural areas, still lack access to high-speed broadband services. Moreover, a significant "digital divide" still exists between Americans who have access to affordable high-speed communications networks and those who are not. With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing millions to continue working and learning from home, the time is now to ensure every American has access to affordable high-speed Internet.
The 2010 economic stimulus bill provided Vermont with a historic opportunity to significantly expand affordable broadband access. Vermont was awarded more than $172 million in federal funds – more than any other state on a per capita basis – for four separate broadband projects. While three of those projects are complete, Senator Sanders is very concerned that a federally-funded statewide wireless project is not yet operational, and he is actively working with congressional colleagues and federal agencies to address this issue.
Senator Sanders remains committed to ensuring that every Vermonter and every American has access to affordable broadband services in their homes and businesses. That is why he endorsed the Senate Democrats’ Jobs and Infrastructure Plan for American Workers, a $1 trillion plan to modernize America’s infrastructure – including $40 billion to connect all Americans to high-speed internet, with a particular focus on underserved areas.
Senator Sanders is a strong advocate for promoting competition in cable television, and has long fought against cable monopolies that raise rates on consumers year after year, limit local programming, and often reduce the channels available under basic cable packages. In Vermont and elsewhere, cable television is often an essential information service for consumers, and thus an affordable basic package is necessary for residents to remain informed and connected to their communities.
Senator Sanders has strongly opposed allowing internet service providers to restrict content and stifle innovation, and was disheartened when the FCC voted to undo recent progress related to net neutrality.
“Net neutrality” is the idea everyone has the same unfettered access to the same information on the internet. The FCC initially classified internet service providers as Title II “common carriers,” which prevented big corporate ISPs from negotiating “fast lane” deals with certain content providers. Under this classification, all companies would have equal access online.
Unfortunately, the FCC recently voted to reclassify internet service providers as a Title I “information service.” With this decision, the internet and its free exchange of information as we have come to know it will cease to exist. The end of net neutrality protections means the internet will be sale to the higher bidder, allowing big corporations like Comcast and Verizon to control content online. Senator Sanders believes the FCC must immediately reverse this ruling and protect freedom of speech online.
Medicare is the most popular health care program in America. Fifty-five years ago, the United States took an important step towards universal health care by passing the Medicare program into law. Guaranteeing comprehensive health benefits for Americans over 65 has proven to be enormously successful and popular. Now is the time to improve and expand Medicare for all.
Right now, the United States is the only major nation in the world that does not provide health care for every man, woman and child as a right. We spend almost twice as much per capita on health care as any other major country, yet our health outcomes in terms of life expectancy, infant mortality and disease prevention are not nearly as good. Last year, one out of four Americans skipped needed medical care because they could not afford it. It is simply unacceptable that thousands of people die each year because they do not have health insurance and do not get to a doctor on time.
A single-payer system would provide comprehensive, cost-effective health care for every person in America. People would no longer have to choose between a myriad of complicated private insurance plans, which may not cover their needs, or be forced on to a plan that is prohibitively expensive because of the lack of alternatives. The U.S. would no longer pay by far the highest prescription drug costs in the world because the government would be able to negotiate drug prices. Businesses would no longer have to administer health insurance benefits and employees would not have to worry about losing their insurance if they lose their job. The 34 million Americans who still do not have coverage, and the 41 million who are underinsured, would no longer have to worry that an unforeseen illness or accident would mean bankruptcy.
The economic reality is that we currently spend nearly 18 percent of our GDP on health care - over $10,000 per person. If we retain the status quo, we will spend an estimated nearly $60 trillion over the next decade on health care. Meanwhile, drug companies and insurance companies make hundreds of billions of dollars in profits each year. That is unaffordable, unsustainable and unacceptable.
This is why I introduced the Medicare for All Act. Under this legislation, every resident of the U.S. will receive health insurance through an expanded Medicare program with improved and comprehensive benefits, including dental, hearing and vision care. Furthermore, there would be no more insurance premiums, deductibles or co-payments.
Let me be absolutely clear, the most cost-effective and popular solution to this health care crisis is to guarantee health care as a right through a Medicare-for-all, single-payer health care system. In fact, studies have found that our federal government could save up to $500 billion per year on administrative costs by moving to Medicare for All. Please read my "Financing Medicare for All" proposal.
As we have seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, in times of crisis, the last thing people should have to worry about is whether they will be able to afford medical care. Medicare for All would provide peace of mind to every American.
