Sen. Bernie Sanders issued a New Year's Day message on Sunday as he gets ready to take over as chair of the powerful Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in the U.S. Senate when Congress comes back into session later this month.
Laying out his priorities for the committee in 2023, Sanders put a familiar focus on the need for an improved and expanded Medicare system and lower drug costs as he lambasted the nation's "cruel and dysfunctional" for-profit system that leaves tens of millions of people uninsured or grossly underinsured.
"What we have in this country is really disgraceful" in terms of healthcare, Sanders says in the video address posted to YouTube and shared on social media.
Fixing the nation's healthcare system, he said, is "an issue, together, we are going to have to work on. We must have the courage to stand up to the greed and recklessness of the insurance companies and the drug companies" who continue to oppose progressive reforms, including the push for Medicare for All.
"We have to work to substantially lower the cost of prescription drugs," Sanders added, "and we have got to work to guarantee healthcare as a human right for all of our people, not a privilege."
Watch the full video:
Happy New Year. Here’s what’s on my mind for 2023.youtu.be
On education, Sanders blasted that the richest nation on Earth—which somehow manages to provide "massive tax breaks to the billionaire class—still allows its heroic teachers to struggle in underfunded schools that disadvantages all children trying to learn. He also criticized a higher education system that has saddled an estimated 45 million college students and their families with outrageous levels of debt.
With labor the other key area of jurisdiction for the committee he will soon be leading, Sanders lamented in his address the existence of a "very rigged economy with unprecedented level of income and wealth inequality" that is hurting working families in favor of making life better the already rich and powerful.
"I'm thinking about a country today where at this moment workers all across this country—at Starbucks, Amazon, nurses at hospitals, workers at factories, young people at college campuses—they are organizing unions in order to receive better wages and working continues, because they know, at the end of the day, that unity—bringing people together for collective bargaining—is the only way that many workers are going to get the benefits, wages, and working conditions that they so desperately need."
With that context, Sanders said these workers in unions or those trying to organize a new union are being "vigorously" opposed by corporate bosses using "fierce and illegal anti-union action."
Countering those anti-union efforts by Starbucks, Amazon, and other major employers, he said, will be something he intends to do from his chair position.
Acknowledging political realities, however, Sanders said he knows very well that he will not have the power to simply pound his gavel of the new committee "and lo and behold all these important pieces of legislation get passed."
"It ain't gonna happen that way, that's for sure," said Sanders. While admitting that Republicans and certain "conservative Democrats" are not going to be supportive of his progressive agenda, Sanders said, "That doesn't mean we give up on these issues. We're going to take these issues to the people and continue the fight.
Despite partisan opposition on many things, Sanders said he has genuine hope that some progress can be made on things like reducing the cost of prescription drugs and childcare in the upcoming session.
In the end, Sanders called on listeners to join together in the battles to come in the new year "as we stand up and fight to make sure that working families in this country can live with the kind of dignity and security that they are entitled to."
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams and was authored by Jon Queally.