Vermont’s champion for the working class has a new pulpit from which to proclaim his belief that average Americans have been bearing the brunt of the crashed economy.
On Wednesday, Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., was appointed chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging.
With Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the full Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, Sanders hopes to tackle issues that are looming on the horizon, such as supporting Baby Boomers as they retire.
"We need to focus on supporting our seniors and ensuring their quality of life," said Harkin, who said he will work side-by-side with Sanders to protect the benefits that seniors have worked hard for, from pensions to health care.
Sanders will also be able to more forcefully advocate for some of his favorite federal programs, such as community health centers and the Low-Income Heating Assistance Program.
Sanders has fought for community health centers in Congress, securing $11 billion in last year’s health care reform law to increase the number of patients served in the next five years by 20 million.
The centers provide affordable primary and dental care as well as low-cost prescription drugs and mental health counseling. In Vermont, community health centers now serve more than 100,000 Vermonters.
Unfortunately, if Republicans in the House have their way, funding for community health centers will be dramatically cut, leaving low-income Vermonters no other option for health care other than going to an emergency room. That kind of care is much more expensive in the long run than health centers and is a cost that is borne by all of us through higher insurance rates and increasingly bigger price tags on medical services.
Sanders also led the fight to increase LIHEAP funding to $5.1 billion since 2008.
In one of the most amazing moves by President Barack Obama, his administration has proposed cutting LIHEAP funding in half.
Republicans only want to cut it by $400 million, but that would still leave lots of Vermonters out in the cold, especially the elderly.
Sanders’ panel also has jurisdiction over the Older Americans Act, which is up for reauthorization this year. Its programs include "meals on wheels," congregate meals and senior center programs.
We know, even if he was not appointed as the new chairman of the subcommittee, he would continue to fight for the most vulnuerable people, not only in Vermont, but also in the country as a whole.
Since his days as the mayor of Burlington and as a representative in Congress, Sanders has not been afraid to say what he believes and say it very loudly. One thing we know for certain about him: He is without guile, he doesn’t obfuscate and his beliefs don’t follow the political tides.
Whether you agree with Sanders or not, we should all be able to agree that every one of the senators and representatives in Congress shouldould be as plain-spoken, upfront and honest as he is.
The Reformer congratulates him on his appointment and encourages him to keep up the good work.