The Postal Service is one of our most popular and important government agencies, providing universal service six days a week to every corner of America, no matter how small or remote. It provides decent-paying union jobs to nearly 500,000 Americans, it is one of the largest employers of women and people of color in the country, and it is the largest employer of veterans. We absolutely cannot allow the Postal Service to face financial ruin and privatization.
As a rural state, Vermonters rely on the Postal Service not just for their letters and packages, but for everything from prescriptions to groceries to government assistance checks. The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted how essential a fully-functioning Postal Service is to our country, with postal workers around the country ensuring people can safely vote via mail-in ballots.
Protecting the Postal Service remains one of Senator Sanders’ top priorities in the United States Senate.
Senator Sanders remains committed to abolishing the pre-funding mandate imposed on the Postal Service. In 2006, Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act which forces the Postal Service to pre-fund 75 years’ worth of retiree health benefits. This financial burden is unique to the Postal Service, with no other federal agency or private company having a similar policy.
This disastrous policy has greatly impacted the Postal Service’s finances and has been used by bad-faith actors as a reason to privatize the Postal Service, which we cannot allow. Without the pre-funding mandate, the Postal Service would have actually made a profit from 2013-2018. Removing this undue burden will allow the Postal Service to operate like every other federal agency and better serve the public.
Senator Sanders sees an opportunity for the Postal Service to further serve communities around the country and create new revenue streams. That is why Senator Sanders, alongside Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, recently re-introduced the Postal Banking Act. This legislation would re-establish postal banking to provide financial security to millions of Americans in low-income and rural communities and create approximately $9 billion in annual revenue and strengthen USPS.
"It is absolutely unacceptable that communities all over America lack traditional banking services,” Senator Sanders has said. "During the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, we need to make sure that everyone in America is able to receive the affordable banking services that they desperately need. No one in America should have to pay a 400 percent interest rate on a $375 loan from a payday lender. The time has come to put predatory lenders out of business and provide affordable banking options to all Americans through the United States Postal Service. And that is exactly what our legislation will do."
Senator Sanders is also interested in further innovation at the Postal Service, and is actively working with other congressional offices, postal unions and workers, and advocacy organizations to help bring the Postal Service into the 21st century and become a true one-stop-shop for government services in communities around the country.
Senator Sanders believes every American should have access to safe, effective, and affordable prescription medications.
Senator Sanders is fighting to lower costs for consumers by bringing greater transparency and competition to the health care system. In 2014, he and the late Representative Elijah Cummings launched an investigation into 14 pharmaceutical companies after reports of skyrocketing prices for some generic drugs. As a result of that investigation, the lawmakers introduced S. 1364, the Medicaid Generic Drug Price Fairness Act, which became law at the end of 2015. This law requires generic drug companies to provide rebates to the Medicaid program if drug prices rise faster than the rate of inflation. The provision is estimated to save taxpayers $1 billion over ten years.
In 2019, Senator Sanders and Representative Cummings re-opened the investigation when a civil lawsuit filed against 20 generic drug companies by a coalition of 44 state attorneys general uncovered evidence that certain companies had coordinated to obstruct the Congressmen’s investigation in 2014. Senator Sanders and Representative Cummings also wrote to the U.S. Department of Justice, urging the agency to open a federal investigation into the companies’ potentially unlawful behavior and to hold them accountable to the maximum extent possible if appropriate. [As of August 2020,] the Department of Justice has filed charges against seven drug companies and four executives as part of an ongoing criminal antitrust investigation into generic drug price-fixing.
Senator Sanders also introduced a sweeping plan to lower drug prices in the 116th Congress with [Reps. Cummings and Khanna as well as] more than two dozen colleagues in the House and Senate. The plan includes three bills:
- S.97, the Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act, which would allow patients, pharmacists and wholesalers to import safe, affordable medicine from Canada and other major countries, and would save taxpayers $6.8 billion over 10 years according to the Congressional Budget Office.
- S.99, the Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act, which would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs under Medicare Part D. The U.S. government could save close to $360 billion over a decade if Medicare negotiated the same prices for drugs as people in Canada pay, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
- S.102, the Prescription Drug Price Relief Act, which would peg the price of prescription drugs in the United States to the median price in five major countries (Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Japan). This compulsory licensing legislation would lower the price of most branded drugs by 50 percent, according to an estimate by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
“It is unacceptable that Americans pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.”
- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
Sen. Sanders has worked to reduce the pharmaceutical industry's influence over the drug approval process. In 2012, he was the only senator to vote against the Food and Drug Administration user fee bill because it did not do enough to address high prescription drug prices and was too generous to the pharmaceutical industry. In 2016, he opposed the 21st Century Cures Act because the bill cut Medicare and Medicaid to pay for corporate giveaways to the pharmaceutical industry.
Senator Sanders has also introduced S.1584 (116th), the Opioid Crisis Accountability and Results Act, which would require drug companies that manufacture opioids to reimburse the country for the negative economic impact of their products; S.495 (115th), the Medical Innovation Prize Fund Act, which would establish a multi-billion-dollar fund to reward drug innovation with cash prizes instead of monopoly rights; and S.1681 (115th), a bill to require drugs that are developed with federally funded research to be sold at reasonable prices.
In 1999, Sen. Sanders was the first member of Congress to take his constituents across the Canadian border to buy their prescription drugs at a fraction of the price they were forced to pay in the United States. He believes importing FDA-approved prescription drugs from Canada and other countries is a safe way to improve competition in the marketplace and reduce the price of prescription drugs, and led another trip to Canada in 2019.
It is no secret that our country has a long history of deeply entrenched, horrendous racism. Today, systemic racism still spans every part of the country. People in our nation who experience the pain of systemic racism in the form of social, economic, and environmental injustice have known what it is like to face multiple ongoing crises at the same time for far too long. Women, differently abled, and LGBTQ+ people of color—whose contributions to historic social rights movements have often been pivotal but under-recognized—encounter racism in unique ways that deserve particular attention in our shared effort for change. It is past time for the United States to truly be an anti-racist, anti-discriminatory country that urgently addresses the inequalities Black, Indigenous, Latino, Asian-American, and other non-majority ethnic groups endure daily.
Criminal Justice Reform
Sadly, the lives of far too many Black Americans and people of color who mattered have been unjustly taken away. It should not be a reality that a Black person is two-and-a-half times more likely than a white person to be killed by a police officer. We must make major law enforcement reforms like ending qualified immunity and equipping the Department of Justice to investigate and deal with acts of hate. We must also transform our racist and broken criminal justice system by eliminating cash bail, ending mandatory minimum sentencing, and reinstating the federal system of parole. Black men are sentenced to 19 percent more jail time for the same crimes as white men, and Black people are imprisoned more than five times the rate of white people. Pursuing fair justice should not lead to these huge disparities. And by finally ending the failed War on Drugs, which includes legalizing marijuana, we can take a major step to stopping racist over-policing and criminalization.
If there is anything that the torture and murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police has taught us it is that we have to fundamentally rethink the nature of policing in America and reform our broken and racist criminal justice system.
Let’s be clear. The murder of George Floyd is not just an isolated incident. It is the latest in an endless series of police killings of African-Americans including: Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Freddie Gray, Rekia Boyd, Walter Scott and so many others. The American people are rightly demanding justice and an end to police brutality and murder.
Senator Sanders has introduced multiple bills to reform our failing criminal justice system. Some of these proposals have included:
- Banning private prisons
- Ending mandatory minimums and reinstating the federal parole system
- Eliminating cash bail
- Ending the federal prohibition on marijuana
- Every police officer involved in a killing must be held accountable, and those found guilty must be punished with the full force of the law. That includes officers who stand by while these brutal acts take place.
Further, every single killing of a person by police or while in police custody must be investigated by the Department of Justice. And we must create a process by which police departments look like the communities they serve and be part of those communities, not be seen as invading, heavily-armed occupying forces. We must, therefore, prohibit the transfer of Department of Defense military equipment to police departments.
Most Black Americans and people of color experience unfair disparities from income and wealth to housing and education. Senator Sanders has introduced legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and make it easier for workers to join unions. In America we need equal pay for equal work – regardless of race or gender. We must address housing discrimination stemming back to redlining and earlier, and we must end systemic racism in education. A person’s zip code or the racial composition of their neighborhood should not determine their quality of education, and attending college should not lead to a lifetime of debt, especially because of your race. We must end these forms of institutional racism and ethnic discrimination as well as all others. During a time of profound wealth disparity, we must all be aware that Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian American, and other ethnic minority groups are often also enduring other long-standing, crisscrossing disparities that we cannot fail to overlook. Our collective pursuit for a fairer, safer, and more peaceful nation and world depends on our ability to never neglect the humanity in each other.
Communities of color and low-income communities will suffer greater harm not only from the fact that polluters are more likely to be near or in these neighborhoods, but also from climate change impacts. Vulnerable families live in areas that are more prone to flooding, their homes tend to be older and poorly maintained, and they often lack the resources they need to evacuate ahead of a storm or get back on their feet after an emergency. We must ensure that all communities are included in the transition to a clean energy economy and protected from environmental pollution. It is time we stand with communities of color, indigenous communities and low-income communities to protect their health, culture, and livelihoods. Senator Sanders has introduced legislation and supported a number of programs to address environmental racism:
- The Climate Protection and Justice Act would invest billions of dollars raised from a tax on carbon pollution in climate resiliency projects and energy efficiency measures for communities that are most vulnerable to the worst climate impacts. It would also help farmers adopt low-carbon practices like no-till production and sustainable fertilizer application.
- The Clean Energy Worker Just Transition Act would take the taxpayer money that has historically benefitted fossil fuel CEOs, and reinvest it in a way to support fossil fuel workers and their transition to a green economy. The funds would provide these workers with a living wage, healthcare, and training as they transition out of the fossil fuel industry. It would also provide funding to invest in and strengthen their communities.
- The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, Weatherization Assistance Program, and State Energy Program are all indispensable lifelines to help families heat their homes and save money on energy bills, while also lowering emissions. Senator Sanders supports increasing funding for these programs so that no family has to choose between heating their homes and putting food on the table.
- The Low-Income Solar Act would help ensure that all Americans can benefit from the energy and cost savings of solar by providing grants to low-income families to offset the upfront costs of residential solar arrays, and by improving access to community solar projects.
Social Security is one of the most successful government programs in the history of this great country. For more than 85 years, Social Security has succeeded in keeping millions of seniors, widows and people with disabilities out of poverty. Before Social Security, about half of America's seniors lived in poverty. Today, fewer than 10 percent live below the poverty line, and more than 69 million Americans receive Social Security benefits.
In order to protect and expand these essential benefits, Sen. Bernie Sanders has introduced the Expand Social Security Act. The legislation would increase benefits by about $1,342 a year for seniors now making less than $16,000 annually and increase cost-of-living adjustments by more accurately measuring the spending patterns of seniors. The bill would also ensure that Social Security could pay every benefit owed to every eligible American for the next 52 years, by asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute their fair share. In addition, Sen. Sanders founded and currently chairs the Expand Social Security Caucus in the Senate to ensure that your benefits are protected and strengthened.
We must also keep our promise to the working people of this country and protect pensions. After a lifetime of hard work, including working overtime and giving up weekends, to ensure a secure retirement, workers and their families should be able to depend on their pension. That is why the Senator is an original cosponsor of the Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act, also known as the Butch Lewis Act, which would offer federal loans to multiemployer pension plans that are in danger of becoming bankrupt. The Senator has also introduced the CEO and Worker Pension Fairness Act to help troubled multiemployer pension plans continue to provide pension benefits to workers and retirees. This bill would eliminate special CEO pension plans, raising around $15 billion over the next 10 years to strengthen the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) and our multiemployer pension system. If Congress can bailout Wall Street and foreign banks across the world, we can certainly protect the pensions of American workers.
After decades of Congress giving lobbyists and special interests free reign, the United State tax code has become rigged in favor of the wealthy and corporations. We have a tax code that enables many of the country’s largest corporations, like Amazon, General Motors, Netflix, and Chevron, to make billions in profits while paying nothing at all in taxes year after year. We have a tax code where the wealthiest 400 Americans pay a lower tax rate than the middle class on average. We have a tax code where billionaires pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries or in some cases can get away with paying nothing at all.
Sen. Sanders believes that every American should pay their fair share and works every day to rid of our tax code of the many loopholes allow the wealthy and corporations to shirk their responsibilities. He believes that corporations should not be allowed to avoid taxes by stashing their profits in offshore tax havens, which is why he proposed shutting down these dodges full stop with the Corporate Tax Dodging Prevention Act. He believes that we should tax wealth like work, which means that investment income from capital gains and dividends should be taxed at the same rate as income from wages. He believes that we must curb financial speculation and Wall Street greed with a tax on financial transactions, which is why he introduced the Inclusive Prosperity Act. He believes we need to counter the alarming growth of wealth inequality and a new aristocracy by enacting a tax on extreme wealth and restoring the robustness of our estate tax through his bill the For the 99.8% Act.
Sen. Sanders believes we need to reverse the decades of tax cuts skewed toward the top 1%. He famously took to the Senate floor for an 8 and half hour filibuster in 2010 to protest the extension of the infamous Bush tax cuts for the rich. This speech helped propel opposition to the tax cuts into the American consciousness and Sen. Sanders eventually prevailed in reversing the Bush tax cuts for the top 1% in 2013. In 2017, Sen. Sanders was one of the strongest voices in opposition to the Trump tax cuts, which made an already skewed tax code even worse. He believes we need to reverse the Trump tax cuts for the rich and will continue to fight any efforts to extend these skewed cuts moving forward.
Sen. Sanders believes that decades of unfettered free trade policies have been unrelentingly bad for American workers, and have largely contributed to our shrinking middle class, job loss and the ever-widening gap between the rich and poor. He believes that if the United States is to remain a major industrial power – producing real products and creating good paying jobs – we must implement new trade policies that protect not just the profits of large corporations, but the jobs of working people of our country. “Nobody I know believes we should place a wall around this country. Trade is a good thing, but we must begin negotiating fair trade agreements that reflect the interests of working families in America, working families in other countries, and not just large multinational corporations and the CEOs who help write these trade agreements,” Sen. Sanders has said.
Senator Sanders not only voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993, but marched against it. He voted against Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China, the United States-Korea Trade Agreement and DR-CAFTA. He helped lead the grassroots effort across the country to defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And despite some modest gains, he opposed President Trump’s United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement because it will not stop the outsourcing of jobs or address the climate emergency.
Senator Sanders believes we must create new trade policies that benefit the working families of our nation, workers in other countries, consumers and the environment – and not just multi-national corporations. This means encouraging manufacturing in this country for industries ranging from industrial steel and solar panels, to the production of the foods and commodities we purchase every day. It also means taking bold action to defeat the existential crisis of climate change by cutting carbon emissions around the world.
Throughout this country, Americans are driving on roads riddled with potholes and deficient bridges. Our drinking water and wastewater systems are in disrepair. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates that we need to invest $2 trillion above current spending levels just to get our crumbling infrastructure back to a state of good repair. In Vermont, we need to spend $700 million a year to keep up our roads and bridges, and our storm and wastewater systems need $2.3 billion over the next 20 years.
The good news is that there is a growing consensus that we must repair and modernize the physical infrastructure that our communities and economy depend on. The bad news is that President Trump’s proposed Fiscal Year 2021 budget would actually cut over $49 billion in direct federal infrastructure spending over the next decade. We must do better. That is why Senator Sanders has called for a $1 trillion investment to repair and rebuild our infrastructure and create 15 million good-paying jobs.
As a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Senator Sanders is working to reauthorize the federal highway bill that expires next year. His top priority is to defend the more than $200 million a year Vermont receives to fix our roads and bridges he secured in the last two bills. He is also working to address the climate crisis by investing in electric vehicle charging stations, expanding Vermont’s public transit systems and improving the resiliency of our transportation system to better withstand future disasters like Hurricane Irene.
Our nation’s waters and water systems are crucial to public health, the economy, and the environment. That is why Senator Sanders introduced the WATER Act, which would provide up to $35 billion a year for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, creating nearly a million jobs. The bill would also expand funding for technical assistance to help rural and small municipalities and Native American governments improve their water and sewer systems. Furthermore, the WATER Act includes language to address contamination like lead and water shutoffs.
Finally, Senator Sanders is helping lead the effort to reduce carbon emissions in our transportation system. In 2019 the EPW committee-passed highway reauthorization included the first ever climate title, funding programs to build electric vehicle charging stations, reduce carbon emissions, and make our infrastructure more resilient to future disasters. He is working to improve transit service so more Vermonters have access to public transportation. Senator Sanders also helped secure federal funding for electric buses for transit and schools in Bennington, Burlington, Lyndonville, and the Upper Valley.
As a longtime member and former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Senator Sanders believes that we, as a nation, have a moral obligation to provide the best quality care and benefits to the veterans who have put their lives on the line in service to this country.
Vermont veterans and service members seeking assistance with their benefits or interested in information about local events and resources, please visit our Vermont Veterans page.
Senator Sanders worked closely with the late Senator John McCain to enact the Veterans' Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, the most comprehensive veterans’ legislation in decades. Senator Sanders understood that in order for the VA to meet its promise to our veterans, Congress needed to act to provide the VA with the resources it needed. That is why Senator Sanders fought hard to include funding to hire more staff and pay for long-needed construction projects.
Senator Sanders is proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with veterans service organizations like the Vietnam Veterans of America in fighting for increased access to oral health care for veterans. Bernie knows that oral health care is part of – not separate from – a person’s overall health and believes that every veteran, regardless of disability rating or income, should be able to rely on the VA for high-quality dental care, just as they do for the rest of their health care. Senator Sanders also knows that good oral care can go well beyond a person’s health – it can help a person eat, boost their confidence, and successfully find employment. No veteran should ever have to struggle with pain, infection, or the stress of poor oral health, which is why Bernie will continue to fight to ensure dental care becomes a fully-covered benefit from the VA.
Since that time, Senator Sanders has fought in strong opposition to efforts by the Trump Administration and special interests to privatize the VA for profit. Bernie knows that, with proper funding from Congress, the VA is in the best position to provide for the unique care and benefits our veterans have earned through their service. That is why Senator Sanders is proud to be one of only five Senators to oppose the VA MISSION Act, which has already proven to be one of the biggest government-funded hand-outs to the private health care industry without any evidence that it has improved access to care or quality.
Senator Sanders understands the struggle of the millions of veterans who receive disability benefits as a result of their service. As Senator, Bernie continues to fight to make the disability claims process easier for the veteran and the appeals process faster and fairer. Senator Sanders has also been a longtime supporter of cost-of-living adjustments for disabled veterans so their benefits can keep up with ever-increasing living expenses.
Lack of safe and secure housing for veterans is another top concern for Senator Sanders. Bernie knows it is a national disgrace that more 40,000 veterans experience homelessness on any given night of the year, and another 1.4 million more are considered at risk of experiencing homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and unsafe or unstable housing. Senator Sanders will continue to fight against efforts to eliminate funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program, which helps veterans and their families find long-term housing. Fortunately, Congress has rejected these cuts every year.
Education and Employment
Senator Sanders believes that every veteran in this country deserves the best education and job training available to them when they separate from the military, or any time they may need it. Whether a veteran is looking to complete or earn a college degree, obtain career training, or find a job, Senator Sanders knows that the VA, Department of Education and Department of Labor, must be available to help. Bernie also knows that veterans are uniquely positioned to serve each other long after they remove the uniform, which is why he is extremely proud of the many veterans who are employed within these agencies to provide health care, education, and employment services to their fellow veterans. It is also why Bernie wants to make it easier for veterans – and their spouses – to use the education benefits owed to them in return for their service.
Today, the six largest U.S. financial institutions have assets of more than $12.2 trillion, or nearly two-thirds of the nation’s gross domestic product. Six major financial institutions hold nearly 30 percent of all mortgages, control nearly 90 percent of all derivatives held in financial institutions and hold nearly than 40 percent of all bank deposits in the United States. Sen. Sanders believes we should break up these giant financial institutions that pose a systemic risk to the financial system and the economy as a whole.
While Wall Street bankers continue to gamble with other people's money, sooner or later, when their bets go wrong, they will come back to the American people to be bailed out again. The last bailout included a staggering $16 trillion in total financial support from the Federal Reserve to every major financial institution in the country, as well as a number of corporations, wealthy individuals and central banks throughout the world.
Sen. Sanders introduced the Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Exist Act to break up banks, hedge funds, insurance companies and other financial institutions larger than three percent of Gross Domestic Product. This bill ensures that no financial institution would be so large that its failure would send the world economy into crisis. Wall Street would again be a part of the productive economy, making loans to small and medium sized businesses and growing the economy, not an island onto itself gambling trillions on risky derivatives.
Senator Sanders also introduced the Loan Shark Prevention Act, legislation to prevent financial institutions from ripping off Americans by charging sky-high interest rates and outrageous fees. This legislation would establish a national usury rate of 15 percent on credit cards and other consumer loans, providing parity with credit union loans. It would end the absurdity of banks charging some consumers 25 percent interest while they can borrow from the Federal Reserve for a quarter of a percent.